New music for Galatia Academy

The next update comes with new music for one of the key early locations in the game, the university space station – Galatia Academy. Most locations and encounters rely on background music shared by the faction the player is dealing with, but Galatia Academy will be the first location to get a unique piece of music not used anywhere else in the game.

As a composer this is very exciting for me because for the first time I get to move from a broad, zoomed out perspective of planets, star systems and large factional groups to the up-close intimacy of airlocks, hallways, private rooms, and most importantly: individual people!

Why is this distinction important in the context of a soundtrack? It boils down to the difference between describing what a group or faction is like and what an individual person is like with music.

Put simply, faction music, if it wants to be effective, is limited to conveying the one or two large common denominators that members of that faction share. The hegemony is bureaucratic and militaristic, and the music is all about that combination of traits. Deviating from these central characteristics by adding complexity or nuanced details into the musical texture usually ends up diluting the main point instead of providing interesting depth. This is because, in the wide variety of gameplay situations the music might be used in, complex or ambiguous information has a harder time finding a logical connection to something the player is at that moment experiencing. An unexpected and oddly dissonant chord change in the faction music doesn’t make sense or connect with anything when all you’re doing is encountering the same Hegemony patrol dude who confiscates your cargo of harvested organs like he always does.

Just like film music, game music is at its best when all or most of its elements consistently relate to or “attach” themselves to aspects of the imagined world at hand.

So what’s different about Galatia? Well, with a unique piece of music connected to a location where the player is mostly in contact with just one or two very familiar (and dare I say iconic?) non-player characters, there’s a broader field of things for a composer to experiment with. Individual characters are more accepting of ambiguous, nuanced or complex musical information because that information only has to believably apply to them, not the entire faction or group.

In contrast to film, the interesting curve ball that game music throws into the mix is that where a filmic scene of meeting Academician Sebestyen followed by private talks with Provost Baird would have music that changes, possibly quite radically, from portraying the former to the latter, the corresponding game situation has background music that has to encompass *both* into the same piece of music. Within the context of games the music is “unaware” of when exactly the player moves from speaking with Sebestyen to speaking with Baird. Thus, ideally, the music would cover both bases regardless of what specific part of the music was playing at any given moment.

If this simultaneous multi-functionality of game music sounds like a tall order … it is! Impossible to perfectly and consistently pull off, in fact. But limitations and difficulties tend to lead to creative problem solving which can lead to very interesting results, and I’m here for it!

Case in point: the harmonic progression of the new Galatia Academy music. It consists of fairly wild oscillations from a bright, optimistic major tonality to foreign scale degrees (in relation to the established key) that are dark, chaotic and unpredictable. A little like the captain’s encounters with Sebestyen and Baird. And not unlike Galatia Academy itself, balancing between the ideals of scientific progress free from politics, and the messy reality of having to involve fallible, flawed human beings in all of its endeavours.

Here’s a piano arrangement that serves as a showcase of the underlying harmony that’s built on alternating “Sebestyen/Baird” chord pairs.

Academician Sebestyen and Provost Baird

The first two chords are bright and optimistic, with a gentler downward melodic line that reminds me of the mutual (!) waving of hands the captain shares with Sebestyen early in the Galatia quests. The two following “Baird” chords move to remote scale degrees that sound darker, with an ambitious upward line that seems to want to reach ever higher.

The latter half of the piece starting at 0:34 is a further extension of the Baird theme. It moves to obfuscate the tonality of the piece and produces an effect of not being able to exactly tell where the music is moving towards, which can feel unsettling and even scary. This harmonic unpredictability within an otherwise orderly rhythmic pattern is my attempt to convey Baird’s cold, rational approach to her volatile ambitions.

I hope these subtle musical colorations manage to come across to players, subconsciously if not otherwise!

The piano arrangement is where the composition process often starts, but the final version naturally needs to have completely different instrumentation in order to sound like something from the Persean sector.

Here’s the final, in-game version of the Galatia Academy location track:

You can also check these out on my SoundCloud page here:

Thanks for listening!

Comment thread here.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, June 12th, 2024 at 12:21 pm and is filed under Art. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.