Snapshots from TOEM with composers Launchable Socks and Jamal Green



The TOEM: A Photo Adventure soundtrack composers describe their process of discovering a distinctive sound for the exploration-based photography game. Tom Jerbo from developer Something We Made fills us in on the making of the interactive Hike Lady feature, offering music playback control directly to the player.

By Jerry Jeriaska (The Ongaku) and Eric Bratcher

TOEM: A Photo Adventure launched in September of 2021 following a year of global travel restrictions that presented unprecedented challenges to game developers. For many players, TOEM represented the opportunity for a vicarious sightseeing tour at a time when the possibility of a real-world equivalent was withheld.

The independently developed adventure title won the 2022 BAFTA Award for Debut Game.

Pine Needles

When development began in the port town of Karlshamn in Southern Sweden, there was the kernel of an idea in the form of a walking simulator with a charming aesthetic. The protagonist travels a black-and-white landscape whimsically modeled after the devs' home.

A playable prototype emerging in 2019 piqued the interest of musician Joost Kraaijenbrink in the Netherlands. Joost publishes music as "Launchable Socks" and currently performs with a three-person band of the same name.

Launchable Socks · Pine Needles

"Man, I love what I see and how this world feels," recalled Joost, seeing the early test footage online. "The black-and-white, top-down isometric deal that TOEM mostly has was already there. I connected with [Something We Made] on Twitter and told them that I loved it."

The design team was mapping out a locale dubbed "Oaklaville," inspired by the wooden town of Eksjö, where designer Lucas Gullbo was raised. This virtual camping spot, traversed by cartoon child scouts busily surveying local fauna, inspired Joost to send in a tune he called "Pine Needles."

When asked what prompted his interest in the TOEM prototype, the musician speculates that the demo's allocation of space may have played some role. His reaction to the ambiance of Oaklaville had inspired the first draft of a song, called "Squirrel Photography," that later made it into the soundtrack, following his submission of "Pine Needles."

"The Netherlands is tiny," says Joost. "You can drive from one end to the other in four and a half hours. There are 17 million of us in a small space. I grew up in a country where, wherever you go, there are always other people around... When the sun is out, every last seat on every terrace is taken..." Oaklaville's wooded surroundings, by contrast, represented something of an imaginary reprieve from that sense of claustrophobia.


Bird's-eye view of the forested camps of Oaklaville

Not long after, Joost's SoundCloud channel began reporting a conspicuously high number of plays clustered around Karlshamn. Something We Made apparently had Launchable Socks on heavy rotation. Around the same time, a monumental discovery altered the course of TOEM's growth forever.

Lucas, working with programmer Niklas Mikkelson, had implemented a hide-and-seek sequence for one area of the Oaklaville map. The player was prompted to look through the lens of a telescope to spot the scouts concealing themselves within trees and bushes, necessitating a shift in the player's perspective.

Tom Jerbo at Something We Made relates, "[L]ucas really liked that you could see the world from a different perspective than top-down, third person. That evolved into the photo mechanic." Beta testing this added viewpoint prompted the devs to ask the question, "Why not make a game about looking at things?"


Photo of Home

TOEM's black-and-white landscapes proved a natural fit for this newfound focus on scouring the environment and capturing snapshots. The Photo Compendium feature invited the player to experiment with swapping between an overhead view of the map — reminiscent of games like Animal Crossing — and a first-person perspective from behind a lens that could pan and zoom to capture still images.

Also of use were the comic book-styled borders surrounding each object in the game environment. Previously implemented to be easy on the eyes, the outlines separated UI and non-player characters from their environments, ensuring photographed subjects were easy to spot. The "readable" and distinct visual design proved an asset in hunting down objects that might otherwise be overlooked.

The paired-down visual approach allowed the devs to experiment more quickly. "Adding colors not only takes more time but you have less time to iterate on it," Tom observes. Breaking the fourth wall, the developers hid a group photo in the majestic Oaklaville hotel.


"You Found Us" achievement unlocked

Musician Jamal Green is a professional game composer based in the United Kingdom, whose score for the Konami platformer Skelattack had received a vinyl release from a high-profile record label.

"TOEM was finding its legs, aesthetically and maybe gameplay-wise," he recollects from the preliminary footage he saw of Oaklaville, inspiring him to get in touch with the developers. "It looked similar to how it does now. I am driven by aesthetics—that's what gets me going. The black-and-white thing stood out to me, and everything shown on the Twitter feed. I just sort of went for it."

Integrating the camera gameplay breathed new life into the design of the prototype. When TOEM secured funding for its innovative implementation of the Photo Compendium, Joost and Jamal were invited to sign on as the game's soundtrack composers.



Homelanda Interlude

The co-composers' first order of business was defining a suitable tone for the soundtrack. The musicians decided on attempting one collaborative track for each region in the game, while composing solo on the remainder of the score.

"It's rounded and soft and cute," Jamal says of the TOEM aesthetic. "I think I wrote [two tracks] before I heard anything from Launchable Socks. [W]hen I was introduced to him and his music that he had written for TOEM, then I started to understand what TOEM was. I started to shift my musical style to incorporate his sound a little bit, too."

Jamal's first piece was the ambient and ethereal "Life Through A Lens." "Listening to the soundtrack, it sticks out as something that doesn't sound like the rest of the tracks," he observes. The developers determined that the most suitable spot for the epiphanic tone was near the very end of the base game, as the player approaches the titular enigmatic vista.


Nana's introduction in Homelanda

The composer followed up with "Photo of Home," serving as a thematic pairing to bookend the music score. The song begins playing as the protagonist first encounters "Nana" in their hometown of Homelanda, encouraging the player to embark on a quest to capture a snaphot of "TOEM."

Joost and Jamal began their collaborative venture with "Big City," the theme for the Logcity region. The busy metropolitan urban center obsessed with work deadlines, curious art installations, and social media posts was inspired by Sweden's bustling capital of Stockholm, where Niklas was born. While some trepidation attended exchanging drafts of music online, a process necessitated by the musicians' geographical separation, those concerns were soon put to rest.

"I sent him an idea I had for the city track and he sent his part back," Jamal says of the origins of the Logcity theme. "It ended up being a complete layering of my voice and then his style. At that point, I never worried again."


View from the distance of the bustling metropolis of Logcity

The collaborative aspect that wove together the game's score extended to the design philosophy of the dev team. "Everyone, even the audio, the music team, and the marketing team pitched in ideas," Tom relates. "We did a bunch of playtesting, everyone playing each others' quests."

When a fashion show created for Logcity called for some snappy dialog from the wardrobe designer, Niklas' girlfriend Sara stepped in. Having binge watched a reality show on Swedish television centering on fashion models, Sara had picked up the pretentious jargon, which was magnified into satirical excesses for the runway vignette.

For the audio effects, Something We Made brought on designers Viktor Eidhagen and Marcus Nilsson, fellow alumni of the Blekinge Institute of Technology. Their studio Rumsklang designed the sound effects for the woodlands rave in Oaklaville, while BIT alum Anes Sabanovic furnished the record-scratching "Ratskullz" gang theme for Logcity.

Fisherman's Tune

The beachside locale of "Stanhamn" was inspired by the developers' home base. A stand-in for Joost is sunbathing on the beach, patterned after the Launchable Socks logo of a stick figure wizard, dating back to Joost's high school doodling sessions. Of the seaside locale, Tom says, "My favorite detail is that you can bring the dog with you down underwater and he gets a little diving helmet."

Players provide Joost's wizard character with the idea for a song, prompting him to furnish a guitar and play "Fisherman's Tune," which became a staple of his band's live shows in the Netherlands. "It's such a wholesome thing, with the slow melody and the whistling," Joost says of the TOEM track.


Tom of Something We Made makes a cameo, featuring his voice acting

Whenever music is encountered in the game for the first time, both the song title and the artist's name appear on-screen. Any track becomes playable alongside standard gameplay by selecting the song title from the cassette tape icon in the menu screen. "We had to make the tracks universal," Jamal says of writing music for the Hike Lady feature. "They had to work anywhere."

Tom observes of the soundtrack's utility as a collectible, "You get to make your own soundtrack that fits your adventure. When you travel in real life you make a soundtrack that fits your mood or environment. That's the perfect thing for this game, because you're having your own chill adventure... I've watched quite a few streams where people are super excited to hear the next track."

In June of 2021, Something We Made joined the Day of the Devs livestream hosted by Double Fine. Niklas introduced the game by stating: "You play as an amateur photographer on a journey to see the magical phenomenon known as 'TOEM.'"

In the next chapter of this feature we hear about the launch of the base game and the design team's decision to embark on development of the Basto region downloadable contents.




Something We Made is a video game developer - | Twitter @SWMGames

Launchable Socks is a video game composer - | Twitter @launchablesocks | Spotify artist page:

Jamal Green is a UK-based composer for films, games and television - Spotify artist page: | | Twitter @JamalGreenMusic