Reply To: LittleBigPlanet 2 Interactive Music Brief

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Jesse Harlin


Composers, especially young composers, count your lucky stars that folks like Kenny are around here at GANG giving you this kind of insight. If you’ve never worked on a AAA title, this is a fantastic look behind the scenes at the beginnings of a project. Due to NDAs and (what I think is) a crippling level of secrecy within our industry, you are unlikely to see documents like this unless you’re actually working on a title. What a fantastic learning opportunity. It’s a great primer for how to approach interactive music. It’s also a great look into the making of one of the most staggeringly creative titles and soundtracks of the last game generation.

And man oh man, am I happy to see the part where Kenny specifies that each stem has to be sample-accurately the same length. I routinely give people shit for this on the Student and Apprentice challenges. If the brief says “the cue must be 1:00 long” then I expect one of two ways to interpret that unless otherwise stated: the written material must last exactly 1:00 or the file itself must be 1:00 exactly. No more, no less. I take that very seriously when judging whether you’ve been successful or not and it’s because that’s a very real world type of delivery request. If a composer delivered to Kenny six stems for LBP2 and they were all different lengths by a number of seconds, it creates more work for Kenny. Even if that work is a phone call to explain what needs to be changed, or worst case, he has to edit the stems down himself to get it to work. So, pay attention to those things.

Everyone should buy Kenny a drink at the next GDC they see him at.

If I can piggyback onto here, this is a very similar approach to how I informed all of the composers on “Star Wars: The Old Republic” of the scope of work, the diversity of the work, and then the framework within which they’d be working. I created a document that broke down for the composers each faction (Republic, Empire), each class (Smuggler, Jedi Knight, Imperial Agent, etc.), and each planet. The breakdown included historical details about the planets as they exist within the Star Wars universe. But it also included my thoughts about compositional ideas, much like Kenny has done here. You want to arm the composers with enough material that they will find inspiration for their work. Sometimes that comes from the sections that say “Use oboe and harpsichord to give a playful air of whimsy.” Sometimes that comes from the sections that say “This level will be one of time-based puzzles set within the industrial revolution.” You don’t know what will inspire your composers, so you do your best to inform them well without giving them too little or too much information.

I don’t have access to the actual doc from The Old Republic, but it would have sections that said things like “Voss is a planet of primal Force energy. It’s a world of magic, essentially, where The Force is both a mysterious presence and a very real threat. The entire score should feel like the rainbow on the edge of a soap bubble: fragile, intangible, threatening to disappear at anytime yet captivating while you can experience it. We’re going to focus less on the music of John Williams and more on orchestral minimalism, for instance the music of Charles Ives (listen to “The Unanswered Question”). We’ll also want to reference the ethereal music that Williams’ writes during the Birth of the Twins scene from Revenge of the Sith. Celeste and harp. Glass instruments. Things that float and feel breakable. The Force Theme is obviously fair game, as are Jedi-related themes, but let’s keep most other themes off the table for Voss.”

In the end, that kind of direction led to pieces like this:
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Music Design Documents are amazing to me in their ability to create structured creativity. You build the rules that will work for a project, then let the composers run wild within that structure. They’re absolutely essential to the process. If a composer doesn’t know what they’re supposed to be writing, they often can’t write anything at all. An overabundance of options often can be creatively paralyzing.

Kenny, thanks so much for sharing this with everyone.