The sound of Supernauts - Grand Cru Interview
Who are you, and what is your role on Supernauts?
Hi! I'm Arto Koivisto, and I'm the audio designer for Supernauts.
How did you help to make the finished game?
I'm in charge of everything that has to do with the audio of Supernauts. I work on sound effects and partially the in-game music, mix & master audio for marketing videos, engineer recording sessions, etc.
I'm mostly free to go about the audio design of the game as I see fit. But of course theres a good amount of idea exchange with the team involved too. Anything related to the feel of the game, I usually run through Harri Granholm, our Creative Director.
With actual in-game audio I mostly work with a few coders, who take care of required technical implementations, like adding new features to the audio engine.
How did the audio direction come about?
The audio direction is a mix of various ideas and influences, but I'd say it stems from one of the key design concepts of the game: cartooney super hero stuff. For sounds we need to look at this from the angles of two main areas of game audio, background music (bgm) and sound effects (sfx).
For the roots of bgm direction, Harri might actually be better at answering this since I didn't contribute to the early design stages. Anyway what I think is, perhaps the obvious connection would've been to pick some contemporary super hero cartoon series, like Superman or Batman, as a starting point.
You know, target a dramatic style with grandiose orchestrations etc. That however wouldn't really have connected with the humorous and playful aspects of the game. I'm also thinking perhaps it would've attached a slight "big game studio with its AAA title" kind of feel too.
So to keep things more intimate and "indie game dev", the bgm direction was steered well clear of all that super hero drama. Instead, the "secret agent" style instrumental rock and cinematic pop of movies and tv-series from 1960s were chosen as the primary influences.
We'd rather have something more fun, like surf rock that a basic band could play, than something that'd need a full-blown classical orchestra. Of course the plan was never to shut out orchestral elements altogether: those are a good complement for the band elements to add a bit of that cinematic twist.
Instruments like horns, mallet percussion (eg. marimba and xylophone), perhaps a minimal string section etc., just keep it simple. And of course, as the game takes place mostly in space, a theremin needs to be included too!
For sfx it's more straightforward. Doing cartoon sfx allows going for "whatever", if you consider cartoon as something where real-world rules need not to apply. Yet going out all cartooney, say, in the style of Hanna Barbera or Looney Tunes classics, would've made the game feel too childish. There simply are some things that need the real-world reference.
So for the sfx of Supernauts, I chose to target something between cartoon and real-world. Even with the real-world elements, I've tried steering away from stereotypical field recordings as much as possible.
For example, the fireworks sounds that you hear after completing a mission, combine down-pitching sweeps from a Arp Odyssey synthesizer with the pops of a plastic shell of a Kinder Surprise chocolate egg. This gives the sound a cartoon-ish flavor, yet retains the real-world connection to small fireworks (whistles and explosive pops).
What was the reasoning behind having the characters speak gibberish, rather than actual lines of dialogue, and how do you go about making this kind of effect sound?
The design choices for the gibberish (the "bla-bla's") were to complement the story parts of the game and add some silly, cartooney feel. I'm a big fan of British comedy a la Monty Python, and I felt the gibberish connects this type of silly fun to actual spoken dialogue. It's the cartoon vs. real-world connection again... of course, we had some technical reasons too.
First, the game has to fit within Apple's mobile limit (max. 100Mb download) to allow installing it over 3G / 4G connections. Second, we're localizing the game for most languages wherever it'll be available come global launch.
Doing actual dialogue in all these languages would simply require way more space for speech assets than Apple's limit allows! At the moment Captain is the most "complex" of the characters; he has about 30 different snippets of speech assets (adding up to about 1.6Mb) from which all the speech is parsed according to text content.
All the speech sounds have been recorded with a selection of wannabe voice actors, one person per character. It's good fun having these sessions, as you get to work with the actors for all kinds of silly noises!
Actually as it stands, the gibberish will get reworked for global launch. Much of the longer story arc has been dropped for now, so the gibberish can be considered entirely from the standpoint of whatever supports the remaining aspects of the game. We've also had some technical issues with the speech implementation, and taking a different approach (through reworking) fixes these too.
What's your favourite audio element of the game?
I'm currently so deep in the middle of getting everything sorted out for launch, that its hard to pick favourites!
I certainly can appreciate the home turf bgm due to challenges involved making it. It's a combination of size limit and the fact that turf is the place where players spend most of their time. In other words, you need to have a song which can both withstand listening to for hours on end and set the player in a relaxed and positive mood (to aid getting creative with building stuff!) but it needs to be as short as possible to save up on file size.
It's perhaps my demoscene background that makes me appreciate these kinds of things, like having something neat in a very small size.
The turf music is an arrangement from the melody of the main theme, composed by Richard Wilkinson. Part of using this melody in a different context has to do with adhering to the idea of 60s / 70s movie soundtrack albums, that often reference to the lead melody of the theme throughout.
Peter Willington 9 May 2014