Some students face the video game screen with a controller in hand, intently focused on hitting just the right buttons in just the right sequence. Instead of facing the screen, Thomas Wilson is on the other side, concerned with the choice and sequence of each music note heard in the game.
Wilson, a first-year masters student in music composition, currently works with Headless Chicken Games, where he composes music for the independent games studio. The studio, based in Costa Rica, is currently working on “Pause Play Stop,” a music-influenced video game scheduled to debut in 2015.
Wilson graduated from the University with a degree in music composition last May, and over the summer he sought a solid and stable project that could use his composition skills. He was introduced to Headless Chicken Games by another alumnus of the University, and the concept of the game piqued his interest and experience with music for games and film, Wilson said.
“[Headless Chicken Games] is very small and unique,” he said. “So having that smaller company, we have talks all the time. It’s very personal and is not so much the corporate game [studio]. However, there’s still the stability there. I see development along the way, and everyone’s contributing daily to the project.”
The group communicates daily about “Pause Play Stop” by using online resources like Google Drive and Facebook. Wilson has enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with a small team, allowing him to receive comments and feedback about his compositions quickly, he said.
Although “Pause Play Stop” is not a music-based game, it is one of a few games that revolves around music, Wilson said. Players find a tape player toward the beginning of the game and collect cassettes as they progress.
“[‘Pause Play Stop’] is a first-person perspective puzzle-based game where the music affects what goes on around you,” Wilson said. “So you have to choose conscientiously which sort of tape you want to use for each puzzle.”
Although the concept of the game was already established when Wilson joined the team over the summer, he has worked heavily on enhancing the musical elements, he said. José Monge, founder of Headless Chicken Games, heard Wilson’s work and was ready to collaborate and receive Wilson’s input, Monge said.
“After working with [Wilson] for a couple of weeks, we realized that we had struck gold,” he said. “He is really, really, really good. Right away, after explaining a little bit of the feelings that we wanted to convey, and the emotions that we wanted to put in the game, he came up with really extraordinary pieces that really showed what we wanted to show in this world where music is really important.”
Monge’s idea for “Pause Play Stop” developed from his desire to put the players in different perspectives and give them the chance to discover ideas that are truly important to them, he said. The design of the game should transport players to new situations they have never before encountered or entertained, Monge said.
“We really want to connect both gameplay with narrative, connecting both in order to create a really fulfilling experience,” Monge said.
Headless Chicken Games is aiming to launch a Kickstarter later in November, with funds going toward finishing and enhancing the project, Monge and Wilson said. Although the two have yet to meet, they have created a productive and trusting relationship, Monge said. Working internationally has been an interesting experience, but the team has been constantly discussing ideas and delivering great work, he said.
When Monge approached Wilson about a new idea for the music, Wilson quickly went to work on creating something for the new concept. Monge wanted to be able to play tracks simultaneously. Synchronizing three tracks to create a new melody is challenging, but Wilson was ready to try it, Monge said.
Craig First, professor of music composition and coordinator of composition and theory, has been working with Wilson on creating the music for the game. Wilson began taking classes from First during his junior year of his undergraduate studies, learning classical techniques of music composition as a base for his work in contemporary concert, game and film music composition.
“I help [Wilson] develop his music to be more cohesive and best composed,” First said. “His music for games is very sophisticated.”
First said Wilson’s classical training gives him an advantage in composing music and he has enjoyed teaching an ambitious, exemplary student.
“[Wilson] is an absolutely brilliant young man and has a bright future,” First said.
More information about Wilson’s work with Headless Chicken Games’ “Pause Play Stop” can be found online at headlesschickengames.com. The game studio is also on Facebook and Twitter.