Steve Barnes' Update of Happiness
Anyway: I asked FRONTIERS composer Steve Barnes if he'd like to write an update - he delivered something far more contemplative and illuminating than any mere update has a right to be. Read on for a fascinating glimpse into the talented mind of a madman ehhrrm I mean musician:
Hi, everyone -- Steve here, greeting you with a nice cup of mint tea from this peaceful nook. So far, you may only know me by the occasional swaths of music from Lars' updates. But unbeknownst to all, I'm also capable of thinking, typing words on a computer keyboard, and having mint tea. Lars only lets me speak once every two years, so I should use this opportunity to attempt to convince you that I do indeed exist, and I'm at least as passionate about my role in Frontiers as Lars is about his.
I'm a little wary because composers aren't usually supposed to have feelings except when they're composing. But it may be okay, since I also love to program, do web design, perform, write, film and edit, paint and do visual effects, make my own games, and a bunch of other stuff. Lars could beat me at most of those, but maintaining relations with a virtual orchestra was apparently a point of delegation for him.
Two major dreams. After moving from Canada to the States, dream number two was to direct the choir program that enriched my high school experience with regular sessions of sublime musical indulgence. With that ticked off after an unforgettable year, I dwelled on music for video games, the much older dream number one. (For Nintendo in particular, not least because they're still the only large-scale company that I even really get. Hi, Nintendo. Here I am. I'm all grown up now.)
Of the non-Nintendo games I've particularly loved, many have been the products of smaller teams. For me, that list includes Myst and Riven, The Last Express, The 7th Guest, Death Gate (a point-and-click game based on the Weis and Hickman novels), The Journeyman Project 3, and the occasional minor masterpiece like Dear Esther. The novelty of interactive movies like Star Trek: Borg also caught my attention.
I recently wrote my first full-length stage musical about this very thing -- the irreplaceable inspiration games have on us while we're growing up. The show combined the kind of digital music you'll be hearing from me, with projected art, animation, and actors. (But that's another story… perhaps one that will continue with a future Kickstarter campaign?)
I think the essence of video games, as we see them, was available before programming and consoles and TVs. You could still find an open field with a friend, shirk the real world, and designate one person to narrate and present while the other imagines along. Tabletop RPGs and books came on the scene as different methods of achieving the same goal. The world has more than enough nerds to keep them all alive, I'm sure.
What if we could just snap our fingers and transport each other right into a world of our own derivation? Would things like tabletop RPGs go extinct? We don't have that kind of ability yet… not even a proper holodeck. But new technology inches us closer, and it's been apparent through history when a team has been eagerly waiting for a particular advance. That's when one of these games appears that makes my list.
Here we are at now. If we'd like a new world to explore, all it takes is a person of unique discipline and talent like Lars, and enough contributions from people who are only here because they probably already understand this whole paragraph so I can stop now.
But enough about not me. Music has benefitted in the same way. Getting from imagination to music without a long layover for engineering and technical concerns is normal now. It's pretty amazing.
I had probably accepted Lars' invitation to write for Frontiers before he'd finished the question, but even then I hadn't realized how much my type of game it was. We've developed a cycle of him showing me a gameplay clip or concept, and me suddenly feeling less and less like I ever had to guess what he was after. It feels like I just get to write whatever I would write for my own game. That's pretty much the workflow at this point.
The game's idealness in my mind does raise one big question. If the game is supposed to seem like a reality, then the soundtrack suddenly becomes the obscure element. There's no background music in reality.
Or is there? Music goes through your head sometimes, doesn't it? And even when it doesn't, there's at least this ribbon of mood that weaves around your mind when you enter a new place for the first time, whether it's "ah, this is the scent of nature," or, "something is definitely going on here," or just "goodness, the universe is large." (I think translated Japanese developers have mastered the art of phrasing those feelings. I haven't quite nailed it yet.) Anyway. Filling those feelings in using music is how I see this job description. Which means I'm playing the part of part of your braaaaain.
Lars and I are working closely, and I could not be more deeply excited to wrap myself in a large duvet with provisions, and emerge several weeks later with a polished bronze vinyl record. Which I think I remember is the Unity engine's preferred format.
Thanks very, very, very much for your support. And let's not forget the young mes and yous that might find Frontiers available to play, in the same way that young me or you happened to find Myst. Who knows what could happen.
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