I wrote Into the Beyond in mid-2016 after someone requested I add music to a video-game coding project. The game, titled Adventure_RPG, was all about adventuring out into the world to hunt down the menace Eric the Slayer and saving Adventure Town.
The composing work for this involved writing different themes for different areas in the game; forests, caves, fields and town. Into the Beyond is the theme written for the game’s loading and menu screens. It is the main theme, from which all the other pieces borrows aspects from.
So.. how and why did I write it the way I did?
Well, first, I wanted to capture the general feel and premise of the game. Tense and mysterious. Everyday the character was going out into the unknown in search of a supervillian they probably cannot defeat. Perfect. A driving timpani beat underlying the entire piece will drive it along. A minor key is absolutely fitting to this, along with a moderate military-style tempo and rhythm.
But there is one caveat; the opening three bars. In the game it is already known that you are in danger, so I saw no need to dwell on peaceful and happy times. Instead, I chose to use it to introduce and foreshadow the intensity to come.
The piece is written exclusively for an extended string section, with piano, percussion and organ added on top. It is not intended to be melodic, or even harmonic. It is a rhythmic piece that pushes further and further forward into the unknown. I did not intend anything grand, so I kept a very simple melody and supporting chord throughout the piece. D-minor for the entirety of every bar, with a small lift to A-minor at the end of the bar. The melody intended to be simple and curious as danger approached.
Then, the music changes. The focus goes back to the town, the melody and harmony changing to reflect the realisation of certain doom, almost like wailing. But never does the pounding of drums stop. Not once in this section does the home chord of D-minor feature, for D is for danger. Instead, we have things like A for adventure. The sequence follows a somewhat unusual Bb, F, Gm, A progression, repeated twice before finally allowing the return to the D-minor home.
Then, we have the calm before the storm. For five whole bars the beating of the drums stops and the strings give us some open air. Making full use of this, the piano borrows motifs from the theme and plays a solo. But it’s an uneasy and suspenseful moment - the final cadence signalling the introduction of the organ and the intensification of the music. This is where I imagined under still, starry night the watchmen of Adventure Town could see Eric the Slayer and his band of misfits approaching.
The organ. I waited an entire minute and a half to introduce the organ. Inspired by Hans Zimmer’s organ work on Pirates of the Caribbean and Interstellar, the organ was brought on board as a harbinger of fear. Its entry is entirely unexpected, yet immediately it establishes itself as the centre and feature of the music. In the build up back to the return of the melody I made full use of the organ. The right hand introduces a rapid and intense countermelody, the left hand rising in harmony as the dynamics intensify, and the feet playing one long, deep resounding D to counterpoint everything and convolute the chords. The result is that by the end of the segment the music is begging for resolution.
This resolution occurs as the music breaks back into the main theme. I wanted to give relief, but not too much, so opted to let the organ begin proceedings with its haunting version of the melody before kicking it back into the strings. By this point the dynamics have creeped up from pianissimo to fortissimo. The two styles merge and follow a general repeat of the opening sections, this time with the organ playing a counter-melody over the top.
Then, the drums stop and all melodies combine into one, with the strings taking the organ’s frantic semiquavers and blending them with the scales seen earlier in the music. At this stage I was going for chaotic and unknown, yet still familiar. Counter melodies are played together, backed by the original harmonies.
Then, finally the piano and percussion show us out. The tubular bells ring away as the threat recedes. Tomorrow will be another day of adventure.
The end result is 3m 17s of curios adventure and intense survival. These are the very essence of the game and this is what I tried to capture in the music.
And that is how I wrote Into the Beyond.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed this spotlight!