Audio use within the game should contribute to the aesthetic conveyed by the visuals. Specifically, this involves creating a sense of isolation and struggle, using sparse arrangements with minimal but emotional impacts. The player should be manipulated into becoming attached to their microbe, potentially empathizing with it (as much as it’s possible to empathize with a microscopic organism).
though depending on the scenario involved some restrictions may apply. For instance, we've decided on an aesthetic of syntheszier pads and watery effects for the Microbe Stage, so more complex instruments and arrangements will have to wait until later stages (since the progression of musical complexity should symbolically coincide with the progression of the player's species towards galactic dominance).
The other responsibility of the Sound Team is sound effects. These are short non-musical noises accompanying an action or event inside the game. Examples include: GUI sounds (such as button clicks), ambience (looping watery sounds), movement sounds (splashes of water), achievement sounds (such as collecting an organelle) and warning sounds (such as taking damage from agents). We have temporary versions in the game already, but we're looking for more professional sound effect engineers to improve on them.
For each game screen, several appropriate pieces of background music are needed. At this point, it’s not necessary to distinguish between possible scenarios within the game (such as being chased by a predator) as events will be largely organic, amorphous and likely to overlap. Tracks will incorporate fade-ins and fade-outs as part of their audio data, so engine-based volume changes are not required except when changing game state (e.g. from environment to editor).
Compositions should be generally minimal and restrained, with the notable exception of the Main Themes and Opening Cutscene Theme, discussed below. In the environment, ambient synth-based tracks are the ideal, anywhere from three to eight minutes. Melodies should be inconspicuous, even non-existent, although at least some variation is required to prevent the listener becoming bored with a particular track.
Layering is one favorable technique, with thickening pads and added harmonics. In future stages, instrumentation, variation and compositional structure can become more advanced in accordance with a growing complexity of the organisms and societies.
Similarly, themes for the editor must be simple, but here there is some scope for complexity. An appropriate semantic concept would be a cradle, as the player is tending to a helpless individual in a relatively safe environment. Bells, less hazy synthesizers and electric pianos are all acceptable instruments, as they retain the air of fragility.
Musically speaking, the loading screen is darker as the player prepares to experience the oceanic depths ahead. Tracks should be under a minute in length with restrained dissonant chords, preferably played using similar pad synthesizers to the environment music. A sense of quick progression should also be used, potentially by employing fast scales or a rapid pedal note.
A soundtrack for the opening cutscene is largely tied to the video, as it must synchronize well (e.g. an impact or suspenseful moment in the video will be tied to an accordingly powerful section of music). For the preliminary cutscene already in use, a track has already been composed to match the visuals. It uses “bubbling” arp synthesizers and a chord strike for the moment when the camera changes position. Obviously this will need to be adjusted to fit an updated cutscene in future, incorporating motifs from the Main Theme (as the preliminary track does).
While the majority of the soundtrack should for this stage be sedate, the Main Theme must be the opposite - rousing, epic and heavily varied. Primarily, there must be a strong, recognizable melody in place, repeated using different orchestrations. This motif is shown below.
An orchestra accompanied by synthesizers, ethnic instruments and drums (both synthetic and tribal) will be used, and an extended variant for promotional purposes and future game stages should switch between sections utilising different combinations. Although, the version used for the main menu should jump into this melody, heavily orchestrated, as quickly as possible.
Another version of the Main Theme is used for the extras page. This is a solo piano interpretation, utilising improvisation, syncopation and jazz-inspired altered chords to build a calmer, gallery-like mood. The main melody should still be used often, but can be modified through modulation, inversion or other complex musical techniques.
The majority of sound effects discussed are relevant to the environment or editor. Other game screens will only feature GUI sounds.
On top of the ambient soundtrack, the game will feature many incidental sound effects associated with player or environmental actions. Sound effects can be broadly split into two categories – those from the environment, and those from the interface. Environmental sounds are as you might expect: anything arising from “natural” phenomena.
Though interface sounds include those made by the GUI, this category also covers any warnings or success sound effects. Button clicks are an obvious example of GUI-related sound, but other interface sounds could be a sound signalling that a player is taking damage from agents, or a success sound effect upon assimilating a bacterium.
The distinction is necessary due to the way the sound engine will handle each. The volume of environmental sounds scales inversely with distance to the player, while interface sounds always have the same volume (as if coming from the center of the screen at all times). In essence, environmental sounds are point source, whereas interface sounds aren’t.
The general underwater ambiance track falls under interface sounds. An exception to all other sound effects, it plays continuously at constant volume, similar to the music tracks. It should loop and generally be quieter than the soundtrack (only becoming audible during quiet sections of music), with bubbling and watery sounds passed through a filter to give a sense of being underwater. Ambiance should also play in the editor.
Most other interface sounds should have a bright timbre, feeling almost artificial. GUI sounds (button clicks, menus opening) should have a sci-fi type feel. Environment-related interface sounds should be exaggerated to make the sound a priority to the player. Taking damage from agents, for instance, could be a siren. All effects other than the ambiance should be short (~1 second).
Environmental sound effects are those such as movement and collisions. Collision volume should scale with impact speed, and pushing anything must not result in repeated sound shots. Movement sounds aren’t continuous – a short burst of splashes should play whenever a microbe changes its speed significantly, but not while it moves at a steady speed. Rotation follows the same rules. There should be a variety of different movement sounds to prevent the player becoming bored.