OnlySP had a chance to talk to Lantern Studio’s music composer, Susie Wang, at PAX West 2019 about LUNA The Shadow Dust. Wang discussed her process on how to create music for the game’s levels, music inspirations, and other aspects of the game she is involved in.
OnlySP: I played the demo and found that the music was very atmospheric. In another article, it was mentioned that you really enjoyed Journey’s soundtrack. What aspects of Journey’s soundtrack did you like the most and how did your inspirations game shape LUNA’s soundtrack?
Wang: Journey is a big inspiration for me! Both the story and the atmosphere feel quite old and that they don’t take place in the modern world. I like how instrumentation such as strings and piano tell an emotional story. I applied what I learned in Journey’s atmosphere to LUNA’s. My favorite track from the soundtrack is the ending theme, “I Was Born for This”. It’s a fantastic track! Also, Austin Wintory is one of my favorite composers.
OnlySP: When composing music for LUNA, what was your goal? What kinds of feelings were you trying to accomplish with the music?
Wang: There are two different parts, the story and the gameplay. During the gameplay, I don’t want to interrupt players who are solving the puzzle. So the gameplay has to match the game’s atmosphere. For example, in certain levels, you’ll either feel cheered up or you’ll sense impending danger. The basic emotion is going to set the level. I would like the music to tell the story for the whole game, and it’s a very emotional story. After Beidi [Guo], our artist, and I finish the game, we cried during the ending! The story isn’t easygoing! Your goal is to find out the story’s secret and this what I wanted to tell the audience through the music, as well as the bonds between the two characters.
OnlySP: So the game does not have any text at all, it’s all traditional frame by frame animation. Did that present any challenges to you when it came to composing the soundtrack at all?
Wang: This was a really big challenge for me and I experienced quite a few ups and downs when I tried to tackle it. This was the first time I’ve worked with cutscenes without dialogue. However, I do like it a lot because there’s no other interruption, and I have total freedom with the music as long as I match the cutscene I’m working on. The problem is that in some cutscenes there are like five different things happening at once and happening quite fast, but the music can’t change as fast. I want to tell a story, so the music has to keep going, and that was the biggest challenge for me.
OnlySP: I wanted to ask about your background. So you went to school and got your master’s degree in contemporary academic composition. You learned that game music wasn’t very popular in China, and now you’re currently in Toronto. Can you tell if there’s anything about Toronto, whether it’s the location itself, the environment, or people you’ve met here that have influenced your music?
Wang: When I arrived in Toronto I was not really looking to meet new people or local composers. But I did check out educational institutes, like university programs. I recently joined the Screen Composer’s Guild of Canada and it’s been really helpful. I learned a lot and they share information, and you can ask people for help and different techniques. There are a lot of composers. It’s a great place! As far as China, game music is becoming more popular there!
OnlySP: So your primary role for the game is producing the music. Are there any other aspects of the game that you have a good amount of involvement in?
Wang: I’m in charge of Chinese social media for LUNA, as well as community management for our Chinese Steam audience, which includes translating Kickstarter updates from English to Chinese. I’m more involved in maintaining community rather than the actual game development.
OnlySP: According to LUNA’s blog posts, you look at each level in full detail, and then you come up with the music for that level. Can you go into a bit more detail on your process of creating each level’s music?
Wang: First, I’ll play the level many times to understand what kind of puzzles are present. For easier puzzles, I just have to write a loop track. For the loop track, I’ll discuss the environment with Beidi about the emotions in that level and I’ll write a theme for her. She’s going to listen to a small arrangement, and either approve or not. If she doesn’t approve it, I’ll fix it. For other levels, for example our painting level, a loop track can’t work. So I want the music to stop when the painting shows at the top. It’s a high point for the level so I have to think about how I want to present the music in the level. For that part, I’ll think of an idea and show it to Beidi. If she likes it, then we’ll keep going.
OnlySP: So the game is coming out on Steam in Winter 2019, and I was just wondering if there are any other platforms that you are considering for this game?
Wang: We plan to release on Steam, Linux, as well as mobile phones for iOS and Android too! We’re also interested in Switch, but it’ll take longer than PC. For Xbox, we’re not sure. Our manager likes PlayStation, but we’re not sure about that either.
OnlySP: After LUNA releases, what’s next for Lantern Studio?
Wang: We didn’t talk about this yet. First, take a long vacation to recover our health. If all goes well, we’ll look into making another game. I hope the game is successful so we can keep putting out more games!
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