Game Developer Deep Dives are an ongoing series with the goal of shedding light on specific design, art, or technical features within a video game in order to show how seemingly simple, fundamental design decisions aren’t really that simple at all.
Earlier installments cover topics such as the scientific modeling behind the irrigation and water systems of Timberborn, how the 2D art of Songs of Glimmerwick benefited from a 3D art pipeline, and how the synergy between art and audio disciplines and a solid base of real-world data formed a surprisingly faithful televised broadcast experience in F1 Manager 2022.
In this edition, audio designer of the Slime Rancher series at Monomi Park Harry Mack tells us about his approach to designing the music for Slime Rancher 2's latest update, from its tonal switch in instrumentation, to the role of interdisciplinary collaboration within the team, and even how the pandemic played a part in the resulting sound.
Slime Rancher 2 recently launched its first content update, the Song of the Sabers, introducing new slimes, biomes, and gameplay improvements. As the audio designer for the Slime Rancher series, I am excited to offer a behind-the-scenes look at how we approach sound and music at Monomi Park.
Great game audio lasts with you long after you've finished playing, reinforcing the moods and emotions of the game.
I grew up with video game music and sounds stuck in my head, from the great melodies of Secret of Mana, Chrono Trigger, and Final Fantasy, to simple and fun sound effects of Super Mario Bros. They changed my life; I was hooked. Game audio really plays a vital role in game design, enhancing the overall experience of the game.
Evolution of Music from Slime Rancher 1 to Slime Rancher 2
In Slime Rancher 1, the music matched more the character than the environment or gameplay. The songs needed to be romantic, upbeat, cheerful, adventurous, and even a little French, to reflect the personality of our heroine, Beatrix LeBeau. For Slime Rancher 2, we wanted to shift gears and get away from what we had already done and improve not just the quality but the quantity of music.
The first thing we changed was what we wanted the music to say and reinforce. Instead of focusing on Beatrix, we're focusing on the excitement and mystery awaiting in this strange new land called Rainbow Island. It was hard to let go of our trusty, French-y accordion, but now we fully embrace our tried-and-true melodic percussions of marimbas, vibraphones, and of course, the piano, which are featured in every track. Each zone has a unique instrument palette distinguishing it from one another while keeping to the overall theme of mystery, exploration, wonderment, and adventure—all things you'll find aplenty in Slime Rancher 2.
Slime Rancher 1's music had a bit of a French country vibe to it accompanying Beatrix at her ranch. However, for Slime Rancher 2, it was important to capture the beauty and mystery of the new environments. For example, Rainbow Fields, our first zone right out of the gate, is our opportunity to showcase the absolute wonder of Rainbow Island. We wanted to capture the majesty of the landscape with the music and create a sense of awe and amazement. A blend of marimbas, vibraphones, piano, guitars, and strings compose at times an exciting backdrop as well as a soft, dreamy, and uplifting sound.
There's also a notably larger amount of music for the sequel to Slime Rancher. It's uncommon for early access indie games to have such bountiful music, but we wanted to ensure that players could comfortably spend lots of time enjoying the new environments. While over three hours of original music is a significant amount, music plays a vital role reinforcing game design, and it's important that players have a fully immersive and enjoyable experience playing Slime Rancher 2.
Creating the Snow Wonderland Theme
Slime Rancher 2's latest content update, Song of the Sabers, takes place in a wintery wonderland complete with blizzards, magical auroras, and fearsome saber slimes. The use of chimes and sleigh bell shakers adds to the festive atmosphere of the area, and a variation of the leitmotif found in Slime Rancher 1's The Wilds ties the soundtrack together.
One of the unique aspects of the update is the inclusion of a Snowglobe gadget and its implications for future gadgets. After finding, building, and interacting with this gadget, the music within comes to life and takes over the soundtrack. While we employ the use of dynamic music, where music adjusts to fit the environment or the action such as when Tarr attack, the Snowglobe offers us a new tool to modify the music. Now, with the touch of a button, players can change and control a zone's theme song. If this becomes a popular element, I can see a lot of opportunities for similar features in further updates.
In addition to the dynamic music, environmental sound effects play a significant role in reinforcing the Snow Wonderland theme. The crunching of snow underfoot, the howling of chilly wind, and the shimmering magic of aurora trees all help to immerse players in this new land.
Composing During a Pandemic
The soundtrack for Slime Rancher 2 at the launch of Early Access runs over three hours, which is already more than all the music from Slime Rancher 1. Each major area in Slime Rancher 2 has six tracks: three for day and three for night. During each day/night cycle, there is an active theme paired with a more relaxed theme, and new for Slime Rancher 2, an additional ambient theme. This gives players ample breathing room to enjoy the beautiful environments.
One of the reasons for the massive length of the soundtrack is that it was composed entirely during the pandemic. With more time stuck at home, I found an easy outlet through composing. While I believe the overall vibe of the soundtrack is cheerful, some players have reported feeling a bit gloomy after listening for too long. This could be due to the tonal shift from the whimsy of Slime Rancher 1, but it is more likely due to the removal of that pesky accordion, and nothing to do with composing through a global catastrophe.
I've noticed that for some game studios, audio is often not given the priority it deserves. Sound and music are an afterthought, something to add as a last step. However, I'm fortunate to work at Monomi Park where this is absolutely not the case. Whereas other studios might ask me to simply "take care of the audio," without any input or collaboration on how it fits into the overall vision of the game, at Monomi Park, things are different. Instead of just taking a stab at what I think might work, I am involved in the process from the beginning. We have frequent meetings where we discuss the overall goals of the game and how music and sound can reinforce them. This approach ensures that the audio matches the intent of the creators and their internal playlists and ideas that shaped the game's design.
Communication and collaboration are integral to our game development process, and not just when discussing music goals. Slime Rancher has loads of gadgets and gizmos that players can build and interact with, each sporting unique sounds to match their animations. I love chatting with the artists and designers to get a sense of what they envision for these, ensuring that what I create matches what they hoped to hear.
Rather than just walking away after a brief chat and coming back with a full track or sound effect, I prefer to do touchpoints to ensure we're on the right path and that everyone is happy with the progress. This is a fully collaborative process, and I believe it leads to better audio and a more cohesive gameplay experience. By working across disciplines, we can create a game where everyone gets to contribute positively to the betterment of audio and the game in whole.
That's really the secret behind everything here at Monomi Park. Slime Rancher is made by a team of people who love what they do, and love working together to make something that brings joy and excitement to so many people. This powers our desire to keep making new slimes, exquisitely beautiful landscapes, new treasures to discover and secrets to uncover. And hopefully, some nice sound and music woven directly into the fabric that makes Slime Rancher such a success.