Welcome! I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m glad you’ve joined us for this continuation of our discussion of the dynamic music system in the video game Spyder! As you may recall from our previous discussion, Spyder is a spy thriller set in a retro world that’s vibrant with the famously over-the-top music and aesthetic of the late 1960s to early 1970s. The game was developed by Sumo Digital for the popular Apple Arcade gaming platform. The protagonist is an intelligent gadget resembling a tiny robotic spider. This device, named “Agent 8,” was created by an elite British spy organization. As the hero of the game, Agent 8 undertakes high-stakes espionage in order to defeat a sprawling evil organization known as S.I.N.! Sumo Digital recently released a developer diary video about the making of the music of SPYDER, so let’s check that out:
As you could see from the video, the Spyder video game features a dynamic music system designed to convey the iconic 1960s style of a classic spy thriller. In this two-part article series, we’ve been exploring how that system was created.
Hello there! I’m video game composer Winifred Phillips, and I’m excited to announce the release of my most recent video game project – Spyder, developed by Sumo Digital for the popular Apple Arcade gaming platform. I loved working with the amazing audio team at Sumo Digital, and composing the music of Spyder was an absolute blast! As a retro spy thriller with a really iconic visual aesthetic, Spyder gave me the chance to delve into the musical styles of the late sixties and early seventies. Big band jazz of the 50s had evolved over time into a groovy psychedelic circus of 1960s musical fun. Mix this with the beginnings of 70s funk – and early synthetic sounds such as the famous Minimoog – and you end up with a potent cocktail of musical influences and attitudes. All of this retro goodness is reflected in the old-school movie-style poster created by the Sumo Digital team to announce the Spyder video game (pictured right).
The historical research into style, technique and instrumentation posed a significant challenge for me as a game music composer. In the course of preparing to compose the music for Spyder, I sank an enormous amount of time into this research, listening to what felt like every single spy movie soundtrack from the late sixties and early seventies. I also listened to tons of straight action movie soundtracks from the same era, as well as a great assortment of comedies, all while taking copious notes. Lending a strong sense of authenticity to the era was a crucial responsibility of the game music that would give Spyder its evocative character.
This week, I’d like to touch upon an aspect of the LittleBigPlanet music system that sets it apart from most other games – and that is the way in which the game gives players the power to directly manipulate the music content.
Every piece of music in a LittleBigPlanet game is also a collectible prize that players can obtain and then use in levels that they build themselves using the game’s creation tools. For this reason, when composing for a LittleBigPlanet game, the members of the music composition team have to keep in mind that there’s no way to predict how the user community will use the music. Certainly, the players will be sharing their user-created levels across the entire community – there are over 9 million levels so far – and that knowledge tends to puts everything in a whole new light.
As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs, the music of the LittleBigPlanet franchise for consoles is structured using a Vertical Layering system comprised of six layers – six simultaneous audio recordings that play in synch with each other and each represent a percentage of the whole composition. This allows the music to be disassembled and reassembled by the game engine according to what’s happening during the course of play. That means that each music composition is fragmented into six parts. So, I have to ask myself – when players are using one of the interactive tracks I’ve composed for a LittleBigPlanet game, will users play only one layer out of the six? That thought tends to make me scrutinize every layer pretty intently.
On the other hand, will players just set every layer as active, at full volume, all the time? Again, that’s a thought that puts me on high alert, leading me to turn a hyper critical eye on each composition before I make that final submission to the developers.
When we create interactive music for most projects, we can trust that the audio team at the development studio will work to implement the music in the most advantageous way, with the most satisfying musical results – but players tend to make their decisions based on what seems like fun at the time.
Even so, I’m always excited to hear how players have implemented my music into their games. Here are some of the best examples of ingenuity and artistry from a few of the top LittleBigPlanet level creators:
LittleBigPlanet 3 The Ziggurat Theme
In the Ziggurat level, Sackboy wanders through an impressive sanctuary characterized by imposing architecture and lots of glittering glass, with outdoor sections blanketed by softly falling snow. I was asked to create music for this area, which was structured as a central hub from which Sackboy could embark on adventures and accept missions. The music I composed included six layers – Choir, Harp, Bells, Bass, Jazz Drums and Percussion. Here is a short 12 second excerpt taken from each of the six layers at the exact same moment in the composition:
In the Ziggurat level created by the development team at Sumo Digital, Sackboy repeatedly visits a central hub area, and the layers of the music are triggered in different configurations depending on when Sackboy visits. The layers don’t change noticeably while Sackboy is exploring the level, but when he returns to the same level later, the music will have changed its layer configuration. Here’s a brief example of how that worked:
In the awesome user-created level Fuga Ad Infinitum (designed by Aratiatia), the Ziggurat Theme music is used with a very different triggering strategy. The layers are turned on and off depending on the actions of Sackboy as he runs and flies through a mythologically-inspired environment, causing the music to fluidly change its character while Sackboy explores. Because of this fundamentally different method of music triggering, The Ziggurat Theme has a unique tone and atmosphere in Fuga Ad Infinitum. Here’s a gameplay video that shows how the music was triggered in the Fuga Ad Infinitum game:
The user Aratiatia created a mesmerizingly beautiful level, lacing the layers of The Ziggurat Theme throughout with thoughtfully designed trigger points that supported the action of the game very well.
LittleBigPlanet 2 Toy Story
Sometimes an interactive track can come across differently with very small changes in implementation. As an example – the LittleBigPlanet 2 Toy Story game was a self-contained adventure in the world of the famous and popular Toy Story movies. I wrote an interactive western bluegrass track for gameplay sequences that included cowboy romps with Woody and his pals. The details regarding the composition of each layer in this bluegrass Vertical Layering composition are explored in one of the tutorial videos I produced to supplement my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music:
During the LittleBigPlanet 2 Toy Story game, the interactive music would be used for both low-energy cinematics and high-energy gameplay. Here’s a brief video showing how the music was implemented in the LittleBigPlanet 2 Toy Story game:
Now, here’s the same music used in an incredibly clever LittleBigPlanet 2 user-created game called Paper World 2 by Adell22. In this implementation of the music, Adell22 chose not to use the melody layer, opting instead for the bluegrass rhythm and energy to give the vehicular gameplay its momentum:
The drastically different gameplay circumstances, combined with the different mix of layers in the music, help this track to come across distinctively and support the action of the Paper World 2 user-created game.
LittleBigPlanet 2 Victoria’s Lab
I’ve blogged before about the music I composed for the Victoria’s Lab level of LittleBigPlanet 2 – I mention it here as an illustration of how a Vertical Layering composition can change depending on the implementation. The music of Victoria’s Lab includes both whimsical and dark layers which can be played together or separately. Here’s a 15 second excerpt of the full mix of Victoria’s Lab, to remind us of how all six layers sound when played together.
In a user-created level for the LittleBigPlanet 2 game, the user Acanimate chose to implement only the drums, guitars and strings of the Victoria’s Lab music (in other words, the dark and serious layers) in this exciting and perilous level called Sprocketz.
As a contrast, in this section of another user-created level called Sweets Fantasy by the user White Rabbit, only the light and comical layers of the Victoria’s Lab music were used, with the following result:
I’m always inspired by what the LittleBigPlanet user community does with the interactive music written for the franchise. It’s a privilege to create music that will become part of user-created levels, and fascinating to see how the players choose to implement the interactive components of the LittleBigPlanet music system. Their choices sometimes reveal hidden utility in the music created for the franchise, and looking at their choices can help us better understand the creative possibilities inherent in Vertical Layering.
Winifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose most recent project is the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution. Her credits include five of the most famous and popular franchises in video gaming: Assassin’s Creed, LittleBigPlanet, Total War, God of War, and The Sims. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. As a VR game music expert, she writes frequently on the future of music in virtual reality video games. Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.
Hey, everyone! After my blog yesterday about winning the Hollywood Music in Media Award, I’ve received a bunch of questions about LittleBigPlanet 3 and the Hollywood Music in Media Awards program – so I thought I’d post some info that explains everything in a bit more detail. It’s a little easier to do this in third person, so here goes – I hope this helps!
On November 4th, game composer Winifred Phillips received a 2014 Hollywood Music in Media Award (HMMA) in the category of “Best Song in a Video Game” for music she composed for the LittleBigPlanet 3 video game (developed by Sumo Digital Ltd. and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, LLC).
As one of the composers on the LittleBigPlanet™3 music composer team, Phillips was recognized for her song, “LittleBigPlanet 3 Ziggurat Theme.”
The critically acclaimed and best-selling PlayStation® franchise LittleBigPlanet™ makes its debut on PlayStation®4 with LittleBigPlanet™3. Sackboy™ is back, this time with playable new friends – Toggle, OddSock and Swoop – each with their own unique abilities and personalities. This handcrafted adventure is set to revolutionize the way gamers Play, Create and Share in the world of LittleBigPlanet.
Sumo Digital Ltd, the developer of LittleBigPlanet 3, has forged a reputation as a World Class multiple award-winning independent game development studio. The company has grown exponentially over 11-years from 15, to 270 people spread across the Head Office in Sheffield, UK and a dedicated Art Studio in Pune, India. Sumo Digital is one of the UK’s leading game development studios.
Info about the Hollywood Music in Media Awards:
The Hollywood Music in Media Award ceremony was held on November 4th 2014 at 7pm at the Fonda Theater (6126 Hollywood Boulevard, Hollywood). The Hollywood Music in Media Awards recognizes and honors the creation of music for film, TV, and videogames, the talented individuals responsible for licensing it and musicians both mainstream and independent, from around the globe. The HMMAs is co-branded with Billboard/Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference. HMMA advisory board, selections committee and voters include National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, Oscar, Emmy, Society of Composers and Lyricists and Guild of Music Supervisors members.
Additional info about Winifred Phillips (the LittleBigPlanet franchise and the HMMAs):
Phillips’ award-winning track, “LittleBigPlanet 3 Ziggurat Theme,” from LittleBigPlanet™3, is a highly interactive musical work, written as a complex classical fugue, and incorporating an organic, world-music influenced instrumental arrangement in support of a women’s choir. Phillips has received two previous Hollywood Music in Media Awards – in 2012 for Assassin’s Creed Liberation (Ubisoft®) and in 2010 for the Legend of the Guardians (Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment). Phillips is one of the composers on the LittleBigPlanet music composer team, and has created tracks for six games in the series, including LittleBigPlanet 2, LittleBigPlanet 2 Toy Story, LittleBigPlanet Cross Controller, LittleBigPlanet PS Vita, LittleBigPlanet Karting, and now LittleBigPlanet 3.
Phillips’ work as a composer for the LittleBigPlanet game series has earned her previous awards nominations from the Game Audio Network Guild Awards, the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, the NAViGaTR Awards and the D.I.C.E. Interactive Achievement Awards. Phillips works with award-winning music producer Winnie Waldron for all her projects, including those in the LittleBigPlanet franchise. Phillips is also the author of the book A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published in 2014 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press.
In this photo, I’m holding the Hollywood Music in Media Award I won for LittleBigPlanet 3 Ziggurat Theme.
Since Sony Computer Entertainment Europe announced the award today, I can now share it with all of you. I’ve been bursting with excitement over my involvement in LittleBigPlanet 3 — it’s going to be the best LittleBigPlanet game ever, and I’m so honored to have been a part of it! I’ve been keeping the secret for a while.
Here I am at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles this past June, looking at the wonderful booth for LittleBigPlanet 3.
LittleBigPlanet 3 features all new companions for Sackboy — you can see OddSock and Toggle pictured here. Look at how huge Toggle is!
Of course, my favorite will always be Sackboy. Just look at that face! What’s not to love?
Doesn’t OddSock look like he’s whispering a secret in my ear? I suppose we really were keeping a big secret then, and I’m so glad I can share it now with you all.
Well, that’s my big announcement. I’ve been keeping this secret for almost two years. Working with the wonderful creative team at Sumo Digital and Sony Computer Entertainment Europe on music for LittleBigPlanet 3 has been a wonderful adventure, and I’m so excited that the game will be released on November 18th!