Gamedev Grievances #13: Music – Heavybreeze Hills

When I finish composing a piece of music for Ambience, typically it’ll stay in its current form for a while before I decide, for one reason or another, that it needs improvement. So I work on enhancing it a bit, and then once I’m done, leave it be – until I decide it needs improvement again. Sometimes it takes several iterations of “improving and waiting” before a piece turns out exactly how I want it to.

Take, for example, Heavybreeze Hills, where you’re sent to scout for Foss’s Henchmen. It’s the next area to be explored after the Ambience demo ends. I’ve shown a few GIFs of the Hills before, but here’s how it looks at the current stage of development:


Yes, that’s right – I’m also working on new character sprites! (More on that in a future update maybe.)

Anyway, the music for Heavybreeze Hills has undergone several reincarnations. The very first version sounded like this:

A problem I frequently encountered as a new composer was my habit of adding lots of deep strings and choir to try and make it sound all grand and epic. However, this often made the melody “blurred” and difficult to hear, which is what happened here with all the bass choir and a very loud bass guitar. (Also, that gong was just plain unnecessary.) Not only was it hard to listen to, but I also felt that it didn’t really capture the right feel – I wanted the theme to be a little lighter, a little less serious, and a little less like you’re embarking on another massive fantasy trilogy.

So I removed much of the emphasis on the bass, cut the choir completely, and made the melody a little lighter. This is the second version of the theme, which I think is the one which made it into the demo:

This wasn’t too bad, at least for a while. But then I started thinking about it again, and a few things stood out which needed changing.

I especially started thinking about the percussion. So far, the percussion was extremely simple – literally a kick drum and a tambourine. It didn’t really add much flavour to the theme at all. So I replaced it with a more sophisticated percussion loop, which also worked quite well with the 6/8 timing.

In addition, the theme was a little too slow and meandering for an exploration setting. Sure, it worked well for the grand, epic feel of the very first composition, but not anymore. So I ramped up the tempo a notch as well. I also extended the theme and changed the loop points to avoid having too many “slow sections”, and this helped maintain the faster pace throughout.

But that wasn’t all. I also started to dislike the flute.


No, wait, that’s not what I meant.

What I mean is that the flute sounded okay here on the main melody, but it had to span a wide range of notes – specifically, it had to go up an octave after the intro part, and Melody Assistant’s basic flute sound didn’t really cope well with that. I tried a few other flutes and whistles from both Melody Assistant and some free soundfonts, but none of them really cut it for me.

So what did I do? I changed tactics entirely – I gave up on the flute entirely and used an oboe instead, which sounded much nicer overall. Here’s the (probably) finished product:

I don’t know how much further development is going to happen to this piece – at the moment I’m pretty happy with it, but then again, things could change. Even so, it’s always satisfying to finish a piece and be able to listen to it in-game.

(Disclaimer: No flutes were harmed in the making of this soundtrack.)

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