Meri-Making: music edition
Normally in our Meri-making updates we cover a little bit about all the various facets of Meriwether’s development. However, this month we wanted to do something a little different and dive deep into the music. Jim Welch joined up with us about a year ago. This is our first project working with him and he instantly fit in with the team, got up to speed with the project and immediately had a feel for the style of music we were looking for. He even bought and learned several new instruments to use in this project like a Native American flute, a fife, and a banjo. We’re continually impressed by the quality of his music and want to feature the work he’s done so far. This is the perfect time to do so since he just had the primary recording sessions.
Jim started composing the music for Meriwether right after our Kickstarter campaign ended in January. As he was composing, he made mockups (rough drafts) of the songs so the rest of us could listen, give feedback, and drop them into the game to see how they fit with the rest of atmosphere (spoiler alert: they set the tone of the game perfectly!) Some of the parts Jim recorded himself on actual physical instruments to help capture the intention of the piece/part better, but the majority of the mockups were comprised of MIDI performances using synthesized and sampled instruments as placeholders until they were replayed by live performances at a later date.
Jim works from his home studio In Dallas, Texas most of the time, but in order to record the large ensemble needed for Meriwether he headed to Austin to record in a more spacious studio. Dave Shumway engineered the sessions and helped a ton with prep work. Dave was a really integral part to bringing the score into the live player realm and deserves a big thanks from all of us! You can check out what Dave is up to at www.mediaeaters.com.
In anticipation of the recording session, Jim spent nearly all of September feverishly preparing arrangements and sheet music. Observe the reams of charts he painstakingly prepared. Fortunately, the software he composed his mockups in (Logic Pro) allowed him to create a rough initial version of the sheet music based on the MIDI data of the sampled instruments he recorded. But it all still needed a lot of work before it could be placed in front of players. Loose tempos in the midi recordings, meter changes, articulations and many other things were not contained in the MIDI data and had to be added by hand. Additionally, many things had to be removed entirely that were only around to help the “fake” instruments sound better. Composing for a sampled orchestra is very different than composing for a real one. It was a significant task to say the least!
Throughout the game’s process, we’ve had a number of interns and students helping us and learning about game development at the same time, and this recording session was no exception. In addition to being a talented engineer, mixer, and composer, Dave also teaches. For the Meriwether recording sessions Dave invited his higher-level students to observe and help out during the recording sessions. They were a ton of help and I’m sure learned a ton about how complex something like this can be!
Jim spent brutally long days in the studio, recording the music for Meriwether’s soundtrack. The first day was spent recording all the strings: two violins, a viola, and two cellos. Winds and brass were recorded on the second day, including piccolo, fife, flute, oboe, english horn, clarinet, bassoon, french horn, trombone, trumpet, snare drum, and Native American flute.
Here's two versions of the piece “August 20, 1804.” The first is Jim’s initial mockup using the sampled instruments, and the second is with actual instruments. Some of the differences are subtle, and some are more obvious. Overall, we think they both sound great but the real instruments sound more expressive and nuanced.
Also, here's a new piece that will be triggered dynamically when Meriwether starts to get melancholy. We love how moody and beautiful the piece turned out!
Now that the bulk of the recording is complete Jim is working together with mixer Adrian Cook to make sure all the live instruments reach their full potential. Dave continues to be involved as well and has really put his heart into this project with us. A few pieces still remain to be composed and recorded but we’re almost there! The final step after all recording and mix is complete is arranging the tracks in a manner that suits implementation into the game. An important stage in marrying music to an interactive experience and something we are all excited for.
Currently, our plan is to start sharing a Beta build with Engage-level backers before the end of this year, and release a finished version of the game by the end of February. We’re a bit behind our original schedule, so we want to be realistic about how much work is left, yet we don’t want to compromise quality. We will continue to keep you updated on our schedule. That said, all aspects of the game have really come together recently and we’re happier than ever about how the game is playing. More about that next month!
Josh & the Meriwether team