The Unassuming Composer Behind The Night In The Woods Soundtrack

In development for over three and a half years, Night in the Woods came out last week and has been making waves with its unique art style and intimate take on daily life in a small, stagnant town. And the game's soundtrack, which Riley MacLeod called "intensely beautiful" in Kotaku's review, is a big part of that. The man behind the music is Alec Holowka and this is his desk.

The designer and composer behind a number of other games, including Aquaria and I'm O.K — A Murder Simulator, Holowka has founded a number of small development companies and collaborated with lots of different designers, including most recently Scott Benson and Bethany Hockenberry for Night in the Woods.

I asked Holowka what his work space was like and he offered the above picture of his apartment in Winnipeg, Canada. On top of the L-shaped desk sits his 2013 MacBook Pro along with a Retina + Thunderbolt display. Next to both sits a MIDI keyboard wired to a pedal that sits under the desk so he can switch between coding and composing on the fly. It's the kind of clean and unassuming setup you might expect given some of the music it's produced.

From there, Holowka can easily un-dock and head to his favourite cafe: Forth. It's less than a minute from his apartment and housed in the same building as an art gallery. "It's located in a heritage building, they have an art gallery in the basement," he says. "They make really good food, and lots of other creative types regularly hang out there."

A AKAI MPK Mini MIDI keyboard lets him compose wherever he wants, including next to a cup of espresso in one of the city's intersections for humble culture and creativity. "Getting out to the cafe is a great way to help myself stay focused and force myself to put on pants," said Holowka. "The Night in the Woods team is spread out all over the world (Pittsburgh, Vancouver, Michigan, etc) so it can get lonely sometimes. It's nice to be able to get out and be around other human beings without having to travel very far."

I've always been very interested in how people work, play, and create, as well as the spaces they choose to do those things in. I've reached out to a number of people to doing interesting things in gaming, whether making them, competing in them, or simply playing them, starting with Holowka, who was kind enough to share some insight about his work and also answer following brief questionnaire.


1. How are you feeling right now?

I'm doing ok. It's fine. We're gonna be ok.

2. What did you have for breakfast?

A can of coke. That isn't my regular meal, but I still feel regretful about it.

3. What's the best/worst game you've ever played?

Blood Omen: Legacy of Kain. It's pretty broken in hilarious ways and SUPER melodramatic, but I kinda love it.

4. What is your greatest regret?

Not going into therapy sooner. Also that "having a can of coke for breakfast" thing I mentioned earlier.

5. When and where were you happiest?

Whenever I'm with a group of awesome people collaborating on some kinda cool project, in person. I've been lucky to be in that situation a few times, I hope I can make it happen a few more times before I kick the bucket.

6. If you died and came back as a character or object from a game, what would it be?

This is super embarrassing, but I wouldn't mind being Raziel from the Soul Reaver games. He's pretty MOODY and AWESOME.

7. What inspires you?

Broken games.


Comments

    Would have been nice to see some questions about his work. What are your influences? Since describing music can be a very subjective topic that is hard to capture in words, do you encounter any challenges when communicating musical direction with game designers and how do you cross that gap between their vision and yours? What software do you use? What is your workflow? What is your musical background? What has been your most rewarding composition? Do you compose for other mediums and, if so, how do you find it differs to composing for games? That kind of thing... I don't really care what he had for breakfast.

    Last edited 27/02/17 6:39 pm

      Yeah game sound design and music development is of great interest to me, so I was hoping to get some insight into his process and perhaps some case studies from his work? I don't think a single one of those questions really added any value to the topic.

      Perhaps for future articles about composers/sound designers you throw in a question or two like those mentioned by mogwai?

        If you haven't found it already, there's a great little podcast called Composer Quest. It's not specifically video game focussed but there is some great game related content including interviews with Disasterpeace (Fez, Hyper Light Drifter), Grant Kirkhope (Goldeneye, Banjo Kazooie), Jason Graves (Tomb Raider, Until Dawn, Dead Space) Lena Chappelle (Guild Wars 2), amongst others. The presenter is a bit deadpan but he generally gets good stories out of his guests.

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