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Echoing game's own duality in a soundtrack

by Urbain Bruno on 05/31/18 09:12:00 am   Expert Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Shift Quantum is a cyber-noir action-puzzle platformer using a core gameplay mechanic called shifting. That mechanic gives you the ability to invert the world to create negative spaces. The game is part of Shift series which Fishing Cactus and Armor Games have been developing for many years now, this last spin, has been in development at Fishing Cactus for a little bit less than 2 years and is the first version for PC and consoles (available, see links at the bottom of the article).

Today I’d like to talk a little bit about the intention and unique process we had for the music.

As a team, and really early on, we wanted to emphasize the duality created through the core mechanic. We believe we nailed it down as it smashes your brain when you shift for the first time, it really feels like a constant conflict between two parts.

At the very beginning of development, the team had a few game pillars to hang to and one of them was to always keep in the game two voices, two tones, where everything should hint at that binary conflict reminiscent of the black and white art style without which the core game mechanic would not exist.

That’s the exact same reason why we decided to work with two different music composers on the project and at the same time. It is quite an artistic choice and an unusual one for an indie game where usually only one artist work on the entire soundtrack for the game. After scouting a lot, we decided to work with a well-known synthwave artist, Volkor X and Simon Felix, a Belgian composer we met during a festival (and who is fairly new at composing for games).

When we reached out to them, both composers were attracted to differents aspects of the game (fortunately we already had a playable demo which helped a lot). The scifi/cyberpunk universe of Shift Quantum being very close to what Volkor X tries to express in his music, it was easy for him to emerge himself in the project and compose for that black and white universe.

“I love playing with contrast in my songs and the game has a fantastic cyberpunk atmosphere, a deep story and a superb black and white look. Some puzzles are mind bending and ask you to think beyond the box. Playing the game is an absolutely mesmerizing experience.” - Volkor X

Simon Felix, on his side, wanted to explore the meta-story of the game putting emphasis on the desolate and mysterious atmosphere of Axon Vertigo’s simulation setting. The music getting more erratic and dark, as the player progresses through the simulation; a grim contrast to Axon Vertigo’s ‘True Happiness’.

“Shift Quantum is dark, mysterious and full of challenging puzzles. At the same time, the gameplay is fast and engaging, something a lot of other puzzle-games fail to do. To top it off, the game has visuals that feel incredibly deep for a platformer.” - Simon Felix

Simon and Volkor X both have a unique sound and one of our challenge was to have them cooperate, make a nice soundtrack that blends together and feel like one single element while at the same time try to bring their unique juice to the mix. While it can seems like a production difficulty to overcome, it turned out that presenting that unique approach right off the bat to them was warmly welcomed and made them even more enthusiastic about the project.

We worked around the concept of a music battle: each song one produced was an answer to the previous song made by the other composer; Taking an arpeggio here, a chord progression there, or simply a groove... They composed the soundtrack gradually, each being inspired by the other. In the end, they managed to wrap that music challenge up perfectly with little to no retakes.

The concept of ‘question-and-answer’ was ultimately very gratifying for both composers and actually helped the soundtrack to remain consistent and just below you can hear what they came up with.

 

All in all I believe making “external” composers working together can be seen as an extra hurdle and I guess this is why we (indies) don’t often do it. From our experience it brings both diversity and elevate the quality of the overall soundtrack of a single game. At least that what”s I believe it did to Shift Quantum.

About Volkor X
Volkor X is a dark synthwave artist from outer space. He does NOT come in peace.

Listen to his music here

About Simon Felix
Simon is a composer and sound designer from Ghent, Belgium. Starting out in the electronic music scene, he gradually branched out to composing soundtracks, blending both orchestral and electronic elements.

Listen to his music here

Shift Quantum is part of the Shift series initiated in 2000 by Armor Games. The new version is available on Steam, PS4, Switch and Xbox and the OST can be purchased separately.

If if you feel like chatting with us on the topic, you can go to our discord channel.


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