First off, a belated ‘Happy New Year’ from the Observatorium team. Thanks for sticking with us and if you’ve seen our last post you’ll know we’ve now formed a company called Capsule Three. The other good news is we can finally see the finish line for Observatorium and are on-track to release the game this year so will be sharing lots more goodies over the coming months.
For our first 'proper' IDB post of the year, our animator/composer – Peter Satera – has put together an article on the design of our sea-life sounds focusing on recent rework in particular. Enjoy!
Response to Existing Audio
Firstly, I'd like to take this opportunity to thank everyone for the fantastic response we've had with regards to the existing audio. From only the small snippets heard within the WIP videos, Greenlight trailer and live demos, gamers have embraced what we've aimed to do with the sound in our game. We can't be happier or more flattered with the positive feedback: thank you for your kind and supportive words.
Placeholder Sea-Life Sounds
The sound effects we've exhibited to this point have all been placeholder. Even in our Greenlight Trailer, the sounds were still on their first pass. Like the rest of our game/world elements, our sounds undergo an iterative process where we carefully craft each and every asset.
After the release of our Greenlight Trailer, we felt that the game had unintentionally taken a route which made sounds very key-dependent. We had a build-up of pings and tones that, inevitably, were beginning to clash with our musical compositions and chords; although the sounds sat well isolated, Observatorium is all about the collective sound you hear.
It can't be argued that Observatorium has a dominating musical score: it's made to be heard and enhance what you're doing/experiencing. However, the sound effects are equally as important and they should also make you feel like you're part of this world and interacting with all things around you.
Rebuilding the Sound Effects
I came to the conclusion that any further work on the sound had to have a broader approach: that the 'pings' would inevitably destroy the illusion of surrealism and ambient adventure. To move things forward, everything I created had to have a unique sound: reactionary and more practical with the type of sea-life at it's core and not just a sound which solely acknowledged a triggered mechanic. When it came down to it, every sound needed to be scrutinized with care, constantly reflecting back to the question 'do the visuals/gameplay feel unified with their sound?', because if they don't you create a break in communication with the player.
The Problem with ‘Placeholder’
It was tough at first because we had become attached to the placeholder sounds. We had played the game so much and for so long the first pass had become synonymous with our gameplay and hearing anything other than the original sounds felt alien and out of place. However, we knew it was for the benefit of the game and no matter how attached we had become to the placeholder sounds, they had to be taken out.
Without further ado, here's an example of our first and second pass of our starfish sound effects:
Our sea life is no longer just pings: now they have the sounds of little sea creatures, awakening and becoming active as you interact with them. The sounds are more organic and believable as the personality of each sea creature has been crafted to represent what it is and what it does. We want you to feel that you can relate to this world and making it feel alive has definitely steered our ship in the right direction.
Organic meets Synthetic
The new sounds - although audibly simple - are complex to create. The fish are a detailed mix of real world items, natural animals, reptiles, birds and organic sounding synths. The research was extensive in finding the right type of sounds for each fish. There was no quick fix for the sea-life: after all, most sea-life is inaudible to us so the challenge was to create something that sounded alive, rewarding and familiar. The sounds aren't just simply overlapped together: the frequencies are carefully balanced and mixed so each sound is unified and natural.
Next up, an example of our first and second pass of our jellyfish sound effects:
It's not only the fish that have been reworked, many other elements have been too. New sounds for the ocean are clearer: they sound wider and vaster giving the player spatial awareness. Ambient sounds are clearer and crisper giving that 'icier' edge to our atmosphere. Dynamic rocks - which fall when you solve puzzles - have also been reworked: they're no longer are muffled but have clarity that becomes submerged by the water leading into rumbling low frequencies that will shake anyone's sub-woofer.
From an audio perspective, the world we're creating sits on a fine-line between reality and fantasy: delving into the unknown like portals that carry you or sea-life from place to place. These exciting elements were given mystical sounds to symbolise the identity of that principle, to make you feel that you or something else can indeed travel at the blink of an eye.
The Complete Soundscape
Below I have included a quick taster of what it was like to hear the sounds of Observatorium before and after our second pass of important game/world elements:
Observatorium requires a delicate use of sound. Things have to sound natural, magical and reactionary but - at the same time - non-intrusive so as not to not impact on the ambient nature of the game. Now that we've taken out most of the pings (except for the stars) we feel we've taken a great step in the right direction.
As time continues, we'll revisit the sound effects for several passes; this is far from the final audio phase. The more we build of our game, the more we can use this to reflect back on the sound effects and question the approach for perfect harmony with the visuals, gameplay and overall presentation. In meantime, we're excited to see how everyone takes to the changes we have made audibly.
That’s it for our look at the redesign of our sea-life sounds for Observatorium. Stay tuned for additional art, design and audio articles. In the meantime, you can stay up to date with Capsule Three developments via:
All of our soundtrack and SFX examples are available via Soundcloud:
Thanks for reading