In this week’s blog we will be talking about the music and sound effects of ARC Continuum. We interviewed the man behind the music, Paul Ruskay, founder of Studio X Labs and a veteran in the gaming industry.
About Paul Ruskay
Dan: What projects have you worked on in the past? What are you doing to make ARC stand out from them?
Paul R.: Homeworld series, Turok, Strike Suit Zero, Max Payne. I think that ARC will stand out as a very interesting blend of the ancient and the futuristic story telling. For the game’s soundtrack I collaborated with a wonderful santoor player who added that ancient sound to my science fiction synthesizers. It was amazing how many different moods could be created with that one instrument. I think in the context of the art direction and story, the Santoor blends nicely to create a sense of culture and place.
Dan: So why do you want to be part of ARC Continuum?
Paul R.: It was easy to see a considerable amount of work had gone into the game when I first saw it in May 2016. Arc Continuum was an already fully formed world with characters, art, animation and narrative. It was easy to get inspired by working with an already so realized vision. In the end, it was an easy decision to join the team since science fiction is such a fun genre to work in. That, and we would be using both Unreal and Wwise to produce the game.
Process of Sound Design
Dan: What is the process for creating music and sound effects for games? (e.g. recorded instrument, edited, put through Wwise etc.)
Paul R.: The process is to first establish what audio engine will be used for the project and who will be responsible for what on the code and content creation side. From there, you build categories of sound banks that are based on the in-game animations or FX. These sound banks generate your first pass at the audio events needed for the game. Once you have that first pass at music and sound triggering in game and bug-free, then you can really start to tune and mix the layers into a final mixed experience. There is a lot of setup on any project just to get the basic audio triggering, but once that is done, you shift into refining all of the elements together.
Dan: The music of ARC Continuum feels very ancient and mysterious, what is your creative process to give it that feel? Do you draw from any particular inspiration to influence this process?
Paul R.: For the soundtrack of Arc Continuum, I looked for an ancient instrument that matched the tone of the game and came across the santoor. After some research, I felt that it would be the right combination of ancient and mystical feeling, and looked for someone who was an expert in playing the instrument. A percussionist I know introduced me Saina Khaledi who has performed on the santoor for the last 20 years. For the recording session, I created simple melodies for Saina to listen to and improve upon. It was interesting to hear how she would take the simple melodic ideas and improvise upon them with intricate flourishes. The blending of the synth sounding elements with the santoor really combined into the perfect combination of elements for the game’s soundtrack.
Dan: What is the most important aspect of any piece of sound or music in games design?
Paul R.: I think the most important aspect would be how all of those pieces of sound and music blend together to create the overall user experience. The great thing about working with Wwise on this project is that it allows you to craft that moment-to-moment mix in a very intuitive way. When designing audio or music for a game, it is so important to be able to get your work into the game engine as quickly as possible and test it. Testing in game allows you to understand the frequency of the audio event and how it triggers in game. From there, you can create an audio asset that is custom to how it will trigger in-engine. There are also a whole host of post-processing (filters, reverbs, delays, flangers) that goes on in Wwise as well which allows you to create an immersive acoustic world. So I always try and listen to all the audio elements from the end users stand point. You constantly need to be asking yourself questions on whether music is too loud or busy. Is the main weapon too loud or will it cause ear fatigue? As the whole experience gets tuned, all of those smaller decisions will make up your final releasable mix.
Creating Mystical Music
We want ARC Continuum to feel like a real world and the ambient tracks play a massive role in making the world feel alive. Taraan has an ancient history but at the same time is far more technologically advanced than our society and the music has to reflect that. To do so we have incorporated some ancient instruments, such as the santoor, an instrument that has roots as far back as 1600 BC. By blending this ancient music with electronic tracks we create a nice blend of ancient yet sci-fi music.
To learn more about Studio X Labs visit http://studioxlabs.com/