May Update: Dev Diary Audio Edition
As a fun little initiative to show you our world of development, we want to introduce Dev Diaries! We will have these from time to time to show different perspectives of what is going on. Without further delay, I give you Jonathan Peros:
This is Jonathan Peros, Audio Director on System Shock. I wanted to include a quick update to give some insight into an aspect of the musical direction of System Shock! As you all can probably guess, working on a reboot of a classic game definitely has its own set of unique challenges; we are all tasked with the job of making a good game by today’s standards, but not losing sight of what made the original game great. As such, I’ve gone back to the files for System Shock 1’s soundtrack over and over, spending as much time as I can absorbing what made Greg LoPiccolo’s work on the original music awesome. I thought I would share a few of the great things about System Shock 1’s soundtrack here with you, some of the game’s most dedicated fans.
System Shock 1’s soundtrack was far ahead of its time in many respects. One of the most obvious ways that this shows itself is in its procedural music system. The original game had a MIDI soundtrack, which would play through various soundcards in order to produce the game’s music. This is different than today’s game music, which is for the most part pre-recorded audio files playing back. Because the music was played back note-by-note through data on the soundcard, this opened many possibilities for how the game dealt with music. The music for each level is not contained in a single file, but instead each level’s music is built procedurally from different musical building blocks, controlled by parameters in the game. The core set of each level’s musical building blocks are named with a gameplay state (“W”alking, “P”eril, “C”ombat) and a section (“A”,”B”,”C”,…). “WA” can play into “WB”, unless the game state changes to peril, at which it may play into “PB”. This kind of interactive system provides both varying intensity, which mirrors the pacing of the gameplay, and linear sections, which give the music a sense of forward momentum and structure. This procedural music system is then made more interactive by having various layers which represent the various enemies that are overlaid on top of the core level music, based on the proximity of enemies of that type. These layers are used to represent these enemies across the entire soundtrack, giving each enemy type a theme of sorts! Very cool, stuff!
Reactor transitioning from “PB” music to “CA” music:
Mutant enemy type musical layer:
Another very noteworthy feature about the System Shock 1 soundtrack is its unique use of timbre (the perceived sound quality of a tone that distinguishes different types of sound and instruments). As I mentioned, the System Shock 1 soundtrack was done through MIDI playback. MIDI files are not audio files; MIDI is a data protocol, which tells another device various musical information, like “Note On”, “Pitch”, “Velocity”, “Tempo”, etc. In this case, the device is a computer’s soundcard. Each soundcard has its own set of sounds that are programmed into it, and MIDI then calls on these various sounds with a “Program Change” message. Then, when “Note On” messages are received (along with pitch and velocity), the soundcard knows what sound to play, at what pitch, and how loud, until a “Note Off” message for that pitch is received. The important part to note in this is that the sounds on each soundcard are preprogrammed. Most soundcards have their own takes on very generic sounds (Overdriven Guitar, String Ensemble 1, Clarinet) as well as some more unique ones (Guitar Fret Noise, “Goblins”). System Shock 1, however, used these sounds in very non-traditional ways! Oftentimes, Guitar Fret Noise is played at a very high pitch at 16th notes in order to get some very non-traditional percussion sounds. You’d be very surprised to know that one of your favorite backing arpeggios in L01 Medical’s music is played back on two Bagpipes tracks, with chords being produced by rapidly playing notes on the Acoustic Guitar (nylon) channel. One of my favorite tracks in the game is the Groves music, because of its very creative use of MIDI controls on all of the various layers which come in and out.
Guitar Fret Noise MIDI instrument used as a percussive instrument:
Bagpipe and Acoustic Guitar used creatively:
Percussive Organ layer in Groves (pictured above):
The last cool bit of musical implementation in System Shock 1’s soundtrack that I want to talk about is its use of delay. Delay is a musical effect, which generally takes an input audio signal, waits for a duration, and then plays that audio signal back on top of the original signal. Because of System Shock 1’s MIDI soundtrack, this effect had to be emulated by manually copying and pasting the MIDI Note On and Note Off messages at some later time in that instrument’s channel. This overlaying is done in System Shock 1’s soundtrack as a musical subdivision of the beat, which gives the music really cool compositional elements! Often you’ll hear the soundtrack doing interesting phrasing, by something like playing an eighth note arpeggio with it delayed on top of itself three sixteenth notes late. This was utilized more than just an effect, as it is used most of the time in popular music; in System Shock 1, these delayed signals playing against the original melody combined to create an entirely new melody, a key part of the musical composition. I love when sound design becomes an integral component of the compositional process, as opposed to an effect or an afterthought!
Exec’s guitar line playing eighth note line (pictured above):
Exec’s guitar line with delayed signal three sixteenth notes later:
I hope you found this somewhat technical discussion of System Shock 1's music interesting and informative! While rebooting System Shock’s soundtrack, the lessons taught by the original soundtrack are invaluable to capturing the essence of System Shock 1’s music. With such a forward-thinking musical score in the original game, we aim to keep that spirit alive by pushing the boundaries of interactive music and sound design today. The world of interactive music in video games has only grown more interesting in the past 20-odd years, and I’m very excited to utilize these options to compose the most immersive and interactive score for System Shock possible!
Introducing our new Nightdive Studios Shop!
Ever wish you could have a shirt with our awesome logo? Or how about our logo done by another artist? Well you asked for it and here it is! We now have a Nightdive Studios merchandise shop! For a limited time only, we will be offering a 10% discount with code SCUBASTEVE, please check it out:
If you are interested in any other games to back on Kickstarter, please consider Fort Triumph! Fort Triumph is a tactical RPG featuring interactive environments and epic quests in a world on the brink of destruction. It's basically a fantasy version of XCOM with environment physics. Pretty awesome!
Q: Will System Shock be Mac compatible?
A: Yes. Mac, Linux, and Windows
Q: How does the sizing work on the shirts?
A: We will update the Backerkit entry with a sizing chart for both male and female shirts.
Q: Can I use PayPal as my payment method on Backerkit?
A: We're still considering PayPal - hold tight!
Q: How long do I have until I need to finalize my Backerkit survey?
A: A few months before launch, we will send out a number of updates before we're ready to finalize orders.
Q: I pledged at the $75 tier and still have issues with shipping, what gives?
A: We are so sorry with the delay, we were working hard with Backerkit to resolve this issue. At this time, all backers at that tier should no longer have to worry!
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See you next time~!