Adventgeflüster: Two Feathers – Die Musiker hinter Aragami

Indie Interviews Nerdkultur Stories

Anfang Oktober erschien Aragami, ein Schleich- und Meuchelspiel mit fernöstlichem Setting, zu dem wir vor kurzem bereits ein Review präsentieren durften. Etwas kurz kam dabei der Soundtrack – doch das Spiel glänzt auch mit atmosphärischen Klängen. Diese brachte das Studio Two Feathers ein, welches auch schon für Titel wie Angry Birds 2 und Battlefield Heroes komponiert hat.

In unserem Interview erfahrt ihr mehr darüber, wie Nicklas Hjertberg und Elvira Björkman Musiker mit eigenem Studio geworden sind, wie die Arbeiten an Aragami liefen und noch einige Details mehr. Wer beim Lesen etwas reinhören will, kann direkt hier einschalten. Da die beiden aus Schweden kommen, haben wir das Interview auf Englisch durchgeführt und wollen wie immer auch etwas multikulturell und beim O-Ton bleiben.

How did you get into the game music business?
Did you dream about working with videogames when you were a child or did the idea just pop up later in your life?

Both of us dreamed about working with game-music as children. The inspiration for that idea came from the J-RPG’s of it’s time, like Final Fantasy, Chrono Trigger, Xenogearsetc. Instead of the pop stars of the 90’s, our childhood heroes were the composers for these games.  So the dream was long in the making, even if it got sidetracked a few times with other aspirations as well – like playing in various bands, arranging conventions or wanting to make comics, games, stories etc.

Both of us dreamed about working with game-music as children.  

When did you decide to start your own studio?

We decided to start it quite close after our first encounter, which was when I (Elvira) joined Overworld – a new metal band in town where Nicklas was playing guitar, spring 2012.We don’t play in the band anymore though, but might be up to something new in that direction…

Anyways!

We quickly realized that both studied something with game development; Nicklas studied Sound Design and I studied Game Design but in different schools, in different towns. In fact, we had lots of common dreams and interests, especially for game music and the dream to work with that. Just a couple of months later, I called Nicklas one day about maybe writing music together specifically for an indie-game to a friend of mineHowever, we never got the gig for that particular game in the end, but it did become the leap into writing game-music together. After lots of networking and portfolio making we later that same year laid our hands on our first job together, Hammerwatch.

I called Nicklas one day about maybe writing music together specifically for an indie-game to a friend of mine. However, we never got the gig for that particular game in the end, but it did become the leap into writing game-music together. 

How did you get the chance to compose the soundtrack for Aragami? Did the developer contact you or did you apply for it?

We found the team back in the end at 2013, post-release of Hammerwatch. It was close to Christmas, very cold and snowy outside, and we were taking care of my mother’s dogs out in nowhere where my parents lived. Nothing good on TV. We decided to browse around on TIG-source forums to see if we could find any inde-game we felt would be interesting to work with.

I think we looked through around 150-200 dev-logs that evening and even though there were a lot of interesting ones there, probably lots that have been released already, only 2-3 projects stood out to us at that time as something we felt would be challenging. One of those few dev-logs was Aragami, at time named Path of Shadows. We sent a PM and hoped for the best.

What was the biggest challenge while working on the music for Aragami?

The Main Theme was quite challenging, as proof we have so many variations of it! Partly because we made it before we had even started on the in-game soundtrack and had yet to decide on a musical style. Partly because we constantly grew and got better during those years, working with Angry Birds 2, Toca Boca and so on – we always wanted to make it better.

The style itself was not that tricky though, we somehow knew very early on what we wanted, which was something more „beautiful and sorrowful“ sounding rather then „I’m a cool ninja“- sounding, if that difference makes sense? We wanted to accommodate the beautiful art-style of Aragami as well as the melancholy of the story with music, in contrast to what exactly you’re doing at the giving time – sneaking around or assassinating with your bad-ass shadow tricks.

We wanted to accommodate the beautiful art-style of Aragami as well as the melancholy of the story with music.

The challenge therefore lied a lot in the pacing of the game together with tempo of the music. Too fast and it didn’t feel well with the controls or the setting around you, too slow and perhaps it‘s a bit too uneventful when you need suspense? The solution was we ended up with was dynamically change the feeling depending on if you’ve been noticed or not. When noticed there’s less melody tunes and more percussion and bass kicks in, when undiscovered it’s more eerie with more melodies and not so much percussion.

The music style was something we felt happy with when playing the game, which we did all the time of course since we also implemented everything audio-related. However, it’s always a challenge to be 100% confident in your choice. Can you truly trust that even though we like it the player will too? Of course not! That’s always a scary challenge, to trust what you do is „good enough“. However, the team seemed to like it, so we let that be the pin on our decision to go forward with that type of music.

The budget for Aragami was none, we tried a kickstarter but that failed unfortunately. The developers was living on noodles and we had to manage our other jobs at the time.

Time management and budget is also something we struggled with, even more since we also did the sound design. The budget for Aragami was none, we tried a kickstarter but that failed unfortunately. The developers was living on noodles and we had to manage our other jobs at the time, as well as our prior band. There was no chance to really work with it at 100% until year 2016, around when Sony jumped on board to fund the last part of the development and get it out on PS4, but there were still not much budget for audio. So we had to carefully choose and manage our time, which did affect some of the creative choices we did in the end.

What was your favourite part about working with Lince Works?

The creative freedom we got was extremely enjoyable to work with, especially considering the circumstances we were for most part working under. It would be hard to motivate ourselves working all those evenings and weekends, for such a long time and with no certainty it would ever reach an audience without that creative freedom!

There was never any hesitation to go that extra mile, especially since we could form our own visions and make a direct impact with the game. It became a canvas for us to make art with, as artists that’s always what we live and breath for in the end. 

Then the entire gang, they are awesome, some of the best people we’ve ever met. We really hope for many more future adventures with them! We believe a lot in Lince Works and what they can achieve as a future game-developing studio. They are simply amazing and talanted people. 

How long did it take from concept to the finished soundtrack?

You know, since we had to constantly balance between working with the sound and the soundtrack it’s hard to nail down exactly how long it took. The very first concept was ofcourse our pitch to Lince Works. After that it took a year until we actually started to really work with the game, in the meantime we kept doing concepts – for the kickstarer and trailer tracks.

It wasn’t until late 2015 that we started to compose for the game, but we could never compose at „fulltime“ since we also had to do the sound design. That’s why it’s a bit hard to calculate, but if we just say the time it took writing, recording and producing the soundtrack rather it would be about 7 months of total working time with only music. If from „birth“ of concept and to how much amount of time that went by until the soundtrack was finished, then it would be 2 and a half year.

What instruments were used most for the sound of Aragami?

Since the game is so inspired by Japanese culture we naturally gravitated to using lots of instruments from there, even if the soundtrack itself might not be entirely „true“ to Japanese culture. Since the game is not set in the real-world Japan but in a mythical, made up place with lots of parallels to a feudal Japan, but also with other culture inspirations, we wanted to feel free to do our own cultural mix that could represent this peculiar world that Aragami is set in. We wanted it to be its own „setting“ in a way, not an existing one. It was like composing to this world its own cultural heritage in music.

We wanted it to be its own „setting“ in a way, not an existing one. It was like composing to this world its own cultural heritage in music.

So, we used a lot of asian flutes, like Japanese Shakuhachi and Shinobue flutes as well as the Chinese Xiao-flute recorded by Kristin Naigus. Also, uses of the Japanese Ryuteki flute, because we thought the translation of it to „Dragonflute“ sounded very cool. The Xiao flute, even though traditionally Chinese, we used it a lot since it also seemed to have some co-heritage with the Shakuhachi and has this awesome more „ancient“ sounding vibe. Fun anecdote: We usually buy instruments like these to study it, so in our studio we’re now proud owners of a Shinobue, Ryuteki and a Shakuhachi.

The flutes got the main role a lot of times but another „main instrument“ we also made lots of use of is a string quartet, performed by Videri String Quartet, to work with the mid-frequencies and melodies. For the bass, we chose instead of an acoustic one, an electric bass. It gave a much more close and unique vibe that we liked.  A small 2-3 person choir, is present in almost every track, along with light percussion, taiko-drums, kotos as well as shamisens. We aimed for a lot of soft and warm sounding instruments That was our main palette we included in every song with some variations to it in each track, like harps, bells, piano etc.

Where’s the difference between composing music for an artist and writing music for a game?

Well, none of us has been writing music specifically for another artist. That kind of music, with lyrics and so on,  we’ve only written for ourselves, or been part of writing in a band setting. It’s still two very different work processes though. As an artist you’re more focused on delivering something very personal and you do it mostly for yourself and your „own ego“ in a way, as a motivating factor. When I say your own ego, I don’t necessarily mean like being a star, becoming famous is the biggest motivating factor – not for us at least, but more that you can do whatever you want to do and that you do it for yourself, from yourself and with your artistic expression from an empty canvas you have control over. 

With game music you put your mind into a setting that already exists, with characters that already exist – you’re working with visions from someone else’s head or heads.

With game music you put your mind into a setting that already exists, with characters that already exist – you’re working with visions from someone else’s head or heads. Sometimes you get a lot of creative freedom with that, and sometimes you have to stick to a sound of the brand or try to please a creative lead/game designer/audio director as well as yourself.

You need to be much more professional in a sense and deliver more in a shorter time period, on schedule. However, that can sometimes feel even easier in one way – since you have an inspirational smorgasbord already laid out in front of you, but it can also be more challenging as you have so much interactivity and tech-problems to solve and accommodate to really get your vision down „on paper“.

What’s the hardest part about creating an audio-landscape?

The amount of sounds and time needed to make it sound polished! Audio is probably somethings that looks, and sounds, like something that is easy and fast to do – but it’s very time consuming. Not only is it the sound themselves, but in our case since we code and implement everything too, there is a lot to do and you rarely have the time to do it all. You’ll almost never get everything you want in there and that can feel a bit sad sometimes, but you have to accept that as a part of it all. It can also be challenging to get in sync with the team sometimes when working from a distance, like Sweden (us) and Spain (Lince Works) but usually we can work it out! 

The hardest part of the creation is always different per project.

What’s the most obscure trick you used to imitate a certain sound?

Nothing really super obscure. Nicklas did some lantern/torches sound by recording a candy-wrap and a frying-pan, putting those two together. Most footsteps from Aragami is made barefoot, as we didn’t want him to have shoes or particular hard footstep sounds. The grass sounds is actually a duster that we fiddled with, as we thought the real-grass recordings we had was just to harsh sounding. The duster sounded much softer.  The teleport sound was made from cardboard-friction, fire-torch-swooshes and whispers with a lot of effects on it. The shadow creation is boiling water, fire, frying pan, whispers + effects.

There was no budget, nor time, for Japanese voice actors though. All voice actors is us or just our friends (thank you friends!) doing our best. So make sure it could become the best it could be, we made a made-up language, since there is less in the acting to be critical of when playing. No weird swede-english. The made-up language was made to imitate a Japanese-sounding language, which was pretty interesting as all of us who acted the language are from Sweden.

The language we had at first was much more „fantasy“ sounding, like the elves in Lord of the Rings. But that didn’t really feel like the world we was in, it gave it to much of a nordic vibe. So we took the English script, translated it to Swedish to make it more unrecognizable for the majority of the world and then „Japanese-fied the hell out it“ and made it even unrecognizable for Swedes.

So we took the English script, translated it to Swedish to make it more unrecognizable for the majority of the world and then „Japanese-fied the hell out it“ and made it even unrecognizable for Swedes.

We reused occuring words like „Shadows“ which is in Aragamish „Moreseli“, to try to give it a unified sound – like a real language. We have a small word-book to keep track of it even. Then we hoped for the best we wouldn’t say anything accidently over-offensive in Japanese.       

I guess it worked a bit too well, since lots of reviews seem to think it’s actual Japanese! To us that’s quite funny, since we were notoriously nervous that people would hate it, instead we got a lot of positive reactions regarding the VO!

Besides your own work: What’s your favourite game soundtrack?

I’m not sure anyone of us favour our own work! Anyways, here you go:

Björkman: FF7, FF6, FF9, FF8 – Chrono Trigger, Xenogears,  Rayman Origins, Sonic 2, Shadow of the Colossus, Hearthstone, Breath of Fire 3, Kingdom Hearts.
FF7 is my nostalgia „omg, this is what I grew up with“ drug though. That soundtrack can make me tear up anytime.  

Hjertberg: There are so many to choose from! But – I’m gonna go with the one that first came to mind, which is Chrono Trigger. Such an amazing soundtrack! I would also mention Final Fantasy 6 as a true classic in my opinion as well.

Vielen Dank an Two Feathers für das tolle Interview. Und natürlich auch vielen Dank an euch fürs Lesen! Falls ihr jetzt Lust auf mehr bekommen habt, aber noch nicht reingehört habt, hier noch eine kleine Erinnerung an ihren YouTube-Channel.

D. Sen hasst Videospiele und moderne Medien überhaupt. Er schreibt Videospiel-Reviews, weil kein Verlag seine richtigen Bücher veröffentlicht.