The composers of Hyper Light Breaker on making villainous music that never gets boring

Hyperlightbreaker it seems like it was made just for me: a challenging roguelike from the creators of the indie hit Hyperlight drifter but with Breath of the Wild-like exploration. While there’s still a lot we don’t know about the game – it won’t be in early access until this fall – when I got the chance to talk to two of the game’s composers, I jumped at the chance. I was hoping they could answer my questions about how composers feel about writing music for roguelikes.

Hyperlightbreaker is an open-world online co-op roguelike set in a futuristic, devastated world. If you’re familiar with the neon, 2D aesthetic of Hyperlight Drifter, imagine what that looks like, but in 3D. For Breaker, an important consideration during development was writing music that “can withstand thousands of playing hours,” says composer Joel Corelitz. “Can we write music that can withstand so much gameplay? That doesn’t get old?”

Writing music that won’t irritate is of course a challenge for many game composers. And some games fill your ears with procedurally generated music, like Nobody’s Heaven. But the structure of a roguelike necessarily forces you to listen to certain pieces of music repeatedly as you replay levels, “so the music heard more often has to be less tiring somehow,” says Corelitz.

I asked how the team feels about doing that. “It’s about finding the right balance between simplicity and complexity and then figuring out how we support the gameplay with that balance,” said Corelitz. For Breaker, the team discovered that they don’t need to create music that is complex from a chord standpoint; instead, they must create a texture that evolves. “What we’ve really started exploring more is these richly textured pieces of music that are instantly recognizable as belonging to Breaker but can exist for a longer period of time [in a way] who really supports the world.” Another of the game’s composers, Troupe Gammage, added that they want to add emotion and intentionality to what could otherwise feel like largely ambient music.

You can really get an idea of ​​what that will all sound like in practice by listening to this track Hyperlightbreakertitled “Enmity”, which developer Heart Machine shared with The edge. The studio says you’ll hear it when you fight Exus, one of the “crowns” (bosses) in the game.

The composers also discussed how to make music for Hyperlightbreaker differed from Heart Machine’s process Solar axis. Solar axis has special levels, so if a player gets tired of a song, they probably won’t need to hear it for too long. But with Breaker“if [the composers are] tired of something, we should probably do something about it,” says Gammage. “We want players to play [Hyper Light Breaker] for a year. We want people to get involved in the game over time so we can see what’s exhausting.”

“There’s a lot of material on the cutting room floor,” says Corelitz. For games like Breaker, his strategy is to just get music into play and hear it in context so he can have an instinctive response to it. “It coexists in this perfect balance of sound effects and level design and color palettes and everything, and it just clicks. The only way to judge that is to play the game.”

As for the types of sounds you can hear in the game, look out for a lot of synths. And keep your ear open for sounds from an Una Corda, a special type of piano. But to help give Hyperlightbreaker his own palette, all sounds for Breaker are designed specifically for the game, according to Corelitz. “Creating that palette from scratch is as much a part of composing as actually writing the notes themselves.”

The broader purpose of the soundtrack is to give the impression of an expansive, synthetic vision of the future, says Gammage. Breaker is a game that is very much about community and is “the least lonely Heart Machine game”. I haven’t played the game myself, so I can’t tell you if it feels that way in practice. But I can’t wait to hear the music to find out.

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