A small developer and an award-winning composer sought to create a vast world inside your browser. How did they do it?
Are you ready to bring an entire realm into your PC? How about integrating it into the internet surfing you’re doing right now? The creators of the browser-based RPG Conclave have spent considerable time developing an immersive experience for the typically distracted player. They have created much more than a casual distraction, however. With top-tier visual art and music, 10×10 Room has created an accessible game that quickly draws in players and provides a rich experience.
In the pursuit of amplifying the audio soundscape of Conclave, 10×10 looked to the talent of award-winning composer Sam Hulick, known for his work on BioWare’s Mass Effect series, and Red Orchestra 2: Heroes of Stalingrad, an FPS set on the Russian front of WWII. Nick Branstator co-founder of 10×10, says it was the admiration of Sam’s aesthetics that drew the small developer to reach out to him.
10×10 knew what it wanted, and what it was avoiding. As Branstator says, “We wanted to differentiate from the cliché fantasy soundtrack. We wanted to avoid the Celtic route.” The developer wanted players to stop and take in the unique aspects of the soundscape as they played. Fans are responding well, the original soundtrack is consistently one of the top in its category on BandCamp.
As the soundtrack’s composer, Sam was provided with some visuals done by Christopher Rahn, an artist known for his work on Magic: The Gathering, as well as a list of moods that Conclave should represent: “…melancholy, decline, loss, foreboding, uncertainty, but also hope and determination, awe, and largeness.” Conclave was to express hopelessness and hope at the same time, and feel “old, but not outdated.” The process was organic, as Sam noted, “It’s a cycle, art feeds on itself.” Through the art and moods, Hulick says the world came alive, and he was inspired.
Branstator says that working with Hulick provided a two-way relationship, “Sam helped define music’s role in Conclave.” Due to the game being based in web browsers, there were some technical hurdles to overcome. The sound capabilities of HTML5 are noticeably limited. Hulick helped 10×10 overcome some of the difficulties in getting a rich audio experience. Branstator gave an example of a challenge, “We often take it for granted, but we had to figure out with HTML5 if it was possible to have sound effects and music playing simultaneously.” Working with Sam, the developer found that it was indeed an option.
How was it for Hulick to work with a smaller developer? 10×10 Room is a team you can count on the fingers of your two hands. Was the experience different? “I feel there is more risk-taking from smaller developers. They are definitely very open to suggestions.” Hulick says AAA developers are often very experienced working with composers and often have a specific vision they want to the music to adhere to. There are also multiple decision makers in the large publisher setting. In the smaller developer’s case, the composer is working with team members that are often fulfilling multiple roles. As Hulick put it, “Indie allows composers to break out a little more. There’s more leeway for suggestions going to multiple levels.”
Branstator loved working with Hulick, “Sam belongs on indie teams.” The developer says Hulick has a great entrepreneurial spirit. In looking to add extra and original sound effects to Conclave, 10×10 asked their composer if music could potentially add some originality to the sound board. Hulick volunteered to experiment with the usage of music as sound effects and together they showed that musical riffs could work well in uses such as magic casts and effects.
So how did 10×10 and Hulick collaborate to create an epic experience in your browser among the other tabs and multitasking? Branstator says Conclave was always designed to be played in a window, and perhaps be one of many open. The developer was looking for music and art that would draw you into the world quickly. Sam detailed his strategy, “Hit them right away, hook them with the melody.”
Sam attributes part of the success of Conclave’s soundtrack to the fact that it’s written to portray moods instead of specific levels or game events. Branstator agrees, “[The soundtrack] conveys a world and experience.” The developer described the soundtrack as, “a step back from a character.” They agreed that perhaps the soundtrack is part narrator.
Sam says he was looking to create a soundscape that “makes sense for the player” and has very little repetition. He created a soundtrack filled with music that “doesn’t take the back seat.” The composer says that Conclave’s music is really important to the experience, Branstator agrees.
Hulick even coins a term for games that are well-crafted, and made on a smaller budget, “AA games”.