A Hat in Time made a lot of promises during its Kickstarter campaign, from extra sets of levels to co-op, but amongst the list of goals there was a name that caught my attention. If the game reached a certain goal during its pledge, Grant Kirkhope of Banjo-Kazooie fame, would compose a track for the game.
I paused and thought to myself “The man who scored one of of the most revered platformer from the Nintendo 64 era, was summoned to do the same thing he did over 15 years ago (only on a smaller scale)“. Not to disrespect Pascal Michael Stiefel, but my interest for this game grew tenfold.
But I had another concern, part of what made Banjo-Kazooie so great was how dynamic the soundtrack was, the best example in the game was the hub world of Gruntilda’s Lair, the song grew as you further escalated the tower, and in each door to the levels of the game it would shape itself to reflect the theme of said level.
I wondered... can the guys behind A Hat in Time do the same? I decided to ask Pascal about the dynamic nature of the soundtrack, the differences between what we have heard in the alpha and the final game and much more...
This is the second part of a two-part interview with the Main Composer of A Hat In Time, Pascal Michael Stiefel, to catch up on the creative process behind the music of the game, an in-depth description on one of the most fascinating tracks of the game, and much more, click here.
Are you planning to do a dynamic soundtrack in the same vein of how Rare used to do with their games, where the music would vary depending of the situation or location?
Absolutely. In Mafia Town, the game’s very first level we currently have 4 dynamic layers playing at the same time. Our music system will, depending on the Player’s location, transition smoothly between each variation of the song to provide the appropriate atmosphere for each area.
For example, while you explore the grimy rundown upper sector of Mafia Town you will notice deep Brass Staccato instruments and low Pianos adding an element of dirt and harshness to the music. As you pass by the shady Mafia members you will hear deceitful Woodwinds and devious Pizzicato making you feel like they might be up to no good.
Just as you take a look at the vast azure colored ocean and you note the sunlight and seagulls high above, the lush green trees and grass flowing in the wind, you will eventually hear the chords of the music opening up wide and notice cushy strings & guitar instruments being added to the song and all of a sudden the place doesn’t seem all that bad anymore. You might even start to wonder what the place would look like if the Mafia buffoons never forcefully took over the Town.
If you swim in the ocean everything becomes peaceful and much softer because the music is played on a dreamy synthesizer with watery bells. You can even hear the far-reaching noises of the sea life. On the beach the music becomes more upbeat and excited, with exotic drum patterns, Caribbean Steel Drums, Latin Trumpets, joyful whistling making you feel like you just showed up at a legitimate Mafia beach party.
Finally, in case you decide it’s time to buy some helpful tasty Hat Kid upgrades in the Black Market, the music will take the form of a wacky retro styled 8 bit song that sounds like it could be straight out of the golden NES Era.
Yes it’s all the same song, same theme, the very same notes, equal pulse, speed and yet it’s an altogether different atmosphere each time. It’s very inspiring to find so many variations in the same sources. And that’s just the first level in the game.
Which Equipment/Tools do you use for the composition and arrangement of the tracks?
I use Steinberg Cubase 8 Pro to compose, arrange, mix and master all of my music. In my opinion Cubase is the best DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) I’ve had the pleasure to work with.
My Projects tend to get rather large and complicated, sometimes exceeding +300 instrument layers per tune. Cubase has the horsepower to handle even the most insane projects I throw at it and its tools allow me to never lose track and keep each gizmo firmly under control. For all my SFX, Vocal mastering and editing work that requires more precision I use Steinberg Wavelab 8 in combination with Cubase.
My trusty RME Hammerfall Multiface II Audio Interface assists in rendering the audio, allowing to work with the lowest possible latency, furthermore making sure the audio signal quality is as crystal clear as it can be. I never work without a RME DIGICheck 5 instance in the background, a neat audio analyzer, which helps me see the inner workings of my music in a visual way. It helps my work hit a suitable volume level as well as letting me know how the frequency balance (low and high end) and stereo landscape of my music develop over time.
Right in front of me I have this gigantic Samsung flat screen TV with some smaller LCD ads to the side. They probably burn my eyes with blazing light a lot more than I like to admit but it’s quite essential for that special star ship commander feel in the studio. (Yes, that’s important. ) It’s actually very helpful to have my projects spread out over multiple monitors.
Last but not least I have my faithful AKG K240 MKII Headphones. I have been using this particular type for over 10 years and I know their sound by heart, knowing exactly how my tunes will translate to loudspeakers of any kind. I do have a set of speakers to check my work but I rarely use them during the creative process. I do my lion share of the work with the AKG’s as I personally feel they allow me to hear the music more up close and detailed.
About Grant Kirkhope, Have you had the chance to interact with the mastermind behind the soundtrack of games such as Banjo-Kazooie and Goldeneye?
In my early teenage years I used to have Banjo-Kazooie, GoldenEye, Perfect Dark and Donkey Kong 64 on my much treasured Nintendo 64. Back in those days I didn’t know who exactly Grant Kirkhope was, (you don’t really think about where music in games comes from at that age) although I sure knew that I absolutely loved the soundtracks of those games. Especially the quirky melodies and brilliant off-the-wall instrumentation of Banjo-Kazooie.
Once the internet grew more popular around my area I quickly learned who composed my favourite soundtracks of the above-mentioned games. I certainly never dared to envision that one day I would be working alongside Mr. Kirkhope. Working with him has been amazing, he’s very charming, he knows the score and has that one of a kind wit and humor that you won’t ever forget.
I always particularly enjoyed the planning and outlining stages of creating a song as it provides a sense of adventure and a craving for the unknown. There was this one particular moment where Jonas and I were discussing and planning the concept of what the “Hat Kid’s Spaceship” Theme music of our Hub World should sound like. This area is of quite importance to the game as it serves as a sort of central home for player.
Naturally we were getting very excited as we knew Mr. Kirkhope was going to do his magic and create the actual music for this crucial level. My task that day was to pitch our carefully picked concepts and ideas to Grant and check back with him what his ideas and thoughts for the Theme were. Grant instantly understood our vision and passionately got to work right away with a jolly “I’m On it!”
Time flew by rapidly as I was waiting patiently for my mailbox to tell me the latest masterpiece of Mr. Kirkhope had just arrived. Curiosity in me grew sky high and right away I fired up the Spaceship Hub World Level and swiftly opened Grants attached song file in the background.
What happened next was nothing short of magical. As Grant’s music began to spread gently through our Spaceship , the red brick-wall halls suddenly began to come to life with child like wonder. “An aura of adventure and thrilling mystery had quickly taken over the place. Even the glittering dust particles floating above Hat Kid must have felt it. You could even hear her mischievous reflection in the massive glass panels of the Spaceship. It quickly began to feel like an actual place instead of just being a level.
I already knew Mr. Kirkhope was a very talented musician working with orchestral soundscapes as he has already shown in the highly underrated Kingdoms of Amalur and Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts and Bolts Soundtracks but he completely knocked it out of the park again with the texture and instrumentation of this particular Theme. The way the orchestra grows and breathes in that track still impresses me.
It’s difficult to explain but there was something very special in seeing the ideas of Jonas, Grant and myself come together so perfectly. It made me think back to my teenage days when I was playing Banjo on my new N64 and falling in love with the music of that game and not knowing who Grant was. It made me realize how surreal the entire situation is and the strange paths life sometimes likes to take.
It has become an important memory to me, something I like to think about when things don’t quite go the way they should. A small warm flame for cold days. Usually it’s a good thing to have a few of those in your inventory.
Fun fact: “My Trusty Umbrella”, a mini boss theme I have composed for Hat, is actually partially based on Grant Kirkhope’s A Hat in Time Main Theme composition. Working with Grant and being able to use parts of his Hat compositions as a basis to create new fun things has been delightful.
So yes. I’ve been able to interact with the mastermind and I’ve been one heck of a lucky paisano! (Translators note: Italian for brother)
Should we expect these songs to change between the alpha build and the final product?
Highly unlikely! We are trying our best to get the songs right on the first try. Once a tune is placed into the game world it starts to form certain connections with the player and it becomes very easy to get attached to the way it sounds. Too many unforeseen changes in a level song is like coming home to your favorite dinner and realizing your beloved apartment walls have suddenly been painted fiery red.
There have been massive shifts in the music moving from the Prototype Build to the Alpha Build and we will try to minimize further changes from here on out. We certainly do not expect the publicly revealed songs to change a lot going from Alpha to Beta to Final Release but if we find small flaws to improve or find ways to further enhance the global sound quality then we will certainly do so.
The most hefty change, Moonjumper’s Theme which played in the old Build’s Menu Screen, has in fact found a new snuggly cozy home in the misty glow of Chapter 2’s Subcon Forest.
And last, but not least, I’ve noticed on your YouTube Channel, Plasma3Music, that you’ve done extensive work on remixing songs from various franchises, from popular ones like Sonic, to some more obscure like Mario Paint, and one of my personal favorites, the Mother series. Is there a reason for the selection of these songs?
On my YouTube channel Plasma3Music, I feature a huge variety of video-game related remixes for people to enjoy. Sometimes these cover my favorite childhood classics and sometimes they are remixes from newly released games that had a lasting impression on me.
There is not a particular pattern in the selection of these songs rather I sometimes discover a hidden gem in a song that’s dear to many people and really want to show this gem to others. In other words, showing a once familiar tune from a new perspective with new lighting. Sometimes in the case of something like Mario Paint it’s just to make people smile.
Then there are the more in-depth and complicated remixes like the Earthbound/Mother which take me literally forever to realize the way they sound in my head. I’m almost ashamed at the amount of time they take me to create. In the case of Earthbound it took me more than +1000 work hours until I ended up having a version that I liked. Nevertheless it means the world to me to know others enjoys my work and that makes it all worth it in the end. I do however personally feel that time itself is my biggest enemy. The image of the ticking clock and the moon crashing down in Majora’s Mask sometimes seems more real than it should. I would like to make people smile forever but my time is limited.
It became rather difficult to regularly release new content on my YouTube Channel while working on A Hat In Time. The game started out fairly simple but it kept growing in front of our eyes and now requires the full commitment and dedication of the entire team.
We are working hard to bring you the best experience that we can create. It might still take some time but usually it’s the good things that are worth waiting for.
I would like to thank the amazing Pascal Michael Stiefel for taking time from his busy schedule to answer about every question I asked him. I would also like to thank Jonas Kærlev and William T. Nicholls, for helping this interview become more than just a wild idea in my head.
You’re reading TAY, Kotaku’s community-run blog. TAY is written by and for Kotaku readers like you. We write about games, art, culture and everything in between. Want to write with us? Check out our tutorial here and join in. Also check Gears for Breakfast YouTube Channel to listen to more great tracks from the game, such as The Moon Jumper’s Theme.
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