We hear from the soundtrack composers of TOEM: A Photo Adventure on getting the band back together for the Basto downloadable contents album. The musicians also performed homemade TOEM concerts, broadcast on a livestream together with a presentation by the sound designers at Rumsklang.
By Jerry Jeriaska (The Ongaku) and Eric Bratcher
Back in July, TOEM: A Photo Adventure launched for Xbox One and Series X|S consoles, currently available through Game Pass and verified for Steam Deck. The independently developed, hand-drawn adventure game previously won a 2022 BAFTA Award in the category of debut title for the Swedish dev team based in the port town of Karlshamn.
Continuing the discussion, this time we hear from Launchable Socks (Joost Kraaijenbrink) and Jamal Green on scoring music for the Basto region of the post-launch downloadable contents. The tropical island getaway is the first location in the game to introduce a day-night cycle. Also expanding the gameplay options, a circus tent hosts a variety of minigames: from a water balloon shooting gallery to a horn-honking rhythm game.
Don't miss Part 1 of this interview: "Snapshots from TOEM with composers Launchable Socks and Jamal Green"
Stories of Snow
The trajectory of TOEM's meandering path through whimsical cities and vacation retreats, imaginatively patterned after real-world locations, reaches a climactic peak in the mountain town of Kiiruberg. Inspired by Sweden's northernmost city, Kiruna, co-composer Jamal perceived aspects of this destination percolating in the minds of the developers even in the earliest prototypes.
"I think Joost and I would agree: it's mystic and kind of otherworldly," Jamal observes of the snow-swept ski sloped, spotted by goats. "That was carried over from the previous iteration of the game, which was kind of a cosmic puzzle game. [Kiiruberg] appears at the end of the game and I think it perfectly wraps it up."
To progress past blocks of ice obstructing the mountain paths, the player character must equip a squeeze bulb horn and honk at the obstructions, shattering them into shards. Swapping between your photography equipment and this horn was a strategy the devs seized on to give player more to do while exploring the map. "It was the same kind of thing as the water balloon, when we added that," says Tom at Something We Made. "We wanted more interactions with the world."
Exploring Kiiruberg led to one music track that was directly inspired by an in-game event. "There's one track I wrote for the mountain area, called 'Tall and Shy," Joost explains. "There's a large character who is shy. He's giant but he's also very shy. I just thought he was so cool."
"You have to hide from him if you want to take a picture. I wrote that track and I put in a conversation between the main character and 'Tally.' I basically just went, for the large character, 'BOOP.' And for the main character I went 'Bop.' I made those into almost percussive instruments that did a call-and-response thing on the track. For me that was the backbone of that track, and it roots it in a very direct way in the world of the game."
After TOEM: A Photo Adventure launched in September of 2021, a community formed around recording speedruns of the base game. Tom took an interest in observing these challenges, discovering that much of the content lended itself to time attacks. This was an unintended discovery, seeing as the prevailing intention of TOEM's design was to allow players to take their time. One challenge, witnessing a snail leisurely traverse a race track, contained a hidden speedrunning hack. To move things along, the honk horn can be equipped and directed at the gastropod to turbocharge its pace.
"The speedruns are crazy," Tom observes. "They find the perfect angle for completing four quests in one photo. It's super interesting to watch." The developers responded to a request to push out a Steam update purely intended to facilitate these unanticipated challenges, emerging organically out of player experimentation.
A Warm Day's Night
In July of the following year, the TOEM sound team participated in the annual Save & Sound online music festival, livestreaming on YouTube and Twitch. The TOEM segment began with an intro by audio designers Markus Nilsson and Viktor Eidhagen of Rumsklang, responsible for sound effects and non-player character vocals, among other aspects of audio implementation.
"Ambiance was a big part of TOEM," Viktor explained in the video recording. "The goal for me was that you should be able to play the game both with music and without."
To complement the fantasy environment inspired by Scandinavian vistas, Viktor traveled to a national park near his home in Skåne to record ambient audio of forests, creeks, and waterfalls. For the user interface, the audio designers sought a balance of vintage analog devices, such as cassette decks, with sprinkles of nostalgic toy sounds. These informed the noise of the camera's shutter and loading of tapes in the signature "Hike Lady" music player.
Rumsklang also furnished a variety of vocal samples for the quirky cast of characters, using over-the-top Swedish accents to lend each encounter a unique personality. "I ran it all through a patch I made in Arturia Pigments," Viktor explained. "It's a bunch of randomized modulators. I could just drag in the big sample with the different accents, and it randomizes playback and pitch."
Additional filters and effects were applied to the voice samples so that there would be stylistic cohesion even extending to the animals the player photographs to fill out the compendium. "That was during lockdown," Jamal recalls of the livestream. "I was able to set up in my garden and around the house and did a cover of my track, recording some household stuff, like glasses and pots and pans. It was beautiful weather outside when I spliced together a video."
"I would like to do some live performances, maybe with Joost," he adds. "He's the band man, so I would let him organize it. He will take any opportunity to perform, even online as a video. He went away and absolutely smashed it. His performance is lovely."
"[Launchable Socks] had become a seasoned band by the time I started work on TOEM," Joost says of his home concert benefiting from a prior tour. "Basically, every year around a thousand acts submit to [the "Popronde."] Then they pick around a hundred out of those. There's about 42 cities in the Netherlands that participate, the whole circuit moving from one city to the next."
"We got booked about ten times, right about when my brother joined, and played across the country in a lot of amazing venues as well as some really cool locations like an old decommissioned church, or a salad bar in the center of Rotterdam."
We won a BAFTA?!?!?! WHAAAAAAT pic.twitter.com/nITKZvpixj— TOEM 📸 (@SWMGames) April 7, 2022
The motivation behind developing the Basto region as a free update, delivered the following September, was driven by the desire to formally thank the players who had supported the project. Various items on the to-do list that never made it into the base game now had an opportunity to see the light of day.
"We had a bunch of ideas to explore within TOEM that we didn't have time for..." Tom recalls. "And there were a bunch of new ideas that we came up with afterwards that sounded fun that we wanted to try." Viktor had wanted to record the sounds of jet skis from day one, and that request became a top priority when branching out into the tropical holiday-themed content update.
As conference call discussions progressed, Lucas decided on designing a Honk Hero minigame for the squeezable horn device, while Tom came up with idea of the water balloon shooting gallery. Niklas oversaw the implementation of these new gameplay features, housed within a circus tent on the island.
Initially, the devs toyed with the idea of an open world design for Basto, where the player could zoom out the third-person perspective and view the entire island on a single screen. However, this concept proved difficult to implement for the Nintendo Switch console, and quickly proved incompatible with the previously established vibe of TOEM's interconnected, intimate spaces.
An opposing strategy proved more rewarding, taking maximum advantage of the island's separated screens. Implementing the day-and-night cycle made greater use of the island's real estate, effectively doubling the potential content the developers could pack into the region. Multiple quests make use of identifying times of day when specific goals can be met. To swap between nocturnal and diurnal events, the player can plop down on a hammock for a nap.
"I realized that we had this bedroom-pop indie thing to what we were writing," Jamal says of the evolution of the background music for the Basto album. "A DIY indie rock, pop beach-surf music kind of thing.... The one thing I tried to avoid was it sounding too cliche: We didn't want it to sound like an ocean level or a beach level of a Mario game. We wanted it to be kind of subtle."
"Joost started the track 'Night Jam,'" Jamal recalls of the theme associated with the newly-introduced gameplay feature. "It was the first time we had a day-night cycle in the game. We needed something that highlighted that there was a nighttime. We have a five-minute track that plays when you first shift the game from day to night. That's our collaboration track. That's probably one of my favorites in the whole game."
inspired by the campfire scene in the Basto DLC, Joost invited the developers to participate in humming the "Fisherman's Tune" melody for a staff roll remix. Even the marketing team at Popagenda joined in, along with family members of the development team.
"The ending was born after I heard the track from Launchable Socks," Niklas of Something We Made recalls. "I get emotional each time I see it, hearing everyone from the whole team—marketing, music, developers—singing in unison. It's truly magical!"
This just in!✍️— TOEM 📸 (@SWMGames) July 18, 2023
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Launchable Socks is a video game composer - https://soundcloud.com/launchablesocks | Spotify artist page: https://open.spotify.com/artist/33em1jtdQbEvQNxOpq64l0
Jamal Green is a UK-based composer for films, games and television - Spotify artist page: https://open.spotify.com/artist/50jTMgIPZrjKFgHbCvoeRt | https://www.jamalgreenmusic.com | Twitter @JamalGreenMusic
Something We Made is a video game developer - https://www.somethingwemade.se/toem/ | Twitter @SWMGames