Music is a divisive topic in mobile gaming. You often find yourself either being asked to wear headphones for an atmospheric horror game or playing a game without much music beyond a title screen jingle. James and I are lifelong musicians, so we assumed that making the soundtrack would be the easiest part of developing our first game. Whoops.
The first step in our process was sound selection. We looked back at other games whose sounds we loved. Mother 3 is a handheld game with a killer soundtrack that could have you laughing one moment and crying the next. We experimented with older sounds like that–the kind of sounds you'd hear in cartridge-based games. Here’s one of the first songs we wrote for Star Billions:
At this point we weren't writing for a specific moment in the game, we were just experimenting with the tone of the game's soundtrack.
We were at least entertained with this early effort, but we decided to shelve the soundtrack until we finished the script for season one. When we revisited the music later in the process, we had a much better idea of the feelings we would need to evoke with our soundtrack. For instance, we wanted a song that could maintain a mysterious feeling without being unsettling or scary, neither happy nor sad, just... intriguing. As a songwriter and producer, I hate when clients are so unspecific. But there we were, wanting a song and a sound that we didn't really have a reference for.
James and I had been listening to tons of classical music while we worked on the script. We didn't think much of it, but it served as good inspiration and we liked writing to it. Whether it was a conscious decision or not, at some point in the process I think our brains started connecting the words on the page to the songs we were hearing.
We started toying with the tempo and melodies of classical songs, and before long we had something that felt cohesive, emotional, and charming. For me, the defining song on the soundtrack is our arrangement of Claude Debussy's Reverie. It captured everything I was hoping for as we watched the cast of Star Billions debate tense situations in their own quirky ways. Not too happy, not too sad. Mysterious, but not scary. After applying our own changes, James and I were convinced that we had found the first song for Star Billions.
From there we continued doing what was right for each scene and each character. We decided that nothing was too simple or too complex. If a marching snare drum on its own could convey the emotion we were looking for, so be it. We searched for more classical music that fit the game and we filled the gaps with original compositions.
Mixing classical masterpieces and original music yielded something really unique, and writing alongside some of the greatest classical pieces ever written set the bar high for our own tracks. We ended up with a soundtrack that's light-years away from what we first expected, but that’s exactly what Star Billions is about.