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Anime Expo 2023: Composing for Magical Realms, The Music of Fae Farm

From Phoenix Labs based in Vancouver, composer Cris Velasco, audio director Dorian Pareis, senior audio programmer Akshay Balakrishnan, and senior voice designer Dan Poole represented Fae Farm’s sound design team at Anime Expo this year. At the Composing for Magical Realms: the Music of Fae Farm panel, the team discussed the parts they worked on and the music of the game. 

What is Fae Farm? According to the team, it’s “a place where you can experience the fairy tale life of your dreams.” In other words, it’s a “farm sim game that welcomes all players and the people they care about to share in growing, crafting, gathering, exploring, and customizing a homestead set against the backdrop of a magical cozy world.” The team likens it to a “love letter” to a lot of games they love, from Stardew Valley to Animal Crossing to Link’s Awakening and Harvest Moon, essentially any adventure and “cozy” game. Fae Farm is an amalgamation of all the parts the creators loved about all these other games with their own spin on it. Fae Farm is a farm sim RPG for 1-4 players where people can dream, cultivate, explore, and belong. 

Starting off the panel’s game discussion, Audio Director Dorian Pareis confesses that his background in mostly sports and action games, RPGs, and other such concepts, made this project seem more out of left field. Coming onto the light-hearted, whimsical, bright Fae Farm project straight from the more action-oriented, high-impact, darker Dauntless RPG game, the concept switch was very much a departure from his usual work. In order to prepare himself for this change, he had to rethink his usual approaches to sound design and credits his discussion with Creator and Creative Director Katie de Sousa about her influences and inspirations, and target style and design, for what would become the game’s “go-to adjective” for describing the style of the sound design: Cozy. In the development of the game, the team would receive feedback that maybe something “wasn’t quite cozy enough,” which meant it was “too impactful” for what the charming and whimsical Fae Farm should feel like. He also credits Senior Sound Designer Anton Crnkovic for his talent in zeroing in on how to dial back the “high impact” sounds just enough to make them light-hearted and yet still very memorable. 

Cris Velasco, a prolific composer with over twenty years of experience in writing music for games—such as God of War, Mass Effect, Borderlands, Resident Evil, Bloodborne, Overwatch, Carrion, and more—was also unexpectedly the composer for Fae Farm. The irony of his role on this project was the fact that he was hired on at Phoenix Labs for these credits, for “high impact, visceral,” dramatic and “epic,” orchestral percussions, after pitching for the game Dauntless, and yet he had ended up on the cozy, whimsical, light-hearted Fae Farm. Velasco acknowledged that this project had been a “great way to grow as a creative person” and had “turned out to be one of [his] very favorite projects [he’s] ever worked on.” He “absolutely loved it and…hope[s] that [his] joy in writing it is apparent when you listen to it.” He also jokingly confessed to trying “so hard to get out of it,” from pitching it as a mentoring opportunity to saying it was out of his comfort zone, and even breathed a sigh of relief when he had heard another sound designer working on the music at first since that implied he would not be working on it, but it was to no avail. He humorously admitted to thinking positively that it would be only a few minutes of music, only to end up with an hour and 20 minutes of music in the final product. 

Senior Voice Designer Dan Poole introduced his interesting role in providing the voices for all the beloved Fae Farm characters. It was decided that they wanted a diverse cast of voice talent to represent the characters in this cute and fun world, and that there would be no actual language. Poole described how words in a greeting often help convey a lot of the character’s personality and emphasize what they’re feeling, but in deciding to use just purely emotive sounds to communicate to the player, he had to get really creative with how to effectively relay the same amount of personality without words. In the end, using purely emotive sounds also proved to “highlight the amazing art and animation work that was done.” Poole also gave us commentary on some behind the scenes videos of the voice acting process with the cast, from the actors being impromptu for some sounds, to Poole giving directions in others, and the final results within the game and where they were placed. 

The team also spoke on how the music system was implemented within the game. In addition to specific music created for each world within Fae Farm, they also timed certain songs for time of day, danger warnings, milestones, game events, and more. One particularly interesting setting was the interactive “cozy house music system” that changes as the player grows and builds their own house. When certain items are placed inside the house to furnish it and make it more “cozy,” it changes the player’s stats in the game and the music becomes more warm and homely as more sounds are layered in. In other words, the music is attached to the objects brought into the home. 

This led into composer Cris Velasco showing us his home studio setup and his process for creating the music for Fae Farm. As simple as it sounds, the theme music for Fae Farm started as a little flute diddly Velasco had been playing around with that someone overheard and thought it was for Fae Farm, which inspired him to consider the possibilities. From there, he was able to continue adding layers of other virtual instruments such as piano, harp, strings, and clarinet on his digital audio workstation Cubase. When he was done, he exported the file and gave it to an orchestrator who helped adjust the melodies and instruments, add countermelodies, and provide feedback to tune the final product. This was then exported as sheet music. As a personal preference, Velasco uses live studio recordings for all his music as a way to help support musicians, so the live recording process was next. He screened a behind the scenes video of this recording process to show how the music of Fae Farm came to life. 

The panel provided many interesting behind the scene tidbits about the music and audio process behind Fae Farm, and proved to be a great introduction to game sound design. Though there were many technical aspects that were covered in their discussion, the team presented it in a very easy to understand way that helped the audience explore the sounds of Fae Farm. For further info about the audio and sound development of Fae Farm, check out our exclusive interview with the panelists where we dive deeper into the behind the scenes details. 

As an additional immersive experience, Phoenix Labs set up the Quiet Lounge at Anime Expo to play the sounds and music of Fae Farm all day. Many attendees this year went to the lounge as both a way to escape the busy loudness of the convention, and to rest. Sleeping attendees were a common sight in the lounge, as were people relaxing and coloring in Fae Farm coloring page. Upon entering, it was as if one was entering a bubble of tranquility or transported to a different space of quiet and peace. 

Fae Farm is available for pre-order now, and will be released on September 8, 2023 for Nintendo Switch and PC. 

Official Twitter: https://twitter.com/faefarm
Official Website: https://faefarm.com/en-us/