Back in February 2012, Double Fine launched a Kickstarter campaign for Broken Age, a point-and-click adventure game with old school sensibilities for a new school audience. Spearheaded by Tim Schafer, the man behind revered games like Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, Grim Fandango, and Psychonauts, Broken Age was meant to quell the faint cries of classic adventure game enthusiasts, as well as invigorate a new generation to a fading genre. Raising damn near $4 million, Tim Schafer and Double Fine had a large responsibility on their shoulders: to deliver a game that not only the backers of the project would love, but that the rest of the gaming populous would adore. Documentary team 2PlayerProductions set out to work on a documentary titled “Double Fine Adventure,” chronicling the development of the project, the trials and tribulations of the team. Of course, if you’re going to make a documentary, you need a soundtrack. I had the pleasure of chatting with Terence Lee, a member of Hitbox Team—the studio behind Dustforce—and the man who created the amazing Double Fine Adventure soundtrack.
As a way to break the ice, tell me—or the readers, I guess—a little bit about yourself.
Hello! My name is Terence, and I make music and games with some friends. I made the soundtrack to the indie game Dustforce, and for the Double Fine Adventure documentary. Right now I’m working on programming for our upcoming game, Spire.
How long have you been playing music? What was the first instrument you played, and why that instrument?
I’ve taken piano lessons since 4th grade, but then I stopped in high school. It was always a chore to me, being forced to practice all the time. But one day I watched my friend play “Moonlight Sonata,” and I really wanted to learn that, and discovered how satisfying it was to learn a song I really liked, and started to play again on my own. When I went to college, I wanted to keep playing, so I got a keyboard to play in my room. I ended up getting a MIDI controller by accident, instead of a digital piano, and from there I started to get interested in software synths and music production.
Were you in any bands, or have you always been solo?
Nope, I haven’t been in any bands.
When did you decide to take this to the next level, producing music to sell? Were you afraid of the project failing? If so, did you have a backup plan?
It was just a hobby, with my main focus being programming and game design. I became friends with the team behind Dustforce back when it was just a prototype, and they asked me to do sound effects for the game. I really wanted to do the music, too, so I made some example tracks, which they really liked, and I ended up doing the full soundtrack. I wasn’t afraid of failure, since we all appreciated a common aesthetic style, and were always engaged in critical analysis of the styles and design of games and audio. It was only a question of how much time it would take, not whether it could be done.
So, every time I type “lifeformed,” I’m usually autocorrected to “life form.” Where did you get the name from, and why “Lifeformed”?
The name started from a practical consideration: I wanted to pick a name that wasn’t yet taken on the internet, which was a surprisingly hard task. I narrowed my choices down from variations of words I liked. I chose “Lifeformed” because I like how it frames my work as being “formed from life,” instead of focusing too much on the technical aspect of electronic music.
How many projects have you put out?
Musically, I have two albums and an EP: Fastfall, the Dustforce soundtrack; Immerse, the Double Fine Adventure documentary soundtrack; and Umbra, a short collaboration EP I did with my friend Janice Kwan.
Did you ever anticipate composing for games? Was that always the hope, or did it sort of fall in your lap unexpectedly?
Game design was my main focus, but music was always a serious hobby of mine. I knew I wanted to make music for my own games, but never thought it could be a standalone focus separate from the game. I’m glad the musical style I’ve been using has been well received, as it’s a versatile one that sounds good both with games and by itself.
You have an association with Hitbox Team, the folks behind Dustforce and Spire. Are you a founder of the studio? How did that team come together?
In college, I made a game prototype for a contest. I won that and ended up working at that company after I graduated. I helped run a bigger contest, where I met Lexie, Woodley, and Matt from Hitbox Team (and Jon, a friend who did the art for Devil Daggers). Lexie and Woodley made the prototype to Dustforce for the contest, which they ended up winning. They came over from Australia to our awards ceremony, where we met and became good friends. After I quit to make my own games, I kept in touch with them and ended up doing the audio for Dustforce. They stayed over in my apartment to finish the game, and afterwards we moved to Australia for a year to work on Spire.
The first time I heard your music was in the background of 2PlayerProductions’ “Double Fine Adventure.” How did that happen? Did 2PlayerProductions, Double Fine, or both contact you?
Asif from 2PlayerProductions contacted me about doing the music for the documentary after hearing the Dustforce soundtrack. It was exciting because we had just finished Dustforce, and I was hungry for more music stuff to work on.
Composing for documentaries is troublesome, I’m sure, especially considering the multiple tones that usually happens. Can you walk me through the process of composing the soundtrack for “Double Fine Adventure”? Was it a challenge?
It was indeed a bit tricky, very different from working on Dustforce. I had a hard time making tracks with a specific purpose in mind. Usually, I just kind of play around with my keyboard until I hear something cool, then build a track off of that. With the documentary, they wanted a specific tone and length for each track. What I did was start with something to set the tone, such as picking a key signature, or using a particular instrument or sample, and try to discover something interesting from there. I’ll play around on my keyboard until I find a cool melody or beat. After that, it’s a bit of a struggle to build the rest of the track to a particular length, but I managed to do it with some willpower. I think my best tracks are the ones where I wasn’t really thinking about the guidelines, and managed to find a place for the track to fit, rather than the other way around.
You just released a new EP titled Umbra, two years after the release of Immerse. What have you been doing in those two years, and how excited are you to finally have another project out?
I’ve mostly been working on programming Spire, the next game me and the other guys at Hitbox Team have been working on. I plan to do music on it, too, but I’ve been really busy focusing on coding. I really wanted to work on some music in the meanwhile, so I’ve been trying some new ideas which ended up being Umbra.
This EP is in collaboration with Janice Kwan. What made you partner with another artist instead of producing a solo project?
After Fastfall and Immerse, I wanted to explore other styles a bit more. I’ve been listening to a lot of dark, atmospheric, and percussive electronic music, and wanted to give that a shot. I also was interested in experimenting with vocals, something I hadn’t done before. Janice had sent me some really great vocals and we worked together to discover a style for a new set of tracks that sound quite different from my previous style. I really like how it turned out, and I plan on doing more work with Janice, I just have to find the time!
After the release of Umbra, are you working on anything else?
My number one priority is Spire, but I’ve got some musical side projects in the works. You might hear more collaborative tracks with Janice, and also maybe a new game soundtrack for an upcoming game(?).
Lastly, favorite game? Favorite band or artist?
I’ve always loved Chrono Trigger: its music has been the biggest influence for my own work. I can’t say I have a single favorite artist, but some artists that have been influential for me are Burial and Clark.
Clearly, Terence is thoroughly ecstatic about Hitbox Team’s next project, Spire. If you haven’t, check out his website, follow him on Twitter, and hit up his Bandcamp. (I recommend you purchase all of his records; he’s a cool dude, but he’s also extremely talented.) And keep a close eye out for him; he may have something coming up in the near future.