I must say, I am giddy with excitement. I had the amazing opportunity to talk with composer Ryan Ike about Dim Bulb Games’ new project, Where the Water Tastes like Wine. To give a little background, Where the Water Tastes like Wine is an RPG based title that is presented in the style of American folklore. The game consists of traveling, getting to know different stories across the land, and surviving manifest destiny. So, without further ado, here’s Ryan Ike on Where the Water Tastes like Wine:
So Ryan, for those who aren’t sure, you’re a composer who’s been working in the games industry, with titles that you've worked on including Shiny, Gunpoint, and West of Loathing. After working on these titles and others, how has it helped you prepare for your work on Where the Water Tastes like Wine?
I would say the way that those previous games helped me the most for something like Where the Water Tastes like Wine is that pretty much in every case, almost every soundtrack I’ve done has been some new thing that I didn’t know how to do. Like with Gunpoint, they wanted noir, kind of 1920’s lounge jazz, and I’m not a jazz musician. I understand some of how jazz works and I played some jazz piano in high school, but I wouldn’t qualify myself as a jazz musician, so I just had to sort myself and see if I could figure this out. Then, for something like West of Loathing, that again, I always wanted to do a western soundtrack, but that was my first one. So I had to figure out; ‘do I have the tools that I need to create something like this?’ And I just kind of threw myself into that. Then there’s something like Frog Fractions 2, which is like... every song I wrote for that soundtrack was completely different. There were Gregorian chants, then there was something where they wanted me to make it sound like Seinfeld, and every single thing I did for that I was like ‘I’ve never had to do this before, I just have to figure it out.’ Which was great because Where the Water Tastes like Wine has been one of the most challenging things for me to write, and I’m really excited I got to do it because it was American folk, which is something I even just did for fun, like as a side project. Now, I’m using all these live performers and, basically it’s the most new something has been that I’ve worked on. I think I got lucky with my previous games, that I was kind of forced to break the seal on that and get comfortable with throwing myself into something I’ve never done before because that’s definitely what this game was.
Nice, that’s fantastic! Now, in regards to Where the Water Tastes like Wine and getting to take on that challenge, did the developers at Dim Bulb Games approach you or did you approach them?
[Laughter] I… I pretty much just stalked the head of the studio. If anyone’s not familiar Dim Bulbs is run by a guy with the most Scandinavian name I’ve ever heard, Johnnemann Nordhagen, and he is one of the devs who created Gone Home, which I really liked and it did really well, and I feel like it was one of the first games to kind of, at least the first indie game to kind of tell a story in that way. Then when I heard Johnnemann was leaving Fullbright to start his own thing, I was like ‘Oh man, I’d love to work with this guy, whatever he’s making next is probably going to be something cool and story based and maybe have good opportunities to mess around with the soundtrack.’ So, I literally just set a Google Alert for his name [Laughter], figuring there aren’t too many of those and I when I found out he was just going to be hanging around at PAX, I just asked to grab coffee. I was terrified, Iike ‘why would he want to talk to me?’ But he was super nice, and we chatted for a while and it just kind of went from there. So... it was me just actively hunting this person through the internet [Laughter], and it worked out with me getting the job instead of, you know, jail time.
Well I'm glad things worked out the way they did [Laughter]. So the song featured in one of the first trailers, Heavy Hands, I must’ve listened to that piece over a hundred times. What was it like putting that song together with your vocalists Joshua Du Chene and May Claire La Plant?
You know, that’s a great question. So, one of the great things about this game is that I’ve gotten to work with like 15 or 16 live performers and a bunch of them are people that I met through this, but Joshua and May Claire are both just friends of mine. That’s one of the nice things about working in indie games is you build this network of awesome musicians and audio people, so that you just have this stable of really amazing talent to reach from. Joshua actually lives a couple blocks away from me here in Seattle, and he’s like a fucking vocal polymorph, like he can make himself sound like anything. He’s on three or four songs in the soundtrack and people are so shocked by him like “Oh, that’s all the same guy?”. Cause’ he can just make himself sound like different stuff. So, he’s playing guitar and singing the male vocals on that. Also, I don’t know if this will make it in the piece, but he’s an incredibly talented game composer in his own right, and people should hire him. Then May Claire is someone I met when I used to live in California and she does a lot of amazing vocal work, and she is also just one of those people where I’ll send a part to her as me kind of stumbling through singing it, like I’m not really a singer. Then giving it to her being like “do this but good” and she’ll send it back better than what I wrote. So I knew them both before, but this was the first time that I got to hire them for something and it felt amazing.
So, speaking of performers, there was a recent announcement that Sting was going to be featured as a voice actor in Where the Water Tastes like Wine. Is he featured in any of the music or is he strictly a voice actor?
Weirdly enough, he’s strictly just a voice actor. I have had no, not for a lack of trying, but I have had no connection with him whatsoever. I’m still kind of getting over the fact that he’s in this thing. Like, I’ve written a piece of music for his character, just like all the other characters in this game, but he didn’t actually do any musical performance in it.
I still remember in our meeting that the dev team will have together, this was months ago before we announced it, but when Johnnemann told me “Okay, so Sting’s gonna play this narrator character in the game.” and I was like “Cool, but who is it really?” and he’s like “No, it’s like Sting. From The Police.” and I was like “Yeah, no it’s not.” It took a good five minutes for him to convince me that this was an actual real thing, like what is my life I don’t understand.
[Laughter] That’s amazing! Now, not to get off topic, but besides composing for the game, have you played any of it yourself?
Oh yeah, mhmm. Yeah, they sent out demos and I played through to make sure the music fits, cause’ I’m not doing any of the implementation on this one, that’s all Johnnemann programming things in. So I’ll play the demos to make sure what I wrote fits or, if I haven’t written for a section yet, I’ll play to kind of get a semblance of what this character is like or what this area is like. So yeah, I’ve definitely played quite a bit of it.
As far as music and the game itself goes, are there plans to release other teasing musical pieces or trailers, or are you just waiting until release?
Yeah, that’s the plan. We have a couple things lined up that I want to sort of share with people as we move up to the release date. Which we still don’t have an official date just yet, but it’s coming up very soon. So you’re going to start seeing new music cropping up.
So as far as release goes, is it just domestic or will it be international as well?
We are definitely coming out internationally, so it’ll be here in America. We are translating the game to a number of European languages as well, so it’ll be more accessible, so yes, it’s coming out internationally for sure. Which I think is really cool, cause’ it touches on these distinct American things that are still things I think people from anywhere can kind of engage with, so I’m hoping people that aren’t from here will find this interesting.
Now, and I understand if this is still confidential, but is Where the Water Tastes like Wine coming out exclusively for PlayStation or Xbox, or will it be on PC as well?
Right, it’s coming out on Steam and I think that’s all I can say about it, I’m not sure [Laughter]. Let’s just say it’s coming out on Steam and possibly other stuff later.
I completely understand [Laughter]. So last question, what does the future hold for you after this title is released?
Well my work on this game is, aside from a few minor things I have to tweak, pretty much done. So, I’m already kind of moving on to new stuff, I’m very excited for the release of this of course and you know how it is right, like when a game comes out you’re not done. Like, you have to continue to support it and help get it out there and all that. So yeah, in that way I will still be working on it for quite a bit. But I’m moving on to, West of Loathing has some DLC coming out, so that’s currently what I’m cranking away on is getting new music ready for that. Then, I do have a couple of other projects that are in the works that I’m really excited about and, I know this sucks, but I can’t really say anything about them [Laughter].
So, there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this look into the music and development of Where the Water Tastes like Wine, which is expected to be released sometime in early 2018.