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Interview:  Wipeout ,  Lemmings  Composer Tim Wright Opens Door To Indies

Interview: Wipeout, Lemmings Composer Tim Wright Opens Door To Indies Exclusive

September 20, 2011 | By John Polson

September 20, 2011 | By John Polson
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More: Indie, Exclusive, Audio

[Gamasutra talks with Tim Wright (Wipeout, Lemmings) about his Indie Music Incubator Support Scheme, along with two devs who worked with the renowned game composer to create memorable music for their small titles.]

From developers and users, music typically does not get the same kind of love and attention on "casual"-friendly platforms as on hardcore platforms. At least, that is what artist Tim Wright (aka CoLD SToRAGE) has essentially experienced.

In order to infuse memorable, unique music on newer platforms such as web browsers and smartphones, Wright has established the Indie Music Incubator Support Scheme (I.M.I.S.S.) to provide music and sound effects for low-budget casual and smartphone games.

Wright's contribution to the budding generations of gamers via I.M.I.S.S. will be but a chapter in the artist's anthology of creations. His commercial game music contributions began in 1989, and he gained particular fame from PC soundtracks such as Shadow of the Beast II & III and Lemmings, and PlayStation hits such as Wipeout and Colony Wars.

Over the past several years, Wright has been managing and creating multimedia content under his Tantrumedia Limited label. Under that same label, Wright has worked on several I.M.I.S.S. projects, which he explains in more detail below.

Members of two of those projects -- Sodium2 from Lockwood Publishing and Psychroma from Moonjump -- share their experiences regarding I.M.I.S.S., as well.

How do you create quality music in a short time?

Tim Wright: The timescale isn't always important. The idea is to provide bespoke, original, and dedicated (never used elsewhere) music to a game rather than just use library tunes that could appear in other games or corporate videos or tunes knocked up in seconds using Garage Band or Magix Music Maker.

Development timescales for games considering using I.M.I.S.S. can vary greatly. You do get people who are trying to make a living developing small games, so they turn around as many as possible in the shortest time possible, so yes, we have to move pretty quickly. But you get some developers where it's not their full-time job, and so we could be in consultation for months.

Does composition occur in collaboration with the game developer?

Wright: I.M.I.S.S. is all about interaction with the developer. We talk through the whole game ethos and develop brand new music for the game just in the same way we would for a AAA title… Clearly, there won't be the volume of music required, but we don't scrimp on quality…

We just look to do a great job with less emphasis on profit and look more at building relationships and working out ways of funding the work outside the normal model.

What time saving tricks are deployed?

Wright: We have to be pretty agile for some projects that come to us late in the day and want music or sound effects within a week or two. Sometimes we just have to say no, but we try to accommodate where possible. There are no 'tricks' per se, we just try to get to the core of the game as quickly as possible, maybe create a demo video of the game with various commercial tracks in the background to develop the right 'feel' and the take that style and come up with something new based around that. This way of working means we can roll out work fairly quickly.

Sometimes [devs] will have placeholder sound effects and music that give us a starting point to work from. This is the best case scenario, because if we agree with their choices we can get moving right away. If we feel we could improve on them or make suggestions, we do so. Sometimes they agree, other times they may have a clear view, and we have to respect that and run with it. On occasion, they have no idea about sounds or music and just come to us to offer suggestions, in which case we just give them a few key options in terms of direction to get the ball rolling.

[Wright shared his negotiated terms with the two developers. Lockwood Publishing agreed to I.M.I.S.S. rates in return for exposure in marketing and promotion, and agreed Wright would have a form of OST Album that would partly counter the reduced rates. Moonjump agreed to a percentage royalty for I.M.I.S.S. work.]

How did you hear about I.M.I.S.S.?

Andy Cowe, Moonjump: I approached Tim about doing the music for Psychroma before I.M.I.S.S. was announced. I had worked with him at Jester Interactive, and thought it worth approaching him about a collaboration even though I was doubtful he would want to go from big-budget to indie. Luckily he did, and in a big way with I.M.I.S.S..

Jamie Riding, Lockwood: Tim contacted us in mid-2010, letting us know that he was getting back into the business of providing music and sound design for games. At this stage we were working on Sodium2 " Project Velocity for PlayStation Home, a free-to-play racer not a million miles away from Wipeout. We were all really big fans of Tim's work, so this got us really excited.

At this stage, we'd gotten a lot of the game sound in place but hadn't managed to secure the quality of music we knew we needed for a title like ours. We had expected an artist of Tim's caliber to be way beyond our price range, but when Tim broached what would become known as the I.M.I.S.S. scheme, we leapt at the chance to work with him.

Describe your interaction with the sound designers.

Cowe: I described what Psychroma is trying to achieve and provided some gameplay video clips for sound effect timing and reference, plus listed technical limitations and audio formats. I then left it to the expert.

Riding: Working with Tim was a dream. He was very attentive to the style and feel we were after with these tracks and provided plenty of review points during the composition process.

We provided a healthy amount of feedback during the process " as music geeks ourselves we wanted things to be perfect " but Tim was extremely responsive (and I should say gracious, given how much feedback we seemed to give at times).

How receptive was I.M.I.S.S. to what you want [with changes]? Does this cost extra?

Cowe: I tried to be as sure as possible in what I needed before giving a full list of requirements, so no changes have been needed yet. As I got in so early in I.M.I.S.S., I expect to be a guinea pig for the process.

Riding: We had review stages built into the contract, and like I said above Tim was extremely good when it came to tweaking this or that. It was understood that substantial re-writes would cost extra " but what Tim provided us with was very strong material and faithful to our initial brief.

How do you plan to promote this musical collaboration?

Cowe: I'm really bad at marketing, so I am looking for a publisher. The involvement of CoLD SToRAGE will certainly help in opening doors, and I can see a publisher wanting to highlight it.

Riding: As part of our collaboration with Tim, we're exposing the name under which he commercially records music -- CoLD SToRAGE -- to a whole new generation of gamers in Sodium2.

We've included logos and track details in the game and will be working with Tim to promote the album of content he produced at the same time which includes the two tracks recorded for Sodium2.

What feedback or information do you have that helps you determine if I.M.I.S.S. was a success for you?

Riding: We ran Sodium2 through a period of closed an open beta in which we gathered a large amount of feedback from players. Consistently music was ranked in the top three features from subjective player feedback.

Are there any recommendations for how the I.M.I.S.S. service could be improved?

Cowe: Everything has been good so far. I've worked on a team split across continents before, so I'm used to working remotely, which some may struggle with.

Riding: This is a boring answer, but no " we were exceptionally happy with the whole process.

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