Music and Atmosphere of Trimmer Tycoon

Hi, my name is Max Samarin. And this is the sound of Trimmer Tycoon:

Please, leave the music playing for now as I give you a tour of the game's atmosphere! Sounds pretty intense and funny so far, right? So it appears that in addition to design, I also make music for Trimmer Tycoon - Improx Games' greenlit game coming out in Summer 2016. Today I want to talk about my music and sound-making process in Trimmer Tycoon and how I believe it defines much of the game's feeling.

Trimmer Tycoon is fun and intense. Basically, you shave beards - well enough to receive good cash, and fast enough to keep up with the rent and serve new customers. The music further develops this comical and fast atmosphere as well as builds the tension. The music is passive, played through the (mutable) radio in the salon. The music is designed in a way that it doesn't grab too much of your attention, nor should it ever annoy you. To describe the desired feeling of the game, think of the following adjectives: cute, silly, ghetto, random, clumsy, chill, jazzy, deep, hurry, intense. With these adjectives in mind, I went on to create the atmosphere of Trimmer Tycoon through many different songs. And these songs are different from each other indeed: they range from a "symphony of whistles" of Oh Baby Baby and gangsta-styled Heartbroken to the peaceful melody of Beard Trimmer and a powerful soul song named Piano Buff:

(Explore the full soundtrack here).

I started making the music the same day we started making the game - originally for the Ludum Dare 34 game jam. While my team members were drawing and coding upstairs, I concentrated downstairs, grabbed my laptop, opened GarageBand and started playing around. As inspiration I used a Russian rap song's beat, and as I took the song into its own direction I got amused very quickly. I kept thinking of the adjectives "ghetto" and "silly" as I was making the first song - Heartbroken. Suddenly I got the vision of the beard trimming shop, being comparable to a tattoo salon. Here is this song that defined the original feeling of Trimmer Tycoon, made by the pixel world's celebrity "DJ Chill":

In addition to the hip-hop-ish music, you can also hear some electronic tunes. These are songs that you might normally hear on the radio (in the universe of Trimmer Tycoon, at least). Most of them were actually half-completed before the game's development even started, but now with the context of Trimmer Tycoon, I was able to finish them. Here's one of the simple electronic songs included in Trimmer Tycoon, to add versatility to what comes out of the in-game radio:

When composing music in a rush, having context to work from is both an advantage and a must. With the atmosphere and themes of Trimmer Tycoon I was able to finish a respectable amount of music for a soundtrack (the pressure of a deadline helped a lot as well). Never think about soundtracks as music that just has to be there, fitting the pre-existing themes. On the contrary, the music defines the atmosphere, and can be a powerful way of expressing an idea of the feeling of a game or a story before the actual development of the game even begins. For example the following song brought a sense of speed and jumpiness to the game:

During our few game projects I also took the small role of sound design. That mostly meant recording sounds with a microphone and transforming them into something else. Oskari Liukku, one of the developers, helped me with transforming and recording sounds a year ago around for our first game project together. Recording dialogue and changing the pitch and other parameters was great entertainment for us in the middle of the night, sleep-deprived. Making sounds for Trimmer Tycoon heavily involved running around Oskari's house and looking for objects that would produce the sounds I wanted. The scissors sound in Trimmer Tycoon is actually a sound of a nail clipper and the electric trimming sound is the sound of an electric toothbrush vibrating against the microphone.

Sound has a significant effect on a game. Most of all, it can seemingly amplify the player's input. The beard trimming sound has to be satisfying, and the sound of different amounts of money gains have to be impactful respectively. That, combined with great animations, deep lightning and other visual effects, makes the player's input feel more meaningful. After reading this article, I recommend checking out this awesome presentation by indie dev Nicolae Berbece that inspired me and a couple of our other developers into this kind of thinking:

 

So, there's still work to do. What's left to do now is some new songs. I have the names of upcoming songs on our Trello list (a great app for group task managing). I have random names in a checklist there including "Chicken Song", "Hip-hop jazz music" and "Hawaii-style song", that remind me of what these songs will be like. We'll see how these songs will play out in the actual game. Perhaps so far I've been lucky that the current songs fit the game pretty well. Or have the songs instead moulded the game itself? I certainly hope so, for I deeply believe that music can be a good starting point for making a piece of entertainment.

To recap:

  1. Music can be a great starting point for developing a game, if the atmosphere is still missing.
  2. Soundtracks don't necessarily have to fit a pre-determined theme. Soundtracks can define the theme.
  3. Sounds aplify the player's actions in the game. They bring to the player's input a sense of responsiveness and satisfaction.
  4. Watch the video above to see how different a game can feel with proper effects. Indeed, music and sound are only part of the atmosphere and feeling equation, so remember to think about the big picture.

Have fun with your projects!

Max,

Music & Sound design, developer at Improx Games.

More me: https://twitter.com/SamarinMax
Trimmer Tycoon on Steam: https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=650067680
Trimmer Tycoon soundtrack: https://soundcloud.com/max-samarin/sets/trimmer-tycoon-soundctrack