We chat with the two guys responsible for giving players of Housemarque’s new app something to hum along with.
Listen to the interview in audio format directly from here:
For Furmins, Housemarque’s first foray into the iOS world, a couple of recognizable names were tapped to head up the game’s soundtrack and sound design: Peter Hajba, the man behind the music featured in PopCap’s popular Bejeweled series and three-time winner of the Assembly music competition, and Ari Pulkkinen, who at age 29 has already founded his own sound production company and composed the music for arguably the world’s most popular mobile app, Angry Birds. We caught up with both gentlemen last week – and for a couple of guys with no formal musical training, they seem to have things pretty well figured out!
Tell us something about yourselves.
Peter – “I’ve been working on games for 15 years, but music has mainly been a side project for me. I started in the demo scene a long, long time ago – in fact, a lot of Finnish people working in the game industry have demo scene roots.”
Ari – “I’m a composer/sound designer. I’ve had my own company for almost four years now, specializing in game sound design and game composing. I have various games behind me – some of those are Angry Birds, which you guys may have heard of.”
What is sound design?
Ari – “It’s actually not that hard to explain. Sound design is about enhancing the user experience during the game – making sure the user knows what’s happening on the screen, and creating user interface sounds. The second part is to make “sound branding” for the game – in other words, to make everything sound like it’s unique to the game. For Furmins, the sound design was soft – the Furmins’ sounds are very cute, and it’s overall a very soft and nice experience.”
Peter, I heard that the soundtrack of Furmins has been made using trackers. Could you elaborate on this?
Peter – “Trackers music dates back to the demo scene days, actually. Trackers started back in the 80’s, in the Amiga computer. The Amiga had four channels that could play samples, and trackers music uses those four channels to play musical samples at different pitches and mixes them in real-time. That’s how they could make some very impressive-sounding music back then. Before that, all music was created by using sound chips that were very beepy, but samples had very realistic sounds, like snare drums and gunshots and what not. Trackers music was used in so-called “module format” – the files were basically packages of samples and note data, so you could have just the one file that contained all the musical instruments and all the notes, and then it’s played back in real-time. For mobile games such as Furmins, this allowed us to pack a lot of music into a very small package, which is always a benefit for the download size. It also allows for layering the music, because the music is mixed in real time and it has multiple channels – you can fade out and switch some of those channels on and off. If you listen carefully when you activate the physics in Furmins, you can hear an additional layer of music coming into the game. That was only possible with trackers music in mobile devices.”
Ari, what was the goal with the sound design of Furmins? What did you want the players to feel about the levels, the characters, and what was happening on-screen?
Ari – “For me, the most important part of the sound design was to make Furmins sound happy and easy to play, easy to pick up, and not annoying. A soft-sounding overall experience with not too-funny noises, but cute – because Furmins are really cute.”
Did you have a specific target in mind for the player?
Ari – “I wanted to create sound design that kids and adults would enjoy – for instance, if a kid is playing in the living room, the adults are not annoyed.”
Peter, you’re known for your great work on the Bejeweled series, which has no doubt been something really good for your career. How has that work influenced Furmins, if at all?
Peter – “It’s a long, interesting story. Back then, when the first Bejeweled game was being made, I wasn’t looking for a job as a game musician, but I had my songs online and the PopCap people (which was a very small company back then, just three people) sent me an email saying that they liked the tracker song I had on my page and asked if they could buy it for their Bejweled game – and I said why not, and sold it to them for a few hundred dollars. Then the game sold millions and I was thinking maybe I should have asked for royalties. I don’t think it would’ve been possible, but anyways the game was very popular and a great promotion for me. The Bejeweled game is quite different from Furmins in the sense that it’s not really that cute, so for Furmins I wanted to do something more cheerful.”