Themes from Shujinkou

One of the things on my bucket list is scoring a truly epic story filled with nuanced, well-developed characters. Another thing on that list is scoring a video game and really getting elbows-deep into the guts of what makes interactive music so great. Fortunately, Shujinkou has offered me the opportunity to experience both of these things at once!

From the word go, Julian Rice, Founder of RICE Games, insisted that the art, music, story and characters be as amazing and vibrant as the language-learning, minigames and battle mechanics. So much so, in fact, that he wanted a straight-up character theme for each of the three main characters (among other things), and gave one to each of the hired composers (there are three total). Here was my initial entry: Jin, the ancient Kitsune.

First Pass of Jin’s Theme

As you can tell, I stuck exclusively with the Pentatonic Scale and traditional Japanese instrumentation, but with a twist. There is a very low drone there to lend a bit more ancient mystique to the character. It’s actually a Tuvan Throat Singer patch, but played an octave below what anyone could possibly sing.

This is actually the track that not only landed me the job, but also secured me the position of Audio Director and Lead Composer, which was such an honor! My two colleagues astound me, while we’re on the subject: the dynamic duo Mikkel Cloud, with a staggeringly impressive Jazz and production skillset, and Robert Mullis with the face-melting Guitar chops and a keen ear for SFX. These people are so amazing at what they do that they constantly humble me and push me to be better!

Given the rapidity that I had to produce that first pass, I wasn’t quite happy with it. The third phrase was too similar to the second, and it needed a B section to help flesh out the character. Sure, ancient and mysterious is part of his character, but Julian also made it clear he had a somewhat impish, playful side. My chance to improve this theme came when Julian, a then senior at UCLA, informed me that there was room on the UCLA Game Music Orchestra’s JRPG concert! I about flipped out at the chance to have these themes come to life and to have an opportunity to write for orchestra! So naturally, my next move was to write a more soaring melody for the B section that could easily double as something light and playful, then wrote an ABBA to cap off the end of that arrangement, with Mikkel Cloud’s theme for Kou starting everything off. The B section of Jin’s Theme especially turned out brilliantly!

The B Section of Jin’s Theme live with the UCLA Game Music Orchestra!

You’ll also notice that the red-blazered fellow in the violins is Julian Rice himself, playing 1st violin in the premiere performance of themes from his video game. Pretty cool!

Incidentally, this ensemble was loaded for bare. It had every percussion instrument imaginable (and even a few that weren’t!), laying my fears that some of the more exotic percussion I used weren’t going to be there to rest. They had a Nagado and Shime Daiko and everything!

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In all, over 150 musicians were on the stage…a dream come true for any composer, let alone a video game composer! In an atmosphere where pads and drones are all the rage, the opportunity to write soaring themes for full orchestra is such a rarity and I am so grateful to Julain for the opportunity! Side note – this won’t be the last time this suite of themes will be performed. Stay tuned for more news on that!

Anyway, back to the B Theme…it ended up translating pretty well to a sort of impish, silly, playful melody as well, carried by the Bassoon and a few other instruments that don’t normally go together.

Jin’s Impish B Side

And then of course, culminates in an epic finale, which will likely not be the same once we have a more complete suite in place:

The Epic Finale

It was such a thrill to finally meet some of this team in person! We’ve been working together for over a year on this project, and to finally meet Julian especially was kinda surreal…especially on the eve of such an amazing concert!

Now that production has begun in earnest, we’ve been working on some exciting features regarding the score! In particular, we’re embracing the use of FMOD to help deliver a more modular and adaptable music experience – something not every game does! Check out this spooky cue for Moku Jinja, a WIP. We have:

  • A Sparse, Modular Explore Section first up, with random Shakuhachi phrases, light percussion and harmonics, a lot of which may not even play at all based on probability!
  • A Negotiation Section, complete with 3 levels of intensity (this may not be necessary moving forward but it’s a neat way of letting the player know what the enemy attitude is)
  • A Battle Track with 2 Layers of Intensity

Also note the absolutely insane guitar solo towards the end (Combat Full Intensity) by Robert.

Interactive Dungeon Crawl Cue

I am having a blast with this game! All of the effort from the Art team, the programmers and my fellow audiophiles has been so inspiring, and it’s culminating in something truly special!

For more information about Shujinkou, and for more direct updates that may not just be music related, check out our website here.

More exciting things coming soon!

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