Published: February 9, 2023
I've completed work on level 5-1, tentatively titled "Gleaming Glassway"! This is the first level in world 5 (Crystal Caverns). I've got a =ton= to talk about for this level, but first, here's a video of a full playthrough of it:
World 5 is going to focus on the green "combo" enemies where you need to press attack and jump simultaneously. There are a bunch of different ways in which these can be used, such as:
I'm hoping to introduce these slowly over the course of the world, especially the flight path-related ones since those might be tricky to get a handle on.
I've been trying to mull over musical style ideas for world 5 for a while now, and only recently had much success settling on something. I don't know exactly how to describe it succinctly, but it draws a little bit on "kawaii bass" influences, featuring big synth chord stacks that are sidechained to the kick drum.
World 4 was pretty "lush" and "atmospheric" in its overall sound so I wanted to contrast that a little by going for something a little more punchy and crisp. Not "dry" like the 8-bit style of world 3, but something a little more "upfront" if that makes sense. I referenced things like the vibe of the chorus in nachi - 賢者の極北 (Nhato Remix) and especially the big chords in the drops of Snail's House - Pixel Galaxy and did a sketch called "Flight Experiments" during One Hour Compo. That sketch worked out really well, so I took most of the same ideas and put them into the track for level 5-1.
The main chorus features these characteristic chord stacks that I was mentioning earlier, along with some added arps to spice things up a bit. After freeing ourselves from the pentatonic scale limitation that I used in world 4, it's nice to go back to using 7ths and 9ths everywhere in these chords:
One interesting issue that came up with writing these sections was the rhythmic structure of the second chorus, which initially sounded like this with a "four on the floor" beat:
It sounds okay, but in the context of the game, those first three quarter note chords (red enemies) are quite boring. In fact, the attack/jump patterns here go along with the main rhythm of the block chords, so there's really only one thing going on, which makes it very...monotonous, rhythmically. I ended up changing the drum beat around, adding another bassline layer, and ended up with this instead:
The tweak is subtle, but I think having two different rhythmic things going on at once really helps make it less boring and one-note.
Writing Rhythm Quest music is fascinating because there are rough rules that I find and discover for myself, but they usually aren't very strict. There are common patterns that I'll use a lot -- for example, flight paths are usually represented by sustained notes -- but those aren't always true: flight paths are sometimes represented by arpeggio patterns instead.
It's the same thing with these green enemies. Sometimes I represent them in the music with chords (jump + attack at the same time = 2 notes at the same time), but I've also developed 16th note rhythms that I've started to use for them instead:
I actually really love everything going on in this song, there are so many little details here and there that I want to talk about that I enjoyed putting in.
One is this washed out glassy synth layer in the background that fills everything out and provides another element of rhythmic contrast. Here's what the first chorus sounds like =without= that synth:
And here's the version with it added in (listen for it!):
Listening to the first example you might not think that anything is "missing", but I really feel like this element helps fill in the space effectively even though it's in the background.
Just one more audio snippet for you all:
You'll notice that some of the leads have different timbres here than in earlier worlds -- I'm going to be trying to use alternate waveforms for my leads in world 5 to break away from the pulse/square waves that I use all the time.
Really love the high filtered noise fill that happens midway through this snippet as well, that's just a simple synthesizer using white noise that goes through a high-pass filter. Also, there's that glassy synth line in the background again!
World 4 used a lot of these translucent cloud layers (easy to draw!) to provide a lot of depth and adding additional colors to the scene without actually increasing the number of colors in my main palette (still always limited to 4 or 8 at a time!):
I knew I wanted to do something different in world 5, but I still liked the translucency effects, so I decided to take a different spin on it and instead of clouds, thought about other large transparent shapes, like bubbles and gemstones:
So here instead of having large bright cloud layers, I'm using geometric shapes (triangles, circles, diamonds) and using decorative outlines with translucent fill areas.
You'll notice a lot of parallax scrolling with the light beams, which I think really makes the scene click visually. They vary in width, sorting layer, and color/intensity, so they create nice subtle visual appeal when they scroll past / through each other.
Something else you'll notice is that the ground is also partially transparent here! I happened to stumble upon this idea and I think it really works for this world to set it apart from the others. It also makes it much easier to create visual interest on the bottom half of the screen since you get to see the (mirrored) bottom half of all the backdrops now.
I actually ran into some issues when I first implemented this, since my level generation code previously generated overlapping ground areas in some cases. This wasn't an issue when the ground was just a single opaque color, but when it's translucent, it's a problem:
Luckily, those cases weren't too rough to track down and fix.
During the chorus sections, I spawn simple diamond-shaped particles that fade in and out as they scroll by. Simple effect, but it fits the aesthetic of the level nicely and provides another element of parallax scrolling to add depth.
Since this is a new world, I also needed a new menu theme for it. Here's a video of the transition between world 4 and world 5, so you can see what that sound like when you unlock world 5:
Again, you can hear the use of block chords and sidechaining here, same ideas as within the level itself. I really like how different all of the menu themes are; you can actually hear my styles evolving and shifting over the course of the years as I work on the game and experiment with new sounds.
That's it for now! Next up is going to be level 5-2, which is probably going to start touching on green enemies + flight paths!