The sound of Angry Birds Go! - exclusive interview
I'm Joe Greig, the technical sound designer on Angry Birds Go!. Jean-Marie Viollet is the Lead Sound Designer and Ilmari Hakkola is the Head of Audio at Rovio.
How did you help to make the finished game?
My primary role is to bridge the gap between the lead sound designer Jean-Marie Viollet, and our code team at Exient, making sure the sounds are implemented correctly, and behave in game in the way they are intended. From making sure an explosion plays when you crash into a TNT box, to ensuring the results screen music loops properly! This also involves a lot of quality assurance to make sure the game sounds identical across each platform and device we ship on.
Part of my job is to help devise solutions to technical limitations of the platforms within the game, or the delivery of the game. For example, we currently ship over 1000 sound files with Angry Birds Go! So we had to do some pretty smart things on the code side to allow us to get those files to each device over a 3G network without destroying peoples data allowance.
How do you know when you've found the right sound for an action in the game?
Ultimately, it's about creating sounds that all fit a certain style, and that work together with the mechanics and art direction of the game to compliment a specific vision. With GO! being the first 3D Angry Birds game, it's important for us to stay true to the established universe, to capture the same sonic personality that characterised each Angry Birds game before it.
With that in mind, we have a good platform to start creating wacky, larger than life sound effects. For example, Red's ability has this huge jet engine component, and King Pig's balloon ability has an quirky slide whistle as his ability is triggered, lending an element of musicality reminiscent of the golden age of animation.
From initial design, the next step is to test potential ideas in game, to see how well they fit the visuals. We can then tweak sounds - perhaps an explosion needs to sound a bit bigger, so we'll add more bass and some extra debris crashes, or maybe a menu click needs to cut through the mix a bit more, so we'll EQ the sound to give it more treble.
From a technical perspective, an important factor, especially for mobile games, is to ensure the sounds created can actually be heard throughout a race. With lots of sounds being triggered constantly, things can get pretty hectic, and phone and tablet speakers are relatively limited in the frequency range they can output, so careful consideration is given to how much bass, or treble each sound contains, so the sounds 'fit' together and don't get lost in the mix.
The birds are even chattier in Go! than in other games. Why is this, and how did you capture the voices for each character?
The game currently has over 500 voice files - that's about half of the audio content overall. They're a really important part of the game, and in addition to helping create this fun, chaotic soundscape, from a gameplay perspective, the birds give a great indication of how the race is going; if you're crashing and wrecking your soapbox car, or if you're blasting down the track, leaving everyone else in the dust, the birds' voices will reflect that, and add emotion to that experience.
The recording process generally starts with getting a voice actor for one of the birds in the studio, and showing him or her specific character animations, or talking them through a gameplay mechanic that we need audio for. From that point, we always aim to get more material than we need, so we'll go to town, doing lots of takes with varying emotions and energy levels.
One of the absolute best elements of the game has to be the bright and upbeat soundtrack. How did this come about?
Our main goal with the music was to give the players a varied listening experience. We didn't want to fall into the trap of the music becoming repetitive, so we decided to have a different track for each game mode. This would mean players spent equal time listening to each tune.
The music was written and performed by Pepe Deluxé, from Helsinki, overseen by Rovio's Head of Audio, Ilmari Hakkola. A collaboration with them had been on the horizon for a while - their style is super eclectic and unique, so it was pretty exciting to work with them.
They visited Rovio HQ and listened to the music from previous projects, spoke about the wacky world of Angry Birds music, instrumentation and the importance of strong melodies in everything composed for Angry Birds. One of the guiding phrases used was that the music should be "more fool than cool" - meaning that whilst there are modern production values and awesome beats, it can't be too serious, there always has to be a twist to it!
After sending them video captures of footage from each game mode, we bounced ideas and demos around a couple of times, testing them in game; overall the process was quite fluid. It was a privilege having the possibility to work with such talents. The list of featured artists on the soundtrack includes some best jazz, folk and heavy metal musicians in Finland.
I think Pepe Deluxé guys did a perfect combination of Angry Birds music and their own, unique sound!
Peter Willington 31 March 2014