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Foundation

A new era of organic city-building simulation!

Insights: The music of Foundation

If you have played Foundation you have most likely noticed the immersive soundtrack that compliments the game and evolves as you play. Just as the game is in development, so too is the soundtrack that paints a musical background picture as you build your village.

Today, we are updating the Foundation Soundtrack. An additional 8 tracks will be added, plus a bonus, solo piano arrangement, exclusive to the OST, taking the soundtrack to a total of 21 tracks.

The Foundation soundtrack is available now on Steam and GOG!

As your village grows and your villagers gain status, the music also grows alongside it, from the early game, single instrument compositions to later, level 2, ensembles.

To create the epic musical background for Foundation we looked to Audinity, veterans of the medieval/historical video game genre. Their portfolio includes games from Paradox (Crusader Kings 2, Europa Universalis IV), THQNordic (Knights Of Honor 2: Sovereign, The Guild series) alongside smaller indie developers like ourselves.

Ash, our Community Manager, had the pleasure of chatting with Yannick and Robin, founders of Audinity, to get a deeper insight into who they are and their work on Foundation.

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Ash: Can you start off by telling us a little about yourselves? How you got into music composition and more particularly video game soundtracks?

Robin: My name is Robin Birner, I am a German composer from Bamberg, that’s in the northern part of Bavaria, and together with my partner in crime Yannick I have been writing music for video games ever since I was 16 years old. I have always been fascinated with video game soundtracks from an early age and got deeper into music when I started playing the piano as a child. Later on, because I got bored by the piano, I started playing the church organ and finally got my hands on modding my favourite video games. That’s also when I met Yannick and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yannick: I am Yannick Süß (sorry to all non-German-speaking people who don’t know how to pronounce that weird-looking surname in German, it actually means “sweet”!), I am a video game composer from Munich, Germany and just like Robin, one half of Audinity. Since last year, I also develop and realise video game music concerts together with orchestras, ensembles and event organisers.
Music has always been an important part of my life – I originally wanted to become a pianist, but then I realised that I lacked the skills and that it also was much more fun to just play and rearrange my favourite video game and film music tunes on the piano, instead of just practising scales, which ultimately led to me starting composing music myself. Several years later, writing video game music is what I now do for a living, together with Robin. 

Ash: You have worked on some big games already with Paradox and THQNordic. Can you tell us more about Audinity and how you came together?

Yannick: We first met when both of us were still going to school! When I was 16, I was writing music for The Guild 2 – Renaissance by JoWood Entertainment (which later became THQ Nordic) and realised that I would need some help with it. At the same time I was part of the team of a modding project for a German video game, and they told me that I would work together with another composer which turned out to be Robin – who was even living very close to me! We met for a pint of beer in my favourite Irish Pub, and that beer basically started Audinity! We worked together on The Guild 2 – Renaissance as our first joint project, founded our company Audinity soon after and, most importantly, have developed a great friendship (although we sometimes appear like an old married couple as we have been told several times already…)

Robin: It has been 10 years already, so I think we are allowed to sometimes behave a little like an old married couple.

“We decided that we simply HAVE to work on this game”

Ash: You have been involved with Foundation for some time now, when did you become aware of the game and how did you get involved with Polymorph Games on Foundation?

Robin: There is a saying that “Sometimes the best things in life happen by accident.” That was for sure the case with Polymorph Games. In late August 2017, I stumbled upon the only existing YouTube video of Foundation, consisting of an interview with Phil and Leo at gamescom in Cologne. They talked about the concept of Foundation and showed a rough prototype of the game, which was already very impressive.

During the interview it became clear that Foundation was more than yet another city builder. It pushes the boundaries of the genre by introducing gridless city building as well as many features from some of our favourite video games. After a brief conversation with Yannick, we decided that we simply HAVE to work on this game and to reach out to the developers. In the end you could say it all happened thanks to the YouTube algorithm.

Ash: We are very lucky to have you working on Foundation! Can you tell us more about how you collaborate to create beautiful music? Do you have a studio you jam together in or do you try to keep as much distance between each other as possible?


Yannick: Well, let me say it cost us blood, sweat and tears when we once tried to compose a song together in the same room, that might be a story for another time… no, in all seriousness: we have separate studios, but yes, we work very closely together on all of our music, with lots of constructive discussions, brainstorming and extensive feedback sessions before we send out music to a client. Working together for about 10 years now, we have kind of musically grown towards each other, so we have learned to compose our video game music so that it sounds as if it came from one person only. This is very important if two people are working on the same soundtrack, you want a homogeneous style and sound.

“Foundation looks different than other games and thus has to sound different, too”

Ash: Whilst we are on the topic of style and sound, Foundation is a medieval city-builder and as such is going to require some knowledge of medieval instruments. Do you get to play any instruments to create the soundtrack?

Yannick: Over the years, we have developed our own expertise of writing music for historical and in particular medieval video games, so we have grown some special knowledge about medieval instruments and music. But when it comes to playing medieval instruments, we prefer to leave that to the experts. In the Foundation Main Theme for example, you can hear some beautiful live recordings of a medieval viol and a saz. We also use virtual instruments for the in-game music though, you can make them sound ultra realistic nowadays.

Ash: Have you used any particularly unusual objects to create a sound you were looking for in the past or on Foundation? 


Robin: Yes, indeed – we used Yannick’s vocal talent for the main theme, but later agreed on removing it from the track. It doesn’t get more unusual than that, right? All jokes aside – there are a lot of manipulated instruments in the soundtrack: From stretched church bell sounds to pitched down Cisters. We always try to bring in some unique elements to our music to make it stand out.

Ash: Your main focus and experience seems to revolve around the medieval period do you have a particular interest in historical games and is it something you felt was the right fit for Audinity or has the medieval focus evolved naturally?

Yannick: Both Robin and I have always loved to play medieval strategy games and still play a match of good old Age of Empires 2 against each other now and then. I personally have always been very fond of authentic medieval and renaissance music and have studied it extensively. So being able to write the style of music that you love for the kind of games that you love is actually something we both couldn’t be happier about. We have worked on many historical and medieval video games over the years and we love it.

“One of the most important requirements a sandbox game like Foundation has, is non-fatiguing music”

Ash: How did you go about researching the music style for Foundation? It must be particularly hard with very little to go on to create an authentic medieval sound, where there any particular influences you took when creating the soundtrack?


Yannick: First of all we tried to create a unique sound for Foundation, something that hasn’t been heard in other medieval or citybuilder games before. Many games in that genre have orchestral music that is sweetened with some medieval phrases or instruments. Foundation looks different than other games and thus has to sound different, too. So we had the idea to not use orchestral instruments in the in-game soundtrack at all and only use authentic medieval instruments. For the musical style itself, we tried to be very authentic in order to create a medieval mood, but since the visual style of the game itself is not aimed towards ultra realistic we tried to incorporate that style into the music as well.

Ash: We have only mentioned the Foundation Main Theme so far but there are already a great number of tracks you have created for Foundation. Can you tell us a bit about the requirement for different pieces within the game? 


Robin: One of the most important requirements a sandbox game like Foundation has, is non-fatiguing music. A game you can play for a thousand hours needs music which doesn’t get on your nerves if you hear it countless times. Right now, we achieve that by having three levels of tracks in the game. 

Once you start a new game you will notice that there is no music at all until you have placed your town centre. From there the music gradually evolves based on the size of your medieval city. As soon as a town centre exists, you hear what we call “level 1” music, which consists of short melodic snippets played by one single instrument. 

Those snippets are approximately one minute in length and written in such a way that they organically blend with the game’s ambience. For those of you who don’t own the game yet, you can listen to the “Terroir” track on the soundtrack to get an impression of how it works.

Then we have “level 2” music, which completely replaces the “level 1” tracks once your village has reached a certain size.

Now the music, consisting of small medieval ensembles playing “village dances” and fully fleshed-out arrangements, becomes more prominent.

Also, the main theme is featured in “level 1” as well as “level 2” in suitable arrangements, so it blends nicely with the rest of the music.

This means the main theme does not merely appear secludedly in the main menu but is also part of all stages of gameplay. For us, that is really important to give the player a sense of following a continuous pathway on his or her journey throughout the game and to interconnect all levels. 

Ash: How did you go about creating the contrasts between the level changes? What musically signifies a change between a serf and a commoner for example?

Yannick: We wanted the music to reflect the development of the village. At the beginning of the game, the village is still small and not much populated. So at that stage in the game we just use some medieval instruments that play solo phrases and then fade away again to just sound effects for a while. The music for the commoners is much more lively and we use an ensemble of medieval instruments that play together, because the village itself is bigger, more populated and more is going on now. The music tracks are now longer, more consistent and not as fragile as in the early stages of the game.

Ash: Whilst playing the game and during the game development has your work changed? Have you played the game and thought ‘that’s not right!’?

Robin: Thankfully, that has not been the case on this project. It was very important for everyone involved to add music to the game as soon as possible to prevent that from happening.

Ash: That also shows that you understand the game and the musical requirements for it, I know that you do enjoy playing Foundation when you can Robin! Germany is well known for it’s love of strategy games, is the Citybuilder/Strategy game a passion of yours?

Robin: I think it’s safe to say that Yannick and I are both passionate players when it comes to Citybuilder and Strategy games. It’s true that I play Foundation whenever I can, but. (un)fortunately, music kept me pretty busy over the last couple of months. One of the many great aspects of Foundation is the amount of time you can spend just watching your city come to life. I enjoyed that a lot before the Early Access launch.

Ash: I have already lost count of the number of hours sat mesmerised by my growing cities! I’m very privileged to be part of the team and seeing things grow in the background too. How have you found working with the team at Polymorph Games?


Yannick: We love working with you guys! Seriously, it’s a fantastic experience – we enjoy being in close contact with you and the developers, Philippe and Léo give very professional and constructive feedback to our music that is easy to work with! A particularly fantastic experience was when you guys invited us to join you in Boston for PAX East this year! Spending time with you there, we again realised more than ever before that you are not just skilled video game developers but also a bunch of really great people that we are happy to know.

“We had the idea to use Gregorian chants for the Main Theme, when we sent it to the team, they were just asking what this weird vocal stuff is supposed to be?!”

Ash: I guess we owe you a beer for that compliment! But it can’t all be sweetness and light. Have you had any disagreements on the Music composition for Foundation?


Robin: While collaborating in a highly subjective creative field like music often results in disagreements, I can proudly say that so far Foundation is the project with the least disagreements we have worked on. There are various reasons for that, the most influential one being that we decided to set ourselves strict limitations to work with – such as to only use certain instruments or keys for the music. Once everyone agrees on what not to do, you automatically will have less disagreements. That being said, you should probably ask us again after release because there is still some music to write…

Ash: There is a life-lesson right there! Has there been anything that you tried that didn’t work?


Yannick: I was hoping to keep this secret but…  we had the idea to use Gregorian chants for the Main Theme. I put myself before a microphone, sang my heart out and recorded myself several times to imitate a Gregorian monk choir, even with super deep latin lyrics! When we sent the first draft to the team, they were just asking what this weird vocal stuff is supposed to be and that we better leave this out. Retrospectively this was probably a good decision though…

Ash: Ahaha! Maybe you should record a personal chant album, I hear there is a market for it!
Is your work now complete on Foundation? Or is there still more to come that the community will get to hear in the future?


Robin: There is way more to come. We have recently finished another batch of music, which was added to the game in the Fall Update and doubled the amount of “level 2” music. In addition to that our plan at the moment is to have another musical evolution for the later stages of the game, so stay tuned for a lot of new tracks for the Official Soundtrack Release as well.

Ash: One last question. For anyone thinking about getting into video game music composition do you have any tips or advice?

Yannick: There is no golden path to follow. Just be yourself, show your passion for video games and be very patient. 

Robin: Don’t try to follow the path from someone else. Rather create your own path. Take music seriously but not yourself. Collaborate. Because in the end it’s all about collaboration.

Ash: Thanks for taking the time out to give us some deeper insights into Audinity and your work on Foundation. It is as always an honour and a pleasure and we look forward to hearing more of your work in-game!

 

Polymorph Games

 

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