All posts by Ron Davis

How To Evaluate Music When You Aren’t A Musician

Recently Reactuate Games got a new theme song. We think it is awesome, and it was written and produced by Jon Sheppard of Sheppard Studios.

When it comes to any art that goes into your game, there is trepidation. This is compounded when you have no skill in it yourself. This was true of game art because I don’t consider myself a 3D or 2D artist. And I can’t play a musical instrument and don’t know the language of music.

So how do I get music created for my game with the wow factor we’re looking for?

I fell back on the framework I’ve used to get 2D work like logos done in the past. I’ve hired graphic designers before and been happy with the results I got from them. But how do you do a sketch of a song?

Enter Jon Sheppard.

A friend of mine suggested I talk to his close friend about doing music for the game. So I sent him an email and asked for a demo of some of the stuff he’s done in the past.

After listening to that, I arranged a time to get on Skype together.

We talked a little about how the process would work, and I assigned to him a 30 second theme to do as a test. Doing it would tell us if we could work together and let me learn the process for creating and evaluating music.

Jon suggested we describe the feel we were looking for and to give him examples from anywhere of things we liked. Since I know no musical language, I was describing things in non-musical terms.

For example here’s what I sent Jon to describe what I wanted:


For a theme for the company, I’m thinking something rock, with guitar and some subtle undertones of 8-bit video game music. It needs to be 30 seconds or so long with shorter versions later.

I’ve created a spotify play list with some songs in it.

https: //

Here are some notes on those songs and some other related stuff:

Wanted Dead or Alive from Bon Jovi, specifically I like the guitar at the beginning and end.
This Life – the Theme to Sons of Anarchy – again the guitar at the beginning. – nice remix
Short Change Hero – The Heavy Starting about 1:20 into the track on Spotify. This is the theme on Borderlands 2.
Though it can’t take that long to get into the main theme.

Some hard rock.
A driving rhythm like Lonely Boy.
Or really pounding like Living Dead Girl.

As a subtle undertone, that 8-bit synth sound of retro video games. To give the understanding that we are a video game company.

Danger Zone from Top Gun

Hopefully that will give you somewhere to start. Let me know if you need anything else.


Jon took this craziness and turn it into a rough draft of a theme:

Version 1

Then we got together again, and I gave him feedback on exactly what parts we liked and didn’t like. We loved the guitar part at the beginning. As soon as we heard it, we were humming it all the time.

But things were rough. The 8-bit synth part was way too strong. The whole second half really seemed like it was going in multiple directions.

After that meeting, Jon went back and started smoothing things out. This is version 2.

Version 2

Now we were getting somewhere. The feedback we gave was very specific.
“The change at 11 seconds is too rough”
“The end at 20 still seems to be going off in another direction”.

Jon said he’d fix those things and get them back to us the next day. That was our final version and what you hear at the beginning of our videos now.


We also had him make short versions 15 and 10 seconds long to use as bumpers and what not.

Now were starting work on music for our trailers that will be coming out this month, and we’ve found a music guy for the game.

7 Books That Influenced Guardian

When producing any work of art as big as a video game, there are lots of influences along the way. Books, movies, TV shows. The cultural zeitgeist is always percolating in the author or game designer’s subconscious.

So I decided to take my brain out and look at which books influenced my thinking of our game, codenamed Guardian.

The Laid Series by Miller and Lee – Not as much for the colony level, but the idea of Scouts and Master Traders would be a much bigger idea in future levels of game. I particularly liked the idea that Master Traders are decided on by the other Master Traders. It would be an interesting mechanic to try and put into a game.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – I’ve already written a whole review of this book, which you can read here.

Reamde by Neil Stephenson – Fans of Stephenson may wonder why Snow Crash isn’t in here, but really our online world is very different from the Metaverse. It was the internal/external economy – and its real world implications – that influences my ideas of an online game.

The Monkeys Thought It Was All In Fun by Orson Scott Card – Really this isn’t a novel, but rather a short story. It is also probably the biggest influence because it has this idea you could build a nation in a game that could be so perfect it would have implications to real world games.

Tunnel In The Sky by Robert Heinlein. This book opens with our young main character at the earth teleportation hub watching various groups go through gates to far away colonies.  Teleportation gates used to create colonies that long predated Stargate.

Also the main character is in a colony leadership program at his school and the majority of the content of the book happens on his final assignment for that program.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins – For game play purposes, we need to have colonists that want to go to space but are kind of wimps and will run away the moment things get tough. I always think of the people of the Capital when envisioning our colonists. They have all their needs met but are kind of useless. Now remove the oppression of all the districts and you have the home world in Guardian.

There Will be Dragons by John Ringo – At the beginning of this book there is a perfect society watched over by an all-knowing computer where anything is possible.

Ready Player One, Our First Fiction Library Addition

I can’t remember the last time I purchased a paper fictional book. I’ve gone totally digital for a number of reasons that I won’t go into here, but tonight, with much help from a friendly staff member at the Abilene Books a Million, I found and purchased two copies of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One.

Ernest Cline and me at 2012 Austin Comiccon

I already own both the Kindle version and the Audible version — which is read by Wil Wheaton, who is the perfect reader for this book. Matter of fact, when I met Ernest at an Austin’s comic convention a few years ago, I didn’t have anything for him to sign. So I got a picture with him instead.

Why is this the first book added to the company fiction library? Well if you are asking that, you haven’t read the book. It’s an obvious addition and the OASIS is an obvious influence on Colony Manager. Just like how Snow Crash would be.

And why do we have a fiction library? Because of the article, “No Dickheads! A Guide to Building Happy, Healthy, and Creative Teams.” That was the first article I made my team read.

Interestingly, the things I remembered out of the article were the “wall of fame,” as I called it, where you print and post work people do in the studio, the cooking, the families, and the meetings where people can listen in. Stephanie remembered the books and the reading. She’s the word-lover in the company. I have little doubt she’ll be the first to pick up one of these codexes and read it.

If you haven’t read Ready Player One, let me include the words on the back here. It does a much better job of telling you about the book than I normally do.

         In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them.
But when Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

If you haven’t read it, go out and do so now.

My 2012 Review of Ready Player One