Today marks the release of the neo-retro Strategy RPG Rainbow Moon (eastasiasoft, PS3), and we have an interview with the game’s composer Rafael Dyll. He has embarked on his most ambitious project to date. Previously known for the trance influenced Söldner-X soundtrack, Dyll was tasked with creating the sonic environment for almost all of Rainbow Moon. Dyll was kind enough to speak with us about what it was like composing for Rainbow Moon, his start in the industry, and the current state of game composing!
Does this game, or its soundtrack, interest you? If so, be sure to head to Rafael’s facebook page, hit “like” to add yourself as a fan, and leave a comment saying that “OSV sent you.” Everyone who does this over the next two weeks will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of the Rainbow Moon Melodies soundtrack CD and a download coupon for the exclusive “Last Chapter Tracks” digital album download as well. So, if you like good/free stuff, get on that, and then join us after the jump for the interview!
OSV: What sort of training have you received in audio and composing?
Dyll: It was mostly by autodidactic means. Despite this, I have a very classic family background with my grandfather having conducted symphonic music and members of the family playing jazz professionally or similar. For me, the drive to compose came at a late age and I really began by producing tunes for the home computer demo scene, but initially without much of a commercial objective. It was a long process and I mostly studied music by listening to other composers and learning how to use synthesizers and recording gear. No piano lessons or similar for me. With the first smaller projects for indie game devs, the necessity to really understand arrangements, processing and all the technical stuff increased, so by the time I started working on commercial game music, I generally knew what I was doing.
OSV: Listening to many of your earlier trance tracks, I’m curious whether you ever had any aspirations to perform your music as a DJ?
Dyll: I did in fact, long before thinking about making a living out of composing game music. Born out of an interest in film and game soundtracks, I always had a strong interest in electronic instrumental tunes, so many dance and trance influences found their way into the Söldner-X music, especially the Söldner-X 2: Final Soundtrack CD. I also created an homage to my trance influences with the Last Hope title music re-arrangement on the stand-alone album released 2009. I’ve always been very passionate about electronic dance music and very recently decided to release a handful of non-game tunes I have been working on via Bandcamp. You can check them out on http://soniqfactory.bandcamp.com.
OSV: How did you get your first job composing for video games?
Dyll: After producing a remix album based on old Atari ST game classics and uploading a few original compositions to my web site, I received an email from independent developer NG:DEV.TEAM, asking for permission to use some of my back-catalogue in their independent game for the Neo Geo. This was around 2005 I think. We talked about future projects and finally, I ended up writing music for most of their games, which then led to talks with other game studios. So kudos to Timm & Réne for digging up my work so people can hear my music in their games.
OSV: What kind of equipment setup do you have at home?
Dyll: It’s a mix of hardware and software instruments and equipment. For sequencing, I have been using Cubase since the days of pre-Intel Macs. Today, I use a Mac Pro 8-Core with Cubase, plugged to a Mark of the Unicorn Audio Interface, mixing with a Novation controller and my trusty Yamaha CS1x for playing. There are a number of really great plug-ins and software synths, especially from reFX, but I also use some East West libraries. I particularly love the Waldorf Blofeld hardware synth. For vocal recording and monitoring, I switched to a Neumann condenser mic and Genelec. There’s a list of equipment on my webpage for equipment fans.
OSV: What is your most -used synthesizer?
Dyll: It depends; for electronic productions, probably Vanguard and Nexus. I don’t really focus on one keyboard or library.
OSV: How did you end up working with eastasiasoft/SideQuest Studios?
Dyll: Around 2007, Last Hope for Neo Geo received a lot of interest from the press and game fans, being a very expensive and rare indie production for a long-dead console. The follow-up Dreamcast version had a CD-quality soundtrack and both versions received really great music scores from most sites. I wasn’t really expecting more work at the time, and certainly not such positive reviews, but out of the blue, I received a call from SideQuest Studios founder Marcus Pukropski, who had heard my work. And that was basically it. We bounced some ideas back and forth and again, I ended up writing music for all of their Playstation 3 games to this day.
OSV: Did the audio director for Rainbow Moon tell you much about what they wanted or did they leave most of the creation up to you?
Dyll: The studio has a very good grasp and idea of what a game like Rainbow Moon was supposed to sound like. So after the dancey-beats in the Söldner games, the question was if I was capable of producing a more J-Pop and rock/symphonic soundtrack for a fantasy game. I wrote a few tunes to set the scene and pretty soon, we found the right style. SideQuest mostly left the musical aspects to me and put trust in my capabilities. Of course, we eventually narrowed down the 40 or 50 tracks I wrote to those now used in the game, but this was mostly due to personal taste, i.e. the tracks we all liked the most.
OSV: Did you provide any input as far as implementing the music into the game? How much contact did you have with the audio team for Rainbow Moon?
Dyll: The audio team was mostly me in fact. I wrote and produced the music, created most of the sound effects and recorded the voiceovers with the actors. Actually, one of the characters in the game even has my own voice. Try to find it! Due to time limitations, I received some help from the team. The game producer and I set up an asset list and I also implemented the sound effects and music in the game using Sony tools, testing and compiling game code as I went. It was really a hand-in-hand process. Marcus and I have known each other for a while now and I have a grasp of the technical work behind the audio implementation. We work online mutually, talk frequently on the phone or meet, exchanging feedback and corrections. It’s always team workreally, even though I’m in charge of the audio.
OSV: Considering the style of the game is reminiscent of many older classic SNES games, did any of these games in particular serve as inspiration for your writing?
Dyll: Probably my entire gaming history served as inspiration. Avid listeners of my previous work will have noticed a strong connection to 16-bit classics, but especially Amiga and Commodore 64 game music. For Rainbow Moon, I really dug into my fondest memories of SNES like The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, but especially the many obvious PlayStation 1 classics such as Final Fantasy, Alundra and so on. I also really love the Castlevania soundtracks, so there are obvious nudges in that direction in the Rainbow Moon soundtrack too.
OSV: What would you consider the main difference between the music you composed for Rainbow Moon and your previous work?
Dyll: Rainbow Moon features very little drum computer and a whole lot less purely sequenced loop work for a start. The music for Rainbow Moon is very different from my other soundtracks, such as Gunlord or Final Prototype. There are a lot more organic, symphonic sounds in there and it’s more pop and rock inspired, which is not to say that there are no synth sounds at all. There are, but it’s just in a very different context. I tried to achieve a dreamy, almost eerie, fantasy atmosphere for a lot of the tracks – the title tune features real choir sections and an acoustic guitar sample for instance, but sprinkled in between, you’ll find finely tuned waveform arpeggios, reminiscent of early ’80s arcade games. I think that this combination is typical of my work – I try to combine natural sounds with synthetic ones. It just feels richer that way. But unlike my previous work, for the first time, I also added some, dare I say it, happy tunes, rock riffs and non-sequenced drums. You can check out the medley I released on Soundcloud to get an idea. Or better yet, grab the soundtrack and the game!
OSV: How do you normally begin a song? Do you usually focus on melody or rhythm first?
Dyll: It very much depends on the style. For electronic music, it’s often a bass line or beat that I start with, building from that. Sometimes, I’d have an idea for a chord progression or melody hook in my mind, would play that on keyboards and then sequence it. In some cases, it’s even based on an effect or a particular sound that sparks off further ideas and I keep adding and subtracting until the track has the necessary foundation to become a proper song or track. When composing atmospheric music, it’s different, especially when you are trying to mimic a scene or a special feeling. Soundscapes are fun to work with, because they give you a lot of freedom to experiment. The third and most ambitious but gratifying path is obviously composing a piece from a melody in your head. Over the years, it has become increasingly easy for me to have a specific tune or phrase in mind and transfer that to the keyboard. I’m really not a great keyboard player, but it’s amazing how things improve when you increase your proficiency and experience.
OSV: What would you say is the most common challenge you face when writing music for games?
Dyll: The first challenge is mostly getting the atmosphere right. When composing a pop tune or non-game music, you can just go and see what happens. With game compositions, I often have artworks, or even alpha versions of the game to play around with. So it has to match. Sometimes, writing arcade-y fun pieces just won’t match a serious game. And often you think you’ve hit that special feeling, but the developers don’t agree. So you may switch ideas around. The biggest concern then is lack of time. When I receive a contract, it’s often long before release, but the window can shrink ever so quickly. If you don’t organize, spend too much time on the wrong ideas, you’ll need to catch up. Finishing milestones for a project is extremely important. Earning a living by composing game music can be nerve-wracking, just like any other development work.
OSV: What composers do you think are doing the most interesting music right now?
Dyll: Probably not “right now,” but at least over the last years – I really dug Solar Field’s music for Mirror’s Edge. Now that was different. Really, really atmospheric and strangely beautiful. I also enjoyed the music in Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii. Such beautiful tracks and a huge variety, typically J-styled and perfect “world music.”
OSV: What was your favorite environment or situation to write for in Rainbow Moon?
Dyll: There was no particular setting I liked less or more than others. The title track is something that really fascinated me to compose. It is the first really deep impression you can make on a player/listener. Also composing for the video sequences was really fun, as I had the general story idea laid out already. I can say that my favorite tracks are probably the “Crossing Blades” Battle Theme, “The Four Seas” music for water passages, as well as the haunting “Mondlicht” Waltz. There’s also a great mysterious sequence called “Eternal Sound of Luna” with harps and eerie vocals and even an Arabic sounding theme for the desert passages in the game. The game really has a huge number of different tunes that were fun to do.
OSV: Were there any limitations (within the game design or technical) that forced you to change how you were writing the score?
Dyll: Not really, I had a lot of freedom. One aspect however, is arranging the tunes so that they seamlessly loop. This is often underestimated. Even after mastering the final track, the music has to perfectly loop without the listener noticing. You have to make sure that fades, reverbs and instruments doesn’t cut off abruptly etc. Of course, a few tracks don’t need this, such as the title sequence, but most do.
OSV: With the increasing availability of indie games available now, do you think that things are easier for new composers?
Dyll: Totally. In interview a while back, I was asked what I think of download games. My answer was that I believe that independent games, and these are mostly download-only, open up a whole new opportunity to game developers, and in turn, their composers. There are less financial barriers without producing discs or logistic issues to solve, so developers can take the risk in producing unusual genres or new concepts. There is so much more originality in soundtracks for games such as Braid, or Flower (even though it’s not strictly indie). I’m a little tired of hearing the same orchestral choirs and horns over and over again. So I guess, indie developers and their smaller budgets are more interested in adding something new and unusual to their game, even from newcomers. It’s originality that counts. On the other hand, there even more musicians out there now, waiting to join the fun.
OSV: What is your opinion of saxophones?
Dyll: I really don’t know what to say. I don’t really relate to them. But there’s a jazzy piece I wrote when I was 20 or so, that had a saxophone. There’s also a funky/jazzy one in Rainbow Moon now that I think of it. I can’t play a saxophone, but I’d probably add one to a track if it made sense. Maybe a ’30s film noire scene, if I ever had to compose for one?
OSV: Have you ever considered writing an opera?
Dyll: Honestly, no.
OSV: Is there any type of project you have in mind that you’d like to do in the future?
Dyll: I’m looking into expanding my forays into trance music, albeit not just for games. In terms of genres, there is so much I can think of: Platformers, a FPS, maybe a fighting game? In any case, a warm invitation to your readers: Join my Facebook fanpage for more news and upcoming sounds and check out my trance songs over at Bandcamp. Thanks for the talk!
Our thanks again to Rafael for taking the time to speak with us, especially during the busy release window around Rainbow Moon.Tags: eastasiasoft, Interview, Interviews, Last Hope, Rafael Dyll, Rainbow Moon, Söldner-X, sonicQfactory