Boston-based Chel Wong is the award winning composer and sound designer behind the OST to Chump Squad’s 3D Puzzler – Kine. For this week’s Soundtrack Spotlight Chel has kindly answered a few questions over email about the inspiration behind Kine’s soundtrack, some of the production techniques used to make it, and how she tackled the compositional challenges behind Kine’s interactivity between music and gameplay.
How did you and Gwen Frey meet and how did you end up working on Kine?
Chel: I would go to basically every Boston Game Dev meetup, which meant going into the city 5 times a month. This one demo night was at a different venue than normal and she was quietly showing her game to very few people. Despite feeling like I was really stumbling through the conversation she seemed to think I was alright and let me give the game a go. I think it was honestly the luckiest I had ever been because I happened to be more or less exactly who she was looking for: an up-and-coming composer trying to make a name for herself in games, as well as someone who happened to also be a trombonist and was very familiar with performing jazz.So she took a chance on me. And after a test run I ended up writing music for the full game!
How do you approach a new project, and in Kine’s case, what inspiration did you draw on for the initial ideas?
Chel: So Kine was the 3rd ever game I worked on but it was the first one to launch. I think back then it was also my first really big contract so I poured a lot of time and energy into making it perfect. I knew that she was really influenced by La La Land’s story and so I decided after not quite hitting the mark initially, I’d take “Another Day of Sun’s” chord changes and work from there. We also had 2 different ideas that ended up making my job pretty difficult which was 1. The bassline was always constant and 2. As you progressed through the levels, new layers of music would get added on top. I also wanted to give all 3 instruments their own musical identities and have another one when they all come together but that was super difficult to solve.
As for in general when I start a new project, I typically ask the clients “if they could pick one or two songs to put in their game, what would they choose?” I am also used to taking an amalgamation of ideas and smushing them together into a single cohesive soundtrack.
How did the development of the soundtrack interact with the development of the game? (in terms of access to assets, early builds etc.)
Chel: Gwen basically just gave me access to builds when they were ready until we started to use Perforce together. For the most part, there wasn’t too much content that was new when I started, it was just a matter of being refined. Though as a puzzle aficionado, I also just did a ton of playtesting on my own time. All the big sections were designed and by the time I was done with all the major content, all I had to do was write music for little cutscenes which she sent me video files for.
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Music is very much used as a game mechanic in Kine e.g. new instrumental parts coming in when reaching new stages, and players being free to create their own rhythm game by moving in time with the soundtrack. What challenges did you come across when composing with player input in mind and how did you solve them?
Chel: This was something that we discussed for a while because there were some different options, and it took a while to settle on something. I wanted the instruments to move about and perform a solo while they moved but this meant that there would be a very high chance of it sounding like a not very good middle school jazz solo? Or worse, just nonsense?? One possible idea we entertained but didn’t end up trying was having a track that was a fixed jazz solo and whenever the instruments would move, it would activate that stem. In the end I ended up recording large banks of different types of sounds for each of the 3 major instruments, and even then I had to redo them to get the timing right. The drums were largely the same from even before I joined, where she had some preexisting samples that sounded good and each face of Quat (the drum character) had its own fixed sound. For a while Roo (the accordion) and Euler (the trombone) also only had 1 sound per side and it drove me crazy. I had to beg Gwen to teach me how to use Perforce so I could edit the build within Unreal Engine. But in the end I did some relatively simple randomization of several banks of sounds and she agreed that it was worth me fixing. Perhaps if I was more knowledgeable of implementation I would be able to determine if one note should go to another, or if only selected notes could be played over the given chord of the music but honestly even now that still sounds like a nightmare. I just made the randomization more in favor of notes in the key and lower for notes less likely to be in a chord.
Are there any trademark compositional flourishes or techniques of yours that we can hear in the soundtrack?
Chel: I don’t think I have any particular flourishes or techniques that are like my signature, but I do have some recurring themes for each instrument. You’ll hear Roo’s and Euler’s theme appear in their own levels as well as the levels with both of them together. Maybe one day when I write even more, some VGM music theory expert will talk about some of my signature techniques that can be found in my writing bahahaha
What’s next for you?
Chel: Right now I’ve been chugging away at writing the OST for Whisker Squadron, which is developed by Flippfly, the team who made Race The Sun. It’s a procedurally generated corridor flight shooter, or often colloquially described as a “Roguelike Star Fox.” I’ve also been doing sound design for She Dreams Elsewhere which is a POC focused surreal JRPG about anxiety and escaping a coma. I’m very excited for both to come out~
Kine’s soundtrack is available to stream through Spotify and is available to purchase through Chel’s Bandcamp page HERE. The game itself can be picked up through the link below.