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Mechanics of Sound Design Panel @ Indiecade my notes

My notes from a talk given by Dren McDonald (Skulls of the Shogun), Ben Prunty (FTL), Michael Molanari (Soundodger), Austin Wintory (Journey) on the Mechanics of Sound Design in video games.

Travis Irby

October 6, 2013

3 Min Read

Speakers: Dren McDonald (Skulls of the Shogun), Ben Prunty (FTL), Michael Molanari (Soundodger), Austin Wintory (Journey)

Dren McDonald -

  • Recommends new book Game Audio Culture by Rob Bridgett.

  • Sound is starting to be, and needs to be, a key part of a game's design from the very beginning.

  • Example: R2d2's sounds were designed before the movie was written. The sounds convinced Lucas that R2D2 could have an emotional range leading to a much larger, more important role.

  • Player immersion through great audio such as - Bastion, Left 4 Dead, Rez, Bioshock Infinite, Angry Birds

  • Even limited platforms can join the party! Facebook games like Ravenskye City. Sounds expand as you explore, all in the same key and palette. Also uses a metronome system. Created a deeper sense of npcs through professional voice acting.

  • A game needs to have an audio vision, controlled by one person, for the entire game.


Michael Molanari -

  • Showed off Soundodger. Looks great.

  • Gave all the musicians the creative freedom to make something they wanted to make. Got great results.

  • Approaches music early, sound effects much later.


Ben Prunty -

  • In FTL Ben wanted separate Explorer music and Battle Music ala JRPGs thinking it would be easiest. Eventually they settled on dynamic music that blends between the two stages. Both using the same track.

  • Your plans for music mean nothing until it is implemented.

  • Don't make the mistake as a dev of falling in love with the placeholder music. Be open to change.

  • For FTL he wanted to avoid the common indie type 8 bit music. Wanted  more acoustic, mechanical sounds.

  • Learned that sound effects should be simple. Detailed effects get drowned out by the music anyway.

  • Morrowind - great music, but poorly implemented. Epic battle music right from the get go, say while facing off with a mudcrab. Try to let the music build up in intensity as the game goes deeper.


Austin Wintory -

  • Involved in the development of Journey from the very beginning 4 years ago.

  • Jenova Chen (designer of Journey, Cloud, Flow, Flower) started these games with an idea of how he wanted the players to feel, their emotional state. Game mechanics came later.

  • For Journey, Austin wrote the theme Nascent Requiem day one to inspire the team.

  • Huge number of instances where design and music were created simultaneously.

  • The designers would listen to loops while creating the levels.

  • Often he would rewrite music after being inspired by the great gameplay. Likewise devs would often redesign levels after being inspired by the music. This went back and forth for years. Only stopped when Sony said: release the game!

  • He was treated as an equal among the game designers.

  • Wanted to feel like the music was unspooling with the player.

  • Played the game daily for 3 years. Insists there is no way anyone has logged more hours into Journey than him.

  • In journey, the music is the narrator. Not the case in every game, but works well here.


Q&A - How much content do you desire from a game dev when working with them?

  • As much as you possibly can. Setup a dropbox and dump piles and piles of content in it. Concepts, stories, childhood memories, anythingg. Never know what will be the spark for them.

  • Very much preferable to give them a playable build if you are at that point in development.

  • A few songs you like and specifically what you like about them.

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