Unpacking OST // Interview with Jeff van Dyck

chiptune interview OST VGM

FFO: Shogun Total War, Need for Speed, Hand of Fate and Paint the Town Red

Favourite Track: I Like Water


Jeff an Dyck took the time to speak with us about his work on the critically acclaimed "Unpacking" as well as his wildly impressive backlog. Heres what he had to say!

Q1: Unpacking is a meditative puzzle game that has received an incredible amount of critical acclaim. Do you have any thoughts on why the market for this type of game has grown in recent years?

A1: I think life for most people in the world has become more stressful in the last few years. Crazy world events, pandemics, and media spamming us constantly, making sure we know all about it. It's a lot to take on. 

When people turn to video games to escape from all this, perhaps games full of action, violence and aggression aren't giving them solace. Maybe the world needs more games where you do something simple, with no pressure, a little depth to make it interesting, and most importantly, chilled.

Q2: How did you create the retro chip sounds on the soundtrack?

I definitely took the easy road and used several plugins. Proper chiptune artists use old hardware to get that authentic sound, but I wasn't really going for true authenticity, more an honest nod to it . Ultimately I wanted to soften the traditionally hard edges of the square waves. This was all in the attempt to maintain a relaxing vibe.  

Q3: Unpacking has a pixel art style reminiscent of flip phone / blackberry Java games. Was this something you took into account when creating the score?

A3: The pixel art in Unpacking certainly inspired the decision to go with a chiptune style, but we also wanted another dimension to help connect with the wholesome, personal journey that we are conveying. This led us to add acoustic guitar, and other organic instruments like piano. This extra layer really helps ground the score. There's a folky sincerity to it which helps us connect to it emotionally.

Q4: Composing the Need for Speed II soundtrack was your first time writing and implementing an interactive music system. Was there a specific game that inspired you to attempt that?

A4: On that specific game, it wasn't really my decision to do interactive music, it was the audio director, Alistair Hirst. My job was to write the music using the system that was created. I hadn't really considered other games that were doing layered interactive music like we were. I suppose there would have been some subtle influence from Mario Cart with the way its music speeds up when you pick up a star. In NFS2, there are 3 layers of each moment in the music. If you are towards the back of the pack, you hear layer one which is fairly sparse sounding. Middle of the pack, layer two kicks in and we hear more drums and synth. If you start to lead the race, you hear layer 3 and the drums go double time and the guitars kick in. If you crash, the song jumps to the crashing part of the song, which was typically something chaotic. It was a lot of fun to work on.

Q5: Many fans of the series feel that Alien: Isolation is far and away the best video game adaptation of the franchise. What was it like getting to work on such a fundamentally important sci-fi universe?

A5: On Alien Isolation, I was the audio director. The music was composed by The Flight, who did an amazing job. We licensed most of the main themes, and The Flight did them justice in the game. I had an amazing team that was super talented, and they really deserved the BAFTA they won for that game. The creative director Alistair Hope had a great mantra that he used to tell us and the artists repeatedly, "Make it CRT, not LCD". It really helped us focus on getting the aesthetic right for an Alien game that was based on the original Alien movie.  

Q6: Your debut as Audio Lead was on the 1995 Sega Genesis title Skitchin'. With the rise in popularity of chiptune do you ever think about making more music with the Sega Genesis sound chip?

A6: I'm not sure I would go out of my way to do that at the moment, although I have fond memories of working with that chip. Skitchin' was my first attempt at exploring heavy rock music, and it really helped me release my inner rock sensibility which I didn't know I had at the time. Ever since, I've written a heap of rock music, a lot in a more heavy industrial vibe like the NHL stuff I did, or more recently, Paint the Town Red. All that said, if I was asked to do another chiptune score for a game, I would gladly do it, and might give using actual hardware a go next time.

Q7: In the 90's you played keys in the Vancouver based prog band Heavy Lounge along side fellow VGM composer Saki Kaskas AKA Captain Ginger who passed away in 2016. Is there anything from his exceptional catalogue you think people should check out?

A7:  I miss Saki dearly. He was such a good friend of mine, and it was a huge loss to the music world when he left us. I'm super proud of the music we wrote together on NFS and NHL, as well as what we created with the members of Heavy Lounge. When he passed away, he was working on a solo album. I decided to ask all of his close music buddies if they would help me finish off Saki's album. Over the next two years I recorded all of his friends playing various instruments on it, and it was released in June 2019 and is called Theodosius.

Q8: The Submerged: Hidden Depths soundtrack was created by transcribing the MIDI tracks you had composed to musical score and then recording the music with a string quartet. Is this an artistic process you would use again? Or was it born out of necessity? 

A8:  I absolutely loved this process, and on any game that I work on that has the budget to hire a live string section, I would gladly do this again. It certainly helped that I hired Chris Larkin (Hollow Knight) and Nathan Cummins to help me with the transcribing process on that game. There's a lot of interpretation that needs to happen going from MIDI to score, and you really need to understand the depths of MIDI as much as music theory to get it right. 

Q9: What have you been listening to lately?

A9: I'm a huge fan of Louis Cole, Vulfpeck, Trent Reznor and Frank Zappa.

Find more of their music below!

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