Lume OST: Only Needs the One Song

When people talk about State of Play‘s game Lume, they’re probably talking about the gorgeous paper stop-motion design; it was a finalist in the IGF for the “Excellence in Visual Art” category (but it lost to Dear Esther). Yes, visually it’s a striking, gorgeous game with an elegant plot an clever puzzles. However, I want to talk about the music.

Lume a point-and-click adventure/puzzle game, and the first of what will be a series. Because it’s going to be episodic, it’s relatively short; according to Steam, I played through it in just over an hour (and I took my time). For that hour of gameplay, their soundtrack consists of a single amazing song.

Composed by Luke Whittaker, one of State of Play’s founders, the track features piano and acoustic guitar. When asked about the instruments used, Luke explains his choices: “I wanted a warm and natural sound and so even the springy rhythm which emerges throughout was played by tapping the guitar body hard enough to vibrate the strings and give a tone.” The resulting sounds were then post-processed to give us the sounds we hear in the track.

It’s 4 minutes long, you can download it for free off their site, and I love it so much. Even writing this piece I’ve kept it on repeat; while it doesn’t loop nicely (it has a clear beginning and end), it is still a perfect song to leave on repeat. I think it works so well for 3 reasons.

1)                  It’s unassuming – there are no parts that jump out or startle you. It’s designed to sit in the background and give you some music while letting you puzzle out how to unlock that door, without reminding you how much time is passing or that there are other things to be worrying about.

2)                  It matches the gameplay to a T. In this episode, Lumi goes to her grandfather’s house to find the city’s power has been cut; while Gramps is away investigating, he’s left clues around to help you make his house self-powering. There’s no pressure, no stress, just the drive to fix the power and the curiosity to find out why it’s out. The music portrays that curiosity and  drive to problem-solve, while still being able to soothe any frustrations that not knowing how to solve a puzzle might present.

3)                  It has a clear melody line. A common downfall for songs that are meant to be ambient loops is that they come out just being sound, without structure or chorus. If I was asked to sing the melody line to Canabalt or Zen Bound, I wouldn’t be able to; but I could sing the theme to Lume without a problem.

When I asked him about composing the piece, Whittaker described why the piece was such a challenge:

It was a tricky piece to get right, there were a number of versions I threw away because the elements just didn’t quite fit together as neatly as I wanted.  It had to get a sense of intrigue across and be subtle enough to play in the background without disturbing a player’s train of thought – if you’re trying to solve a puzzle the last thing you want is an annoying tune knocking on your brain.  Unless it’s Tetris. But then that really suited the annoying – sorry, rhythmic – task you had to do.   I tried to give the piece a few different elements, a rhythmic loop, a sparse piano and warm guitar riff chiming in, which could wash in and out of each other, so that a short loop turned into a flowing piece where the beginning and end weren’t important.

I think he succeeded – the resulting track is great. Because it’s unassuming, it’s perfect for the game, and there’s a lovely melody line to hum along to, I can (and have) listen(ed) to this song for hours on end. So even if you’re not interested in the game, you should at least go grab the song off their site – I promise it’s worth it.

Lumino City, the upcoming sequel to Lume, is in progress and as of Thursday versions of Lume are available for for PC, iOS, and now Linux on Steam.