TWTW – Metal Neon

Metal Neon's icon. It's a purple sillouette of Oregon with the Smash Bros. symbol and the words METAL NEON on it, with a synthwave background.

The music of Scoot Hard DX is definitely something people like. The man behind the music is a very interesting dude, and has integrated well with Waffle Iron Studios, and has become one of my best friends. I sat down with Metal to ask about his experiences, not just at Waffle Iron Studios, but in other aspects of life.

Sanya: Okay, first off, I gotta ask – how does a guy like you end up working on something as crazy as Scoot Hard DX?

Metal: That’s a story in two parts. The first part was me becoming aware of Scoot Hard DX. I was talking with my friend Rod (the composer for Daytime Drama), and streaming a shitty Doom Wad to him, and he told me “I’m working on doom wad too”. I was curious, so I asked if I could try it. When I played it I had a hard time not being embarrassed at what I was playing, but I also pointed out some gameplay flaws at the time, like the weapons looking identical. Rod thought what I had to say was interesting, so he put me on the team initially as a playtester. After a while I had a random bit of creative inspiration for the boss theme for Doctor Atmosphere. I made it, and the team was impressed with what I did that they wanted me to do some of the music. After Rod ended up leaving the dev team for personal reasons, I was basically the full-time composer for Waffle Iron Studios.

Sanya: What have people’s reactions been when you tell them you worked on a game like that?

Metal: The reactions people have are always in this exact order: 1) Either cringing or laughing out loud hysterically. 2) Looking at the gameplay and saying it looks interesting. 3) Saying the music is really good. They’ve been interesting to say the least.

Sanya: We’ll get back to Scoot Hard DX and Project Absentia in a bit… But first, tell us a bit about yourself.

Metal: First and foremost I am a nerd at heart. I am passionate about video games, synthesisers,  computer hardware, and a bunch more. I used to be super involved with the Project M Smash scene, but due to the pandemic I haven’t had a lot to do with it. I always try to push myself into new and unfamiliar projects in an effort to better my skills, so I can become a one-man wrecking crew. In all seriousness I’m one who believes that a person is a culmination of the deeds they do, and thus I look to do those said deeds.

Sanya: What’s life like in Oregon?

Metal: It’s pretty good, assuming you aren’t talking about the state’s response to the pandemic. The landscapes are beautiful, both the pacific northwest, and the high desert to the east. The only hugely negative thing I can say about this state is how we’ve handled the pandemic, which has negatively impacted the mental health of a lot of friends around me. At least we have no sales tax I guess? If anyone is considering moving to Oregon (if pandemic restrictions ever lessen over here), then I’d advise moving to a place like Bend.

Sanya: Have you been musically inclined all your life, or did it take time to develop?

Metal: When I first started out in Middle-School Orchestra, I found out I had perfect pitch. Perfect pitch is a good thing to have when you’re composing music and trying to tune your own instruments, but it’s a horrible thing to have in a Middle-School orchestra, where off-pitch notes was the equivalent to nails on a chalkboard. In High-School I took an absence from music, mostly because the band teacher disliked me initially (we later were cool with one another, but that’s a story for another time). That interest was gone until 2019, when I decided to study music in College, as I want to become a sound engineer for video games. While sound-design is a still that I am still learning, I do think music comes naturally to me.

Sanya: Who’s your favorite composer – doesn’t have to be a video game composer.

Metal: For video game composers, In no order I’d say Alexander Brandon, David Wise, and Marty-O’Donnell. For “Traditional” composers, I like Enya a lot, and Beethoven is a classic.

Sanya: Who do you draw influence from for your music?

Metal: Definitely Alexander Brandon the most. Am a huge fan of his works, and it’s really encouraging when I get comments about my music thinking it’s just music from Unreal.

Sanya: I know personally it’s been rough the past year, with not only the pandemic, but with my mental health crisis at the beginning of the year. What’s your advice for people who are going through stresses like that?

Metal: Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. As a wise man once said “No matter who you are and how smart you are, there is always someone else who is smarter. Which in my case is good, because I need some help.” My one other piece of advice I can give regarding this is to not put your mental health on the backburner, because it will not end well when it catches up to you.

Sanya: We try to have a less corporate, more co-op oriented structure at Waffle Iron Studios. Do you think that’s a better way to do things, and if so, why?

Metal: I can’t say how it compares to corporate environments as I haven’t worked in one personally, but I can say that it does seem to work well for what we’re doing at such a small scale. It remains to be seen how well it will scale if and when more people are added to the team, but for what we have it works.

Sanya: Back to Scoot Hard DX for a bit – before you came into the picture, Scoot Hard DX was struggling, admittedly. It didn’t do very well feedback wise on the ZDoom Forums, probably due to the pony content. What drove you to give feedback on this?

Metal: Mostly it was two things. Firstly was because my friend Rod wanted me to give you guys the feedback that I gave, since I’d like to consider myself at least somewhat familiar with boomer shooters. Secondly was because I saw the potential in this project, as it had some areas with solid level design for the most part, and I felt it needed just a little push to really start to become good.

An Enforcer from Scoot Hard DX. A purple unicorn with dark purple armor and a visor and a red hard light shield.
The Enforcer was Metal’s first enemy.

Sanya: You were brought on initially as a playtester, but now you’re a composer, and a jack of all trades. Tell us what you do aside from music!

I make and implement the game’s Voxels and 3D models. I do some sound design and mixing. I also do level design for some of the levels, as well as coming up with dickish enemy designs.

Metal sitting at a computer desk with the words PC GAMERS in block text in the front and center
A still from a video Metal made long, long ago. Now an in-joke at Waffle Iron Studios due to the ironic cringe factor.

Sanya: What do you use for music? Tell us about your process.

For my DAW I use Reaper, as it’s extremely easy to use, very inexpensive, and platform agnostic. So yes, you can run it on a raspberry pi. As far as synths go I tend to go for synthesizers that sound “retro”, with a mixture of Software VSTs and hardware synths. My favorite software synths are synths like Dexed and the Korg M1 VST, and my favorite hardware synths are the Behringer TD-3, the Korg Minilogue XD, the Roland Sound Canvas (SC55mkII), and the Roland JV-2080. My process for making music usually stems from getting a visualisation of a location, say a mine for instance, and trying to come up with what that location and mood would sound like. I also like applying reverb, probably too much for my own good, but fuck it LOL. Mostly I want the music I make to sound like it could actually come from some game in the 90s, and given the comments comparing some of my tracks to Unreal, it seems to have worked.

Sanya: You have a tendency to find out new features of GZDoom not even I knew of. And sometimes it can be a bit overwhelming… but in the end, the payoff is great to have the game even more polished. What’s it feel like being able to help out like that?

Metal: It’s always interesting how some features work in GZDoom. For instance, me learning how to implement 3D models in GZDoom was something I learned as a form of optimizing how Voxels are rendered. I like pushing myself and my understanding of something more and more.

Sanya: I want to say for the record, some corporations often punish people who go beyond their expected duties. We don’t do that – you obviously are a very self-reliant person, but you also know when to ask for help… and that’s, in my opinion, a very awesome skill to have.

Why thank you. I try to act how I’d like others to act.

Sanya: What was the most frustrating aspect of Scoot Hard DX to work on?

Metal: In regards to things I directly worked on, It was definitely mixing and mastering the sound-effects. As I stated before, sound-engineering is something that I’m still working on, and trying to adjust the levels of the sound so they sound correct ingame can be a pain in the ass.

Sanya: What was the most rewarding aspect of Scoot Hard DX to work on?

Metal: Seeing all the pieces of the puzzle come together to create the experience that we now have with Scoot Hard DX, and knowing that my work paid off in the end.

Sanya: Scoot Hard DX‘s cult following got us thinking about going commercial. How do you feel about Project Absentia becoming that?

Metal: I think Scoot Hard DX going commercial was inevitable. Even before Project Absentia was a thing, we talked about turning Scoot Hard DX into a commercial project if Hasbro ever C&Ded us. I am for it, and am excited for what it can bring.

Sanya: I don’t mean for this to be wordy… but here we go. Scoot Hard DX/Project Absentia has LGBTQ+ themes, but often shows LGBTQ+ characters in shades of grey, rather than what I’d call… “precious smol been uwu”. I feel when I write stuff, it’s more natural and honest to show LGBTQ+ people can be good, bad or downright ugly. I’ve seen some people argue this is bad representation because it shows LGBTQ+ characters as bad. I don’t agree with them, as they’re not bad because they’re part of the alphabet. What do you think about that?

Metal: I think you did a good job with the writing on that front. I’m one who believes that the only way that LGBTQ+ people will be accepted in society is for them to be normalized. IMO this style of writing honestly doesn’t focus too much on those aspects, only making it a passing note to who the characters are, which I think is a good thing overall.

Sanya: You voice many of the characters… a femboy nazi grunt, a brainwashed armored motherfucker, robotic dogs, and an energized wasp with hard light wings… that’s quite a repertoire. What’s it like voicing characters?

Metal: It’s interesting, and sometimes hilarious. When I told a friend that I voiced a dog in a video game and showed them, they couldn’t stop laughing.

One of the Pegapol/Orkanpol spotting the player lines

Sanya: Your voice is even the basis for some of the sounds in the game. I forget which ones though.

Metal: The wind sound that’s used in game, and the plasma rifle shots.

The plasma firing sound from Project Absentia

Sanya: Scoot Hard DX/Project Absentia has more of a focus on a story than the shooters that inspired it. In fact, for a Boomer Shooter, it’s becoming more complex. How important is a story to you?

Metal: The story is the means to drive the gameplay, and the gameplay also drives itself. It’s like adding spices and herbs to pasta sauce. It’s not at all needed, but it helps a lot.

Sanya: For me, lore is important – but minutiae is not. Some people insist upon obsessing over oddly specific details of the game’s story, mechanics and design to the absolute nanounit. Where do you draw the line on what’s important and what is not?

Metal: What’s not important is pointless shit that will not ever appear in the game itself. Stuff like how long it takes for an Orkanpol to take a shit. It’s not important, and you’re weird for obsessing over it.

Sanya: When working on a team like this, it’s important to get along with people. However, some people can be very belligerent. Name some of the challenges and how you overcome those challenges.

Metal: I just stuck to my principles, and used my experiences as a TO for my local Project M scene to guide my decision making process, while doing my best to treat those people with respect.

Sanya: Do you have any hobbies? If so, tell us.

Metal: As stated earlier I am very much into Video Games, Retro-Electronics, Synthesizers, and CRTs of all damn things. I used to be big into the Project M Scene, but have taken a step back since the pandemic. One of my biggest hobbies is creating shit, whether it’s developing Project Absentia, making a fight stick from a box I found at goodwill, or doing reviews of FPS games for my youtube channel. Some of them have been negatively impacted either directly or indirectly by the pandemic, and I have no idea if or when they will recover, but I do my best to be thankful for what I have and what I have done.

Sanya: Waffle Iron Studios has a tendency to have a ton of in-jokes. What’s your favorite in-joke?

Metal: I like Arnok, he makes me happy.

Sanya: The Motherload of In The Keep described us as “very Egalitarian”. For those reading this, this means “everyone is on equal footing”. I agree with him on that, as I strive to make sure everyone at WIS is on equal footing. What do you think of that goal?

Metal: I am very much for Egalitarianism myself. How much respect you have should be determined by how much you put in, as it helps encourage others to do work in a non-forced way.

Sanya: One of your jobs at WIS is being one of the community managers, as well as the Twitter PR guy in essence. What’s it like being the voice of WIS?

Metal: Interesting. Haven’t dealt with much negative stuff yet being a PR manager, but maybe I’ll be put to the test if we ever get canceled or something LOL.

Sanya: For WIS, keeping our creative vision is important. So is retaining the rights to the characters we make. Those are things we want from potential publishers. What are other things you want?

Metal: My big thing is that I have complete ownership of the music that I produce, and that I’m simply allowing the publisher/developer to use the music in their game. To my understanding this is a common practice with indie games, but less so with AAA stuff.

Sanya: I know we’ve had our differences, but I want to state publicly that I appreciate all that you’ve done, not just for the team, but being my best friend through one of the hardest times in my life. Thank you for all that.

Metal: You’re welcome, I do what I’d like others to do for me.

Sanya: Any last things you want to talk about?

Metal: Working at Waffle Iron Studios has changed my life and opened up new opportunities that I would have never expected to have beforehand. Thank you for this opportunity.

Thanks to Metal Neon for doing this interview! You can follow Metal Neon on Twitter, buy a lossless version of the SHDX soundtrack, or check out his YouTube channel.

… only purple was added.