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The Music of Monstrum: Developing The Hunter's Theme

A breakdown of the different elements that went into developing the music behind one of the monsters in Team Junkfish's upcoming horror game Monstrum.

Jaime Cross, Blogger

December 8, 2014

10 Min Read

Today I'm going to talk about some music in Monstrum, the horror game I'm currently work on with Team Junkfish. This blog revolves around one of the monsters, the Hunter, and what went into making the tracks associated with him. As with the other monster, the Brute, there is a fair amount of sound design stuff going on as opposed to traditional instrumentation, so I'll go over that as well as the general ideas that I was aiming for. Here's the finished Hunter's Chase Theme:



When I created Brute's tracks I wanted it to be about the pulse and drive, with a heavy focus on rhythmic and percussive elements to get over his general attitude towards things given that he is a physically imposing threat. I wanted to do a similar thing with the Hunter, and try and bring out his character musically. He's sneaky, and creeps around a lot, so I wanted to imply a sense of movement, things shifting even though nothing seems to be changing. I also wanted to play around with some more dynamic passages and silences to both contrast with the Brute's themes (the chase/hide themes were especially full on) and, again, play on the stalking/hunting aspects. The mild elemental theme popped up here too, with some more watery sounding effects coming into play as well as being used as a base for some of the sound design parts.

For some context, each monster has a "chase theme" for when it's spotted the player, a "hiding theme" while it knows the player is nearby but is in hiding, and a "wandering theme" which replaces the standard music loop once the player has successfully evaded a monster.


I originally started with the chase theme for the Brute then built the wandering theme from some of the original elements, while this time around it was the opposite. I'll quickly go through what's happening here. As is tradition when you get new toys you immediately have to play around with them, so I was messing around with a version of Camel Alchemy that came with Computer Music. Alchemy is a sample player, but allows you to set parameters to (and automate with) two XY pads. Kinda looks like this in motion:

It's pretty handy, and allows you to get some fairly fluid automation done quickly. If you're using Ableton then you have access to XY pads too. Here's the same part for the 1st pad:

And here's how it sounds:



Big, deep and watery and maybe a little cheesy on its own. I also used another Alchemy patch for some string slides, which sound like this:



There's a synth bed in there as well from Xils Labs' PolyKB II (Player, specifically) which has an on board arpeggiator. This gets triggered as the part plays out, with the playback rate automated as the track does on. You'll hear it kick in around 12 seconds in.



I also dirtied up this synth with a fairly distorted amp simulation and cabinet sim, to make it sound less pure and seem a bit less focussed, matching with the Hunter's MO. The signal chain's not doing too much beyond that.

Anyway, stick them together and you get this:



Finally there's a sliding, almost whistle like tone that appears after the pad fades out, slithering in before vanishing back into the shadows. Here it is on its own:



This also ties into the use of dynamics in the track. The whistle bends back to its original tone with a final whack of low, watery drum before both fade into the ether, giving way to a quiet, almost non-existent hum before everything comes crashing back in. Here is that section in motion:



Overall there's not much going on melodically, but there's still a degree of motion and movement in the theme that keeps it from remaining too samey and dull.


I had a fair amount of fun making things for the chase theme. It takes the water drum sound from the wandering track as the main sonic connection, but almost everything else has be re-appropriated and mangled to the point of being in comparible to the source material. A lot of people will turn to premade sample packs or a fairly quick fix without really experimenting with what can be relatively mundane samples. When creating this track I was thinking less about how each element was going to sound, but what I wanted it to do. I didn't really go in with a plan of “this is exactly what I want to make so now I must do it”, and a lot of it was through experimenting with things until I found something I liked.

First let's go over elements that I didn't make myself. There's a sort of pulse and scrape sound that comes from Alchemy again, with some automation across its two XY pads. This time it came from sweeping across the 8 remix pads on the right hand side, like this:

and results in this:



There's also a really heavily filtered shaker part running through out as I found the track lacking in high end material. It runs into a fairly wide convolution reverb send and grain delay send, and it highlighted during the quieter section with a slow low pass filter sweep to give that section a bit more movement and serves as a build into the louder section again. That whole part sounds like this:



And now to the self made sounds. Firstly I'm going to talk about the sort of airy pad sound that also happens during the shaker section above. It originally started as things being poured on glass for shattering layers before being turned into the above. Here's each stage of the sound:



Original, Pitched, EQ'd, Delay, Reverb, Sends

and here's the effects chain:

Click to zoom

There's also a send going out to the reverb, grain delay and a resonator at the end. At the start I pitched the original sample down two octaves to stretch it out, then warped it (pitch stretching without the time stretching) down a further octave in Ableton to get a sort of metallic sound. From here the EQ cuts out the low end as the main track is pretty bassy as is and there were a few artifacts I didn't like too much, and the short filter delay accents the metallic aspects.

One of my favourite things to do with delays is to play with the delay time as it's receiving a signal, as it'll start altering the pitch of the output to some interesting effect. This actually happens in the shaker part if you listen closely, where it emulates the sound of a ghostly cry in the distance. At least that was the plan. It's also used again before the second quiet section as a transitional riser.

Next there's a really dense reverb that spreads the noise out, and finally with the sends, including a resonator, added in. Pretty different from the source eh?

The same is true for the next two examples. Firstly, this:



Was originally some of this:



after being run through this:

Click to zoom

I wanted something to contrast with the main “bass drum” sound and act as a “snare” that played off the somewhat industrial vibes the monster themes have. It's a strong, unnatural sound that ramps up the tension in the track quite dramatically, and is based on the fact that I thought the original splash could work in a similar fashion.

There are actually two layers of the same sample per hit, with one pitched an octave lower and each having their own respective EQs and compressions to keep them a bit more contained in the mix before being grouped together. The amp sim distorts the sound pretty heavily and the reverb, despite appearing being fairly short, helps to accent the attack of the sound and gives it a more natural and obvious tail. The EQ is to keep the lower end from overpowering the mix and the auto filter kicks in during parts of the song, taking out the high end so other sounds aren't getting muddied up. A lot of this is sent to the grain delay send too.

Now for some traditional instruments: strings!



Or not. As with samples, playing around with effects on instruments can lead to some interesting combinations and should just be stuck on guitars and the like! I mainly used this as a riser leading into different sections with some volume automation to build it up more and decaly the long tail a little sharper. Here's what the effects chain is like:

Click to zoom

First in the chain is a frequency shifter that gives it some more metallic overtones, with the amp sim applying a bit of distortion and noise to the sound and the phaser smearing it together. As you might have guessed Ableton's Grain Delay is one of my favourite plug ins, and here it transforms what was still identifiable as strings into this big screeching build up, which runs into a long reverb that has a focus on the mid to high-mid range.

Finally there's the little background chirps during the quieter sections. These serve as percussive elements and provide some uneven movement to the track due to the delay settings. Like the splashes, these have two layers of the same sample with one pitched an octave lower. Here's the effects chain:

Click to zoom

The amp sim softens the low end and introduces some noise to the signal, with the cabinet sim tempering it a bit to make it less irritating. The grain delay has automation on its pitch and pitch randomisation settings as the clicks play, so you can hear the delayed signal changing with time with a lower amount of the dry signal keeping the original base sound. Lastly a bit of reverb to give it a bit more space and a little off to the reverb and delay sends. Here's the end result:


Obviously this is only one approach to making new sounds for music, or in this case music for games, so hopefully it has been of interest to anyone looking to try something new. Here's a playlist of everything above in case you want to go through them all:



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