From Independent Videogame Music in Context, available this week only through Kickstarter

Southend Interactive is an independently financed game studio based in Malmö, Sweden. According to manager Fredrik Erlandsson, the company has refrained from entering the Independent Games Festival because they see it as a forum for less experienced devs. However the design methodologies underlying Windows Phone 7 and Xbox Live Arcade puzzler ilomilo have decidedly reflected an independent spirit.

"Someone comes up with an idea and presents it to the team," says composer Daniel Olsén. "If people like it, we’ll start working on a pitch to show to publishers. We also have something called 'hippie day,' where we sit down in small groups and try to come up with ideas for pitches. Usually, whoever comes up with the idea is the one who stays in charge of the project later on. That’s pretty much it."

Close to one hour of music has been written for the title, which is out now for the Windows mobile device and will see an official release on XBLA in early January. A full-length remix album is also in the works, care of art director Simon Flesser. We caught up with the game's composer to hear about his music score, which in its endearing use of eclectic instrumentation and imprecise harmony lends a childlike quality to the overall game design.


Game composer Daniel Olsén

Could you tell us a little about your background as a game composer and some of the experiences you've drawn on in your creation of the soundtrack for ilomilo?

Daniel Olsén: I’ve previously done soundtracks for Lode Runner and Commanders: Attack of the Genos for Xbox Live Arcade. I played a lot of videogames as a kid and started doing chip music on the Amiga, but a lot of inspiration comes from other music like Tom Waits and bands like Múm. I was also a member of an industrial band called Interlace, but we disbanded last holiday. We made a remix of "Rain Of Brass Petals" for Silent Hill 3 that appears on the Japanese release of the soundtrack and is called "Rain Of Brass Petals (three voices edit)."

I started out as a graphic artist working at a number of different game companies, but since most of them were small companies we couldn’t afford a full-time sound engineer. That’s how I got the chance to start working with sound and music. From that time on, I’ve been involved in music at almost every company I’ve worked at.

Southend is an independent developer. Do you find that working in this environment you have a say over the way your work is represented in the final product?

We put a lot of love into our products and have chosen Xbox Live Arcade, PSN and mobile devices because we like to keep it small. For ilomilo, I created almost the entire soundtrack—one hour of music—without hardly anyone on the team even hearing it. They had full confidence in me. I think that may be something that you couldn’t do if you were working at a bigger company.

Were you looking for the music to complement other elements of the overall design, such as the gameplay, art design or scenario?

I think I was mostly influenced by the art style. It’s imperfect in a way, but that’s kind of what makes it cute. There are a lot of instruments that are out of tune or playing the wrong melody, and that inspiration came from the playfulness of the the art style. For example I picked up an accordion and started playing with it and part of that—me not knowing how to play the instrument—became the sound for ilomilo. I would play things wrong due to my inexperience, but when I listened to it later, I would usually prefer the takes that were the most imperfect. I think that’s one of the more fun parts of the soundtrack for me.

How did you intend for instrumentation to further this aim of the soundtrack?

I wanted it to sound like it was made by kids, like a children’s orchestra. I went out and bought all kinds of instruments, whatever I could find: nose flutes, glockenspiel, toy instruments, coconut kalimbas... friends would also bring me instruments they had laying around at home. For one track, I used an instrument that I built with my friend. We took an old Ikea bench, disassembled it and made it into a weird instrument with guitar strings on it. It kind of sounds like a cross between a guitar and a sitar. It’s a little hard to use because you’re limited to six tones, and to play something different you have to re-tune it. But it makes for a very special sound.

What strategies did you use to introduce variety into the various music tracks that appear in the game?

I would take inspiration from different kinds of music tracks. One might be inspired by Sigur Rós, another by Nina Simone. We have the cheerful thing going on, but we also have sad stories about the characters. I think the interesting thing is the contrast. There is not only one side to it. The story about the huntsman and the fox is very touching, while the music is dark and sad. When you’re walking around on those small grass cubes and the sun is shining, everything is cheerful. I think those kinds of contrast make it easier for people to relate to ilo and milo and it makes the world they live in more believable, although it might not be something you’d expect from a cute puzzle game.

How does 8-bit style music figure into ilomilo?

In the game, you can find this old gaming system called the Ultra Deluxe System. To make the music and sound effects for that mini-game I used FamiTracker. It works like a regular tracker, only you are limited to the sounds of the NES. That’s also the charm of it. It’s a very fun tool to use and you always seem to come up with something while playing around with it.

There are the beginnings of an ilomilo remix album underway. What process is underlying the creation of the album?

Simon Flesser, the art director, is behind it. (He actually plays the ukulele and harmonica on the soundtrack. ) He loved the soundtrack so much that he wanted to do a tribute album and is currently searching for people who can do their own interpretations of the ilomilo tracks. It makes me happy that someone would go through all that trouble, so it’s a big honor for me.

To learn more about ilomilo, visit Southend Interactive and the official blog. Photo and video by Jeriaska.