Solace, the latest album by Tettix, is the soundtrack to a game that doesn't exist. Illustrated with beautiful hi-res artwork and the implied outlines of a strange, cyclical journey from birth to death, the experience forms not through play, but sound and sight.

"I see the composition and concepts of the game with great clarity," says the author, who offers the album, and its accompanying artwork, as a free download. "But you can imagine whatever you like."

What could easily have been merely a clever idea insinuates itself into one's thoughts; every motif and mood seems perfectly tuned to an echo of gamers' collective memory. Sonorous, sleepy, otherworldly and tentative, it's hard to avoid the curious feeling that I played this years ago—and simply forgot.

— Rob Beschizza

ROB: A "world built from the music up", you say. Where else does music build a world?

TETTIX: I've always been fascinated with music that tells a story. I spent a lot of time as a kid listening to and obsessing over film scores. If video game soundtracks had been available in recorded form in the 80s, I probably would've had them on heavy rotation, too (like I do today). That relationship between music and image is captivating to me.

The order of creation with soundtracks is usually imagery first, music second. But I've also always been fascinated by narrative-driven music that forces the listener to conjure up their own imagery. Like the tone poems of Camille Saint-Saens or Mussorgsky (Danse Macabre, Carnival of the Animals, Night on Bald Mountain). I love that reversal: music first, imagery second. Musician the architect, listener the dreamer—to put it in Chris Nolan terms.

I've already experimented with the idea of tone poems on a few albums (on a way shittier scale than Mussorgsky or Sain-Saens). I wanted to take things a step further. Music that more builds a world less than tells a story. Visual cues that help the listener populate that world.

What games did (and do) you play -- and what are your musical influences?

I've been playing games heavily since the Atari, so that's a long list. Some all-time favorites are Super Metroid, Shadow of the Colossus, Half Life 2 and Demon's/Dark Souls. The worlds are convincing. It's atmosphere in games that really grabs me.

My overall musical influences really run the gamut. For Solace, I pulled a lot of influence from artists like Orbital and Plaid and soundtracks like Super Metroid and Super Mario World. Orbital's "In Sides" is one of my favorite albums and I tend to lean heavily on their style to inform my own.

What sort of game is Solace? It looks like a platformer, perhaps an Eric Chahi-style one. Or am I just imagining things?

Oh man, it's really ambitious and impossible. I want people to be able to imagine whatever they like without me tainting their ideas. I've had people tell me different things they thought about the game that were really far away from what I had imagined and I thought that was fantastic. I'll give you a quick overview, but I want to give the dreamers an opportunity to stop reading and stay untainted. So if you don't want to ruin your perfect vision of the game, I'll just say: SPOILERS AHEAD.

I imagined the game as more of an MMO ecosystem heavily based on exploration. Every creature you see in a picture is a player. Killing other players gives you the fuel you need to evolve your own character. Evolution both opens up new areas (jump higher, climb walls, dig, etc) and closes some doors to you (you get too big to fit into certain passages or eventually too large to even go underground anymore).

Permadeath is in effect. If you die, you lose all your upgrades and have to start a new character. The exception is that collecting evolutionary Anchors allows you to maintain some upgrades from game to game. So one of the main objects of the game is to discover and collect all of the Anchors through exploration. You can also lay eggs in various places in the world to allow you start from a variety of locations each game, making exploration easier.

I wanted the kind of ambient multiplayer you get in Journey or Dark Souls. The players can work together or they screw each other over, but they can't communicate. Enough small players can rally to take down massive ones and earn lots of upgrades for everyone involved.

The end game would be evolving far enough to allow you to navigate extremely adverse terrain and collect either the Halo (high in the sky) or the Anti-Halo (in the darkness underground). This would then act as a sort of badge on all your new characters, always hovering above your head to show other players your prowess.

If too many people die in a certain spot it become temporarily haunted and everyone has to vacate until the indestructible ghosts disappear.

>Ideally, everything coalesces to form a living ecosystem. One where you can experiment with different upgrade combinations and explore, prey on weaker players, band together with other weak players to adventure without fear of predators, strike off on your own, strive to be the biggest player on the server, etc.

It's a logistical nightmare.

/SPOILERS

What software/tech/instrumentation do you use? What can you tell me about your creative process and work-flow?

I work almost entirely in Propellerheads Reason & Record. I only use Record if I'm adding vocals, I don't use any live instruments. I have Logic, but I rarely touch it. I like the simplicity of Reason's workspace. I have a little Korg microKEY midi controller I use for plinking out melodies before I sequence them. I was brought up on hardware (Triton, JP-8000, Microwave XT, hard disk recorders, etc), but I don't see much use for it anymore.

My creative process? It varies. I sometimes approach a song with a strong idea in mind, but not always. In the case of Solace, I always had an idea of an area in the world I wanted to write about. Those songs come flying out, like someone else is writing them. It's when I sit down with no idea of what I want to do and start piddling around that things get frustrating. It's sometimes fruitful, but much less of the time than when I have a strong idea to begin with. I think that's why I like writing conceptual stuff so much. It's easier for me to grow a plant when I start with a seed.

My workflow mostly consists of closing doors so I don't bother my wife and then slowly turning the volume up until she comes and warns me it's too loud. I can't imagine how obnoxious it must be to listen to a 10 second loop of a song for four hours. My heart goes out to her and my neighbors. Sorry, guys.

I really dig this storytelling technique -- a kind of impressionism where a world and experience of it seem to form in the mind's eye.

I've never been so nervous about releasing an album before. This just seemed like such a silly idea, I wasn't sure how people would respond. I figured, worst case, people could just ignore the artwork and listen to the music but so far the response has been overwhelmingly positive! Still crossing my fingers to wind up in the alt-text of a Tycho news post!

You say the game will never exist. How committed are you to this remaining the case?

Fairly? I'm not going to Kickstart it, if that's what you mean. I would never want it half-assed and the idea I have is too grand to be done easily or cheaply. Also, I don't know how to make video games.

Read more in Games at Boing Boing

18 Responses to “Solace: why make a soundtrack to a game that doesn't exist?”

  1. echar says:

    WTF… This is free? 

  2. Fantastic post, love the format.

  3. If you’re new to the work of Tettix, do dive in.  Technology Crisis I and II are amazing.  As are “TKOEP” and the remix of TKOEP called “A New Challenger”.  All available free from his site Tettix.net.  

  4. Greg McCann says:

    Listening now – very nice.

  5. Anyone have a mirror? Struggling to download it here…

  6. Dlo Burns says:

    Ahhh yes, thanks for bringing Tettix back to the forefront of my mind and music rotation. 

  7. miasm says:

    This game must be made.

  8. eviladrian says:

    I like the little character glyphs, it’s one of those things where you see a couple and start trying to figure out the pattern…

  9. Martin Spa. says:

    I’d suggest adding a donations options via Google Checkout and maybe some other option as well. Accepting only via PayPal is not acceptable nowadays..

  10. Andreas Beer says:

    You should create a game for the blind with this. I can’t get over the fact, that 99,999% of the games are designed with absolute necessity for visuals.

  11. Ben Clemens says:

    this should be like aquaria where ou take diffeent forms

  12. FiveBucker says:

    Well if nothing else its an elaborate way of showing intent.  Would definitely catch the eye of prospective investors considering sponsorship if that’s a goal.  One important factor is to determine an audience or public interest with minimal risk… and I think they did just that. Stir up stink and people will take notice, even though this isn’t stinky in a derogatory way.  

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