The Peggle franchise has won awards for its rich orchestral music and dynamic composition. To bring that music to a mobile game was a real challenge for Senior Audio Director and PopCap Composer Guy Whitmore and his team.
We sat down with Guy Whitmore to discuss how his team addressed this challenge and got an inside look at how the music for Peggle Blast was created.
How long was the process to record audio for the game? Take us from the concept all the way through completion.
The sessions themselves were only four or five days of recording. But many weeks, even months, of prep time went into composing, arranging, and orchestrating the music for the sessions. In the case of Peggle Blast, the music was written well after the recording sessions. The challenge there was writing original music for Peggle Blast, which could take advantage of the orchestral samples recorded for Peggle 2. One benefit of that process was that it naturally helped consistency between the music of the Peggle franchise. The new themes written for Peggle Blast feel like an extension of Peggle 2's music, and that's on purpose.
What were the most challenging element of the audio that had to be reproduced?
For Peggle Blast we had to rethink and rebuild the logic for the music interactivity. Since there are several unique gameplay mechanics in Peggle Blast, the music design needed to be flexible enough to synchronize with gameplay and visuals. At the end of any given shot, the music advances to the next phrase of music. The affect to the player is that the start each shot feels like an emotional shift has taken place; a sense of progress or of tension. My hope is that the music engages and motivates the player to advance, and win. Technical Sound Designer RJ Mattingly wrote the new music system in a way that will allow us to use these features in future PopCap games. One key feature is the system that selects appropriate peg hit notes to play harmoniously over the music.
Were there any sound effects you had to replicate that were extra tricky, perhaps taking a few different takes?
Here's an interesting one, and a little secret for those in the know: the Peggle Blast levels with gems, ended up using the gem click sound from Bejeweled! After some trial and error we said 'Wait, don't we have something like that already?" It fits perfectly; one is of the most satisfying sounds in a PopCap game.
Did anything surprise you throughout this process? Any unexpected results?
Yes. Audio Lead Jaclyn Shumate explored the use of real-time synthesis for the sound effects. Initially this was to save memory - synthesis uses very little memory relative to recorded audio - but rather than fight the limitation she discovered a retro aesthetic that fit the game very well. So this is a case where a limitation led to a cool direction we might not have thought of otherwise.
How many people are in the orchestra that recorded the audio for Peggle Blast?
The orchestra [The Northwest Sinfonia and Chorale] had 44 instrumentalists, plus a 20 member choir. The session was recorded for the production of Peggle 2 [Xbox One, Xbox 360 and PS4], but was recorded in a way that many of the samples could be used for Peggle Blast as well. Beethoven's Ode to Joy expert was recorded separately in Germany by a team called Dynamedian.
How many different instruments or groups of instruments are there? Is this a full orchestra?
It is a full orchestra, but we recorded each instrument section separately rather than as one large orchestra. For example cello and bass, recorded separately from violins and violas, separate from clarinet and oboe, etc. Brass was broken down into low brass, trumpets, and French horns. We also recorded mallet instruments and percussion separately. We also recorded these instruments in short phrases or even single notes. These recording techniques gave us the flexibility to create the interactive score. All these orchestra bits are like puzzle pieces that the game assembles on the fly as the game is played. It's the only way to account for variations in gameplay style, making each game session feel custom scored.
How did you get started working in music? How long have you played?
I started playing guitar when I was about eight and my interest in music only grew from there. I studied guitar and composition in college; undergraduate degree from Northwestern U. and masters from Southern Methodist U. That education set me up well for game audio composition; even though that profession didn't really exist when I started college.
What type of video games do you like to play?
I enjoy games that put me into a different time, place, and atmosphere, while getting me to think and contemplate. Games that do this for me include Monument Valley, Sword and Sorcery, and now Sailor's Dream, Limbo, Braid, the Bioshock series and Flower.
Do you have any advice for people interested in getting started in your field?
Sure. To quote Joseph Campbell "Follow your bliss!" Pursue your passions for intrinsic reasons (for the love of it) rather than for extrinsic reasons (money, employment, fame). Don't put a timeline on 'making it', and 'make music whether you're getting paid or it's all in your spare time. And even when you're getting paid, make other music simply for yourself. Above all - have fun doing it!