Reigns: A 1000 Years of Deterministic Babble

I gave a talk at ENJMIN 2020 about the gibberish-based procedural voiceover system we built for the 2016 game Reigns.


My talk is called "Reigns: A Thousand Years of Deterministic Babble". This talk it's about a voiceover system that we created. We're going to talk about what worked, what didn't work, and some of the things that I might have done differently.

So what is Reigns exactly? Reigns is a game where you rule a kingdom. Your advisors and those within your principality come to you making suggestions and things. And you have this interface that's almost like a dating game such as Tinder, where you swipe left or right to make a choice. All of your choices affect the state of things. And that's generally how it works. There's lots of different characters, different personalities.

This was one of my first opportunities to experiment with spoken dialogue in a game. I was the audio director on this project, and in the past I've worked on games where I've done all of the content creation. But this was the first time where I wanted to take a step back as far as content creation goes, and focus more on the overall vision for the game's audio. Given that, I knew that I wanted to have the characters speak in an unfamiliar language - something that would that would add character to the experience. I was definitely thinking about games like "Animal Crossing" and "The Sims", and I wanted to come up with a unique and systemic approach to see if we could see give it a little bit of a sense of intelligence or immersion. And in thinking about this type of approach to voiceover, and how we could maybe push it a little bit further, my mind naturally went to towards popular examples of creative languages, especially from television, movies and literature. I thought about Klingon from Star Trek, Elvish from The Lord of the Rings, or Dothraki from Game of Thrones.

These types of examples are called Conlangs, for constructed language. These languages are fully functional and quite impressive. But that type of approach seemed like overkill for a fun and light game on a short timeline - a game that was was developed in under a year. Building a conlang is hard work and I'm not exactly a linguist, so I wanted to do something a little bit more streamlined, like making a bunch of random sounds with your mouth. I mean, that's pretty easy, right? That seemed like a good place to start.

Of course, if you have something that has absolutely no structure at all, it's just noise. And so we tried to come up with some ways to remedy that.

I think it works pretty well. I mean, I would say that, you know, this sort of gibberish, it lacks the depth that you would get from a conlang, but it still manages to personify the game and the characters. What we really tried to set out to do, is to take something that's kind of chaotic, where we're putting in all these different inputs and find a way to have some sort of a controlled chaos ... something that has a little bit of structure to it, to just make it work a little bit better.

On our project, we had a three person audio team. I was audio director and we had a dedicated sound designer and composer. We all worked together in developing the system. I sort of led the charge, but we all pitched in as far as recording voices and things like that.

Recording Process

Let's talk a little bit about the recording process and our approach for how we structured the voice over. We designed about 20 unique voices for the game and the voice actors were ourselves and some of our friends. It was fun and really inspiring how quickly the voices would come together. We settled on a novel approach where we would start with the seed phrase, something like this one: "money banana stand". And we'd ask the voice actor to riff on this phrase and to embody a persona of one of the characters in the game. In this case, we linked this phrase with this character, "The Jester". We'd ask the actor to riff in a stream of consciousness way, keeping in mind the sounds associated with this phrase. It was really fun to do this. Having a seed phrase like this, I found that it made the performances more focused, more intentional. The gibberish felt like a unit, almost sounding like a language of sorts.

Here's another example: "quantization prerogative". Don't ask me what that means, I have no idea. That's just a seed phrase we came up with for this character who's a nefarious magician in the dark arts. That one's actually me, and the other one was was the composer. And so we would take these performances, the ones that we liked, and we'd chop them up into sets of anywhere from 30 to 90 assets in some cases. We would we would delete the the fragments that stood out and in a bad way or were redundant - sometimes, you'd have repeats of certain things. The assets themselves were usually one or two syllables, sometimes three or four. We found that having a blend of those really helped the system to work as well as it does. When it's all single syllable sounds, connecting them together becomes a lot more difficult in the sense that you lose some of the human element. It starts to sound a little more robotic. It starts to sound a little bit more like "Animal Crossing", which is not bad. It's actually really cool. It's just a different style. And when you have multisyllabic fragments, and with the way that the human voice connects sounds together, you hear a bit more of an emotional element in the speech.

These were things we kept in mind. Also cutting out hard syllables seems seemed to work really well. So something like "Brero" or "Di", in having those hard transients, it really helped with connecting fragments together that may have been pulled from different sections of the recording. Even vowels could be used as hard syllables in some cases, depending on the performance.

Implementation Process

Ok, so let's talk about the implementation process now. We have these recordings of different voices, and we've chopped them up into these little fragments. Now we have to figure out how to actually put them together in a way that sounds reasonable.

Let's take this character as an example, "Lady Gray". Here's a card with some text from the game. Thinking about how to implement this, we started thinking about how we can differentiate the characters. What can we do and what will some of the parameters be that will help us to do that? And so this is what we came up with, it's a short list of parameters, but they all give us a certain amount of variability and control. So it's simple, but enough levers to try to separate the characters from each other. So we have voice type, for which set of recorded fragments we're going to use for this character. Pitch, for whether we want to make this character's voice a little slower and deeper, or maybe a little higher and thinner. This was just a nice element to have after recording the voices. In some cases we wanted to tweak them a bit. We had about 20 voice sets that we created, but there were more characters than that. So we ended up using a single voice set for multiple characters in some cases. And so pitch was a nice way to differentiate those usages.

Resonant frequency was a parametric EQ band, essentially picking a frequency to boost or drop, in order to adjust the timbre of a voice. And then fragment overlap size, which is basically about figuring out how much distance to put between our voice fragments. Sometimes we'd use a negative distance to get the fragments closer together. As far as a global parameter goes, we had to figure out, "OK, how long do we want these performances to be?" So we had to come up with a text to speech ratio for duration based on how much text there is. How much speech should there be and how long should it be? It was important to maintain a certain flow for the gameplay. People could be swiping through cards relatively quickly. And so we didn't want the audio experience to be getting cut off constantly by the users' natural way of playing the game. The speech should never get too long. It should never be more than a couple of seconds. But if this text is short, then the speech should be shorter to reflect that. So the question was, how long should this performance be?

What's going to feel natural? And the answer was pretty obvious. It's n/55. OK, maybe, this isn't that obvious, but this is what worked. And what we're talking about here is length in time of the speech. So length = n/55. So what's n? N is the character count. So it's the number of characters in this card. And 55, what is 55? It's nothing. It's an arbitrary number ... trial and error is what yielded this formula, where length equals character count divided by fifty five. And so for this example, the character count is eighty seven. There's eighty seven characters in the text of this card and this formula works out to about 1.58 seconds. Given the card text limit, the duration will never get too long. So this, this works out well.

Now that we have our formula, the way the system works is we take the card text and use it as a seed. We use the seed to deterministically generate random values. And then we use those random values to select which voice fragments to play. And we'll do this as many times as it takes to reach the desired speech length, which in this case was 1.58 seconds.

In this example, we have three fragments, "anats", "bnanda" and "UsTAH!". This is just a made up example. But between those and the fragment overlap amount for this character, which is a negative overlap that brings them closer together, in total that puts us past the desired length. This boundary that we're using is actually a soft boundary.

Going over a bit on time is OK because we're in the ballpark of what we want. And we'll always play at least one fragment, which is important because if it's a really short piece of text, you don't want it to play nothing at all. Because it's seeded by the text, the cards always trigger the same speech fragments every time, which is neat. It makes playback reproducible and it makes it easier to test. One of the hypotheses was "maybe this feels a little less random?". It's hard to say for sure, but that was the intent. As far as making the performances feel more natural, having the overlapping fragments really allowed us to dial in speaking styles. Maybe for certain sets of voices, the speech is slower and we want to adjust the overlap accordingly to match the personality of the character.

The last thing that we did, is to always put the longest fragment that we chose at the end. We found that this just sounded better. It sounded a little bit more natural. And I think a lot of that has to do with the way that we chopped up these performances. A single syllable that gets chopped up tends to be at the beginning or in the middle of a phrase. If it's a multisyllabic fragment and therefore a longer length, it tends to have been taken from the end of a spoken phrase. And so those just naturally sound seem to sound better at the end of these stitched together performances. That's basically how the system works.


I want to talk a little bit about what went right and what went wrong with this system and some future ideas about how to improve on it. I think overall, we all felt pretty good about it. Stitching variable size fragments together works well.

As far as some categories that we can talk about, we can start with language. I think we could have done a bit more to tie the gibberish together. What if everyone spoke the same strain of gibberish? That might have felt more intelligent as opposed to having all these different strains. Although, to be fair that does differentiate the characters a bit. I think that might have been sort of a trade off there, but definitely something worth thinking about.

And then there's performance. I think we could have hired more actors, we could have recorded more voices, of course, and maybe took it a bit more seriously. We were having a lot of fun with it, but I think if we at honed in a little bit on the direction we might have been able to improve the results somewhat. We just went about it in a loose way. I would record a couple of voices,the sound designer would record a couple of voices on his end ... there wasn't a super unified type of approach.

The thing that really drove the system, the deterministic method that we came up with, I think we felt was interesting. It's good for testing because it's reproducible, but honestly, it's not that noticeable for people. And I think because of that, it kind of undercuts the design, because the intention was for it to really lend this sense of embodiment and intelligence to the speech. It doesn't quite hit that mark, I don't think.

Overall, I would say it's a successful as a proof of concept. But between all three categories, I think we could have done a bit more to create a sense of immersion and intelligence with the system. I think if I could do it again, I would try to find a more effective deterministic method, something that would add another layer as far as differentiating the characters, making it feel more like a shared culture between everyone since they're all living in and around your kingdom.

Syllable Based Seeding

Perhaps a system that seeds based on syllables instead of paragraphs length would have given us a better way to do these sorts of things. I actually built such a system that went unused for another project, but it worked really well. The idea was that you would map syllables of text directly to the syllable recordings, using a similar deterministic method. What that would do is give the invented language a more coherent sound, and your experience of it would feel more intelligent. If you had a repeated segment of speech like, "ho ho" or "no, no, no!" the system would reflect that with repetition. That made it feel even more like a real language. Or you might pick up on themes of conversation if multiple characters are talking about some particular theme and they keep using certain words. You might actually be able to pick up on those things. In a subtle way over time, you might start to internalize a sense of this language, even though it's completely fabricated and doesn't really have any function.

Machine Learning

There's been amazing advances in speech synthesis, just recently there was a paper where now your voice can be almost completely replicated with only five seconds of your recorded speech, which is scary and amazing. I think something along these lines could lend itself to a really interesting game implementation for procedurally generating speech. And I'm really excited to see something like that happen in the future. I think we've barely touched the surface of what's possible for inventive language and games. It's a really interesting space.

Most of the gibberish voiceover that I've seen to this point in games has been largely based on aesthetic. And I think it would be interesting to see more investigation into ways of making these inventive languages have a sense of function, even if they don't really have any function. I'm excited to see what we come up with.

Q: Did chasing the fun help ?

I think so. I think the fun is what really drove the process, it was the idea of doing something new personally for myself, something I'd never done before, but also seeing how we can take some of the touchstones for this kind of thing, like "The Sims" and "Animal Crossing" and do something different. Certainly, it can be a technical rabbit hole. You can get really deep with it. In some of my other experimentations I've found it can be really challenging to get good results. For instance, systems that are based on single syllables. That is a really hard thing to do, to combine single syllable sounds into speech that sounds pleasing and doesn't just sound like a robot. It's really hard without advanced technology. I think ultimately it was more of an artful process for me than an intellectual one. And in that manner, at times it was about picking the path of least resistance, picking the thing that was going to give us the most bang for our buck and not get us stuck in a technological trap.

Q: Did you consider applying these concepts to Hyper Light Drifter ?

No, I don't think we thought about that. I'm sure it could have worked, but there was something nice about just having those glyphs and also is really challenging, I think, from a design perspective. Occasionally you'd also have these storyboards that were meant to convey information too ... that to me felt like a different thing. It's possible that we could have done something with with sound. But I think it accomplished what it was trying to do without it.

Q: Can you talk more about your role as Audio Director on Reigns ?

I the first audio person brought onto the project, and so in that way it kind of fell upon me to make some suggestions about about how to move forward. I think originally the expectation and the intention was that I would do the music. But as I got into it, I realized that I was a little bit more interested in the systems as opposed to creating content, and that I would open it up to some other people to get involved. I would just focus on supporting them and focusing on the systems. And so that's really where I started. I was interested in this voiceover system, and I was also interested in a music system that we built for this game, which is also a type of phrase based system. It used four part voice leading ... soprano, alto, tenor, bass. And those four parts were mapped to the four categories that you're trying to manage in the game, religion, the military, the people and the treasury. So each one of those voices is mapped to those in some fairly straightforward senses like driving part volume. But the system also had other challenges, such as figuring out how to transition through the many different phases of the game.

Q : Does localized text generate different voiceover ?

I'm actually not sure ! That's something we should look into. It'd be interesting to see if it's different. That would be appropriate, I'd say.

Q : What did you learn as audio director ?

It was a really good experience for me to to be in that role, because it helped me to learn that I really don't like managing people at all. But I also learned that I really like getting involved with building systems. I find it really interesting and I've already done a lot of systems work since then. I've been working with Dino Polo Club out of New Zealand for the last six odd years, working on Mini Metro and Mini Motorways, and have been done lots of interesting sound work for those games. On Solar Ash, I've been doing a lot of systems work as well. I've always had a bit of an itch for the technical problem solving and coming up with novel approaches to things. Between that and learning I dislike working in a managerial role, it was a great learning experience. Actually at Heart Machine, that was a role that was mine in theory, if I wanted it. But we ended up bringing in somebody else to take on that role, because I didn't want to do it.

Q : How would you recommend applying this technique to an in-game radio channel ?

It's hard to say. A radio program is a totally different form factor. When you don't have the context that you get from visuals, then you're really asking a lot from gibberish. I think as a result of that, the gibberish would be more effective if the context was really dialed in on the audio side. And for that, I think about "The Sims", because of the way that they use their language "Simlish". They tend to really dress it up in the context of what it's trying to do. For a radio show, you have all the bells and whistles that go along with that - the tone of the voices, the rhythm of the performances ... maybe there's music and little sound effects and things that all kind of contribute to that. It also depends on what your goals are with the gibberish. Are you trying to get people to actually understand the content, or is it more just about an impression and creating a feeling? I think all of those things really matter as far as how you would go about something. So I would keep those in mind. It's hard to give specific suggestions without knowing what the ultimate goals were, but that's what I would say.

Feature: The Programmed Music of Mini Metro

Screenshot from 'Mini Metro'

I sat down with my friend Richard Gould at Designing Sound to talk about some of the nuances of working on and designing the audio systems for the game Mini Metro, as well as share some early prototype footage, recordings and documents.

Link: The Programmed Music of Mini Metro

Interview: Chipmusings

Bleeker Puddle, by Yours Truly.

from an interview originally done for WTF Magazine (no longer online)

First off, could you tell us a little bit about your musical upbringing as well as your background with 8-bit media?

Well I grew up in a musical household. My stepfather was a music director at our church and he would have band practice in our basement, so I grew up around musicians. I didn’t really start playing music until high school, when I started playing guitar. I went away to school for graphic design and all the while I was starting to get into writing songs on guitar and I eventually found that I was more interested in music than design so I dropped out of college and applied to music school. Around the same time, I discovered some communities online that were centered around different music projects for doing video game covers; bands like Metroid Metal (logo on the right) and Minibosses. Those communities were very active, there were a lot of people in this community who were doing arrangements of video game music and some of them were using the sound of old video game hardware to make music. I was around 18 or 19 at the time, and I had grown up playing games, I grew up playing the Nintendo, so I had some familiarity with those sounds, but it had not occurred to me that you could actually take those sounds and make music with them, so I found that really inspiring. At the same time, I was trying to make music that was recorded with guitar and drums and as a young person who was inexperienced with that stuff, I struggled with it a bit and I found that in creating chiptune type music it was a little easier to get off the ground; I didn’t have to worry about recording. Early on I felt like I had a lot of ideas that I wanted to get down and being able to do that was vital, messing with Chiptune-type sounds was helpful with that.

So do you write your music with the help of your instruments or do you compose directly on your computer?
When I started I was writing a lot of my music on the guitar and transferring that to the computer using guitar tablature software that had MIDI playback, but over time I got more interested in using keyboards and started playing the piano. These days I actually do most of my writing on the piano or on the keyboard on my computer. Every once in a while I’ll go back to my guitar, so I kind of had a shift as far as that goes.

What is it that first drew you towards 8-bit sounds as a musical medium? What is it about the sound of Chiptune that other sounds don’t bring? What does it represent for you?
Well I already had a relationship to chiptune when I started, which was interesting, there was something really satisfying about that for whatever reason. I imagine there’s a nostalgia quality to it I guess, but once that part of it subsided I still found a lot to like about it. I liked how simple the sounds were and by being very limited it allowed me to focus on certain areas of creativity and to really push those boundaries. When you have such simple waveforms it really requires you to think about the timbre and dynamic of those sounds; the melodies, the harmonies… all of that stuff stands out more because the timbre of those sounds is so limited. It requires you to dig pretty deep into those areas, and in that way I really appreciated it. Also, just the fact that you can get a piece of music off the ground very quickly with it was really good for me when I was starting to make music.

Whether it is through your work with soundtracks or even with your albums, your music always seems to carry a narrative, a descriptive dimension. Does this sound accurate to you and if so how do you account for this tendency towards narration?

Well yeah I definitely think of music in a sort of narrative way. I think with soundtrack work especially, I’ve tried to capture emotions and certain vibes that support however the music is being used, and in the attempt to do that, I think the music often becomes narrative. Beyond that reason, I’m not really sure why, I just like music that has a narrative feel to it.

Were there any raised eyebrows from your peers at the Berklee College of music when they heard you were making 8-bit music?

I think at the time when I was a Berklee College of music there weren’t a lot of people doing that kind of music, so I felt a little bit like an outsider in that regard. I think it made getting into the synthesis department where I studied a little difficult. The music, even though it was electronic, was heavily inspired by rock music and metal, so it sometimes felt like I was on the outside looking in. I’m really glad that I got to study in that program because I felt like I had so much to learn about how to work with synthesizers and how to make them do lots of different things. In the beginning when I was just doing chiptune I didn’t really know what I was doing. The sounds that I was using were very basic and there wasn’t a lot of variation in those sounds.

To mention another aspect of your work you hinted upon, how did you first get into sound designing and working as a sound artist?

I studied that a bit in school and I’ve had a couple of opportunities to explore that in various projects. I found it to be a pretty serious challenge. Based on that experience I quickly realized right away that I liked it but I wasn’t into it as much as with writing music, but I kept it open as an option. Right around the time I graduated I got an opportunity to do music and sound design for a game called Shoot Many Robots, which was an onsite project that I worked on for about 9 months. For me that was an opportunity to see if I wanted to be an in-house sound designer; I was there every day working on sound effects for one project, and I definitely felt like I had a knack for sound design and I still feel like I’m pretty okay at it, but I also found that I didn’t really like working on the same project every day and making sound effects every day. There’s a bit of a grind to it, for good reasons though, especially in games, which tend to require loads of sound effects and variations. I think for that project I made a couple of thousand sound effects. So after that I decided that I didn’t want to focus on sound design, but there’s also a part of me that likes doing it in manageable amounts; I did two short films with this animator Nicolas Ménard on which I did the music and sound design, I did the sound design for The Floor is Jelly, I did ambiances for FEZ. I like to dabble in sound design and I think it’s a really important part of music production and there’s a lot of potential there to do really interesting things.

What is your main approach when it comes to illustrating a sonic universe in a Video Game or a movie?

My approach definitely has an exploratory phase where I’m just trying to figure out what the sound of that universe is. There’s usually not a concrete, objective method to it, it’s usually very intuitive. It’s about developing a feeling about finding the essence of the project and exploring sounds and making decisions. It’s about doing little experiments and explorations and the more that I do that, the more the sonic pallet for that project starts to take shape. Sometimes there’s a starting place based off of conversations and context. Something like Monsters ate my Birthday Cake was heavily inspired by Yoshis’ Island and Wind Waker and that hit me across the face as soon as I played the game, I knew that was the direction I wanted to go in. So I had a starting point to work from, and with that idea in mind I started to refine what it meant and what I wanted the music to sound like. So I’d say there’s usually an initial impulse that’s more something you’d write down, and after that it becomes more about exploration and intuition.

I can only imagine how many offers for video game and film scores you must be getting. How do you choose on which project to work on?

I’ve been fortunate enough that since FEZ came out in 2012, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to work on a lot of interesting projects and a lot of projects that I maybe wasn’t so interested in. Because I’ve had that amount of choice, it’s given me some freedom to make decisions and to be discerning about the kinds of projects that I want to work on. I definitely have a strong value set about what I work on and I really try to challenge myself in new ways and to work on projects that I think have value and heart, that are going to have some kind of impact. Since It Follows came out, I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities to work on horror films and thrillers and those projects don’t always feel like they have a takeaway for me, you know? Sometimes they just feel like pure entertainment, and I’m not super interested in making pure entertainment I guess. I guess I’m more interested in projects that are going to help people in some way or get them thinking about something, that’s important. I don’t entirely know what that is, I think I try to identify it when I see it and I try to work on different kinds of projects and keep challenging myself in different ways.

Do you tend to be drawn by a sense of challenge or do you need to be able to visualize the music as the project is being presented to you?

I think I definitely try to push my boundaries without jumping into things that seem way above where I am or outside the amount of resources or time that I have. There are certainly opportunities that have come along that were really interesting but I didn’t really have the focus for it or the time; stuff like doing a live-score of a movie or something like that. Those are potentially really interesting projects but I know that it would take me a long time to do and I have other projects that I’m in the middle of working on. I also want to take a sabbatical for a little while so that I can work on some solo material. So there’s definitely different kinds of factors that go into decisions about that sort of thing, but I think the driving factor tends to be whether the project is going to allow me the opportunity to do something new and to express myself in a new way, but also to create something that hopefully people are going to have a positive relationship to.

Regarding one of your most recent work with the film score to the movie It Follows, what was your first reaction as you were approached with this horror movie?

Well that was the first opportunity that came my way that I felt was “legitimate” for scoring a feature film. So in that way, right off the bat I was really interested. It felt like a good time for me to start exploring that space. David reached out to me after playing FEZ, he reached out pretty early before they even shot the film or anything and we agreed to touch base again about a year later. We had some scheduling issues, I had a lot of other projects going on, so I didn’t feel like I had enough time to make it happen, so I actually turned down the project a couple of times but David was pretty persistent and really wanted me to work on the project. I’m glad that I got to do it, I think it was a really valuable project.

How did the writing and thought process towards shaping this unique soundtrack? Considering the rather unconventional nature of this soundtrack, there certainly was a risk factor in your approach, be it through your use of chiptune-like tunes.

Well that’s something that came out inherently; it’s not something that I thought about. David liked the FEZ soundtrack a lot and he liked the aesthetic of that soundtrack so it was actually his idea to incorporate some of those tones into the film. The stuff that sounds the most chiptune-like is the result of his intentions. My vision for it was more synth-oriented, more analog and 80s’ sounding. I don’t tend to think a whole lot whether or not what I’m doing is risk-taking or anything like that. It was kind of a whirlwind of a project, we only had 3 weeks to do it and so I was just writing using my intuition to work through the project. I didn’t have a very strong sense of what horror music is before I started, I just had a couple of points. I think my idea of what horror music is was the Psycho theme, and I also listen to a lot of Goblin outside of the context of the movies so I had that idea as well. Then also David put together a temp-score for the film which had music from John Carpenter, Penderecki, John Cage, Jonny Greenwood and people like that, and that was great for me to hear peoples’ takes on how to use timbre, dynamics and harmony to create these scary landscapes. So that was really helpful to find a starting place and see what works. It gave me the motivation to be very experimental in the sense that I could probably just go crazy and throw down a bunch of wild, distorted sounds, especially for the moments that were supposed to be very intense and scary.

To get to your affiliation with 8-bit music, could you tell us a little about your relationship with the chiptune scene?

Well the chiptune scene has such a pivotal role in my development as a musician. I started writing chiptune music around 2005 and I went to my first chiptune show in 2007 I think. I went to an 8bitpeoples show in New York and I saw Anamanaguchi play with Bitshifter and Nullsleep. I found it really cool and motivating and later that year I played my first show as Disasterpeace with a guitar and backing track, which was all chiptune stuff. So that started a long period where I played quite a few Chiptune shows, from 2007 to about late 2013 in Mexico City. During that period I met a lot of people and one of the nice things about the chip scene is that people are brought together by this common utility, the types of tools and instruments that they use, but the breadth of possibilities in that space is very very large; you have people doing metal with chip sounds, people doing IDM, EDM, Pop music, people playing banjos, people doing Jazz… It was a pretty wide and varied space and I always really liked that about the chip scene. I should also say that around 2007, I started a Chiptune Netlabel ( with Phlogiston (aka Eirik Suhrke) from Norway, who did the music for Spelunky. Through that, we met a lot of people and we put out a lot of good records. We did that for about 6 or 7 years.

Have you noticed any significant changes in the scene since you were first introduced to it?

I think the demographic has definitely gotten larger as far as the age range, though it was always pretty wide. When I first got into it, there were people in their late forties and teenagers and I think that’s how it still is today, there are probably people even older now. I’ve kind of been out of the loop for the past couple of years as far as the chip scene goes, since I was focused on exploring beyond that scene. I think people associate It Follows as chiptune, but from my own personal perspective I feel like I haven’t really done much chiptune stuff in the last few years. I’ve been focused on other things. It’s a really diverse scene though and it had a really profound impact on my career as a musician, and for that I’ll always have a very strong place in my heart for it.

The chiptune scene has been described by some of its musicians as having a strong DiY ethic and free-access ethic reminiscent of punk music. What is your perspective on this philosophy, being that you are at the crossroads between your status as a musician commonly associated with Chiptune but also a music producer who’s got bills to pay?

Well I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another about what people ought to do with their music. I think that if people want to give it away for free that’s fine. I think it’s also totally valid to want to make a living from your music, and selling access to your music is definitely a way to do that. I think over time I’ve become less and less attached to selling music directly to people, I’ve actually been trying to reduce the cost of my music through patronage. I have a subscription model through my bandcamp account, and part of the intention of that was to create a sustainable source of income for myself and, as a result of that, be able to reduce the price of all of my albums. Most of my albums are already Free-priced, the intention would be that all of them would be “pay what you want” at some point in the future. Over time, it’s become clear to me that it was totally within the realm of possibility for me to make a living as a musician. I’ve been willing to sell my music. The DiY aspect of the chip scene is very strong, and I think I’ve always liked that aspect of it and have always had kind of a DiY mindset, I pretty much handle everything myself; I don’t have an agent or a manager, I do my own taxes, I maintain my website, social media, I do the music production, mixing and handle the release of the music, the contracts… I handle it on my own because there are a lot of opportunities to learn stuff and I love to learn and be aware of what’s going on.

Is there any ground that you’ve yet to cover as an artist and that you’d like to work on in the future?

Yeah I have very strong intentions of releasing a solo album with vocals. That’s something that I’ve been exploring for the last couple of years. The other thing is working with live musicians, which is something that I haven’t done a whole lot of and that I would like to do. I don’t know what form that will take; whether it’ll be working on some kind of musical or working with a small ensemble, I’d really like to do that as well.

Any future releases coming out in the near future we can look forward to?

I just finished working on this game called Mini Metro, which is in Steam Early Access. It should be releasing pretty soon. I’m also working on two other projects as well, one is called Miegakure, I’m collaborating with my friend Mateo and we’re exploring a lot of things, the intention being to make a very dynamic score for that game. The other project I’m working on is called River City Ransom Underground, which is a sequel to the River City Ransom NES game, and I’m working with a couple other chiptune artists on that project; I’m working with Alex Mauer and Cheap Dinosaurs, who are both from the Philly area.

Could you name one of your favorite albums, movies and books?

The first album that comes to mind is Red by King Crimson.I really liked Straight outta Compton, I thought the movie was really cool.In terms of books I’d say the Hobbit, I like that book a lot.