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GDC 2012: Bastion's audio success came from a closet

Darren Korb, composer on Supergiant's award-winning Bastion, explained to a GDC audience how he recorded the narration and created the acclaimed music that set the tone for the game, in his closet.
Bastion developer Supergiant Games might have released a game under a big publisher -- and have a name that implies hugeness -- but the studio is made up of only a handful of people. Darren Korb, composer on the Warner-published downloadable role-playing game (which was a multiple award winner at the Game Developers Choice awards this week), told GDC attendees how he did a lot with very little. Korb wasn't a game composer, rather he was just a typical musician. He was friends with co-founder Amir Rao since they were kids, and when Rao asked him to be part of the project, he happily agreed. It was Korb and his music that really set the tone for the overall game. "I actually took those ideas of gritty frontier fantasy, and made sound effects to reflect that tone. ... Before there was any art in the game, there was music." Levels were even designed around music, he said. Korb did everything in a makeshift studio, remotely from his apartment in New York while the rest of the team was in the Bay Area. "I had to pretend that budget wasn't a big factor, when it was," he said. This was reflected in his use of plugins instead of outboard gear, drum samples instead of real drums, and a closet in his apartment instead of a professional booth. Not only was Korb in charge of music, but he also directed the player-reactive narrator, voiced by Logan Cunningham, who perfected 3,000 lines of Bastion narration in Korb's closet. "We were willing to spend a lot of time, and I think that was able to overcome our lo-fi setup," Korb said. Korb showed a clip of Cunningham working on the one line, "Well, he somehow makes it back in one piece" about 15 times, or about two minutes. Multiply that by 3,000, and you get a picture of how much time was put into the closet-dwelling voiceover. "We did it until it was just exactly what we were looking for," he said. There were also sound effects that Korb had to create -- many of those effects came from Korb making amusing noises with his mouth...in his closet. Overall, Korb said Bastion's audio was a success because he got involved early with the game's development, so the sound ended up feeling natural. He said he played to his strengths and used his limited resources as guidelines. And perhaps most importantly, he said, "I worked super hard, alone, in my apartment. ... I loved the work that I was doing. ... It's not bad for recording in my closet."

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