Fear and Confidence – Longboard

Yesterday, my dear friend Adam Kinnischtzke invited me out to a nearby park to Sabbath with him. Adam and I arrive at the parking lot, when suddenly he smirks and to my surprise, pulls out a longboard – a forbidden object that I’ve never tested myself to ride before. After a brief moment of nervous laughter, the first immediate thought of ‘no way’ has passed over my head and I decided to give it a try.

At first, I struggle to stay on top of the longboard for a while. My two aloof feet are awkwardly placed and I barely miss my balance, almost resulting in a trip. Luckily Adam’s on my side and he patiently helps me maintain my balance for a few minutes. Little by little, I start getting further and further without losing my balance until finally, I’m able to let go of Adam’s shoulder and even start making longer strides on my own.

A true test of balance came at this giant hill (not really). Adam said,”Here, you’re going to go all the way down without stopping.” It’s a curvy hill, and I needed to constantly make a turn without leaning too forward, otherwise, I might fall. I start making my way down, and my longboard gains more and more speed over time. Time starts to feel slower and a thousand fearful thoughts start to creep into my head and I imagine what it would be like to fall flat on my face or scrape my knees on a peaceful Sunday afternoon- But I put aside those thoughts and focus on maintaining my balance on the board. Finally, I make it to the end of the hill, and the board starts to slow down. The rush of exhilarating joy and self-confidence flourishes inside of me. I have challenged myself and overcome a small but substantial fear! Now I can truly call myself a longboarder. 🙂

When overcoming our fears, we grow as a person and are able to connect certain lessons that we’ve learned from to another valuable aspect of life. I can relate this small victory to other instances in my life where I’ve completely trusted in myself to go for it and didn’t give up halfway. It results in a very important growth in self-confidence and the ability to want to challenge ourselves at other things in life. Every Sunday, I commit to going out to the park with Adam and enjoying the fresh breeze brushing against my face as I ride the longboard. Maybe I’ll fall one day. But I’ll get up again.

 

GGJ 2018 – Starreach & Music behind it

The GGJ 2018 is officially over! So excited to write about the experience and how it has been my favorite game jam so far! 🙂

CementCactusTeam.png

Two days before the jam, I was messaged by Chau Ho with an intriguing idea of teaming for this jam! Naturally, I then nudged Eric Lee and Justin Gonzalez, who I worked with together on our previous game jam, Defenestration. Once Justin was on board, Sarah Cho was immediately brought onto our team. Ken Miller, a fantastic programmer, and our lead, also joined aboard. Later, Ruben Sanchez and Doan Doan joined our team, closing our team’s count at 8. All of us were from VGDA, and had a great amount of experience working on the same game before with each other and knew exactly how to scope the game and set a deadline. We communicated with each other throughout the jam, staying in that one room and asking each other questions in person. All of these factors allowed us to propel forward very quickly and have a very polished game at the end of the 48 hours.

Ken and Ideas

After we’ve brainstormed, we started writing down every idea we had for improving the game on the whiteboard.

When we arrived in our room, we started brainstorming what game we should work on. Many creative ideas came out from the theme “Transmission”, but the one we settled on was Eric’s pitch – having two people bounce off of each other and gaining momentum. It was a very simple concept but proved to be challenging and perfect for the 48-hour jam.

Room

This spacious computer room was provided by the SGDA UCR Crew! This was our home base for the next 48 hours.

The work environment was very loose, yet filled with passion. Everyone in that room had a role, and we were inspired by each other’s works.

Ken Miller was a fantastic lead and programmer. He kept our team on time and made sure that every voice was heard. When I suggested an adaptive music, he was eager to go miles to implement it. He admitted that it was the hardest challenge that he came across throughout the development during our presentation, and I don’t doubt it!

Ruben Sanchez is THE man who can conjure up anything with code. We can often times find him lying down on the floor lifelessly, but whenever he is on his chair, he would create some crazy stuff that none of us knew how to do, help Justin with checking for bugs, and having fun.

Eric and Justin were having so much fun programming and playing games off in their free time. These guys would implement systems, test them and merge their progress with the rest of the team’s.  I loved leaving my station from time to time to see what they were doing because they would be always doing something different. On our first night, Eric and I stayed up until 5 AM playing Battlerite. It wrecked us for the next day but it sure did make a good memory. 🙂

Chau Ho set the story of the game and helped design everything in the game. She also helped me a lot with the ideas for the music. She literally looked up 20 different pieces of music for me to reference from, and was patiently sitting there with me, absorbing everything that I was doing when we were creating our fun, bouncy sound effects. Thanks Chau!

Doan Doan was a ‘monster’. He would go to sleep the latest out of all of us, and wake up the earliest, just silently working on his UI, which ended up “WOW”-ing everyone in the room at our demo presentation. His popping UI and the animations were so meticulous and eye-catching. This man is going places.

Sarah Cho did every art except the UI in our game. Character concept, background art, booster swirl, animations, everything! She is a very talented artist and we were so fortunate to have her join us. She would sometimes come over to my station where Chau and I would be writing music to show us her artwork when we would give her positive feedback about her amazing work, which would then inspire us.

I did the music for the game, as well as the sound effects. When we first settled on our game concept, I loaded up a piano, put a reverb on it and started improvising. I took into consideration the length of this game jam, and the type of music needed – ambient. I was playing a lot of Hollow Knight before I came into this jam, and I thought the City of Tear’s background music had a very nice 6/8 piano melody.  I needed the music to not sound repeated, so I mixed up the meter here and there while using lush chord progression changes. I made sure to give this music to my programmers on the second day, so that they can start testing their prototype with the music in it.

Making the music adaptive required a bit of design challenge. At the beginning of the game, the piano would be playing at default volume, as well as a flute track and clarinet track. The Flute symbolized the sister Fae, and the Clarinet represented the brother Rae. As the siblings are jumping up and down and the camera is focusing on them, the music would emphasize whoever is actively jumping in the air. (so if Fae was in the air, the flute’s volume would be 100% while 25% on the clarinet).

We wanted the player to feel an emotional sense of progression and reaching the end as the game played on, so I designed two ‘thresholds’ that the player would have to go across in order to unlock a new layer of music. Layer 1 introduced lower piano notes, which helped to stablize chord progressions on top of the piano 6/8 notes we had before. It also contained bits of synthesizer elements, as well as harp tingling noises, providing sounds in all range of frequencies and allowing the player to understand that they’ve achieved a new level of progression. Layer 1 also introduced lush a deceptive cadence which would really juice out the emotions. Layer 2 introduced strings in, overall amplifying the emotional expression of the music and filling in any empty gaps there was in the soundtrack.

When we finally presented our game at the demo session, it came out very strong. The music that Chau and I worked on started playing, alongside Doan Doan’s beautiful UI, and everyone in the room immediately expressed excitement. The game played out perfectly, even though the sound effects were a little bit louder than I expected it to be. Sarah’s art stood out from other team’s art styles, and Ken’s particle effects were like sprinkles on a freshh donut. The transmission particle effect by Ken really visually showed them that we were using the theme as the main inspiration. Ken, Eric, Justin and Ruben’s hardwork made sure that everything from jump feels to the camera movement was fantastic, and that the game would play out very smoothly.

The game jam was a fantastic experience. Even though we had to sleep on hard floors, with laid down chairs as beds, it brought us closer together and created amazing, beautiful memories that I will never want to forget. We’re coming back for more next year. Shout out to UCR’s amazing crew that supported us with such hospitality by providing snacks, water and taking care of our trash every time. Thank you SGDA for organizing this and bringing the students together for Global Game Jam 2018.

P.S! How did we come up with our team name, Cement Cactus? We all thought of one random word going in a circle and then started piecing them together to see what sounded wacky and good. I drew up this logo, which was inspired by Chau’s idea of two cacti’s shaped like an 8 and having the team’s name “Cement Cactus” on the side. Eric then improved it by slightly tilting the cement on top of our friendly cactus.

Screen Shot 2018-01-28 at 3.21.59 AM.png->CementCactus

Writing music while doing chores

Today, everyone has left the house and I’m alone. They’ll be coming back around at night, and I was doing some workouts on the floor when I realized that it was dusty again. Has it been a week since we vacuumed? I vacuumed the floor and did the dishes – and then suddenly, one after another, amazing pieces of music started coming into my head. I sat in front of the piano and recorded four themes that I think can be used for Garden Warrior – the game that I’m currently working on with Little Pebble Studios.IMG_20180111_182235_054 Roughly about 11 minutes of musical ideas came out from doing chores. I think chores personally allow me to relax and reach into my subconscious without trying to overcome a writer’s block.  Then it clicked in my head: It’s always been like this – my major compositions always came from chores.

So I learned something very valuable today. Do the dishes and clean once in a while. For others’ good and for my own good as well. 🙂

Junkie XL and his way of sharing

There are a lot of free tutorial videos out there made by Junkie XL that really shows his master craft as well as his generosity. He shares every tidbit of what he does and how he makes his sounds, and he’s not afraid to show it to the world. Most people try to hide their secret formulas and make it as hard as possible for the newcomers because they’re afraid that they might lose their job. But what makes it different Junkie is that he isn’t afraid. He wants a good challenge.

What I’ve learned from creating video lessons is that you learn a lot more from making your own tutorial videos. I’ll continue to absorb as much as I can, and make my own discoveries and share them with the world.

How I got involved with 10 game projects this semester

Projects I've worked on this semester!

Except for Voodoo Cheval, all of these projects were done this semester. One of the games is still early in its development.

This semester has been crazy fun. And I mean it.

 

Like the title of this blog says, I’ve partaken in 10 game projects this semester – 4 game jam projects, 2 large group projects, and 4 indie projects. Four of those projects are still being developed, and I’ve gotten involved as Composer or Sound Design for those projects while handling school and maintaining my GPA of 3.8. What might be hard to believe is that I’ve only been seriously doing game audio for about 4 months.

Here’s a disclaimer: I’m not here to boast about how many games I’ve worked on, but rather to record exactly what I did to maintain my busy schedule throughout the semester. It’s also not specifically for game audio people, but for everyone. I hope whoever is reading this may find it helpful and applicable to their own schedule as well.

I set a Goal.

At the beginning of the semester, my dad sat me down and taught me an important analogy that I took to heart. “A ship that knows its destination eventually get there, while a ship that doesn’t may be traveling at its fastest speed in the opposite direction”. This translates to how life works. If you take a look at lives and autobiographies of successful people, you’ll notice that they all stress the importance of setting a goal for yourself.

This made me realized that I cannot start my ‘career’ if I didn’t have a career objective in my life. Yes, I was playing games, writing mockup battle music, but I didn’t know where to go from there. I decided to get off my butt and make something happen. So I found a Composition Notebook and started writing down my career objective on the top, and brainstormed 20 things that I needed to do to get to my career objective. It was about objectifying life and breaking it down into tasks, rather than being awestruck at the composers who’ve made it to the top, wondering how they got there. Every day, I would continue to write my list – and try to accomplish at least 5 things on that list. My 20 list eventually started to thin out as I matured in person. Things that were not necessarily supposed to be on the list disappeared. Some things got added on. On some days when it was hard to keep up, I would write little notes about what good things happened that day, and it worked like a journal as well.

My First 20 List

Just four months ago, when I was trying to force out ideas of what ways I can become a full-time game composer.

I had a sense of urgency.

I agree with the statement, “If you aren’t feeling pressured, you’re not doing enough”. My understanding of the fact that I am simply graduating in less than a year and that I would like a job that I can love doing pushed me toward collecting every information I can find about the game audio industry. The more I looked outside of my own little well, the more aware I became of hundreds of passionate composers training to compete with me.

Because of the sense of urgency, I began to value my time. My video game addiction that I’ve had for my whole life suddenly disappeared, because of how many things I realized I needed do. I began to prioritize tasks. Sometimes, I had to put less focus on to school to finish a track for a game. I began to fix times spent unproductively and stayed away from sources like Facebook, YouTube, and other social media that would prevent me from working on my things.

A study shows that after being distracted by a simple distraction, such as a notification on the phone, it takes about an average of 26 minutes to get back to the task. Imagine all the times that we’ve spent distracted because of Facebook messages and texts that were simply not necessary.

Videos are worse. I used to really get sucked into it for hours without realizing that I’m drowning. A useful tool that I use for Facebook is “Facebook Newsfeed Eradicator” which is available in the app store if you’re using google chrome. This has probably saved me from hundreds of hours of me being distracted. You can use AdBlock to disable specific elements from YouTube. This way, you can’t let them influence you on what to watch.

Facebook Eradicator

Rule your mind or it will rule you.

YouTube Blocked!

This way, I can only watch videos that I want to watch.

I cherish my relationship with friends.

I learned that without friends, I couldn’t go far. It is important to make friends early on, and even more important to not to burn bridges with anybody. The game industry is full of friends who help each other. Nobody wants to work with someone who is mean, untrustworthy, dishonest or lazy. Words do get spread around.

I highly value the people that I worked with, and not the project or the title. Sometimes it’s important to meet up and have lunch with them while discussing important issues about the game. I do more listening than talking and thank people for their time. A book that I read “How to win friends and Influence people” was a gold mine of useful social interaction guides of how to be liked by everyone and become a great friend.

Here’s a little preview of it. I’d highly recommend getting a physical copy.

Finally, I’ve been fortunate to have been selected as a G.A.N.G. Scholar and was granted full access pass at Game Sound Conference, where I got to meet Chance Thomas, Paul Lipson, Penka Kouneva, Neal Acree and so many other people who I desire to learn from.

The truth is that there are many talented young artists out there, and almost everyone is better than me. I was truly humbled by the experience and was encouraged to work even harder after seeing who were there at GSC. To have been seated among these talented people and reckon my inexperience was a prize itself.

It’s never too early or too late to start. What matters is that you start today with your own goal, manage your time and make friends along the way.

Voodoo Cheval published & Full OST!

Check out the full OST above for VGDA’s 5th game: Voodoo Cheval!

Play the game for free: https://vgda.itch.io/voodoo-cheval

This was my first time scoring music for a game. I had a wonderful time collaborating with VGDA during this semester and writing 7 electro swing themed tracks for levels and 4 cutscene music! An Obsidian developer at SGDA even complimented the music and encouraged me to continue working hard! I think that this was the starting of my career.