Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Music and Sounds of Japan in Yokai Scrolls

Sound and music are some of the most powerful tools a game developer has at their disposal, capable of making or breaking a game mechanic or instilling flavor in a game world. In this post, we'll discuss some of the challenges we encountered regarding sound for Yokai Scrolls and how we came to the decisions we've made with regards to our sound direction so far in development.

One of the biggest goals with Yokai Scrolls is to make the player feel like they are, in a way, transported to Japan when they play the game. With this in mind we decided at a very early stage to incorporate traditional Japanese instruments and sounds. The pursuit of this led us to meet the incredibly talented Tokyo-based musician and composer Sam Jones.

We were initially impressed with the breadth of styles presented in Sam's portfolio, but our interest was especially piqued when we learned he had a background in traditional Japanese music and connections to other musicians who actually play the traditional instruments we were excited to see leveraged in our soundtrack. To top it off, Sam's location in the heart of Tokyo lends well to some of our more ambitious goals covered below in the "Sound Effects" section.


There was one major challenge to overcome in establishing the direction we wanted our music to go -- authentic traditional Japanese music is very different from what most people have come to expect when playing a video game! We want to pay homage to traditional instruments and sounds, but we also know that if we created a 100% traditional soundtrack, we'd risk alienating a lot of players who might not be able to "vibe" to it. This was the challenge we posed to Sam when we loaded him up with semi-random, contradictory, and possibly made-up descriptive phrases of what we wanted, and then crossed our fingers.

Fortunately for us, Sam has a nearly magical talent that enables him to listen to three guys spouting half-baked ideas for an hour, and somehow condense them into a cohesive whole that actually turns out to be awesome music. After hearing a few samples from him, we knew we'd found the solution we were looking for; the perfect balance between traditional and modern. Here are some samples of what we came up with, let us know if you like them in the comments!

First up, the Lunar Tourist theme. This piece is the theme for one of the central characters in the game  who has come from the Moon and is presently the only one of her kind on Earth. It is filled with traditional influences such as the shamisen driving a somber rhythmic melody and hyoshigi percussion adding a bit more complexity. To express the alien nature of her background, the piece also features some synthetic sounds that felt appropriate for a space-traveler. This unique collection of elements comes together to produce a very interesting piece that we think perfectly captures the character.

This next piece is the battle theme for Yokai Scrolls. Combat will be relatively fast-paced, so this piece is intended to be energetic and exciting, featuring a rhythmic shamisen part and taiko-inspired percussion. The melody introduces a shakuhachi flute and koto that further push up the energy and give it an adventurous feeling. We hope you will enjoy rocking out to this while knocking enemies all over the place!

Sound Effects

Most indy games you will encounter get the majority of their sound effects from standard asset libraries that have a variety of generic sounds that get used all over the place. In our current development builds, we are also using several sounds like this. In the long-term however, we plan to include the most authentic sounds we can get in order to present a true-to-Japan atmosphere.

In order to achieve this we have enlisted Sam to record actual sounds in Japan. These will be things like the cries from various species of Cicadas, the ringing sound produced when a skilled blacksmith strikes the hot iron of a katana being crafted, and the soft sound of a calligraphy brush as it is run across a sheet of washi paper.

We would love to hear what our community thinks about these ideas -- do you folks care about traditional sounds? How much do you feel they would add to the game for you? Please let us know in the comments!

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