Wargroove, the highly anticipated turn-based strategy Indie from Chucklefish, is just around the corner. It’s been a long, bumpy road for Wargroove’s development, but in a few short days, it will finally launch on Switch, Xbox One, and Steam, with a PS4 release date still to be confirmed. Chucklefish are best known for publishing the widely acclaimed Stardew Valley, but this time around they’re the developers. I had the opportunity to interview Phonetic Hero, the composer behind Wargroove’s soundtrack, to ask him all about Wargroove and his other projects.
Hi, could you give yourself an introduction? Your background and how you got into video game composition for our readers.
“I’m Pete Lepley, I use the artist name Phonetic Hero. My formal musical background is in percussion, and I have pretty minimal formal training when it comes to composition. Most of what I’ve learned has been through arrangement and personal analysis, though I did have a fantastic teacher for the music theory class I did take in high school, which has made it much easier to pick up and understand new concepts I come across. I’ve always loved video game music, and once I started moving in the direction of becoming a composer, writing music for games was always the goal. I got my start doing music for a Spiral Knights fan game with Kevin Villecco (now of Hyper Potions fame) and then wrote the main theme for Project M, a popular (and great) mod of Smash Bros. Brawl. Along the way, I got picked up by The Otherworld Agency and have been doing work with them since 2015.”
Wargroove is possibly one of the most anticipated indie titles I can remember for a long time. How did the opportunity to score the soundtrack come along?
“I’m certainly in the same boat as everyone else when it comes to Wargroove – I’m as excited to play it as I was to write the soundtrack! I’d been seeing early gifs and artwork for WG on Twitter, and being a huge fan of Advance Wars, I sent an email to Chucklefish with some of my previous work that I felt might be in the ballpark of what they were looking for and offered to put together a demo. Turns out they’d played and enjoyed Project M, and I got the opportunity to put together a brief track for Mercia, the protagonist of Wargroove’s story. They loved it, and it ended up being used in the very first reveal trailer back in 2017. “
You have tackled both Sky Rogue and Wargroove, two very different games thematically. When approaching a game soundtrack for something so vastly different, how do you get inspirations and ideas?
“I love all different kinds of music, and I draw tons of inspiration from lots of different games as well. With Sky Rogue I drew on the experience of playing low-poly shmups like Starfox or Einhander on the couch with my brothers. I chose and designed sounds that would evoke the soundtracks of late 90s PC and arcade games, with a bit of a modern touch. For Wargroove, I looked first to my two favorite Final Fantasy games (and soundtracks), Crystal Chronicles and Tactics, and looked at loosely combining the two aesthetics. After some discussion and refinement with the development team at Chucklefish, we ended up with the sound for most of the Cherrystone commanders and the non-player music. The inspiration for the rest of the factions came from all over the place – Castlevania, Avatar, Tekken, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, traditional Japanese music, and even EDM at times. Folk instrumentation also plays a big part in Wargroove’s music, and there are instruments from all over the world used throughout the soundtrack. I ended up doing quite a bit of research and wrote the folk instruments in ways that I hope feel familiar, but in contexts that you might not normally hear to give the world of Wargroove its own character.”
When creating the soundtrack for Wargroove, have any of the tracks become your personal favourites or standouts?
“It’s really hard to pick any favorites on this soundtrack for me, I’m honestly very proud of them all and like some tracks more than others depending on what mood I’m in. Sigrid’s theme (Ancient Blood) usually comes to mind first when I get asked this question, probably because the process of writing her track was the most arduous but really fulfilling to hear it come together. I’d never written anything like her theme before, so I spent a month or so analyzing what makes certain video game music sound “baroque” but still have the structure of a video game tune. After finding several chord progressions and harmonic movements that seemed to recur in the style, I started by interpreting them a bit and trying to come up with some melodies on top of them. Once I got the hang of the general feel, I was able to branch out a bit and make it something that feels more unique to me. It was a long process, but I’m very pleased with the result! I also love working with leitmotif, so anything that has the main theme written into it feels extra weighty to me. I love how the main theme interpretation at 1:38 in Aurania turned out. Working with the line to score the cinematic animation was also a highlight, I love scoring action and I don’t get to do it all that often. They were great to work with and the animation is absolutely incredible.”
Wargroove has been in development for a long time. How did the soundtrack evolve alongside the development? Was it finished ages ago, or have you been continuously tweaking it as the scale of the project evolved?
“I just finished the last of the tracks last October I think, so it definitely hasn’t been done for long! It was a fairly linear process; I usually worked on one track until I finished it or got stuck, then started on the next and repeated the process. Each track took quite a while, usually 2 – 3 weeks each to go from nothing to a finished in-game master. Some took longer, as mentioned with Sigrid, and some came together much quicker. Koji’s theme, for instance, came together in about a week and a half, and Cheeky Ruckus took about 6 days. Each new WIP was passed on to the dev team pretty early on to refine the direction, and this way we were able to avoid pursuing some dud WIPs while repurposing others. An early WIP of Aurania, for example, was my first take on a WIP for Emeric, which we were able to salvage and turn into the overworld music.”
Do you have any advice for young burgeoning musicians wanting to get into video game composition?
“I feel like I’ve been very lucky personally, but I do have a few words that might be helpful. “Making it” in game music seems to come down to a lot of luck and a lot of hard work, but in my experience working to hone your craft seems to make you a lot more lucky. I think being willing to acknowledge and address your weaknesses is absolutely essential to improve in any art form. Sometimes sound quality and production is my weakest link, other times it’s my harmonic vocabulary and flow. Sometimes I’m working hard to improve the power and variety of my melodies, and others I’m looking at voice leading and orchestration. There’s always something to improve, and all your efforts will coalesce to make you a better artist. You can also find growth opportunities by just getting involved with music communities that interest you: find peers to help push you in the right directions, try to find compilations you can be a part of, and most importantly, make sure you’re enjoying the process!”
Do you have any future projects lined up?
“I do! I’ve got a couple I’m working on now and a couple more I’m waiting to hear about. I also release the odd dance track here and there on Tiny Waves. Most of the game work is pretty early stages so I can’t say a whole lot about it, but you’ll likely be seeing quite a bit of me in 2019. “
Many thanks to Phonetic Hero for his time, below are some links to his work and social media accounts, if you want to support the awesome work that he’s doing:
The Otherworld Agency & Boss Battle Records:
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