Step into Rosales’ imaginative realities: a hued world of dreams and mysteries


Photo by Stephane Cheng

Emily Cao, Staff Writer

A jumble of seemingly disconnected words, chord progressions and shapes all seem to find refuge in the stories, soundtracks and animations of junior Joe Eddy Rosales’ newest project. From composing music to devising plotlines, Rosales’ creative breadth is what makes his self-produced, black-and-white video game film so colorful. 

“NOIR” unites Rosales’ various creative endeavors, including coding, art, music and writing. The game, produced on Unreal Engine, is a murder mystery that adopts the high-contrast, cryptic style of film noir — inspired by the video games and cartoons from his childhood. 

“The concept of Mario Brothers is very interesting to me because not every game is the same. It’s always something new. When you don’t expect it, Nintendo throws out a whole new, crazy idea to the game,” Rosales said. “Some places [in Noir] leave you with information missing.” 

Rosales compiles ideas for the game on a Google Doc, abound with character profiles and alternate endings for its branching narrative structure. The main storyline follows Jack, who “must navigate the city’s seedy underbelly” and “use his wits, his skills and his contacts to gather evidence, solve puzzles and find clues.” 

“I take random ideas, whether it comes from shower thoughts or laying in bed. [With] whatever idea came to mind, I would just play the fictional story in my head and write down little points in my book,” Rosales said. 

Yet, Rosales prefers to visualize his ideas. Inspired by comic animations such as “Draw My Life” videos popular on YouTube in 2015, he’s been drawing on Adobe Animate since the beginning of last year. 

“Sometimes [my ideas] don’t come in the form of words but in art. So I would draw little scenes of what could happen — ‘what if’ stories,” Rosales said. “I don’t go for a specific aspect. Drawing nature, little story ideas that come into mind, sometimes I get ideas from dreams. I have had a lot of time to expand my creativity when I was younger. Now that I have this drawing talent, I can visualize it.”

In his elementary school years, Rosales recalls sitting out during recess for being unable to meet his Accelerated Reader (AR) goals. There, he found solace in creating.

“When I was younger, I did not spend time on the playground. I was disciplined on the fence. It was pretty sad. From there, instead of reading for my AR goal, I would think about random things,” Rosales said. “I usually put a folder right in my book. I brought little note cards, and I would just write random, playful stories and some sketches.”

The creative fuel that energized Rosales was the furthest thing from discipline, however. Lasting impressions of the playground as an observer spur his fascination with liminal spaces, a surrealistic aesthetic woven throughout NOIR. 

“[Liminal spaces] remind you heavily of nostalgic childhood, whether it be a lonely tree or a warm lamp in the snow or a grass field of flowers,” Rosales said. “It brings me back to my childhood. I didn’t really get to play, so I just got to watch an empty playground, kids playing or just the ambience of children running around, screaming, yelling, clapping.”

Sound underpins atmosphere, Rosales has found. To make the background music for NOIR, Rosales blends sound fonts or recordings of instruments played in movies, cartoons and video games; he gravitates towards sounds from indie games such as “Undertale” and “Bendy and the Ink Machine.” 

“I would take some songs and just study how the piano, the strings, the drums were made, and I just kept doing that and kept studying other music until I fell in love. I’d say August of last year [is when] I started getting the hang of it,” Rosales said.

Rosales began composing music as a quarantine side hobby with guidance from his cousin, Felix. Typically starting with a basic four-chord progression, he makes dubstep, electronic dance music, Latino Flamenta and Reggaeton using FL Studio, a music production software. He plans to include his own renditions of waltz genres containing brass pianos, strings and light drums in NOIR.

“It’s like being in a band but you control every instrument,” Rosales said. “You can loop your progression and once you have a solid one, you can start adding your melodies. After a melody, you can add a lead. To spice things up, you could add your own drums. Drums are really what define music genres.”

Like any artist, Rosales experiences occasional creativity blocks. But he’s discovered that it’s patience, not resistance, that helps him revert to a flow state. 

“You can’t overcome them — you just exist with them. I go outside to hang out with some friends, I do new stuff like eating somewhere new, going somewhere new, shopping and finding new clothes for myself,” Rosales said. “It’s like a hit on the refresh button.”

Though the completion of NOIR is tentative, he’ll continue to work on NOIR in the foreseeable future. 

“I always try to aim for the best. I don’t like to implement rushed, lousy or low effort type of stuff. I aim for that high score and once it’s done, I leave it at that and don’t touch it. I don’t want to ruin it,” Rosales said. “It’s kind of like a painting you would do as a child: you think it’s good, to others it might not, but it satisfies you.”

Rosales aspires to pursue music composition and art as a career — and if not, nursing. 

“Why have creativity if I’m not gonna do anything with it?” Rosales said. “After quarantine, I’ve gotten this potential energy that I have not used throughout the year. After we’ve all come back to school, I’ve decided to just expand. I just wanted to let go of my ideas, take it somewhere, whatever happens. And so far, it’s been going good!”