Rise & Shine is defined as ‘a true "think and gun" that combines elements of arcade shooters, bullet hells and puzzle platformers to create a new blend of strategy and viscera.’ If this is the first time you know about Rise & Shine you will immediately notice its strong visuals with a hugely wide palette of colours and the ‘aroma’ to old school 2D side-scroller games art style.
I remember two of the main audio premises Kike (Enrique Corts, game designer and artist) gave me: “The music should not be too much evident and Shine’s (gun) fire sound should be the most important feedback for the player”. Other than this I had a “blank check”, complete freedom to choose the music and sound style and take any needed audio creative decisions.
Along with the artistic side of the work, there were some technical requirements to take into account, as I was supposed to be the one in charge to implement all the audio effects and make them work within the engine. The game was developed in Unity 3D, using Hutong Games’ playMaker (visual scripting tool) and Darktonic’s Master Audio as the audio tool to provide pre-scripted sound functionalities to the native Unity audio engine. So, during the two years I was working on the project, my usual workflow was : Compose / Sound design in Cubase > Bounce audio assets into Unity > Configure audio objects in Master Audio > Place triggers and audio behaviours in playMaker > Play and test raised to infinity.
Risks and benefits of a one-man audio project.
As most of the readers of this post-mortem would know, the indie development scene is full of one person departments, and although it’s quite common for lots of small/medium projects to have more than one person on coding or art, you will find a huge amount of games where the audio work was entirely done by just an individual. I have worked on both ‘totally alone to face the danger’ games and team projects, and so far, I’ve discovered that for this kind of development processes, the final results and aesthetics of the whole audio thing had been generally ‘better’ when I was the one-man team making decisions.
There are lots of well-known examples of games made by one audio person that have achieved the highest industry recognition, such as the multi awarded Martin Stig Andersen’s work on Limbo or Jim Guthrie’s Sword & Sworcery, among others. I don’t mean my work could be compared with those two game audio masters, but I am confident that part of their success was making music, sound and integration thinking about it as one single cohesive thing.
In ‘Rise & Shine’ this made me feel more comfortable not only in the above mentioned style and technical side of things, but in the whole game mix and general sound perception I wanted to bring to players. When you get some expertise in the awesome art of game audio, you start realizing that all the work making the best possible music and the most stunning sound effects is completely worthless if all audio elements get messed up without any dynamic mix or volume prioritization. And the decisions you should make to achieve this, usually require to turn down to the lowest possible volume a sound you just spent hours working on or adjusting all the music into a more ‘background level”, less intrusive type of sound.
There were some painful decisions during Rise & Shine’s development that actually forced me to forget about the “artistic ego” some creators have.
On the sound design side.
As you may have already realized, Rise & Shine is full of shooting and sci-fi sounding elements, included but not limited to, robotic enemies, weapons, explosions … One of the main mechanics, solving puzzles, is also related to shoot targets and make things move after shooting them, so the general environment audio are weapons firing and explosions everywhere.
A “background war”.
One of the first audio challenges in the project was setting the mood of the background war surrounding the main characters along their journey in almost all the outdoor scenarios. After testing that the background particles system would allow me to sync seamlessly without no major coding needs all the bullet burst, explosions and flare effects occurring in “Gamearth”, I designed a wide set of weapon strafes and different explosion sizes, all of them gently processed with a large convolution reverb and low-pass filters that are played randomly along with the visuals. The team and me quickly agreed that the results were highly satisfying and this is how everything came together.
How does a comic book sound?
Although part of the Rise and Shine’s story happens underneath the gameplay, there are some moments in which it takes center stage in the form of static comic-book like vignettes. The sound approach to this was basically the same as when you read a comic-book. In the first look, you process the visual information and then you start reading the text, and I wanted to do the same with audio. When you advance to a new vignette there is a brief sound ambientation that gently describes the scene and all things happening, usually in form of little steps if the characters are moving or a little sci-fi engine whoosh sound effect if a spaceship is on screen, along with little voice expressions for the characters and their mood in the dialogue. This approach allowed me to forget about syncing problems due to the player’s freedom to advance the vignettes manually and eased quite a lot the storyline’s sonorization process. Otherwise it could have been a huge bottleneck in case we had decided to bring more detail into the comic book, which don’t necessarily brings more valuable information to the table for the players.
There were not other aspects in which audio needed something unusual apart from the three different bullet types (normal, electric, controlled) and a bunch of sci-fi robot like enemies and bosses. On the side of loudness and game audio measuring I always aimed to be as close as possible to the industry standards, but the game actually ended up sounding a bit “louder” than it should. Anyway, me and the team were quite happy with the general results where shots and explosions sound crisp and defined and the bosses sound as huge as they look, so we decided to let the mix be as it was and players seem to be comfortable with it.
What about the music?
Although this is not a game where character feelings are crucial, they are present in most of the storyline vignettes and even in the main character’s (Rise) face expressions during some parts of the adventure. With the music, on the main theme in particular, I wanted to mix the sadness, anger and inner strength Rise feels due to the space marine Gamearth invasion.
The main theme “This is Rise” is used as a ‘leitmotiv’ formed by this particular tunes that appear during the most important moments in the story. In this example, you can hear how the theme goes from a sad mood to an epic tone that shows Rise’s journey and feelings during the adventure.
As it can be noticed at the very beginning of the soundtrack album, the music style of Rise & Shine is a mix between electronic and traditional sound.
A real Piano, a Violinist, a Cellist and a Soprano were recorded live for all those tracks in which these instruments are relevant, and the mixture with the mock-up orchestra and electronic elements add some “life” to the soundtrack.
Also, I had the chance to record a little ensemble for the track “Seashores” in which I had at my disposal a String quartet, a Flute and a Bassoon.
Storyline tracks tend to be more melodic, where the Piano, the Violin and the Cello are more relevant. Level tracks are usually more into the background music side, with some melodic and rhythmic parts to emphasize the battles (used as adaptive music, as I will explain later), and boss fight tracks are totally epic with a wider instrumental palette always trying to meet that balance within the traditional instruments sounds and the most modern electronic vibes.
As one of the main premises for the game’s audio was ´The music should not be too much evident´, we early decided to make use of the adaptive music techniques. The Unity + Master Audio allowed us to make music more dynamic and have bigger contrast between the underscore and the action cues.
In most of the cases we used the “layering / vertical re-mix” technique, in which the engine can add or remove music layers / stems to a base track depending on the player’s behaviour. Thus, when you get out straight from the mall center in the first scene, a soft / sci-fi / ambient track begins and will play until you arrive to the first combat area. There, some melodic and rhythmic layers are added to the main background music and will be there until you eliminate the last enemy on the wave. And then it transitions smoothly into the ambient mood again.
Same technique was used during certain bosses that have more than one combat phase, for example the roof robot fight at the end of chapter 1.
As you may notice, each time you destroy its “weak point”, an additional orchestral layer is added making the track dynamically follow your progress and bringing epicness to the battle. For the boss’ second phase the full string section is added, and then brasses and choir for the third state.
There is another important part in the game where I felt we needed to do something dynamically adaptable to the player’s behaviour, and this is again the storyline comic-books. The comic-book vignette advances and, so do the whole comic-book timing and duration, which are completely up to the player’s action as it is designed as a “press to continue” scene (it can be skipped also). In the first approaches to this part of the game, my first try was the traditional static reading loop starting at the beginning of the comic book scene, and fading out just after the last button press, but this never worked. I felt all this storyline deserved to have a music that could follow the character’s feelings and the things happening on screen. In other words, treating the comic book scenes music as if they were cinematics. But, how to bring to each player the same musical information, in the same vignette and in the right context, no matter what their reading speed is? … Cutting time!
I captured videos of the full comic-book scenes on an average reading speed and then I wrote the music to emphasize each of the dramatic moments as it was a linear cinematic. Later, I decided which ones were the most important sync points and cut the music in a manner that I can assure those important moments will always happen along with the same vignette, and thus, the music will play (for a reasonable natural paced reading), or advance in sync with the player’s press button actions.
It is obvious I took the risk of conceiving this music in sections and it could suffer from a little lack of linear sense when listened away, but in the end, the soundtrack versions worked so well and the adaptive comic-book parts bring each player the same emotional information visually and musically, so it was well worth all the effort I made to bring this feature home to Rise & Shine.
Rise & Shine has been one of my most intense experiences in the game audio world, and for sure it will be one of the most important projects in my career as music composer and sound designer in the future to come. Thanks to the team’s support and their confidence in my decisions, I had the chance to try, learn and achieve a lot in the interactive audio field, which is one of the best things I took from this project. There are, as always, lots of stuff I would have done better or in another way, but at the end of the day, I am really confident all players will have a nice audio experience that makes the story and the game feel far more intense.
Also, something magical and unexpected happened just after the game was released. Rise & Shine’s soundtrack was selected to be part of the first “Games & Symphonies” video game live concert world wide. It was an awesome experience to hear my music being played by more than 100 musicians plus a choir ! Here you can hear it:
I hope this article could inspire other audio fellows or simply entertain game development curious readers. Thanks for reading and play Rise & Shine. You won’t regret it!
twitter : @_damiansanchez | mail : damian[at]damiansanchez.com