Music to your ears

Music can often “fade into the background,” but the powerful tunes in Sentinels of the Multiverse take center stage for many fans. We’ve received rave reviews for the upbeat, clever, and well-suited soundtrack created for the game. Curious how we crafted the amazing SotM digital music soundtrack? We would love to share a bit about the man behind the music, our very own Handelabra Games’ team Maestro, Jean-Marc, and his composition process.

The man, the myth, the musician

Jean-Marc Giffin

Jean-Marc Giffin

Jean-Marc has been a musician of sorts for as long as he can remember. That his interest and passion lie in music composition and production rather than performing or teaching, was something he discovered while completing his undergraduate music education degree. After his “ah-ha” moment, he switched his focus to creation-based work and began composing music for the talented performers at Acadia University. Following a brief foray into composing, he embarked upon what he initially felt was the daunting task of learning how to produce music. He has since achieved this goal and has put his acquired skills to great use creating the soundtrack for Sentinels of the Multiverse. His current composition and production process includes a mix of the virtual instruments in his collection layered, arranged and mixed until he creates a final product he likes and the teams agree are the best fit for the video game. 

And it goes a little something like this…

After multiple discussions with the Handelabra Games and Greater Than Games teams, Jean-Marc has an idea of what might work best musically with a certain character or environment. He then spends time conducting research and considering pieces of music similar to what the teams imagine they would like to hear with the video game. This experience includes hours spent listening to music, score reading, and identifying and listing the instruments involved along with the role each instrument plays in the larger piece.

The next phase includes “soundscaping” and this is what Jean-Marc describes as “playing all the appropriate instruments I have at my disposal to try and find all the sounds I actually want to use in the piece.” During this exploratory activity, he begins to make the big arrangement decisions, such as which instruments should be played at which points in the piece, and an idea of what they might play. He has to decide the types of sound that best fit with an environment, theme, or victory—such as the heavy percussion emphasis and organic wind instruments in Insula Primalis or the mostly synthetic metal sounds of the Wagner Mars Base piece. These specific instrumental sounds and phrases comprise the “pillar” elements of each piece. Once he chooses these elements, the Handelabra Games maestro begins to explore and discover the other harmonic and rhythmic elements he will add. Most of this occurs in his head—and with a LOT of adding and subtracting of sounds. For Jean-Marc, this phase includes more discarding of sounds than keeping them. He likes to spend much of his time layering many different sounds over the “pillar” elements in order to create a variety of original pieces. This spontaneous part of his process is what guarantees that each piece of music will be unique.

Next, it is time for the review process in which both teams listen to his production. Most often, this phase proceeds smoothly and everyone likes what they hear! Other times, Jean-Marc must begin again and find a better fit. For instance, the initial Grand Warlord Voss theme included alien sounds and later war drums, but neither aligned well with the character. Citizen Dawn’s theme was originally an anthem, but it was reimagined with a heavier tone and drum set. Jean-Marc understands that each piece is a work in progress. Iteration is just part of the job and adds to the fun Jean-Marc finds in video game music production. Handelabra Games is certainly proud of the results!

And a one, and a two...

Once Jean-Marc, the rest of the the Handelabra Games team, and Greater Than Games are all happy with a particular song, there are 2 steps remaining. First, the song needs to be mastered. Mastering is the process of taking the mixed track as a whole and balancing it out, both in the high/low ranges and in volume levels. This balances the track over time, both compared to itself and compared to other tracks in the game. Finally, the songs need to be prepped for insertion into the game. This sometimes entails being chopped into 2 or more pieces so that the songs can start and then loop effectively when playing. At this point, the music is what you hear when you are playing the game.

There is one last step involved which only came about after we realized that people were interested in owning the music from the game for themselves. In order to release the music as songs in a soundtrack, Jean-Marc takes one last pass at the music, looping some areas, fading in or out in others, in order to take what was a long continuous loop of music and turn it into a self contained song. Once this is done, we have a soundtrack that we can make available for purchase. Volume 1 is available now and Volume 2 will encompass Rook City and Infernal Relics once the latter is complete.

Posted on April 27, 2015 .