It's a beautiful day.
Author interview: Monica Valentinelli
2020-01-31 · by Stewart C Baker
Monica Valentinelli is an author and narrative designer. An industry veteran with almost twenty years’ experience, Monica has worked on dozens of hobby games and has told numerous stories for tabletop RPGs and supplements, card games, interactive fiction (or LitRPGs), miniature games, mobile games, and more. Find out more at booksofm.com.
This interview was conducted via email in January of 2020.
sub-Q magazine: In addition to your game writing experience, Underwater Memories really makes it clear that you have experience as a musician as well. Can you talk a bit about how you think music affects players’ perceptions of games, or perhaps give us some of your favourite games with music?
Monica Valentinelli: One of the reasons why I like games with an interactive component is because they become an immersive experience. Music helps identify thrilling moments and motivates us to battle enemies, but it can also be a balm or highlight areas of tension by warning players time’s running out. When added to the story, the music becomes a tangible part of the experience and becomes clearly associated with that game. There’s a universe of 8-bit gaming soundtracks out there and I bet any arcade/Nintendo fan could identify which game was what based on the sound alone. When removed (outside of grinding), the mechanics are up front and center and the experience can be diminished if the sound doesn’t fit the game.
There are so, so, so many great soundtracks out there for mobile and video games like the sense of epic stakes in Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) or exploration and wonder in Journey (2012), but not as many that implement music as part of the core mechanic. In addition to music centric games like Rock Band (2007-2017), Eternal Sonata (2007) is a wonderful example of a game that blends classical music with the rules well. Often, you’ll find an outfit that employs buffs when worn like the Songstress dressphere in Final Fantasy X-2 (2003), but it’s not as common to find an entire game that embraces music as the primary mechanic.
Yes, before you ask, I would absolutely love to create a game that uses music and color as the core mechanic — and NOT classical, either. Tech and resources have always been my barrier to making this happen. I dream big, but I do what I can.
sub-Q magazine: Speaking of music, do you have any advice for game creators who may not feel the most competent when it comes to sound design and editing, but want to add sound to their games?
Monica Valentinelli: There’s a lot of technical jargon and expensive gear that can get in your way when you first start out. Sometimes, to figure out a direction the basics are your best bet. Instead of dumping money into gear, go for the freeware at first. Start by working with what you know. Replay the games you love and analyze their tracks. What is it about their sound that you love? That’ll help you figure out what you want — which is the hardest part. Then, start with the big stuff: Emotion. What feeling do you want to evoke? Why is a specific soundscape important to that scene? How do the soundscapes play off of each other? Work against each other? I’d add in sound effects after you find the soundscape that defines your game. You can layer effects with a little experimentation by using Audacity, which is freeware, or Logic Pro X.
If you’re still at a total loss for how to do this, reach out to artists you like on Soundcloud or one of the sites that hosts and offers public domain soundscapes like Soundbible.com or Audioblocks.com. Depending upon what you want, any musician who creates sound for film/TV could absolutely compose something for your game to fit your budget. Musicians are sound alchemists who can do a lot of really cool things by composing a melody that loops or tracks that layer at key moments to replicate movement. Don’t be afraid to reach out!
sub-Q magazine: What’s your favourite underwater memory (if applicable)?
Monica Valentinelli: I am in awe of the ocean: Its power, its creatures, its movement. All of it. But, it’s hard to recognize its beauty when you’re in it unless you surf, snorkel, or dive (which I’ve never done). For me, the next best thing are to visit the aquariums and zoos built with levels so you can see a cross-section of that environment or “walk” amongst the sharks and giant sea turtles. The turtles remind me of Urashima Taro from the Japanese fairy tale I loved as a kid. (And still do.) I’ve always wanted to visit that undersea palace. Maybe someday.
sub-Q magazine: One of the things that makes this game stand out to me is how it approaches themes of loss, grieving, and acceptance in a unique setting. It’s been great seeing it go through the stages of the game design process to completed product, so thank you for that! What’s coming up next for you that you’re excited to be working on?
Monica Valentinelli: Ah, NDAs and all that… Well, I’m working on two story-centric mobile games right now that I’m pretty excited about. I’m also taking the opportunity to pitch (again and again). This time, for a non-fiction book and a few comics. I love storytelling and the craft so much my work isn’t just centered around games; there’s so many stories everywhere I look I want to tell them all! Just trying to make some magic happen, like so many of us artists out there, to keep doing what I’m doing and have a life.
Outside of that, I’ve been outlining a Ravenloft 5th Edition campaign, finishing up two Scarred Lands 5th Edition piece, and am preparing to launch the Hunter: The Vigil Second Edition Kickstarter. Hunter 2E is a modern tabletop horror game I developed from Onyx Path Publishing where you’re committed to hunt the supernatural with your friends and family to keep your communities safe. How and why you hunt are where the interesting stories intersect in hunter society, because over time the darkness takes its toll — even for those who are extra vigilant and well-equipped.