You can’t rely on people having good earphones like you had – Ilmari Tiitinen

IMG_2657

WHO?

Ilmari Tiitinen

WHAT?

Mountain Sheep, We haven’t really talked about the title but I’m Audio designer I suppose, for 1 year;
Before that: Freelancer musician, for example theatre projects, and temp teacher.

QUICK! WHAT DO THESE BRING TO YOUR MIND?

Nokia – In my pocket
Musical idols or influences outside of games industry – Lots of influences in my youth from Dream Theater… it is technically very demanding band and I have been playing an instrument so. I can’t stand them anymore but I guess they were the biggest influence. Then say, Chopin.
Venture capitalists – I know nothing about them!
First game I owned – Buggy Boy for Atari
Game I play now – Journey.

Journey-PS3-Screenshot

WHAT IS GAME MUSIC LIKE COMPARED TO OTHER FORMS OF MUSIC?

Games are fully interactive format of entertainment, compared to other styles of entertainment. It is a significant element, but different from, say, theatre music in the sense that in the theatre, the music is played through once and then it is over for the audience. But there are lots of loops in the games. And the most important one is the selection screen, the start menu. It has to be easy for your ears, so you must use plenty of time. For the selection menu in our upcoming game, I almost forced a really strong main theme out of myself, that was very strong like the game itself. But when you hit the selection menu enough of times it just became annoying! I had to change it.

Other screens in the game can have more deviation. My second piece, say if it has ten levels, then I create ten themes, that are 30 seconds to 2.5 minutes in length. But any sounds have to be pleasing for most. For example, I play in a band, and if I am on stage and performing, I can give all I want the way I want and not everyone needs to like it. But in the game, there was this instance where there is a bomb exploding. And that is a bad thing, the bomb damages you. I was trying to make an unpleasant sound effect, so people would dislike the idea of exploding a bomb. But it became too unpleasant… I discarded and replaced it with something more neutral.

The whole must be solid, but the music style depends a lot on the game. Music can be used to create moods and the atmosphere, and some rely on the background themes, like my first game, or games like Final Fantasy 7. Nobuo Uematsu, the composer of Final Fantasy is a huge influence! So it’s been really interesting to try out, do you want a bigger theme, or something that builds slowly. In my first project, I started by creating the music only for the last level of Minigore 2, so it was a very clear task. Last field, main boss, raining, huge storm. And I tried to ignite it instantly and I was told, “nonono, create an atmosphere”. Other games rely more on the sound effects. If you have the player slicing items for example, the rhythm and sounds of slicing different kinds of items creates the final sound landscape, instead of some theme only playing in the background. Also the atmosphere is created more by the player themselves, it is a more active experience.

HOW IS IT LIKE WORKING FOR A GAMES COMPANY?

I’ve now worked for games industry for a year, and done music for two games. In my second project have been given very free rein, very free rein. Music is one part of the whole so it must support the game. But it is hard to decide the style beforehand, you need to see it in the game, and try it out, how it plays in practise. This time I’m working full-time with the team in the same space with them, we are four guys in the same room. I see a printout of the level, and while I’m looking at it, I tune into the feeling, and start playing with the keyboards. That it how it usually begins. The composition itself is fairly easy. I improvise with themes, start orchestrating little by little. The sounds are audible for the others, so that people around me can hear it. And then they say, “that’s good”, so I continue with that. And if there are no sounds for a moment, then I know it’s probably not that good and I better move on… and that has been a really different experience from working alone. It creates this feeling of togetherness.

Of course this doesn’t happen every day, sometimes I just spend the whole day moving files from one place to another! Arranging the instruments and orchestration takes time, to find the balance. And I buy new sound effects for my development kit and come up with patterns. I have already noticed it saves your time and I end up using the same favourite instruments here and there. Or, I still need to rehearse the technology, like using the computer keyboard, as I’m more familiar with piano. This is what I do at home too, I play with the computer once I get home, especially if I was just moving files at work the whole day!

In general, it is the arrangements that take the most of my time, that and mixing. A three-minute theme may take like five days. Additionally, mobile game can be 50 MB in size so it goes through App Store, and you need to think about the memory use and the file size a lot to find a compromise. Though, you can’t rely on people having similar earphones you had, when they play with their mobile anyway… the music just has to work if listened through the crappy speakers mobiles typically have. Even if I got inspired by a really cool sounding drum set effect, it might not sound similar in the actual device and I can’t build the whole theme around it.

HOW DID YOU END UP IN THE GAMES INDUSTRY? WHAT DO YOU SEE IN YOUR FUTURE?

I took piano classes when I was a kid, our family is musical, that’s basically how I became a musician. I have studied community education and used to work for example in kindergartens here in Helsinki, but the musician career has always been on the background, and I have made music for like, summer theatres in Eastern Finland. A few years ago I decided that if I want to develop as a musician, then I need to turn it into a proper profession, and became a freelancer. And then one of my employer’s founders contacted me, because we are good childhood friends from Outokumpu. I had never made music for games, but I thought, “let’s try it”.

Now I have a desk of my own at a games company office, but actually I am moving back to Outokumpu this summer. My parents are getting old so I got their house. And it feels good because from time to time, you get fed up with this living in Helsinki. In this kind of a creative business, it feels good to be closer to the nature, not to be chained! You’ve spent your own childhood there, so it feels so good to return to the same forests. And I didn’t have a clear plan at the beginning, but now looks like it will be for approximately a year and we will have a studio with a few friends to work there as freelancers, to develop our own projects in a community. It fits in well with the games job too, as it is possible to work long distance!

* Note: interviews are done in Finnish and translated directly to English, so some minor edits get done after the publishing now and then *

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