How game development and music go hand in hand for Jacob Leaney

The visual album concept has been around for a while, from Beyoncé’s 2013 self-titled album to Daft Punk’s. Discovery album in 2003 having its own animated feature in Interstella 5555: The 5tory of the 5secret 5tar 5system. However, the interactive visual album is not something we see as frequently.

Of course, they do exist. Some good examples include Sayonara: Wild Hearts, Superbrothers EP: Sword & Sworcery, and Tetris effect. These games take the concept of “video game music” and bring it to the fore, with the tracks behind the interactivity guiding where the gameplay and storytelling will go. At PAX Australia this year, there was a studio that not only did it, but has done it with all of its games before.

things for humans is a Melbourne-based studio led by musician Jacob Leaney, which performs under the name Monster Mansion. They are best known for their 2021 title video world, a “synth-pop Halloween musical about working in a video store”, which also serves as an interactive companion to the 3-track EP of the same name. The title won Excellence in Emerging Games at the AGDA 2021, as well as The Guest Plate at the NZ Game Awards 2021. Their next title, A Halloween Valentinewas presented at the PAX Rising floor this year.

Me? I like video games. Me, but a second time? I also like music. In fact, I got completely rotten for good bits. I had the chance to chat with Jacob at PAX Australia about his past work, his next game A Halloween Valentineand how music and game development for him go hand in hand.


Ruby

How are you ?

Jacob

Yeah, really good. It’s so nice to be at PAX and around so many people, to have gaming in the wild and to be reminded of how much gamers really love gaming and indie games. Yeah, it’s just a really, really good vibe. Yeah.

Ruby

Yes, your stand is packed! All stalls are simply filled with people. This is going to sound really corny, but does that give you hope for the industry?

Jacob

Yeah I think so. I feel like during the pandemic we were already kind of on a trajectory for games to become more mainstream than they already were. But in recent years, I think it has expanded even further.

And there is also more awareness about indie games. I had a really nice chat with someone yesterday and they were talking about their 16 year old and how he views, plays and interacts with games is really different from previous generations. And so having kids who become teenagers, maybe having their own money, being able to buy the games they want to buy, I think that’s really exciting actually. It’s really cool.

Ruby

Yeah, absolutely. Now, okay, I guess you started making music, or at least had a musical inclination before you started making games.

Jacob

Yes.

Ruby

So what sparked your interest in marrying the two?

Jacob

Well yeah. So I was in pop-punk bands for a long time in music. It was Panic! At Disco, Paramore stuff. But it was a childhood dream, and as people often do in the creative arts, I was very exhausted. So I took a break. I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe I’ll compose music for video games.

So I started to get into that world, but I fell in love with game development, I still loved music, and I had a bit more energy for it again. And I was like, “I can’t have two separate careers in the creative arts because it’s crazy. How can I make them together? »

And that’s where the idea of ​​trying to make games based on the songs that I wrote came about. And I started getting a bit of support from VicScreen, for example, and I just experimented bit by bit until I kind of found a niche that people really responded to.

Ruby

We’ve seen a lot of cases of visual albums in music, like Daft Punk Interstellar 5555. However, with most video games, I assume creating the soundtrack is a separate development process. Saying that, how do you think your creative process in developing music and games differs from creating visual albums?

Jacob

So in this kind of example that you gave, as you said, it’s more interactive stuff. They can be a bit fancy at times, but really it’s “Hey, it’s a music album, we’re a music artist, here’s some interactive stuff to back that up.” And in video games, it’s, “Hey, here’s a video game. Here’s some music to support that.

What I create are two separate things that are self-sufficient. So the album I’m working on right now, I’m writing it in the form of pop songs. It’s about my life, my relationships, my friendships and everything that happens. And it stands on its own.

It can be listened to on Spotify, put in your playlists, played there and come to see a live concert. And then the game attached to it, the album is featured throughout the game, stands on its own as its own game. So this will actually be marketed as a game with a soundtrack, and the soundtrack is marketed as an album with a game to which it is linked.

So they’re both really works of art and for people to bite into both as a product, as something exciting.

Ruby

To go back a bit, your first game under the Things for Humans controller, Human rights, worked as an interactive toy for the single of the same name, and was also a track influenced by the 2017 marriage equality vote. How important is identity as a developmental factor to you?

Jacob

I would say that when I create art, whether it’s music or video games, putting my personality, my personal experiences and my personal identity into it is really important to me as a creator because that’s how I speak. This is how I tell my story. This is how I convey who I am and how I feel about the world. So it’s not something I necessarily think about a lot. It’s a bit more inherent in what I create, and I just allow my personality and values ​​to be reflected in the design of the games I create.

That being said, identity is important. And I see people around me who are also struggling to express themselves or going through difficult times. So having a game or music that allows them to find their voice is something that I didn’t expect, but it became important to me to be able to be a voice, not only for myself, but for the others around me. me who may not be artists or who don’t have the means to express themselves in the same way as me.

Ruby

And so you went from a one-song game to Human rights to an EP game in video worldto now an album game in A Halloween Valentine. Do you think the progression of your musical abilities has somehow evolved alongside your game development ability? Or maybe even one compliments the other?

Jacob

Yeah, I would say over the last few years, really since I started Things for Humans and these video game projects, my music writing and production skills have improved a lot, but I put that down to the collaboration that I’ve done.

Before that, I would write a lot of music on my own, then bring it to a band and they would improve it. Whereas these days I’m going to start a song from scratch, maybe just with a drum beat or something, in a room with a songwriter, and it pushes me. I get so much from that, and having that responsibility to them and also to the video game audience has also pushed me to push myself harder in terms of music production. So they definitely grew up together.

Ruby

Attractive. And so it’s really short, but still important. How it works A Halloween Valentine differ in game mechanics and tone from your past work?

Jacob

It is truly a spiritual successor to video world. So as much as I love video world, I was still very much in the exploration phase in terms of my creativity with this crossover. So I took the things I loved video worldfor example, the Halloween setting, the very punny and silly characters, and the cozy world, and translates that into a newer, bigger game.

But it still differentiates itself by focusing a little more on the puzzles. I sort of use the term it’s a bit more “game”, and the music and rhythm interactions are on a bit higher level. It’s not about rhythm challenges, it’s just how you connect with the music in the game world.

Ruby

Finally, you were one of many talented composers included in a feature film I made on what makes a good OST. And you had a really good quote in there where you said, “You want someone to hear any part of a soundtrack and know it’s from a particular composer or a particular game. and that “having a memorable soundtrack style is extremely important.” So, saying that, how do you create music in your games to achieve that effect?

Jacob

I think, again, at least for me, it’s really about expressing my personality, my tastes and what I like. And it took a long time to evolve and create that particular sound. So I would describe my sound as synth-pop with a bit of emo shimmer sprinkled in there. And that took a lot of the types of music that I love over a long period of time. But once I found that sound, there’s also a bit of retro. I really loved it, but I found that people reacted to it really, really well. And I thought, “Okay, I think that’s the sound, and I want to keep exploring that for quite a while before moving on to other sounds.”

So yes, there is actually no simple answer to this. It’s just about letting yourself be explored and saying, “OK, what’s weird about me? What are my unique things? And my unique things were, I like K-pop music, but I also like emo, early 2000s emo rock. That’s great. I have the right to like these two contrasting things. And that’s my special thing: the happy medium between them.

And likewise, my common ground is video games and music. I have the right to bring them together rather than being afraid and saying, “Oh, I’m different. I shouldn’t be different. Yeah. So finding that niche is, yeah, just taking the time to accept that who you are and what you love is actually truly valuable, and what makes you special.


I also had the chance to give the A Halloween Valentine demo to try, and it was definitely one of the highlights of the PAX Rising floor. Although there is no current release date yet, you can wishlist A Halloween Valentine on Steam at present!