Rhyphte Reviews: Home World

- Posted January 31st, 2019 by

I wanted to take a break from the showcasing of big chiptune talent to put the spotlight on a lesser-known duo of soundtrack artists from Dallas, Texas. Home World is a proof-of-concept demo album demonstrating the eponymous band’s burgeoning aptitude and enthusiasm for crafting musical accompaniment to video games.

Album Art by Cameron Tanner

From glancing at the the queue of the album’s titles (i.e. press start, dungeon, boss fight) and at the cover art, I anticipated a neatly structured narrative of a player’s progression through some kind of exotic exploration game on an alien planet. But as I listened through, it occurred to me that the tracks were incredibly modular – not all of them felt like they would make sense within the context of the same game. Some of them could go in a lot of different kinds of games. But I still love the concept; this seems like such a great way to put yourself out there as a soundtrack artist for hire without already having your name on a lauded indie hit. I could definitely see these guys getting picked up by a studio sometime soon.

This instrumental piano introduction was in a very mellow, modally major key, with a tone that brightened as the melody progressed. From the title, I was naively expecting button-type chirpy sounds and colorful samples, or even something out of a genesis. Instead, the mood of this piece is reminiscent of a vast, deep blue landscape in which your character finds themself faced with exploring a vibrant new world. The halting rest in the middle of this song really adds to the enormity of what’s to come. With the limited context given by the artwork and title, it is easy for the listener to imagine their own story. This would make an excellent anthem for a main menu or an opening cinematic, providing a nice platform for introducing the setting of the game.

The environmental samples at the beginning set the stage nicely for a lively natural ambiance, and the footsteps allude to the presence of a player-character entering the scene. The echoing synths invite notions of calmness and tranquility. The crickets stage the track as a nighttime scene, and the water effects convey a sense of moisture, which accompanies life (at least on earth!). The gentle bassline conveys an image of a wide, tall and verdent space, and the clicky percussion really complements the comforting atmosphere of a vast wetland or forest opening around you as you progress. This doesn’t seem like the theme of an area that would contain challenging enemies or crazy platforming, it almost strikes me as a kind of tutorial or cutscene-type expositional area. It could also easily serve as the theme for a hub zone, or zone with a focus on exploration or dialogue depending on the game it’s in.

This was the first track in a minor key. The trumpet and brass synths, although subtle, do a really good job of depicting a regal or barren palace ground. Although the key remains minor, it isn’t sinister, and the tone of the piece feels absent of any outright hostility. This is a good complement for a setting that narrates the story of tragedies obscured by the past, or an area with some sense of trepidation in the telling of its exposition.            

Pitched percussion and slowly decaying bass quickly give the listener a tribal and active impression of a temple. This is the first area where I feel the intensity of gameplay rising. This track seems like it would fit well in a major area of progression, although I think that the end would need to feel like less of a conclusion for the song to loop properly, which is an important thing to consider when designing the soundtrack of a game.

I love the lo-fi and vinyl-scatch elements here. The round, bouncy melody is extremely catchy. The drumline that enters in isn’t subdued enough to fit the theme of an exploration setting, it feels more reminiscent of the kind of intense platforming you see in games like celeste and super meat boy, if not a boss fight outright. . . and then it really gets going! The tone of this piece is completely different from the majority of the others, but overall I think this is the strongest standalone song on the album. I can almost see platforms moving quickly with the beat in a grand palace in the sky. This track is banging, but unlike those that came before, it demands gameplay with action and movement. The ritardando near the end and the subsequent outro are well-executed, but I’m worried that it wouldn’t fit the same jumpy context as the rest of the song.

Here we return to the exploratory quality we saw in the earlier tracks. The tone of the song is neither hostile nor overtly friendly, but it brings to mind visions of a new expansive setting. This track begets a graphic and awe-inspiring scene, and potential developers should really focus on using it to express their strongest environment, because to fill it with enemies and challenging movement sections would really dim the atmosphere the piece creates. The music is fulfilling and at the same time ambient enough to allow for the backdrop to take center-stage.

In ‘Departure,’ the return of themes first heard in ‘Press Start’ along with the expression of bright new synth voices seems apt for exposition or for dialogue, like the scene depicted could take place in a familiar area within a key framework of plot progression. This honestly vibes like spacey travel music, and isn’t something that I would expect to accompany intense moments of gameplay. It’s another good example of a track that stays in the background, and fortunately game soundtracks require a lot of those.

This album is rich with tracks that can be interpreted as and elaborated upon to create a vast number of inventive and immersive terrains, and ‘Ancient One’ is no exception. The crashing effects and percussion convey an added sense of intensity and premonition that is not present in previous tracks. The plot really thickens here. What I’m really liking is the implication of significance and enormity, which I think best suit an area containing a major milestone, to underscore the scale of what the player accomplishes therein. The ending of the track, while interesting in a standalone setting, should probably be left out of the looped version you would find in a game.

The album is progressing forward with more ominous ambient tracks… I’m digging the ephemeral voices and downward sound distortions. This piece is menacing and intense. It’s understated due to its slower ephemeral nature, but overall a very cohesive piece for a vivid in-game experience. The ambience created here really benefits from the samples of objects crashing and grinding in the background.

Nothing screams tension quite like a heartbeat. I appreciate that the drumline isn’t rhythmically static throughout — it actually adds to the suspense of what could be a jump-scare playground. The piano returns just when you’d least expect it, bringing a much needed relief from the slow descent towards darker themes and motifs heard throughout the piece. The title of this track aptly characterizes its nature. The disposition of ‘Dungeon’ is constantly buzzing with the threat of something lurking behind a darkened cobblestone corner.

The beginning of this piece was not what I expected from the title. It is more of a slow build into the main groove of the beat than the heavy motion of a boss fight theme. I think that the balance of this track could benefit from a higher tempo, and a more prominent bassline. Overall, I enjoyed the jazzy spirit of this song but I can’t help but think it’s unbefitting of its title, and it feels a bit disjointed from the style and tone set by the other tracks of this album. Not a bad piece of music by any means, but not something I would think of as the epitome of a boss battle.

First thought: In all honesty, it kinda sounds like it came straight from the score to some country romantic comedy or CW drama series. Guitar and cello is an interesting combination, and I think that while the tone feels a bit off from what the rest of the tracks have set up for, as the melody progresses, the strong acoustic backdrop mellows out and aids itself to the expectations of the listener. ‘Aurora Cove’ represents a nice bounce-back from what could be the most intense part of the album. With its warm mood, it seems to resolve a lot of the tension that was foreshadowed prior, despite not even being the penultimate track. There is a small section in the middle, however, where a backbeat fights against the flow of the music in a satisfyingly crunchy way, that still drives the narrative forward.

The expressive piano music in this album is starting to feel like a recurring theme. The beginning of the piece eerily reminds me of Debussy’s engulfed cathedral. The planing chords strike a familiar tone. But then it rapidly shifts to something completely different. This could be used as a powerful motif by the developer, and the idea of a landing pad gives a sense of continuity in title with ‘Press start’ and ‘Discover’ as plot points. I’m really happy with the uplifting and exciting direction this track progresses in. I’m personally a big fan of harmonic modulation, especially in this playful jazzy sort of way, but I know some listeners may find it jarring or distracting, especially in a game. This piece goes through a lot of development, which makes it difficult for me to pin it as being suited for any one type of game setting, but functionally I find it very satisfying as an independent piece.

The acoustic western vibe hits me right away. I love that lo-fi percussive string-attack sound. This piece is understated and folksy… And it certainly fits the description of the title. Unlike standalone music, game music should be consistent without getting boring, driving without feeling forced, and noticeable without being overpowering. Although this track may be on the more modest side, I have no complaints about its execution.

This one was a surprise. The return of those echoey drop notes first presented to the listener in ‘Foreverglade’ is warmly welcomed. This is a good opportunity to tie together all of the elements in the game. All the melodies are familiar, but haunting and eerie. An unsatisfying rest perhaps? Something just a bit sinister certainly augers through this piece. The synthesis of the instrumentals in this track were so surreal. Home World can really strike gold when they set up their ensembles like this.

Piano… a perfect way to end the album. A return to the same kind of meandering melodic structure seen in the beginning, but quite a few degrees brighter. I caught that cheeky little key flip in the middle, and I thought it was a nice touch. But I’m halfway through the last track and I feel more like I’m being told about a cliffhanger ending than a final victory. The last 15 seconds baffle me a bit. I think the ending of this track needed some more context. If that motif were present more noticeably elsewhere in the album it could have been a real culminating moment.

Home World’s ability to create meaningful and uniquely ambient themes has been commendable as I’ve journeyed through their pilot album. The album truly showcased the wide breadth of these guys’ creative abilities, and there were a few stand-out pieces that really broke the mold. My favorite track of the album was Sky Mirror, although I think the piece that really emphasizes the varied content of the set was Landing Pad. I hope to see their name on something huge someday!

Home World
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