Willy and Mathilda’s Houseboat Adventure

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An Interview with Ashton Mills and Jennifer Field – Composers behind Willy and Mathilda’s Houseboat Adventure

Willy and Mathilda's Houseboat Adventure

We have spoken with Kevin Field the head developer behind the game. We have also spoken to Mathilda herself and Michael Torreiter the artist narrator and writer. Now we speak with Ashton Mills and Jennifer Field who are the composers behind this beautiful story.

 

How did you get involved with IBwWG and the Willy and Mathilda House Boat Adventure?

(AM)    So I reached out to Kevin from IBwWG completely cold. I stumbled across a devlog page about WAM whilst trolling around on the web. I’m always drawn towards games where the art style is different and interesting and the child-like visuals of WAM looked great. I found Kev’s email address and asked about the game and whether or not he had music sorted for it yet. We got chatting about the game and its process and direction but he already had a friend called Jenn who was composing. We continued to just chat via email and then he told me that Jenn had got mega busy with her degree finals and there was still a lot of music left to write so would I be up for it. Kevin’s all about working with other people and listening to everyone’s ideas so  seemed he was really excited to have another person on the audio team. We also got Dustin involved to write some of the pieces, we both really like his work and it’s great to have lots of fresh ideas coming to the table

(JF)        My brother, Kevin Field, is the creator of the game.  He had originally started creating it as a gift to his daughter (Mathilda) for her birthday.

I got on board to help out with the music as part of my gift to her too. 😉  Also he needed game testers, so I was happy to help!

 

Is this the first time you have been a composer for a videogame?

(AM)    It’s not the first time.  I am still very new to working in video games, but I have a couple of things under my belt. I can’t say too much because it’s all still in development. One is a mobile turn-based strategy, one is a mobile puzzle game and one is  a web-based side-scroller. WAM is a very different kind of project than I’ve done before though so there’s lots of new things to learn.

(JF)      Yes it is. 🙂  My real focus to date has been film and TV, but I haven’t ruled out video games as a future endeavor so this was a little taste of something new. 😉

 

What kind of background do you have with music?

(AM)    So I started out playing electric guitar when I was 11 and proceeded to be in several rock bands as a teenager in the 2000s, I was obsessed with 60s rock and pretty much wanted to be Jimi Hendrix. I used to cycle past a music shop on my way to school when I was 17 and used to see this violin up in the window, and as my music tastes began to broaden I got this hair-brained idea that I would save up my wages (I worked as a waiter at Oxford University) and buy this violin and teach myself how to play it, and that’s what ended up happening. I’d been making up tunes and writing songs for a long time and developed some keyboard skills for that too, and when I went to study undergrad music at university I majored in composition. I then did a masters at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London (a real conservatoire which was a really shocker as a non-classically trained musician I felt a bit of a fraud!) in a course called Leadership, which was all about the collaborative artistic practice in range of settings including working with artists from other disciplines and trans-cultural backgrounds and working in the community.

It was a great course; we travelled to Bali, Palestine, Gambia and Argentina to learn music styles, and learned how to open our practice up in the form of workshops with young and vulnerable people. I fell in love with community-based music work and up until now this has been most of my professional work: I deliver workshops in groups with all sorts of people doing a range of work from songwriting to building instruments and installations and composing. I started a company with friend called Re-Resonate where we make music from scrap: www.re-resonate.org

And then of course my fiddle playing as carried on through all of this and I play in several folk bands and do a lot of ceilidhs (think a Celtic version of a barn dance/hoe down).

However my passion for composing has always been burning away all these years and that is really where my heart is at the moment, and specifically composing for games. It’s really where all the different skills and influences I have accrued sort of pool together.

And now I’m taking a course in Wwise for interactive game composition and sound design implementation.

So sorry for the big splurge. In short I just can’t sit still and want to learn and do everything related to music!

(JF)      I’ve been playing piano most of my life, and composing songs since I was fairly young.  I used to play for churches, recitals, weddings, etc. too.  But my favourite things was to improvise and create.  So this year, I have just completed a Specialist Certificate at Berklee College of Music (their online extension school) for Music Composition & Orchestration for Film & TV.   I plan to continue taking more courses there over the next few months to complete another certificate program.  It’s been a great experience. 🙂

 

I see that there are other composers on the team, do you collaborate at all or do you complete specific tasks.

(AM)    Dustin and I give each other feedback and talk a lot with Kevin but we’re not directly collaborating on tracks. The music will end up being very varied and this fits well with the concept of the game, which Kevin calls ‘the hypertangental nature of the a child’s mind.’ 🙂

(JF)      Actually we don’t…at least not yet 😉 At the time that Kev was creating the game, I was heavily involved in work and school, so I didn’t have much extra time to do anything except send him the music, although I think it’s a great idea. Hans Zimmer is famous for collaborating with other composers and I would love to have that experience sometime.  I think we [Jennifer& Ashton] could learn a lot from each other too.

 

What kind of equipment are you using to develop and record the sounds and music

(AM)    So I’m much more a plugin guy than a gear hipster. I do all my composing in Ableton Live, and I usually mix and master in Cubase. So far most of the sounds have come from NI’s Kontakt and Garritan Personal ORchestra which is my go-to sound library. Synth-wise I’m mostly using Absynth and Fm8 which are my two favourite synths.

I’ve got my trusty fiddle and my nylon string guitar which I record with a tasty large diaphragm valve mic.

Mixing and mastering I always use Metric Halo Channel strip for its excellent EQ and compression and use Fab Filter Pro-L for brickwalling.

And last but not least Valhalla Plate is the reverb plug in I’m obsessed with.

Oh and I use Windows, not Mac. That’s right I said it! And not because it’s cheaper! I have to use Macs in some studios and projects I do and it’s like trying to write with my left hand, everything just feels wrong and counter intuitive.

(JF)        I don’t actually record any live music currently, although I do often sit at the piano to come up with ideas first. I have a M-Audio box for the audio interface, M-Audio speakers, AKG K240 MkII headphones, and I also had to get a 1TB external hard drive to hold the sample library (EWQL) because it was so massive, lol.  But then I go to my desktop computer and use various software programs to create everything.The main program I use to create and produce the music is Pro Tools, combined with East West Quantum Leap samples.  Sometimes I’ll start in Finale (notation software) to sketch out a score, and then export it to Pro Tools for the rest of the development.  But many times I’ll just start right in Pro Tools and simply use the Midi Editor to create the music.  Later it’s exported into MP3 format, sent to Kev, where he coverts it to a file he can work with and edits it into the game.

 

What is your process for finding a perfect match of music for the scene?

(AM)    I think of it a bit differently from finding a match. (The artist has been awoken)

A game experience is more than the sum of its parts.  Lets say: Visuals + interaction + story + sFX+music = X (the game experience). When you add music you massively influence what X becomes. So what you’re trying to do is use music to create the X that you (and, more importantly, he developer) want it to be. So in that way it’s a pluralistic and subjective thing.

In terms of process I usually would go with the buzzwords that the dev gives me about what they want X to be, compose some material and then play a build of the game with that music in the background. That’s the only real way to know if it works.  Also because its so subjective I think it’s hard to decide on what works completely unilaterally, so I ask other people in the team what they think, and also non-musical people like my girlfriend or my sister who can be very honest and can look at it with a fresh pair of ears.

One thing I spend a lot of time doing (or trying to do!) when I’m composing is making things blend and making developmental material move quite subtly, so instruments don’t just come out of nowhere, the harmony is quite washy, key changes are disguised in the texture and instrumentation and really avoiding having things just jumping out at you. This kind of approach means that when you put it to the visuals it naturally blends in quite well. It’s about smoothing off the sharp edges so they don’t stick out. This doesn’t work with everything, sometimes you need music that slaps you in the face, but most of the time you don’t.

(JF)    There are a few basic but important questions I ask myself when deciding on music for a scene:

What is the genre?  What is the emotion we want the audience to feel?  What is the energy of the scene (ie: how intense/fast-or-slow paced)?

What is the contour of the scene (ie: picture cuts, significant moments that need a change in the music somehow)?  Are there sound effects and dialogue that I need to stay out of the way of?

Having said all that… The process was a little different for my brother’s game. 😉  He described the game to me in an email, and I imagined what that might look like in my head.  And then I simply created a few pieces that I thought might work with those ideas.  Fortunately he like them and they fit with the scenes he had in mind also. 🙂

 

In the spirit of keeping a lasting friendship between two friends, It’s clear that the individuals behind the Willy and Mathilda game are genuinely excited to be apart of the creative process. If you are interested in seeing what has been developed so far you can download the beta version of their game at the IBwWG website.

According to my license I’m an adult… I think that means I can perform a citizen’s arrest now. When I’m not protecting civilians I enjoy indulging in sci-fi or martial art movies. I play videogames when I can’t fall asleep, and if that doesn't work I fistfight the ghosts in my basement. Nice to meet you.

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