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Limbo sound design: Ambiguity is the key to atmosphere

Limbo audio director Martin Stig Andersen tells Gamasutra that he avoided using music that would "manipulate" the player and instead aimed for sounds with less "identity."
In video games, sound is often used as a vehicle for a game's developers to project their own interpretation of their game onto players. But Limbo audio director Martin Stig Andersen tells Gamasutra in a new feature interview that he avoided using music that would "manipulate" the player and instead aimed for sounds with less "identity." "The more identity the sounds had, the more I would distort them," says Andersen, who created the soundtrack for the popular indie title. "So I wouldn't include sounds that gave too strong associations. If we added something that had a strong identity like a voice or an animal, then it would almost destroy the atmosphere. So with that style, Limbo offered an audio and visual atmosphere that can really get into the player's mind, and make them feel scared, worried or on edge." In fact, says Andersen, he and game director Arnt Jensen feel that "everything should be open to interpretation", and that's what drove the audio aesthetic of the game. "We rarely like music as an instrument to manipulate the emotions of the player, or manipulate anything really. We both feel that everything should be open to interpretation, and people should be allowed to project their own feelings and emotions into the experience," says Andersen. "When you allow for that space, and at the same time create something that's captivating and immerses the player, it lets them let go of those feelings and emotions. So if they're scared it will probably make them more scared when there's no music to take them by the hand and tell them how to feel." The full feature, which includes more from Andersen as well as interviews with Dead Space 2 sound design lead J White and iOS title One Single Life's Thom Kellar, is live now on Gamasutra.

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