Alexey Nechaev is an award-winning video game composer who has worked on many high profile games, including In most, Swag and sorcery and last Unbound: worlds apart.
This was a recent hit on Nintendo Switch, Mac and PC and is described as “a challenging, atmospheric, hand-drawn puzzle platformer in a universe where all worlds are connected by portals”.
Here, Alexey describes the various composing challenges for the game, his favorite hardware and software, and has some wise advice if you want to start his journey into video game composition …
What advice do you have for anyone looking to get into gaming music?
“As strange as it sounds, listen to more game music! I believe that listening experience is the best teacher. You should also listen to movie soundtracks to learn some interesting things. After that, play games and make note of the differences between game soundtracks and other types of music. It will help you integrate into the game industry, especially if you are already composing music.
“Also, if your soundtrack has some dynamic changes (where the music changes depending on the player’s actions) then you should try to implement it yourself or it will be difficult to understand how things can work in an engine. In other words, study the engine functions so that you know what to do with your work in the future. “
Speaking of the technical process, can you explain how the music in a game evolves according to the character movement? For example, do you produce looped sections that can merge into one another when a player moves?
“I composed different music for different play areas. Each place is very unique and has its own mood and its own pace, so I tried to compose music and switch at the right moment.
“Unbound: Worlds apart”, for example, doesn’t have a lot of dynamic level changes as there is no fighting in the usual sense of the word, but it’s real platforming. Technically, the music is in Unbound is more like switching parts of the composition than switching layers (when replacing an intense soundtrack with a calm one by simply changing the volume of the tracks).
“In boss fights, for example, these parts are repeated until the game reaches a certain state (e.g. it was made to prevent the rhythm, but overall we rarely used the layers.”
How did Unboundthe music progress in terms of fetching images, sections of work, or using other game details to guide you through the composition?
“Usually I get instant access to a game engine (in this project it was the Unreal Engine). Then I play a video and record it so I can use it to navigate the DAW. It helps to get the emotions of a game in the right place, to synchronize cutscenes, animations, etc. ”
Is it the same process for every video game project?
“First I play a game as often as I can. It is necessary to feel the rhythm, especially on a platformer. The biggest challenge is making sure that the gameplay doesn’t seem too slow or too fast for a player.
“Music has a huge impact on this perception and sometimes it feels like the control is less responsive. Lately, a lot of composers tend to believe that melodies are not important in game soundtracks, but I disagree and I am confident that the importance of good melodies.
“I always take a few main melodies and carry them through the whole game, so they are often repeated here and there in different variations. In general, my main task is to let a player experience different emotions, to get associations with a game.
“What do I personally bring to a project? I would say that I’m good at getting the mood of a game into my music. In fact, I think that developers who invite me to their projects usually need a bit more dark and melancholy atmosphere than other composers can offer. “
When did you get into music production with technology?
“I discovered Guitar Pro when I was around 12-14 years old, although I can’t really remember which version it was. That’s when I started composing a lot of things; It was mostly metal music, so I only worked in heavy genres for a long time.
“I had to record everything with real instruments (except drums). When I graduated, I found out that in the DAW you can type notes with the mouse and play with contact with a nice sound. That was crazy! “
What are your favorite or most used plugins?
“90% of my time I only use FabFilter Pro-Q and the Waves SSL compressor. I don’t need equalizer emulations when I have Pro-Q. I’ve tried many other EQs and compressors, but I keep coming back to these two. Both can solve any task and not ruin the sound.
“Plus, SSL works really well on any bus (which makes sense because it’s a bus compressor). For Reverb, I can’t think of any other plugin than Valhalla’s Vintage Verb. It’s not expensive and really nice. You can do anything with it , from a small metal barrel to an infinitely large room.
“I also like Span from Voxengo, which usually only hangs on my second monitor and informs me if something goes wrong with the reference frequencies. It is particularly helpful when composing as I can easily subdivide instrument lines according to frequencies. I should also mention s ( M) exoskop from Smartelectronix.
“It’s free as far as I can remember, but it was a huge help to me as I did the final mastering of the entire Unbound: Worlds Apart album. I wouldn’t say I rely on analyzers like this that much, but I do for some details it is irreplaceable. ”
How do you usually produce the music for a game? In the studio or everything in the box?
“Almost everything is in the box. But still a lot was recorded, such as the percussion in the desert themes, singing and other little things. ”
Tell us about the equipment in your studio.
“My studio is more like a sound designer’s studio than a composer’s studio because I create sound assets more often than the music itself. In this case, the equipment becomes pretty useless (aside from some hardware like EQs, compressors, etc.).
“For monitoring, I use the passive N-Monitors N100 Mk2 from N-Acoustic with their traditional SDY Power 400 amplifier. It’s a very cool Russian-made pair, still new on the market, so you may not have heard of them yet.
“I also have KRK Rokit 6s and sub 10S2, Beyerdynamic DT990 Pro headphones, a Focusrite Scarlett 6i6 audio interface, an M-Audio Keystation 88 keyboard, various guitars, a violin and various musical and non-musical objects. I take with Røde. on NTK and Røde NTG3 microphones and outdoors I use a Zoom H4n Pro recorder. “
How did you originally come up with the idea for a soundtrack?
“I usually start with a melody in my head. It can be played on any instrument. I play it in my head for a while and then record it. When at least one small phrase is ready, I start increasing the number of instruments.
“Usually the drums come at the very end. I don’t go to them until I make sure that the rhythm and dynamics sound good without them. ”
Do you have any characteristic compositional flourishes, any branding tricks?
“There are often dissonances in my tracks. Sometimes I just hit the keyboard with my arm and select the most interesting versions of those sounds, clean them up a bit, and split some notes across different instruments. Also, I only compress the percussion part of the orchestra on the master bus.
“Plucked instruments and other instruments will strike sharply from time to time, but personally I like it. I like a wide dynamic range, it’s especially cool when you hear it in the silence of the headphones. I also think that poetry is a strength. Usually I compose very sad music, even if I shouldn’t (so I have to correct it later) I don’t know why but it is what it is.
“Unbound Let me create something new, compose something lighter than usual. But the further we get into the plot, the darker the music gets, and in the end you get more and more peculiar sounds and a 7-string heavy guitar joins the orchestra. In general, listeners can easily tell my style based on the character and mood of my music. ”
And what advice do you have for completing a track?
“I consider a track finished when I’m tired of making it. I always think about how long a player will stay in a certain place. It’s not that I’m counting the time – I just notice where it takes more time and where less. For example, this track will be three minutes long and this one will be 30 seconds long.
“People in games often say that a game can’t be finished and that there is always something that can be polished. Composers should see it the same way. Sometimes I compose tracks as finished pieces, sometimes they start suddenly or suddenly stop. Do a quick draft to incorporate into a game and see how it works. And finally it stays in there forever! ”
You also have a singer to sing on Unbound Soundtrack…
“Yes, we had a collaboration with the talented singer Maisy Kay. She recorded wonderfully stylized fantasy vocals that you can hear in the tracks for yourself Watcher’s rest, The moor and oasis. “
What other advice did you take away from your work in the game music industry?
“It is dangerous to get attached to your creations because any of them can be thrown away at any moment (and it’s likely that the villain who does it is yourself).”
In conclusion, what else do you have planned for the near future?
“I plan to be more active on social media in the future. I can’t even imagine how my employers will find me. I also want to improve my portfolio with some other genres. Lithuanian company Flazm Interactive Studio’s Time loader is out soon.
“For this project, I wrote 90s-style synth music, a retro soundtrack with synthesizers and other cool things, and I really like things like that. Also, I was recently invited to a new project where I’m going to create something totally different.”
Unbound: Worlds Apart is now available for Nintendo Switch, Mac and PC.