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How Untitled Goose Game adapted Debussy for its dynamic soundtrack

How Untitled Goose Game adapted Debussy for its dynamic soundtrack

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‘One of the beauties of the game is that nobody’s gonna get the same performance.’

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One of the highlights of House House’s Untitled Goose Game, the “slapstick-stealth-sandbox” game in which you play a terrible goose wreaking havoc in a lovely English village, is the adaptive soundtrack of Debussy’s Preludes. The playful piano music almost provides a kind of insight into the goose’s mind — the melody plays in quiet, short bursts when it’s up to no good, creeping up on its next victim. When the goose is in full chaos mode, waddling away from the gardener who just wants his keys back, the piano tune plays out in full, encouraging the player to keep up the shenanigans.

Surprisingly, the studio had originally leaned toward having no music in the game until the first trailer was released in 2017. Composer Dan Golding, who previously worked with the studio for the soundtrack of its debut title Push Me Pull You, was brought on to score the trailer, which features Debussy’s “Prelude No. 12: Minstrels.” But it was edited in such a way that the music begins when the goose grabs the gardener’s radio, and when the trailer immediately went viral, it struck a chord with people.

“Please tell me the musical score is dynamic and situational aware, and not just in the video? That would make this game the best thing,” a commenter wrote, with numerous others in agreement. The reactions to the music in the trailer were so strong that the studio felt it needed to oblige. “We all got together and were sort of like, ‘Well, we gotta figure out how to do this,’” Golding says.

To start, Golding began by recording two versions of the “Prelude”: one played normally, and one with a much lower, softer energy. The tracks were then split up into different “stems,” or sections, at the same parts. Though he began by splitting the song into about 60 stems, it didn’t prove to be enough. “The game would start up and bulldoze through the kind of micro-narratives of the game, so I was like, let me see if I can brute force this,” he says.

Using Logic, he split up the song into two beats, ending up at about 400 stems. And although the notes can sometimes cut off midway through musical phrases, the songs avoid sounding chopped up through the use of reverb. “I exported each of these stems so that the reverb rings out as much as it can,” he says. “Each of these stems, they’re not the same length, even though they’re the same musical length. You can play them over the top of each other, and it just sounds like the piano is holding down the sustain pedal.”

The stems were then matched up to the game, which operates in three states: the first is a silent state, where the goose is just hanging out, not doing anything; in the second state, the “low energy version” is performed as the goose is plotting and scheming, moving closer to his prey; and the third state is when you’re being actively chased, which is the performance you’d hear on a record. The game chooses which version to play depending on what’s happening — so taking into account all the different ways the stems can be matched together, that means the amount of different versions you can hear is “a number with, like, 52 zeroes,” Golding says. “One of the beauties of the game is that nobody’s gonna get the same performance.”

Untitled Goose Game was able to make use of six of Debussy’s Preludes thanks to copyright laws, which dictate that tracks become public domain 70 years after the death of the composer. “This is why the copyright system exists to expire. In 2019, it opens it up for people to experiment and play, and give different context to such vital pieces of music,” he says.

Since different recordings of Debussy are already available, if an Untitled Goose Game soundtrack were to be released, Golding says he’d release a curated set of tracks incorporating his slower, low-energy performances with the more normal sections. He’s also considering releasing the music from the gardener’s radio, which are six original compositions spanning different genres — tracks that are “irritating enough that you’d understand why the gardener would rush to turn it off, but not irritating enough that the player actually gets irritated.”

Untitled Goose Game is out now for Windows and Mac via the Epic Game Store, and Nintendo Switch. The game is discounted from $19.99, for a limited time at launch, to $14.99.