by: Hayden Davenport @HaydenDaven
March 3, 2014
Starseed Pilgrim's soundtrack contains four tracks composed by Ryan Roth (known as Dualryan): "Overworld" (2:10), "Flipworld" (2:04), "Starseed hidden" (4:21), and "Starseeds in her eyes" (1:56).
The two main music tracks (“Overworld” and “Flipworld”) are set in the key of C Major. This means that the chord C Major (composed of the notes C, E, and G; and often labeled with the Roman numeral I in the key of C Major) feels like home in this key. Note that, in music, Major scales are often associated with happiness and lightness.
As seeds grow, a C, E, or G is played as each block becomes completely formed. The game omits the last pitch (to avoid repeated notes) and then randomly plays one of the remaining pitches.
In contrast, as the void spreads, the notes A, C, and E are randomly generated. These notes form A minor (vi). It is important to add that A minor is the relative minor of C Major. This means that A minor and C Major have the same key signature and are therefore both comprised of all white keys on the piano. This relationship allows the void to sound minor without sounding out of key. Bear in mind that minor scales in music are often associated with sadness and darkness. A minor was chosen in relationship to C Major to mirror the darkness and impending doom of the void.
Each seed in the game, as well as the void, has a unique timbre. When a seed grows or the void spreads, a sound file unique to the seed color (or the void) is played. Some seed sounds are modeled after real-world sounds and instruments such as the marimba and a choir, while others are unique sounds produced by synthesizers.
The result is an environment that not only feels vibrant and organic, but gives the player clear feedback. With unique timbres, the player can follow the spread of the void and the growth of different seeds without these game elements being visible on screen.
-Audio feedback is an often overlooked, yet important, way of conveying information to players. While the player is busy doing one thing on the screen, audio feedback can give the player information about something else that is happening completely offscreen. It is a useful way of letting the player know everything that is going on.
-It isn’t only practical though, audio feedback can also bring a game to life. Starseed Pilgrim’s growing seeds are an excellent example of how giving special attention to a game’s audio feedback can add an extra layer of interest to a game.
-The audio feedback in Starseed Pilgrim covers all of its mechanics and its game states. This is actually rare for indie games, which often don’t provide audio feedback for basic mechanics. There is a unique sound for each mechanic, such as JUMP and DIG. There is a unique sound for when the void spreads, for detonating red blocks, and for jumping on tan blocks. There is even a unique sound for when the player completes a triple key challenge. The game does an excellent job of keeping players aurally informed about everything that is going on.
When game assets produce tones rather than percussive strikes, careful consideration needs to be made to avoid clashing notes. For example, if a game has music set in the key of C Major and the jump sound in the game produces a C# note, the jump sound would clash with the background music. This is because the notes C and C# have slightly different frequencies that clash together when played simultaneously, producing a “beating” that is usually considered undesirable in Western music.
By looking at each of the tracks individually, we can understand what steps were taken to avoid excessive dissonance and how Ryan Roth maintains player interest with only a minimal soundscape.
-Players naturally become familiar with the main track “Overworld”, which plays in both the overworld and the fleeting world (two of the three main areas of the game).
-The track is set in C and features a C pedal tone and airy drones (with a subtle phaser effect).
-There are also frequent effects in the upper registers. These are helpful for keeping the music interesting without adding a distracting melody.
-This track, like “Flipworld” and “Starseed hidden”, is abstract and structureless. The soundscape evolves without revealing patterns, which allows the music to repeat without any noticeable seams.
-The sound of the seeds on top of this track create further interest and ambiguity, ensuring that each listen is varied.
-The second most frequently occurring track is “Flipworld”. Unlike the “Overworld” theme, it only occurs in one area of the game (the flipworld).
-“Flipworld” is sparse relative to “Overworld”. This seems to mirror the relationship between the colorful and light fleeting world and the dark and colorless flipworld.
-The track features the same airy drones as the “Overworld” track, but they are emphasized by a higher volume and fewer instruments occupying the soundscape.
“Starseed hidden” (4:21)
-“Starseed hidden” was likely intended for triple key challenges, but was never used in these rooms. Instead, the rooms have no musical track and the seeds do not produce notes upon growing (normal gameplay sounds such as jumping and placing seeds still occur).
-The track is set in a minor, the relative minor of the key C Major. Because of this key relationship, the seed sounds, which outline a C Major Chord, would not have conflicted with this key. C Major is III, or the third diatonic chord, in the key of a minor.
With each of the above tracks, it’s worth mentioning that the seed audio is noticeably louder than the tracks. Presenting the audio in this way ensures that the seeds and their timbres are the focus of the audio design.
“Starseeds in her eyes” (1:56)
-The final track in Starseed Pilgrim can only be heard after all triple key challenges have been completed and the player jumps into the darkness at the credits page.
-“Starseeds in her eyes” is primarily solo piano, but violins are introduced halfway through the piece.
-Because of its less abstract nature, a musical analysis of the piece is feasible.
The piece is introduced by three piano notes:C, E, and F. While these notes establish the key, by this point the minor modality of the piece has not been established. However, in the game, the void is corrupting blocks and producing loud A pitches which might have established the modality by this point.
B. Phrase A Introduction
This section is where the piece starts moving. A looping progression of A minor (i) to F Major (VI) is established and maintained throughout the piece. The function of this section is to introduce the accompaniment that belongs to the the first phrase (Phrase A). The introduction ends on a fermata(held note) to give extra suspense before the first phrase begins.
C. Phrase A
The first melodic phrase begins here. The phrase begins on a C and ends on an A, and uses mostly notes that are chord tones (notes that are part of the chord outlined in the accompaniment).
D. Phrase B
At this point in the music, everything shifts up an octave to add drama. To add variety and contrast, rather than repeating the first phrase an octave up, a new phrase makes an appearance. This phrase is the most active, has the most nonchord tones, and hits the highest note the melody will reach (though the same pitch is reached in A’). A group of violins also enter here on a unison A that is held until the end of the piece. For these reasons, and because of the octave leap that occurs between sections C and D, I would label this phrase as the climax of the piece.
E. Phrase A’
This is the final melodic phrase of the music. It is a variation of Phrase A, differing only in the displacement of an octave and an additional note in the first measure. The end of this phrase could be perceived as the first note of part F (measure 24 beat 1) rather than the final note in measure 23. In this case, this phrase could be analyzed as an elision, or a note or chord that both ends one phrase and begins another.
Starting in measure 24, the piano suddenly moves to notes outside of A minor. These notes mostly outline tritones (an exceptionally dissonant interval) in various keys. The A continues in the violins, acting as a pedal point while the piano continues to fall into chaos. By this point in the music the void will have corrupted most of the stone, revealing cryptic text beneath where it once existed. The music suddenly goes into dissonance to reflect what is happening in the game. Finally, after the piano exits completely, the violins continue to drone an A while the message from the game sinks into the player’s mind, and then after some time they fade out, ending the piece.
“Starseeds in her eyes” effectively matches what is happening in the scene that Starseed Pilgrim sets up at the end. It provides a fleeting sense of beauty that falls away into dissonance right as the player begins to take in the final message.