This week’s feature will be a little different from the usual since this time we have a guest writer! Stakula, the composer of the theme music of Legend of Grimrock shares some insight on the creation process of the music. You can either listen to the tune with the embedded player or download it as an mp3. Enjoy!

Summer 2011 I noticed an interesting trailer link in Finnish IGDA pages about a game called Legend of Grimrock by a new Finnish game team Almost Human. I was intrigued because it was very much like old Dungeon Master games which I was big fan of back in the good ol’ gaming days. I contacted the team, congratulated them on great concept and gave them some advise on sound design.

Sometime later, it so happened that Almost Humans were interested in having me compose the main theme for the game! Antti Tiihonen contacted me early September and shortly after I met the guys in Espoo. Game looked fantastic and we agreed that catchy, fully orchestrated song would be what the game needs, a memorable theme with strong emotional impact.

Coming back from the meeting I actually composed the main melody in my head and sung it to iPhone while driving. This is how I usually work when making melodies for games and other projects such as my band Alamaailman Vasarat. There’s a reason for it – catchy melodies tend to work out best when composed outside the instrument. You need to have good relative pitch skills though, but it’s certainly worth it, because then you can compose everywhere and stay true to yourself. If it feels like crap in your head, no point orchestrating it any further!

When I started working on the song I realised I needed a good instrument for the main melody. I can play several instruments myself, like saxophones, clarinets, guitars, keys and so on, but this one was definitely a cello thing, no question about it. Luckily, my band mate Tuukka Helminen, a cello virtuoso extraordinaire, agreed to torture the old wood for me! I mean his cello, of course.

I went on making a demo version using solo cello samples at first. I also played bass clarinet for the middle part and orchestrated the song more towards film score proportions. After a few adjustments the game team was happy about the demo and it was time to record the cello. Tuukka, aided by few beers, tracked multiple cellos in several octaves within one hour and it sounded great! It’s always quite a leap when going from samples to real instrument and it’s always for the better, nothing replaces the human touch!

For the final version I played a rare instrument I bought from Okinawa, Japan, called Sanshin. This snake skin banjo with three strings is quite an ethnic sounding little fellow and I really liked how it emphasized the oriental epic movie feeling of the pentatonic main melody. It’s intentionally not very up front in the arrangement – it’s more like a subliminal color slightly outside the typical Celtic fantasy realm without being too exotic.

In the end, I think the main theme worked quite well and I suppose Almost Humans were happy too, because I got paid! Big thanks to the whole game team for this interesting project & anxiously
waiting for the final release!

Stakula
Composer, sound designer, woodwind player
www.stakula.com
www.alamaailmanvasarat.com

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