Saturday, 26 April 2014

Tomb Raiding Music

     Hey guys, Ben here and today we're talking about sound. More precisely, how to fully develop sound for levels, without breaking any copyright laws. Or at least, how I did.

     Sound is 60%. It's a phrase I've heard thrown around again and again, coined by the Australian director Rolf De Heer. What he meant was that sound affected people more than the visuals did., he just put it more eloquently. Things like music, foly and overall ambient noise can really put someone in the scene, and it's a whole sensory input that many people forget.

    So how did I do it? Well, first let's look at my two primary sources of inspiration: The Ryuichi Sakamoto/ Fennesz collaboration album 'Cendre' and 'The Caretaker's' album 'An Empty Bliss Beyond This World.'

     'Cendre' is a fantastic example of modern ambient music that mixes industrial white noise with classically influenced piano to create a complex soundscape. While most of the noises are taken directly from synthesizers and have  a very bright, metallic sound, mixed in the correct way they create a breezy, organic form of music that works incredibly well at controlling moods. Have a listen for yourself:

     The other album I mentioned, by 'The Caretaker', is similar beast, but instead of creating a natural landscape for the listeners imagination, he's digging up the past and creating a romantic and dreamy composition based on memory.

     Memory can be fuzzy, nostalgic and is never fully formed. 'The Caretaker' takes this concept and builds an hours worth of composition from it, repeating old timey sounding recordings over and over, like a memory replaying itself in one's head. It is still far more of an ambient sound than a traditional melody, and like 'Cendre' it works best when it's shaping the emotional state of the listener.

     But what has this got to do with Video Games? Well, it certainly put ideas in my head for how to compose some ambient sounds to guide the player through the level. Mixing white noise, static in with the slightest hints  of classical music creates a soundscape which is not quite a soundtrack and not entirely foly. This mix of the two, like the two albums I discussed, help prod at the players emotions, while still creating an immersive and realistic environment.

     Let's also look at one of the best video game examples for ambient sounds and music: Akira Yamaoka and his compositions for Silent Hill. His industrial sounds, the fuzziness of the synths and pulsing drones creates an oppressive and  terrifying atmosphere for which Silent Hill owes a lot of it's mood. The complex layering of different sounds, some organic but all filtered through an array of effects, creates the soundscape so effective, it can unnerve the listener without the need of the shocking images found in the game.

     Earlier, I mentioned about copyright. Now, I've been told to be very careful about how I get my music, using nothing that still has existing copyright. After searching the net, it's been difficult to find effective tracks to soundtrack the level with, so I had to be creative. In the first area, what you can hear is an excerpt from Mozart's String Quartet in C Major, Mvt 1. It's in the public domain, and I really like the discordant, mournful start the piece has. I took the first 20 or so seconds, slowed it down by around 120% and lowered the pitch, to give it a more ambient and subtle effect. This was then mixed into various sound effects from, and a few tracks from The British Library website. The overall effect was to have the classical piece be blown to the player by the wind.

     The rest of the music was made in a similar way. The very gothic sounding Mozart infused piece sets the tone of the level when the player encounters the moody and unsaturated establishing shot of the Abbey moves onto a quieter and more ethereal Crypt piece, shaken every so often by the creaks of the wooden beams and pattering of falling debris. This piece then evolves into a far more tranquil and beautiful composition, when the player finally surfaces out into the Abbey Interior. 

     The sound effects for the ending however are a lot harsher, and far more influenced by the Silent Hill approach to gothic horror. So not to spoil anything, I'll just leave it at that. 

     Hopefully, this has been a helpful and interesting insight into how the sounds for our Whitby Abby were developed and if it hasn't, well at least you have two great new albums to add to your playlist. 


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