I had a big delay on this one but finally could have this one arrive! As a pseudo follow-up to the interview with Ben Hickling, the developer of Ex-Zodiac, I had interviewed its titular composer +TEK!
+TEK is a talented composer and arranger that you might have heard of from his FDS (Famicom Disk System) or FM (Genesis-style) arrangement projects, as well as the lead composer (and co-developer) of Skeleton Boomerang. His current project in composing is in the soundtrack of the aforementioned Ex-Zodiac, a promising game following the steps of the beloved Star Fox series.
His style leans in energetic and vibrant music (reminscent of certain styles of chiptune music) which is evident in most of his compositions and FDS arrangements, but the biggest highlight has to be his FM-inspired/based tunes, which often bring to mind the music style of Yosuke Yasui (being one of his biggest inspirations after all). Regardless of whatever approach he takes however, the results are often brilliant.
Considering the style of his music and involvement in recent projects like an overhaul of Skeleton Boomerang and the aforementioned Ex–Zodiac (as well as commisions), having this chance to talk with this music wizard was quite a pleasure, and I was able to learn more about the backstory and the way he composes his music. Without any further ado, please enjoy!
This interview was conducted in July 07, 2020
Alright so, first of all, thank you so much for this opportunity! With the way games fascinate me, and how I was getting to chat with some game developers recently, it is amazing that I can get to talk with a composer like you. I really love your style of music 😀
Sure, thanks. How are we starting?
Can you give a brief introduction of yourself?
I’m Adam, better known by my alias +TEK and I’ve done some video game music composing for around 9 years now, although only about 4 years ago is when I had the first opportunity to work on a game that would actually end up landing on Steam. At the time of this interview, I’m less than 2 weeks away from being 23. Poland is where I currently reside which is also my native country.
Nice! So, how did you end up getting involved in video game music composing? (as in, how did you begin with that)
As most of the people in my generation, I naturally grew up with a lot of video games and the main focus of fascination with them was the blasting tunes they provided. I come from a family full of musical genes, my other brothers are musicians as well (which I have 3 of, all older at least 10 years) and they play instruments like guitar, bass guitar, piano and percussion. I myself actually graduated music school while being in middle school – specialty, percussion.
I didn’t really follow in the footsteps of my family and learn a single instrument. Instead – I turned to composing from fairly young age as well. A copy of good ol Fruity Loops 3 helped skyrocket my interest into composition. And all the games I’ve played at the time had a major role in what my music would ultimately become, later on I caught up with the chiptune scene when I actively started using FamiTracker around 2010s.
What would you say that are often your main inspirations behind your compositions? (Like the characteristic FM-music and Yosuke Yasui, one of its main users)
A friend of mine (memowave) helped me discover Yousuke Yasui in 2014 by showing me SUPER-REFLEX, one of his songs that was an arrangement of his older title – META-REFLEX. It was also featured on the album Megalomachia2 (I dearly recommend both the first and second album). Listening to it blew my mind and it’s not an exaggeration that it helped me shape my music to what it is today while also giving me a good dose of obsession over the guy, many years from then on.
Before that, I was a fan of chiptunes that would wound up being used in keygen software and also some of the active members of the FamiTracker forums back then as well, Fearofdark and HertzDevil just to name those two guys. Currently it’s not only Yousuke Yasui but the other SuperSweep members that Yasui used to be a part of as well, like classic Shinji Hosoe or Ayako Saso. Can’t forget Ryu Umemoto as well, bless his soul.
There’s a bit of a SEGA bias on my end. The first console I owned was a Master System and then I heard the tunes of the Mega Drive (Europe, remember it’s not Genesis ;p) over at a friend’s house. The FM has stuck with me, although I started doing NES/Famicom compositions in my early chiptune days first. Mainly because FamiTracker allowed for it to be much easier, for a beginner, you know.
I have a fascination for those FM chips that were in consoles that I didnt even own in the past. I’m only now really catching up to all the ways FM can be manipulated. I mainly just do FM stuff without limitations – with the VOPM VST.
I always wanted to dabble with FamiTracker and Genesis-style music, though I never was able to get a good hang of it so far :p
Music trackers are an acquired taste. I learn to respect them and say they’re easy because I composed in MML once ;p
I always loved chiptune-style music and used OpenMPT often but only had released like 1 or 2 songs and I’m still not too sound with composing, though I’d love to learn properly one day.
That makes me wonder, how do you end up coming up with ideas for your compositions?
I don’t rush things. What I start with depends on my mood and what my brain has decided to hint me with. Most usually it’s a progression for the first few seconds or a melody. The songs kinda develop themselves as I go. I do a lot of trial and error with how I continue with those simple ideas that pop up sometimes and I stop trying once the result surprises me with good vibes. I haven’t ever really went into making a song with a straight plan. It’s a lot of improvisation, although when I work for clients, references are sent so they help me at least narrow down the feel I should stick to.
That’s interesting to know! What are the tools that you use for composing?
Like mentioned beforehand, I still use FamiTracker (specifically j0cc fork) when there’s a need for something NES/Famicom style. FL Studio is unsurprisingly my main DAW pick. I do all FM and non-FM work in there with the good ol VOPM VST that won’t ever be retired for me by any other FM VSTs 🙂 Although I also like to use the native Sytrus plugin because it’s easier to manipulate pitch using it. Other choice of VSTs are Chip32 and NES VST 1.2 for projects where I need some of that NES sound in there but don’t wanna boot up FamiTracker and just want some convenient sound right there, in FL.
Besides those I also use soundfonts, a lot of them coincidentally also used by Toby Fox. There’s also some of those big boy Kontakt libraries as well for any of my stuff that sounds grand and less videogame-y. As for hardware tools… I use my keyboard and mouse. And that’s about it.
What was the first game project you got involved with regarding compositions?
I made some tunes for people in the long past, games that never came to fruition. The first one that actually meant something was Aliens Go Home Run!, where I was approached to make an energetic, Famicom styled soundtrack. It’s available on Steam, was greenlit back when that was a thing still.
Interesting! I have seen that you have done some FDS (Famicom Disk System) arrangement projects too, like Mamorukun Curse, MMBN6 and some Touhou titles.
Yeah, although MMBN6 and the Touhou ones were FM. Those names aren’t just random letters and numbers as some of the commenters under those arranges were led to believe – they’re names of expansion chips for the Famicom that had extra sound capabilities. The N163 allowed for 8 more channels of wavetable (although when all 8 channels are used, it produces very annoying hiss which’s emulation I turn off for the render to save people’s ears) and the FDS was a chip that came standard with the disk expansion for the Famicom – allowed for a single channel of much more detailed wavetable than N163. Also had FM capabilities that weren’t really utilized in the past.
Fascinating! So your current latest project is Ex-Zodiac, right?
One of many current ones, yes.
How did you get to meet Ben Hickling (the developer)?
Nothing exciting really. I have a commission system put in place and Ben just reached out to me through e-mail.
So far all your projects have been commissioned or is there any particular one that was voluntary/personal?
It’s a mix, there’s a lot of personal stuff I also do and don’t put behind commissions. The third Touhou arrange album is still somewhere on the cards and the entire Skeleton Boomerang soundtrack + new upcoming music for it’s expansion is actually personal, as I am in close involvement with the game’s development and help out Artisano – the main developer – in his goal to develop the spoopiest but silly platformer.
Interesting! How much can you mention about your involvement with Skeleton Boomerang? Checked out the trailer and looks good!
I am a co-developer of it and main QA tester for it, as well as the overall game designer. And of course the music man. My most popular track, Disco Necropolis, comes from this game.
Ooh, that’s nice! Around what time did it start development?
Artisano started work on it as early as 2012 and I joined him, initially only as a musician, in 2016. One year later and it was released, where I helped out much more than initially expected because I really liked working with Artisano. Any skeletons that appear in the game and share some resemblance to any skeletons in Undertale are coincidental, as the designs have been completed before Undertale’s Kickstarter was even created 🙂
So you have been playing a bigger role in development of that game’s upcoming update Skeleton Boomerang reVamped, right?
Much bigger than in the case of the base game. I think I coded more for it than I made music so far. But for those wanting some of that FM goodness, there’s gonna be plenty. At least 12 new tracks.
Now that’s great! About Skeleton Boomerang, what engine does it use? (or was it coded from scratch?)
It uses Game Maker Studio. It doesn’t help with the comparisons to Undertale that’s for sure 🙂
Skeleton Boomerang looks really fun in its own 🙂 What could you say about the games/projects that you have been commissioned for? (Like Ex-Zodiac, for example, but also the other games too)
It’s always nice to see those kind of projects come to fruition, especially since I worked on many that never did. Such how it is. I have zero worries about Ex-Zodiac tho. Everything is going fruitful so far.
It was quite amazing to see its Kickstarter go gold in the first day :p
Very hype. Have not been a part of any project with this boom since.
It was quite interesting to interview Ben too; some interesting stories and influences there. On that note, not sure if this is something you can disclose or not, but what were the general references given to you for Ex-Zodiac soundtrack?
Einhander and Gradius (specially the SEGA Saturn games) come up a lot.
Interesting! What are the games that have influenced or impressed you the most? (Either in general or regarding their compositions)
The music I like the most is what ends up being arranged by me. I arranged two entire Yousuke Yasui soundtracks (and I will do more), as well as many Touhou tracks. So that is speaking for itself.
What game genres do you often like the most?
I’m a variety gamer, I’m into all kinds of stuff. I think I only disconnect from jRPGs thou. Besides Persona. That one hits different.
What other aspiring/indie composers have influenced or impressed you along these years?
WayForward’s Jake Kaufman is currently a very big western influence. He and Yasui share this one thing – unbelievable streak of good stuff. Each single song is a hit, there’s no flops. I aspire to be on the level of notoriety as he is.
I definitely was impressed when found out about how Jake Kaufman had done some independent stuff before joining WayForward (under the name of “virt”). One of the songs I loved the most was the first stage in Contra 4 (which I happened to see that was a cover of one of his previous songs, and that you made an arrange of it as well :D)
That was a commission. A good one at that. It’s especially nice to work on those where my tastes align.
With the stuff I have been listening from you so far, I’d say that you are really going good!
Ex-Zodiac could be a breakthrough. Disco Necropolis from Skeleton Boomerang already proved that it’s possible, with having 250k views on one of the YouTube uploads. However that was just the song itself somehow – Ex-Zodiac is gonna be a hit thanks to the nature of what it is. What people have been craving for. For a long time, because a certain company has failed to deliver ;p
I’d say that you have gone really far all these years since your oldest song.
Oof. I have older songs but yeah, that sure is old.
Sounds like famitracker and basic compared to your current stuff, but still was a good bop.
Nah, it was just some fake crap in FL Studio.
Found funny how people in Skeleton Boomerang trailer pointed out about how far you had got from YTPMVs to bangers in actual games.
In regards to YTPMV and my history with it, I was featured on a YTPMV podcast by soaroz and I’ve exhausted a lot of questions on there.
What did you think when I reached out to you for this interview?
Hmm… a fun distraction 🙂
This is a bit of a random question but how did you come up with your current name?
i came up with “plrusek” in 2008 when i quickly had to come up with a name for a gmail account. Years later, one of my friends mispelled it into “plustek”. That is all. plusrek is: “pl” (polish) and “rusek” (russian). I am in no means russian, its just something stupid.
What do you think when you see some of your compositions being used in stuff like videos or game mods? (like in SRB2Kart, for example)
I think younger me would be really excited about this fact. In fact, the first few times it sure was a surprise to have my stuff featured anywhere. I grew used to it recently, somehow even questioning if my music really fits in some YouTube videos or a fangame ;p Some fellow musicians I bet know this feeling.
I think I could see where that comes from, but nonetheless it does show the taste of some people 🙂 That also reminds me there’s a track by Simon Stalenhag used there; I’d like to reach out to him too regarding his compositions
Do you have any special thanks for anyone?
Artisano as always being a great fellow to work with, my “disciples” like blowitch, sigmuuu or zetoban, Ben for reaching out to me and giving me a big opportunity and Jan/memowave for helping me discover Yousuke Yasui to begin with and being a friend and collaborating composer for life. Or at least for a long time, from the very beginning. Oh right, Yousuke Yasui himself too for changing my music around; possibly my life, since composing music has changed me quite a lot.
You’d dream to be able to talk with him as well, right?
I talked with him. But not as friends ever. He knows some english, i’d rather not interfere tho. Busy fella.
That’s understandable. There are many japanese people involved in games that would be interesting to reach out to; but language barrier is the biggest obstacle lol
I think collaborating on a soundtrack with him would complete my life.
Who knows what can happen when your name gets on the bigger radar 😉
This was a quite fun chat, and I’m very glad that you gave me this chance!
Sure, it was nice.
I’d love to write up about the whole “indie” composer scene, ranging from module users to people like you 🙂 (and of course, been looking forward doing an article about Ex-Zodiac as well)
Heh, that’s a lot to go man; I barely know anyone. I just know it’s oversaturated, but if I worried about that though I would stop making music. I just do this for myself more than anyone else.
I’m really looking forward to writing up more stuff on my site (though I had dabbled with OpenMPT before), and I’m hoping that I can get to cover all the stuff I have wanted to do many years ago, as well as to get in touch with other developers and composers.
Thank you so much!
No problem. Keep at it with your website.
Thank you for conducting this interview, this was a good read!