Game music composer Laura Shigihara (supershigi) caused a delightful ripple in the game community with her soundtrack for Pop Cap’s game, Plants vs. Zombies. (You may recall that Play As Life interviewed her last May.) Recently, she submitted her very own role-playing game (RPG) to the Independent Games Festival (IGF). Laura was kind enough to talk about her game over the phone (and yes, her speaking voice is as sweet and bubbly as it sounds in her songs) on her new experience as a designer.
Q: Are you a twin by any chance?
A: No, but my younger sisters are twins.
Q. How many different songs are there?
A: For the demo there are around 30 different songs. Many of the songs that you will hear inside the dungeons can be broken down into 3 separate parts, each which can function on its own as background music. The full game will probably have close to 60 different songs, 7-8 of which can be broken down into smaller standalone sections.
Q. Why did you choose to put so much importance on the music?
A: I’ve always enjoyed not just music, but video game music. I’ve learned a lot about the process of arranging music from listening to video games from the Nintendo-era, as strange as that sounds. When I was young, I’d listen to music from the Megaman games… I loved how complex and melodic some of the stage themes were, and I used to record them onto casette tape so that I could figure out how all the various parts fit together. I wanted to show people how fascinating this process was… so the whole music mechanic in my game is basically the result of that. You can break down songs, and listen how the various components compliment one another and help to create feeling.
Q. Can you go back and listen to the different pieces of music?
A. For the most part, yes. If you return to an area that you’ve already completed, you can hear the music that you’ve assembled. While you’re in a musical dungeon, you pick up pieces of Melolune (which represent various pieces of a complete song) and place them on pedestals which will change the background music, and also affect something inside the dungeon. By moving the Melolune around, you can hear the different combinations the song fragments produce.
Q: Last time we spoke, the name of the game was Bluestar. What made you change it?
A: This name was sort of a placeholder until I could come up with a more fitting title… I was hoping something would eventually jump out at me. The word “Melolune” was actually written on my first music box, and it really matched the concept of “melody fragments” as as well as some of the core plot elements.
Q: Did you create the storyline before designing the game or while you were designing the game?
A: I guess you could say it was a little of both. I came up with the story first; which ended up being about 150-200 pages long when typed out. But at the same time, the story evolved a lot while I was working on the game. Things like NPC dialogue were often created on the fly… as were some of the stories behind the sidequests. Della’s cake quest for example came about while I was redesigning the maps for the town of Basho.
Q: Do you have a programmer or is it a one-man show?
A: It’s pretty much a one-girl-team; I don’t have a programmer or anything. But I’ve had help here and there with some specific scripts. George [Laura’s boyfriend and designer of Plants vs. Zombies] helped me with the battle system, and there are a lot of folks online who have given me programming advice (I can program, but it’s certainly not my forte).
Q: Do you get options where you can choose and have different endings?
A: Not exactly; it’s not like Chrono Trigger where there will be a bunch of different endings… but there are a lot of hidden sidequests which when completed will allow you to see certain cut scenes, or learn things about the story which aren’t normally revealed.
Q: When you say you can get others to join you, are you talking about multiplayer?
A: No, you can have other characters in the game join you. It’s a one-person game.
Q: The graphics for the game are 2D like old RPGs instead of 3D. Was that intentional?
A: Yes ^_^ My favorite game of all time is Chrono Trigger, which was from the Super Nintendo era. I was hoping to create a game that had a similar feel.
Q: Who has been helpful or inspirational for you while designing Melolune?
A: My family and friends have been very supportive throughout the entire process. George in particular has been very helpful; even if he’s playing something for the 20th time, he still acts super engaged so as not to discourage me, hehe. I’m also part of a forum that’s based around creative activities; everyone posts novels, art, music, games and other things to share with one another. We check out each other’s work and give support and feedback when we can, it’s really great.
Q: Who is your target audience?
A: I don’t really have a specific target in mind; I’m hoping the story will appeal to a wide audience… My friends commented that girls might be interested in the game due to the style of the characters.
Q: I was also thinking that it would appeal to girls because your characters are very cute. Would you say that is your style in general or just something specific to this particular game?
A: Yes, this is pretty much my style. I like drawing cute or funny things. I think I was influenced a lot by Miyazaki films as a child.
Q. This is a personal question, but do you have a lot of stuffed animals?
A. Yes, I do! (laughs) But I’m not only into conventionally cute things… I have a bunch of Starcraft figurines, my favorite one being the Hydralisk, who I think is really cute for some reason.
Q: So is there any violence in the game?
A: There is no gore or extreme violence. There are battles, but they’re really mild.
Q: What are the female characters like in your game? Are there any princesses that need to be saved?
A: You don’t have to save any princesses, hehe. I’d like to think that the females in my game have a fair amount of depth. They all have interesting stories that get revealed gradually as the game progresses. One of the females for example, is an engineer who builds airships; her mother was a famous pilot and her dream is to start a courier service with her younger brother once he returns from war. They all feel “real” to me; perhaps because many of their traits were modeled after real people.
Q: Would you say that the women in your games are more independent?
A: Yes, I guess you could say they’re all fairly independent.
Q. When will Melolune be released?
A. The full version will probably be released in a few months. I released a demo for the IGF which contains about 25% of the gameplay. I’m actually about 80-90% finished with the linear gameplay, I just have a lot of things to add and connect together 😛
Q. How will the game be distributed?
A. At this point I’m not really sure, but I’d probably end up going through an online portal like Amaranthia and/or Bigfish. It would also be up on my website.
Q. Is a Facebook game an option that you’d consider?
A. I’ve thought about it, but most likely not. I actually don’t even have a Facebook account, hehe.
Q. Why are you not on Facebook?
A. After joining Friendster and Myspace and all those other ones, I just got tired of doing the whole social network thing.
Q: Is there anything you hope players will acknowledge or appreciate?
A: I’d really be happy if people were able to get into the story. Right now there are only a handful of people who actually know the entire story… there’s so much character development, and interesting secrets and plot twists that have a lot of meaning behind them. I would love to be able to talk with people about it 😛 And naturally, I also hope people like the music. I’ve really put a lot of effort into it. When I was designing the musical dungeons, it was a unique challenge coming up with songs that could be broken down into 3 parts (and pieced together in 7 different ways) that were all able to function as decent background music. I do hope that folks are able to enjoy it.
Q: Now that you’ve designed a game, do you think you’ll be doing more designing or composing?
A: I was surprised at how much I enjoyed working on this game! After this experience, I know that I definitely want to make other games in the future. But I’m all about trying to allocate equal time to my random creative projects… so after I finish Melolune, I’ll probably focus on music for a bit. I’d like to release another singing album. There are a lot of random things I’d like to do… I want to spend more timing learning languages (I’m constantly buying language books and writing down vocabulary in my notebook), I’d like to get back into cooking, I want to get back into martial arts, etc.
Q: What kind of martial arts?
A: I did Shotokan [a type of Karate] for several years; it’s the type of martial arts that my Dad did, and his Dad did. My Dad doesn’t have any sons so I did it, haha. But I’d like to try out something different; I’ve been checking out various martial arts studios in the area. Some of my friends are into Taekwondo, and they’ve been encouraging me to try it out.
Q: Are you going to continue freelancing?
A: Although I’m not 100% opposed to working for a company, I think for the time being I would prefer to continue being independent. It matches my personality and I like the freedom to be able to work on many different creative projects at once. I’ve gotten a couple of in-house offers as of late, but I feel like it would be difficult to have to be exclusive… especially if you get an offer later for a game that you’d really be passionate about working on.
Q: People are asking for a Plants vs Zombies soundtrack. Is that coming out any time soon?
A: I hope so, and I’ve been asking Pop Cap if it’s okay. I’m guessing it will be available sometime in January if all goes well!
The demo of Laura Shigihara’s Melolune is available for download.