How does one amoeba defeat one thousand? You have to play Grab Games’ latest title, Amoeba Battle to find out. The strategy game was released two weeks ago on PS4, Nintendo Switch, Steam, and Xbox One. For those of you that might not be familiar with Amoeba Battle, the quick description reads: Take control of a sole surviving amoeba and guide it in doing what amoebas do best – Feed to gain strength, Multiply to gain numbers, and Evolve to gain power. Turn your single-celled survivor into an amoeba army and take back the microscopic world!
Heightening the Amoeba Battle gaming experience is the original score by Kenny Wood and Igor Nemirovsky. For those of you that were fans of Intrinsic Games’ Divergent Shift, they served as the composers on that title also, among many. In the exclusive interview below, Kenny and Igor discuss everything from how they prepared for the game to what their personal favorite game scores are. Read here:
How did you all first get involved with Amoeba Battle? What initially drew you to the project?
Kenny: It was not long after our first collaboration, Divergent Shift had been released for the Nintendo DS. Keith Co (lead developer) and the gang invited us to come and see artwork for their newest RTS game, which they seemed really excited about. Working on the previous game was such a blast, it was easy to get excited about this one and it did not disappoint! Amoeba Battle brings so much color and energy with it, it’s such a satisfying feast for the eyes. We knew we had to make it just as fulfilling with the music and sound.
Igor: Kenny and I both had worked on the team’s previous game, Divergent Shift, initially titled Reflection. This was a game I got involved with very early on as part of the USC program. The partnership worked really well, so when they asked us back we were happy to join in. This was a very different game – an RTS rather than platformer, and one that would require more music and fx than the previous game, but also more opportunity for differing soundscapes and musical approaches.
You both scored Amoeba Battle, how did you divide up the work?
Igor: So initially, I think we divided it up based on scheduling and work-load. I ended up doing the single-player levels, and Kenny did the main title. We also divided up the sound fx. Then later when they added the multi-player component, they brought in Kenny to do that music as well as additional sound fx. We basically traded off.
At what point were you brought in to score the game? After it was already fully complete?
Kenny: We were brought in very early. At our first meeting, there were only hand-drawn images of the amoebas and the worlds they explore. As a result, the music and sound fx literally grew together with the rest of the game and I can’t help, but think that every aspect of Amoeba Battle had an effect on each other as it “evolved” into its final form. I don’t think it would be quite the same if we came in after the visuals were complete.
Did you each have different strengths when working on this game? If so, where do each of you excel?
Kenny: One of the reasons I enjoy working with Igor so much (other than him being an incredibly good guy) is that he and I approach the same target from different perspectives, and yet our work somehow gels together as if we painstakingly planned it for months. It’s a very natural collaboration, akin to an audio yin & yang, and I certainly feed off his creative energy. For this project, Igor started with music (most of what you hear during the campaign mode) and I began with designing the sounds for the amoebas. Eventually, we shifted into the opposite roles and I created music for the title/menu and battle modes and he took on much of the remaining sounds. Where Igor excels (in my mind) is creating a musical experience that draws you deep into the game’s world. Even though the music doesn’t have any instructional words, it somehow gets you comfortable in the environments and helps you get familiar with the controls and gameplay very quickly. Where I think I excel is finding musical solutions for unique situations and scenarios. As an example, they requested that the battle mode music invoke the feeling you would get from a battle movie like Gladiator, but also be fun, friendly to our younger players, and sensible for the microscopic world.
Igor: I think I have a tendency to sometimes get lost in my own musical head. I’ll come up with a variety of sketches and at some point the music starts writing itself. This can be both good and bad. I end up writing a lot, fast, but then end up scrapping a lot of what I write. In contrast, I think Kenny is great at seeing the product for what it is, and then tackling it by creating precisely what it needs. He’s imaginative, but he’s also more disciplined in his approach. And I think the two methods tend to complement one another nicely.
You also collaborated on Intrinsic Games’ Divergent Shift. How has working together on Amoeba Battle been different than working together on Divergent Shift?
Kenny: Since Divergent Shift was our first collaboration, there was a little bit of getting used to each other and figuring out how to complement each other’s work, especially for me, because I was brought in later to mainly help with sound fx at first. But since Igor is such a warm and welcoming professional, he made it a very comfortable creative situation right away and that is a recipe for success. I think the only difference between working on the two games was that by the time Amoeba Battle started, Igor and I were good friends and we knew the sky was our limit as a duo.
Igor: If I remember correctly, Kenny had come in later in the process in Divergent Shift. I initially met the dev team at USC, loved what I saw, and I was excited to start working on it. It was the first published game I’d ever worked on. Kenny was in the same program the following year, and we met and hit it off. And the devs really loved him, so they brought him in and we teamed up. There was a lot of learning going on then. I think by the time we were on Amoeba Battle we knew one another better, and knew how to divide up the process to take advantage of our strengths. The goal was to deliver something we could be proud of, and I think we achieved that.
Grab Games released Amoeba Battle. Did they have a clear idea of what they wanted the game’s score to sound like or did you have a little more freedom to experiment?
Igor: I actually had a lot of freedom. The score went through 3 major iterations before we landed on an overall approach. At first I envisioned a very ambient score, just from the early descriptions given by the devs. I’m someone who loves to sketch early, even if 90% of it ends up not being used. So I created a track called Zen of Osmosis, which was electronic, ambient, and flowing. They liked it but they wanted something more dynamic. So I quickly threw together a new track with similar instrumentation, but more hybrid and orchestral. I called it Zen of Osmosis 2 (not a very creative title). That track would later be transformed into the music for the Primordial Sea levels. Later as we started getting more artwork, I realized the game would be more colorful and vibrant than I initially expected. So I went back to sketching and came up with an early version of the Mushroom Kingdom tracks. At the time we toyed with the idea of possibly having 2 layers for every track… a brighter, “good” layer and a darker “evil” layer. We later scrapped that for an approach that would allow more varied music in a smaller footprint, but the team liked the overall sound so I continued with that hybrid orchestral approach. I envision brightness for the Mushroom Kingdom, fluidity for the Primordial Sea, an undercurrent of turmoil and conflict for the Firelands, and intense action for the final single-player level.
There is a Single Player Campaign and a Cross-Platform Battle Royale mode. Musically, what is different, if anything, between these different ways to play?
Kenny: They are both incredibly fun! My recommendation is to play campaign mode first and get fluent with the controls. The later levels, where you must manage a lot of the amoebas at once, are good simulations of what the battle mode is like. When you’re up against some high-level online competition, having that fluidity with the controls is a must. The game can be very fast and exciting!
What is each of your favorite game scores?
Kenny: I have so many, but as a lifelong Nintendo fan, my heart and ears are always drawn to the Mario franchise (SMB 3, Galaxy, Odyssey, Mario Kart 8 to highlight a few). Others include GoldenEye, Punch-Out, and of course the Zelda franchise.
Igor: There are so many. One that has a particular place in my heart was an old game scored by one of my teachers at USC, Lennie Moore. The game was called Outcast, an early pioneer in voxel space graphics from the 90s. It was one of the first times I’d heard a real, live orchestra performing in-game music, and it completely changed the way I experienced the game. It was also one of my favorite scores from that year (video game or otherwise). And it was a nice surprise that years later that composer would end up being one of my teachers. (I think when we first met, I embarrassingly gushed at how awesome that score was. He took it in stride, but seriously, that score is awesome.) Years later other, similar approaches to scores would grab my attention. The Elder Scrolls series, World of Warcraft and its offshoots, the early LucasArts titles – they all brought with them the use of orchestral language, nuance, and theme-building, in order to create an experience that was immersive but still incredibly interactive.
What would be your dream project to score?
Kenny: In games, if it could somehow be made possible, I would jump thru hoops to score a Mario game. The music is not just a sonically vital part of the universe, it also provides keys to the gameplay itself. I love how integrated it is with the game mechanics. Zelda would be another dream project, and I think more people would be impressed by that!
In film, my dream is to score animated features like those from Laika, Illumination, Pixar, Dreamworks, the list goes on. As a former composer assistant (Mychael Danna, Heitor Pereira), I was fortunate enough to assist on some of those and the experience even from that vantage point was incredible.
To me, both games and animation are so musically enjoyable because rarely, if ever, are any limits put on the imagination. Amoeba Battle was no exception and it was a joy to create the score for it without worrying about ever reaching too high. We love what we did and I believe it shows!
Igor: Film was my first love, and any chance to help tell stories in that medium is always a dream. In particular I’ve long had a soft spot for quirky, unusual films with a slight tilt to how they see the world. I think those kinds of films can be wildly inventive, and often call for similarly inventive music. And I’d love to be involved in something like that.
I’m also an avid reader and a sci-fi buff. So another dream project would be a series or film based on books I’ve read. Something like the Red Rising series that’s been optioned would be incredible to work on. I love world-building, and I love themes. And when the two come together story telling can become immersive and exciting.
In games, I’m similarly of two minds, drawn at once to the giant, immersive AAA titles and the smaller, quirkier, indie games that unfold in unexpected ways and draw players in. And I think I have a style that could contribute to both worlds.
Many thanks to Kenny Wood and Igor Nemirovsky for taking the time for this interview.