During the 2010 Game Developers Conference in March, Laura Shigihara received an award from the Game Audio Network Guild for her song “Zombies on your Lawn” from Plants vs Zombies. The music track has appeared in both English and Japanese, sung by the composer in both languages. During the conference, she joined IndieGames.com for an Independent Games Festival group chat, speaking on the subject of her forthcoming role-playing title Melolune.
Essential web destinations for those interested in learning more about the musician’s next game, which she is largely designing herself, are the Melolune Bandcamp page, the demo trailer and a piano theme from the game “Eclipse and Starlight.” The soundtrack album’s first of several installments has been released in advance of the publication of the game, giving listeners an in-depth preview of what to expect from the music score. We caught up with the musician to hear about the making of her independent game project.
One advantage that Melolune has over role-playing games of previously existing console eras is that currently through digital download demos can provide for fan feedback ahead of release. Have you received input from the playable demo that has influenced the development of the game?
Laura Shigihara: Yes, I’ve actually made some major changes to the game as a result of player input. I’m very thankful to have received such great feedback from folks because I think it’s made a tremendous difference in the overall quality of the game.
In the first demo I’d ever released, the early parts of the game were very different from how they are now. The feedback revealed that many people assumed the game was aimed solely at children because the first hour was not at all indicative of the larger and more serious storyline. I also noticed that when my mom played the first demo (she’s recently gotten into video games), she was bored during the first hour, and that’s never good! So I decided it was important for me to redo the introduction and first hour of gameplay.
I hoped that by making certain parts more succinct, adding more interactivity, and foreshadowing parts of the story’s core, the early parts of the game would be more captivating. These simple changes ended up making a huge difference, and I wouldn’t have known to do this without the help of player input 🙂
At this point in development, how many people are contributing to the making of the game?
It’s basically a one-girl operation. Although I have traded with folks before (I’ll make them some music in exchange for art or help with programming). George Fan has been kind enough to help with the battle system interface and by making a really cool airship sprite.
Melolune appears to cover a broader emotional spectrum than your previous game soundtrack. Do you see this as an advantage of the RPG genre?
I definitely do! I’ve always loved how RPG soundtracks were so varied; there’s a lot of room to create all different kinds of music, and I think that’s great! I’ve always wanted to do something like this.
Is this primarily the same audio software you were using on Plants vs Zombies, or are you taking significant new approaches technically?
For the most part, my technical approach is pretty much the same. I arrange everything using Sonar 6 in conjunction with a variety of soft synths and live instruments (Edirol Orchestral, Cakewalk TTI, EWQL, DR-008, and homemade samples, or ones that I’ve gotten from my Korg Triton). I do a lot of editing in Soundforge, and my vocals are done with a simple AKG compressor mic. I think the only difference is that Melolune has quite a bit more live piano playing (as opposed to sequenced), as well as vocal tracks.
What interested you in the concept of releasing the album in installments through Bandcamp?
I think it started as a result of wanting to put all my music in one place. Prior to that, my music was all over the internet on various servers and it was difficult for me to remember where I (or others) had uploaded it when people asked for samples. Alec Holowka and some other music folks from TIGsource had told me that Bandcamp was really easy to use, so I decided to check it out and ended up liking it a lot. Music is a big part of Melolune because it’s a key component of the central story, so I thought it would be nice if folks could listen to the music as sort of a preview.
Do you see releasing the soundtrack ahead of the full title as possibly lessening the full impact of experiencing the music first within the context of the game?
For the most part I’m not too worried about that. I think in certain cases (like with the song “Traces”), some people are already very familiar with the song. My friend Kan Gao did a couple different covers of it, but he doesn’t yet know the story of the girl who the song is about. I feel that her story is very special to me, and I can’t wait for people to hear the song in context and go, “Ohhh… so that’s what it’s about!”
You have a separate portal on your website for pop music. Does Melolune incorporate any pop music elements that might be unfamiliar to RPG soundtracks?
There are definitely some pop music elements in the music; the tracks tend to be more melodic, and there are a lot of vocal tracks… I’m not sure if it’s unfamiliar to RPG soundtracks though, especially since these days you can hear all kinds of different types of music in modern games.
One thing that does feel a bit different though is the assembling of music in the dungeons. It’s not a huge part of the game, but in some of the dungeons the main character collects fragments of songs and assembles them in order to gain new powers. The reason I did this was because my favorite part of composing is hearing how all these seemingly different melodies and harmonies can fit together like puzzle pieces in order to create an overall sound and feel. I first noticed this when I listened to Mega Man 3 music as a child; I tried dissecting the parts and playing them on the the piano. I wanted to share that experience of assembling melodies with the player.
In contributing your own vocal tracks to Melolune, do you see this as a way of departing from the established style of the RPG genre?
I think perhaps a little bit… there have been vocal tracks in other RPGs, but usually they are ending or opening theme songs. In Melolune there are a lot of vocal tracks integrated right into the cutscenes. There is one scene where a character is reflecting on the passing of his mother; in their final exchange, his mother asks him to recall a lullaby she sang to him as a child. I thought it would be nice to just play the vocal track right through the end of the scene because it really made you feel for them.
Independent downloadable games often have a smaller scope and price than console titles. How do you anticipate Melolune comparing in scale to retail role-playing games?
Since I’m just a 1-person development team, Melolune will definitely be more limited than something like a high-budget Final Fantasy game. But for what it is, I think it’s still fairly deep. I’ve been working on it for three years and a lot of care was taken with everything. At this point it’s about 10-15 hours long, and there will be close to 70 tracks of music, so it’s fairly involved… but yes, it’s definitely not a 70 hour massive studio game or anything… though I hope people will still be able to enjoy it, it is very special to me ^_^
Learn more about Melolune by visiting Laura Shigihara’s official website. Music for the game is available on Bandcamp.