Joel Steudler has been a fixture of RPG Maker packs almost as long as we've been selling them! Starting with the Cinematic Soundtrack Pack, he's consistently put out fantastic music, plus more! So we caught up with him in a quick interview to see what makes him tick!
My mom put a pen in my hand as soon as I was old enough to hold one and knew better than to eat it. Coincidentally, this often happened at restaurants. She would flip over the paper placemats and task me with drawing on them as a diversionary tactic while food was being prepared. I was always drawing.
Music was a much later pursuit of mine. Some brief exposure to guitar bore no real fruit at the time, and I got to play fancy organs through a Kawai organ store in the mall which had classes I took as a kid. Decades passed. I always liked movie music, particularly the orchestral score for 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back' by John Williams. I was given a two-LP record set of that score as a gift, and listened to it frequently (btw- records are big plastic discs played on antique mechanical devices with bad audio quality that transmit sound through a needle. Weird, I know.) Eventually, I began to wonder if computers could replicate an orchestra, and much more eventually, they could. I harnessed that power for good or ill, first on the Commodore 64, and ultimately on PC.
My mom enjoyed graphic arts when she was young, and has always been an avid photographer. She kindled similar interests in me when I was little, and in return, I teach her Photoshop these days. In recent years, she has taken up painting and many forms of crafts, and I'll help her get an Etsy store set up one of these days.
Composing the soundtrack for Sidebar Games' sports RPG 'Golf Story' and its forthcoming sequel 'Sports Story' are my high point(s) so far. Both afforded me the chance to explore some weird and wonderful musical ideas. 'Sports Story,' particularly, has a crazy sountrack. I was able to hire a fantastic haegeum player named Jlilly to play on the title theme and several other tracks (check out her YouTube! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCurkoeS3Z5EnxJKHVgKcjSw ) and the music includes, orchestra, heavy metal, rock, EDM, and other unclassifiable oddities. The game should be releasing this year, so I'm very excited for people to hear it!
It was also really cool to have my 'Golf Story' soundtrack pressed to a limited edition LP album that was available through Fangamer before it sold out. In the digital age, it's weird to have a physical artifact containing my music, in beautiful packaging. It was a nice collectors' item.
One Win10 PC for art, one Win10 PC for music, and oh so much software. You don't need a ton of expensive gear to get started, but once you do get started, and you have the money to acquire more gear, it's... all downhill from there. No end is in sight, no exit available, the path to infinite gear upgrades is inescapable. If you want to never have money again, a great way to achieve that is to develop simultaneous interests in 3D art, photography/videography, and virtual instruments for composing music.
It is worth mentioning that there are some great free gateways into all these creative fields. GIMP for artists, Blender for 3D, and Cakewalk for recording music are all free. I use Cakewalk professionally, and it's fully capable of doing what you need... so there's no excuse not to get started.
To more directly answer the question, though... here's a brief rundown of what I use:
Adobe Creative Cloud, Lightwave 3D, Vue, Chaotica (fractal art), Cakewalk, Kontakt, and too many virtual instruments and synths to list.
Special shout-out to Cool Edit 2000, the best lightweight audio editor ever made, which I have used since the year 2000 and will continue to use until it no longer runs on my current OS. Sometimes less is more, and simpler is better.
Ideas congeal in my brain, either in fragments or as a whole, and I try to extract them using the tools mentioned above. I don't do a lot of pre-planning, sketching, storyboarding, or prep work. I pretty much just sit down with whatever tool I'm using and fashion an end product that resembles the things my brain pulled out of the aether.
You can actually see my art process, though, over on my YouTube channel. Click the links below to watch.
I do tend to get into 'work mode' for several months at a time where I am creating content continuously, and then hit a period of a few weeks where my brain needs to recharge. I usually accomplish that by playing a game start-to-finish. Most recently, my 'mental energy boost' came from finally playing 'The Outer Worlds' by Obsidian Entertainment, which was fantastic in every way and I recommend to any fans of space, RPGs, or stinging critiques of consumer and corporate culture. It was great.
For art, Photoshop 2021's new neural filters and oil paint filter are inspiring and fun. In music, it is usually whatever virtual instrument I have recently acquired. I'm eager to try out 'Viola Untamed' from Westwood Instruments. I really like what they produce.
Around 2013 I was focused mainly on composing royalty free music for various libraries online, but I had produced some packs of game oriented music for a now-defunct marketplace called Content Paradise. I wanted to explore the idea of music packs more deeply and looked around for a company that might be interested and able to directly target game developers. I found RPG Maker Web, and saw there was nothing available like the sort of music I wanted to produce – orchestral scores similar to movie music. I approached them, and shortly thereafter we released my Cinematic Soundtrack pack as the first such product to focus on the indie game dev market. Then I made a few more.
My inspiration often comes from the question 'I wonder if I can make something like that?' It might be prompted by a cool movie, anime, or show I watched, or an album I listened to, or a book I read. I often find my creativity is sparked by experiencing such works and the resultant challenge implicit in their greatness. Are my skills up to the task, and can I add anything interesting to the body of work that already exists? Sometimes, it's just fun to work in a certain genre. For example, I've always wanted to produce music like Kow Otani's amazing OST for Gundam Wing. Thanks to some lucky discount sales, I acquired new virtual instruments that are right in line with that style, and I've started making a pack of high energy, rock/orchestra/big-band hybrid music suitable for mech battles. There's inspiration everywhere.
My favorite games are generally RPGs and space sims. Planescape: Torment, Torment: Tides of Numenara, Pillars of Eternity 1 & 2, Phantasy Star IV, Chrono Trigger, Fallout 2, Wasteland 2, the Mass Effect series, Wing Commander IV & V, Freelancer, Star Wars games like X-Wing Alliance, Knights of the Old Republic & KOTOR II... and I have been known to spend a lot of time in a fairly obscure corner of the MMORPG Star Wars The Old Republic, playing its PvP space combat game called 'Galactic Starfighter.'
It's actually very inspiring to work with the many developers who have hired me to compose for their game after finding me through my asset packs. Knowing that I helped bring their vision to life even before I met them is certainly a great way to begin any working relationship. I'm kind of a loner by nature and I enjoy working on my own, but collaborating with developers to find the right direction and approach for their game can open up new creative pathways and force me to think about things from different angles. Everyone brings their own unique perspective. A developer who just recently contacted me to work on his game has me considering instruments I've never used and musical styles that are new to me, and that is exciting!
I have a tendency to turn hobbies into professions, but so far videography is still mostly a hobby activity for me. I like capturing the beauty of nature on camera. This is slightly problematic because I'm allergic to a lot of nature and in general I'd prefer to be inside rather than outside... but in controlled doses, I have had a lot of fun filming flowers, landscapes, wildlife, bugs. I've used some of that footage in music videos for my YouTube channel. In fact I have one I've been planning to make since last spring involving some very cool macro video of insects and I never got around to editing the footage or composing the music, but I am hoping to put that together before spring is here again!
I actually have a ranked list of my favorite science fiction movies, with upwards of a hundred or so entries on it. Nerd alert. Favorite movie is Aliens, favorite filmmaker is David Lynch, favorite book is Anna Karenina, but for genre fiction... Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and favorite author is Terry Pratchett.
I actually self-published ten issues of a comic book called 'The Rabid Monkey' back in the mid 90s... but for my actual favorites: Bone by Jeff Smith, Thieves & Kings by Mark Oakley, and GrimJack by John Ostrander and various artists. I collected and read a lot of mainstream stuff back in the 90s, too (X-Men, Lobo, The Spectre), but the indies were what really caught my attention. I've been sort of distant from the scene over the last twenty years.
Tough call. Probably the 'Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back' soundtrack by John Williams... or Metallica's 'Master of Puppets.' Or 'Ys' by Joanna Newsom. Whatever mood hits on the moment I'm about to be deserted.
I'm guessing desert islands probably lack high speed internet connections, and even if they had one the latency would be awful, so PvP or primarily online games are out. Most of the games I like tend to be very story-driven, which would be unfortunately limiting if I was stranded for a few decades. I should really try some roguelikes so I'd know of a highly replayable game to take with me... one with a retro style, so it doesn't overheat the graphics card. Since I have to pick now, I'll take StarCraft 2 since it has a map editor and I could make more content for myself.
As I mentioned above, I self-published a comic book, 'The Rabid Monkey,' in the late 90s... handling the art, writing, business end, and traveling to conventions. I was hoping to make that my career, but it was a case of ill timing. The industry was going into a state of collapse at that point and hadn't yet been resurrected by the Marvel movies. Everything eventually worked out for the best.
NHL hockey, Pittsburgh Penguins. Sports are religion in Pittsburgh, so I follow all the local teams to some degree. Even the Pirates, who barely qualify as a major league organization.
I don't play any now, but when I was a kid I played little league baseball and dek hockey. I never did learn to skate, so streets and the dek were my hockey venues of choice. I was a goalie, and enjoyed painting my mask more than I really liked playing.
A big tray of pierogies, made by little old Polish ladies here in Pittsburgh. If you haven't had pieroges, and don't even know what they are, I'm sorry for your loss. Alternately, I'd bring basic sandwich fixings and scavenge what's available to indulge in some improvisational culinary artistry, as sandwiches are my specialty.
My Cursed Kingdoms Music Pack. I was able to capture the mood I wanted with it, and I think the production quality is among my best. I'm also really pleased at how it fits with the other Cursed Kingdoms packs including my backgrounds, Galefire's monsters, Dragoonwys's tileset, and Dreams Circle's animations. For a group of indepedent creators working under a shared 'brand' I think we came up with a really cool setting and all of our contributions enhance and build on each other.
That's tough because my work spans a lot of genres, and I also create both art and audio assets. So I'll say my Dragon's Den Resource Pack, since it has music, SFX, voices, hand drawn battler monsters and backgrounds, and even sprites and tiles. It's got a little bit of everything that I make in it, and if you like what you find in there, you'll probably enjoy the rest of my packs, too.
I totally added this question just so I could direct people to my Patreon.
I'd love to have anyone who enjoys my music and art join me there! It's great to have direct interaction with a lot of cool people that have similar interests to me, and I've worked with a number of my Patrons on games and movies! I hope I'll see you there!
Cliffs are something that can make a huge difference on your maps. I don’t know where you live, but if I look out of my window the landscape is far from being flat and so there are probably parts of your game’s world that could benefit from some height differences for the ground - being it some hills or high mountains.