Hello there, cats and dogs.
Every week we will be sharing a little audio news about what goes on behind the scenes of the audio department at Antagonist. Dan, head of audio stuff, splits his time between his studio where he writes and mixes music, the office where he sits to edit and develop the design of the audio, and various locations around and about where he records environment sounds, wildlife, ambience, etc.
This week’s audio news:
Howdy-ho, boys! Howdy ho!
So, this week’s audio news post is actually a kind of post mortem of the audio I made for last week’s Norwegian Championship in Gameplay. The competition is a ten-day, government-sponsored gamejam, each year with a theme, which this year was ‘Resistance’. As I mentioned in last week’s audio news blog, our game, Ohminus, is a game about electrical resistance.
You play as a sparky little electron and have to release other electrons which are trapped by resistance capacitors and lead them around a bunch of circuit boards, avoiding increasingly awkwardly placed traps and enemies.
I was tearing it up in Copenhagen for the first three days of the gamejam so was not really involved in the creation of the game, story or mechanics at all. I like to be involved in all kinds of stuff the team do as I sometimes have thoughts of my own to contribute, but mostly because being involved from the very beginning means I fully understand what is going on and I begin to hear the kind of music I think will be needed early in the development process.
This is great for all kinds of iterative reasons. I can usually make a couple of tracks I think will work early in the prototype stage and have them rejected. This is incredibly useful as you begin to learn what the team wants and it gives you time to create something great before deadlines start to get tight. Plus, pretty much universally, in my experience, people really don’t know what they want until they know what they don’t want. This is a lesson I have learned the hard way over many years of writing custom music, privately, for television and a couple of games.
In my last audio news blog, I mentioned I was going to be using Tesla coil samples for the lead riffs of the tracks. As it turned out this just didn’t work. I actually made over 100 sound effects for the game in the two-and-a-half days before the final build was compiled, which were all different but at the same time, of a similar ilk. They were all electricity sounds, from plug sparks to soldering irons, to synthesised sparks using keyboard trickery. With so much sparking going on, the Tesla coil sound I had been looking forwards to using so much simply didn’t work. There was no space for it in the mix, it all got very confusing. Was that the music or as that our little electron friend running into a wall?
So I had to use much softer sounds for the final tracks. And there was another great lesson; be prepared to create something you love and totally change it if it isn’t right for the game.
Finally, the tracks themselves. As I said above, I was not in on any of the design process of the game and really didn’t know what it was all about. When I returned from Copenhagem I went straight from the plane to the office to check it out but was so exhausted (and drunk) that I didn’t really take in what the game was about very well. I got the feeling it was a mad, frantic rush to get around a course without hitting the bad guys who would steal all your electron friends.
Actually, the game is a little slower, and you must use patience if you don’t want to return to the start of each circuit board all the time to pick up your lost electrons. So the first day back, I recorded a really fast paced, crazy synth track that I started to write on the way home from Denmark. Before I even sent it I played an early build and realised it was just too much. That afternoon I wrote a second track that ended up being a little too chilled out. By this point I had spent about nine hours writing and recording, neither track was really what the guys wanted and I felt I could sense a little disappointment. Plus, it’s a lot of time to spend on something no one is happy with.
Without a build it was very difficult to get the pace right, but you really can’t get finished builds of stuff during a gamejam, you just need great communication on all fronts. And that’s where I failed during this gamejam. I really needed to get to the bottom of what the guys really wanted and what the game was about. Are we heroes, are we epic, are we fast moving, etc. What I did was took one look at an unfinished build and figured out what I thought would be the direction it was going in, and I was wrong.
But even at that point, it’s just one great lesson after another. Be prepared to scrap everything if it’s not right. Listen more, ask questions, communication is paramount! It uses a little time but in the end I would have saved many hours of my life for other things, and the guys working in the office may have been more inspired hearing their perfect in-game soundtrack.
Ok, that’s it from me for this week. As always, any questions can be mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or you can leave a comment below. I also finally added a couple of the tracks I wrote for this gamejam to my Trackwriters SoundCloud page.
Check back here next week for some more audio news. Until then, have a great week!