Earlier this week, we had the opportunity to catch up with everyone’s favorite Irish musical duo. Okay, maybe not everyone’s favorite … there are probably loads of Irish musical duos out there. But if we narrow it down to Irish VGM duos, it might be safer to say that Chris Geehan and Dan Byrne-McCullough of HyperDuck SoundWorks top the category.
In the past few years, their work on Dust: An Elysian Tail and Penny Arcade’s On The Rain-Slick Precipice Of Darkness 4 have defined their sound and given them a strong fanbase. In the following interview, we get set for what’s to come, as well as how you can win a free digital version of the upcoming Cosmic Star Heroine OST when it arrives (digitally, via Bandcamp) on December 7th of this year.
OSV: It’s been a few years since your last big work with Zeboyd Games, which was the fourth and final “Penny Arcade Adventures / Rain-Slick Precipice” game. Working with the same studio for a new IP, however, must require a lot of collaboration. Can you describe for us what the creative process looked like for you and Zeboyd? Specifically: how often did you meet in-person, versus Skype or email and whatnot? I mean, you guys are in Ireland, and they aren’t, so…
Chris Geehan: Yeah, the in-person bit rarely happens, haha. Skype and emails, a little bit of whatnot. Mostly Skype with Robert and Bill [co-leads of Zeboyd Games) though! Our creative process initially starts with a Dropbox folder, some Google Drive doc, and a boatload of music in both (both files and YouTube links). The docs also tend to be packed to the brim with story details, character details, concept art/reference art for the worlds, towns, characters, critters, vegetation, all sorts! The main thing we use the Dropbox for is builds and music/sound drafts. And on top of all that, we chat about all this within Skype. It’s mildly organized, but it works really well for us… most of the time.
We met Robert at GDC once, no Bill though. One day I hope, maybe we can all enjoy a hang next year at PAX or something, that’d be sweet.
OSV: How early in the creation process of the game did you guys have sense for just how much music you would be composing for Cosmic Star Heroine?
Chris: So Robert mentioned in passing a long while back, just near the end of Penny Arcade Episode 4, that they want to work with us again on their next project. At this point he gave me a rough synopsis, and I just saw flashes of ’80s film soundtracks, early ’90s anime soundtracks and RPG soundtracks from our childhood.. needless to say Dan and I were both on board to work with Zeboyd on whatever they had planned, but this sounded pretty great. In terms of the size of the soundtrack, I think initially they thought they’d need about 50 minutes of music. Currently we’re sitting on just under 2 hours of music, not including the cut scenes, so technically over 2 hours and counting.
So, no… we had no sense whatsoever of how much music we’d be composing, haha! That said, we were on board for the long haul, and we wanted to put as much sound and music in as it needed, avoiding taking shortcuts and re-using music when possible. I think that it tends to cheapen the experience in an RPG if you see that happening.
OSV: From the time of the Kickstarter Campaign onward, fans have likened some of the game’s character art, design, and overall mood to be like that of the four original Phantasy Star games. Even the heroine of PS1, Alis Landale, has a name similar to CSH’s heroine, Alyssa L’Salle. Zeboyd has acknowledged the Phantasy Star connection to some extent, but was more interested in likening the game to Chrono Trigger, Star Ocean, or Suikoden because of the branching story and large cast. Tell us: for all of the great games that Zeboyd Games has named as inspirations for CSH, which have you played? And, more importantly, have you made any intentional references to the music for those games? (editor’s note: readers can be sure we’ll be looking for any references when we review the soundtrack, intentional or accidental!)
Chris: I’ve played both Chrono Trigger and Diablo, and I watched a “let’s play” of Phantasy Star IV and some Bravely Default. Robert would often link me to gameplay of some of the other influences you mentioned in the early stages of game and music development, and it helped for understanding musical context of a theme for that part of the game. I can say that I have made some, though not many, intentional references to game soundtracks. That said, the references I made are not from any of the aforementioned titles, so you’ll have to keep your ears peeled for ’em!
OSV: Of the many soundtracks HyperDuck has crafted in the past decade, the two that seemed to put you “on the map” were A.R.E.S. and Dust: An Elysian Tail, which were not developed by Zeboyd Games. Comparing your soundscape in those earlier games, can you hear anything in CSH that reminds you of either of those two games?
Chris:I think even just those two particular big moments early on in our career, were so vastly different in style, it was pretty clear we were still evolving and cycling through styles and flavors, and I feel we’re still doing that now, but we’re more sure of how to get the sound we want, to some extent. Experimentation is a wonderful thing. Comparing the soundscapes of those games and CSH, I think the percussive energy of the beats, the riffs and the melodies in A.R.E.S, and the atmospheric presence in Dust: An Elysian Tail, have both played a part in how we not only wrote the soundtrack for Cosmic Star Heroine, but how we found the initial feeling and idea for each track.
One thing we did in Dust that I felt was particularly effective was the boss themes; we made variants of the same theme in different styles, and it’s something that has followed us through to CSH in some ways, whereby some themes recur in different arrangements, with different energy and tone to their form, and they have different meanings when you hear them again. It was fun to write music that you had to be able to bend, morally, in either direction of good or evil, or somewhere in between.
OSV: Budgeting for a Kickstarter project has always seemed like a nightmare to us. Whenever a studio pulls it off successfully, it is a minor miracle. After the campaign ended (over $130,000 raised), did you feel comfortable that the HyperDuck studio could be adequately funded to make quality music that fit the game?
Dan Byrne-McCullough: The success of the Kickstarter campaign certainly had a big impact on the development of the game. The main thing for us was that it allowed us to secure the amount of time we felt it would take to produce a soundtrack of this size. It’s not often that smaller independent studios have much of a budget for audio, so it was great to be able to work on this project. In terms of quality, it mostly stays the same across our projects as much as possible, though we were able to perhaps spend a little more time on certain things such as a guest vocalist, and to get the soundtrack mastered both for ‘in-game’ and ‘OST’ versions of the music.
OSV: Did you have any studio session recordings for specific instruments? Anyone you care to give a shout-out to for their work on the OST, or was the whole thing the work of Chris and Dan?
Chris: Well, Dan did all the guitar work, so that amazing solo on Chahn’s Theme – 100% his fingers, 100% amazing. He sniffed a bunch of incense and channels as much of Mike Stern as he could into his hands for that one. We both did vocals here (The Hustler, pretty obvious where it is!) and there (The Resolution and L’Salle had backing vocals, Chahn’s Theme had it through the melody), and I think Dan picked up a cello at one point in a song (Welcome to Nuluup City). We did actually work with the incredibly lovely Laura Shigihara on “言い返す のよ(Talk Back)” – she wrote all the lyrics, did all the vocals (I did that horrible scratchy 1,2,3,4 in the middle of the song, you’re welcome, ahem) which involved translating and linking both Japanese and English lyrics together in a cohesive form. So Laura gets a massive shout-out and thank you, really couldn’t be more grateful for her hard work and style. Thank you Laura!
OSV: During the “golden years” of JRPGs (16-bit and 32-bit), it was almost standard for a game’s soundtrack to receive at least one arranged album: orchestral, piano solo, rock arrange, jazz, a vocal character album. Each of the games cited as inspiration received such treatment over the years. Have you considered any plans for an arranged album, or perhaps an arranged EP? Would it be self-arranged, or would you go the “Premium Arrange” style (a la FEZ’s “FZ” albums) where each song is arranged by a different artist?
Dan: We actually contributed to the FZ album with a medley, and it was a great experience. We have also had other fellow composers contribute to OST releases in the past, though we have no concrete plans at the moment. It would certainly be great to hear some of our contemporaries take on our tracks once the OST has had time to breathe. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the game and music are received really!
Chris: Dan and I have talked about a few ideas regarding arranged albums, of other music close to our heart, and the possibility of revisiting some very old music that we wrote ourselves, and breathing new life into it. Though it’s nothing we can really openly confirm yet, and I’d rather save the details until the point when we know it’s going to happen. As for people arranging our work – I think if anything was going to see that type of treatment, it might be Dust or CSH, or maybe even PA4; in any case, we’re not discussing that with anybody at the moment, but it’s not something we’d be averse to, by any means.
OSV: We’ve heard talk of limited edition physical publications of this soundtrack in addition to the digital OST on Bandcamp. What all are you planning?
Dan: We are working with Ship to Shore Media, who make really cool vinyl releases of indie soundtracks, and older game soundtracks, among other things! It’ll be a vinyl LP of the Cosmic Star Heroine soundtrack, with a customized playlist, since we can’t cram 50+ songs on there. We will be announcing a concrete date for that as soon as we have it, and we’ll update anyone on our mailing list who is interested. Also, we are planning on a super-limited release of some old cassette mix tapes. We’re going to record them ourselves and make each copy a unique selection of tracks, as well as a hand made cover/insert. Stay tuned for more details!
Chris: The cassette mix tapes each are a unique mix – we wanted to give each person who owns one as unique a copy as possible, with the scrawling/doodlings or “art” some might call it, being done by us, and some artist friends of ours, they’ll fit right into your ghetto blaster or Sony Walkman! We recommend playing every song on 50% speed for that extra special… uh, aesthetic. If there is interest, we might do more, but really it’s just a fun thing we wanted to try, Cosmic Star Heroines influences being routed in the 80s, what better way to enjoy the soundtrack but on a sweet custom mixtape!
OSV: We’re going to assume that our readers want this soundtrack. Any chance you’d like to help them with that?
Chris: I think I can help, yes… so, presently we have a pre-order campaign for the soundtrack prior to its December 7th release; however, we want to give folks a chance to win some redeemable codes which will let you download the entire soundtrack for free upon its release.
However, there is a catch. We’re throwing a trivia question your way, and you have to get it right to be entered in the pool to win. Whether you follow Cosmic Star Heroine or not, you should be able to figure this out by researching the game using the developer’s website, wink-wink hint-hint.
In Cosmic Star Heroine, there is a particular bounty hunter who has quite the affinity for capes: can you tell us his name, and his weapon of choice? Get those right, and you have secured valid entry into the giveaway for a digital copy of the Cosmic Star Heroine soundtrack! Woot!
OSV: Thank you Chris and Dan for all the insight you provided in this interview, and for the codes for the giveaway. For those who want to enter, please send an email to me with the Subject Line “CSH OST plz!” (yes, we’re serious). In the email body, answer the two questions posed by Chris. We will end the contest entry period at 11:59pm Eastern Time on October 17th, 2016. We will announce the winners shortly thereafter, though the winners will not actually receive their codes until the release date (because the full OST won’t be uploaded on Bandcamp’s servers until that time!).
Good luck!Tags: Bandcamp, Chris Geehan, Contest, Cosmic Star Heroine, custom mixtape, Dan Byrne-McCullough, Giveaway, HyperDuck, HyperDuck SoundWorks, Interview, Interviews, Laura Shigihara, Retro, Ship to Shore, Zeboyd Games