Episode #216: NJ Apostol

December 18, 2014 · 30:24
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Indie game developer White Paper Games took on a seemingly impossible project for the untested, 6-member team. They wanted to create a free-roaming, first person puzzle game set in the surreal, disjointed mind of a woman with dementia. This project presented their composer, NJ Apostol, with a tremendous challenge, and his score rose to the occasion.

The game, Ether One, is about loss and recovery. The player assumes the role of a Restorer, a futuristic neurological investigator who enters the minds of the mentally afflicted to fix the root cause of their problems. As a result, most of the game takes place within the surreal setting of a diseased mind. The character travels through the world, trying to rebuild memories before they fall apart entirely. Throughout the game are puzzles, meant to simulate the mental obstacles the patient faces.

None of the members of White Paper Games had ever developed a full-sized video game before. They were working with limited resources and nearly no money, putting the entire game together in a one-room office in Manchester, UK. After months of intense work, and numerous re-writes (including several full scores that were completely thrown out), Ether One was finally released.

The game’s score possesses a subtlety and subtext rarely seen in video game music. In general, game scores reinforce the player’s emotional state or experience. In Ether One, though, NJ made a point to include a deeper meaning to every track. The main theme serves as a metaphor for the ups and downs of an afflicted brain and key changes and tempoless tracks represent the disjointedness of unclear thinking. If the track does not deliver a message, NJ says, he throws it out.

Learn about the intrepid team that developed Ether One, as well as the game’s real-life connections, with Emily and NJ.