Reflection on creative process. Game development – Nest. Music and audio assets

This project started when a presentation was made by a game maker, Joshua Bidwell. What impressed me was that he was able to use musical terminology to describe the types of sounds that he was after and the concept behind the game which, was described as an exploration of what the concept of ‘home’. This concept was elaborated to incorporate nurturing and safety. The format behind the game was based on an alien landscape where birds need to feed the nest where bird embryos and incubated and feed themselves. The health of the nest and the health of the birds nurturing the nests were linked. Themes of climate change and rising sea levels were also investigated within the game and the protection of the nest and themselves.

A list of foley was created and uploaded to a google drive folder that was shared amongst the team members and used to guide the process of recording foley and editing the results. The process of editing each foley sound is quite exacting and a certain amount of processing needs to be applied to each sample in order to prepare it for inclusion within a game. The sound asset list was printed out, reviewed and used to help guide me, while I recorded and checked off various sound assets from the list provided. A Zoom H6 recorder was used to record the sounds. The in-built microphone was used to capture the majority of ‘field’ recordings that constituted the foley sounds that were eventually presented to the game makers for inclusion in Nest. Upon reflection, a better quality recording unit with a specialised, pencil condenser microphone, should have been used in conjunction with a ‘wind sock’. There was a lot of post production work that was necessary to remove a lot of background noise utilising a high pass filter and noise reduction software such as: Isotope noise reduction plug – in. A link has been provided to explain how the isotope de-noise plug in works. A lot of background noise and wind noise in particular had to be removed, even when somethings were recorded indoors.

Excerpts from a Nest powerpoint presentation, have been included below:

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An asset list for the foley has been included below:

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The brief for the soundtrack was to be ‘barely noticeable’ and a reference track was suggested from the Zelda series: Breath Of The Wild. The ‘soundtrack’ in the you tube example below, is minimal in nature and creates a ‘mystical ambience’. The game play music is actually a series of sounds that were woven together to create the ‘ambience’ of the ‘world’ within the Zelda game play experience. The result of the sound design and the way that these various sound assets have been woven together, creates an ‘immersive’ sound environment which is the essence of ambient music. (Prendergast, 2000; p1 – 2) The Zelda game play example provided by Joshua, was also supplemented by an audio example which is definitely within the ambient music genre. Cylinder Six by Chris Zabriskie, also provided the necessary inspiration to create both menu and game play music which, is also provided below.

 

This music reminded me of ambient music so, I did some research on the genre which can be accessed by clicking on the link below:

Genre Analysis – Ambient Music

I discovered that there is a clear link between ambient music and a form of classical music that has been termed ‘minimalism’. This music may be described as containing:

  • a lot of repetition,
  • a meditative quality,
  • extended note values within the melody.
  • the nature of the music unfolds and develops over time.
  • slow tempo (Whittal, 1999; p326)

The environment within the music or the ‘soundstage’ is also at the forefront of the aesthetic for famous ambient composers such as Brian Eno, who was heavily inspired by master innovators and composers such John Cage. Ambient and Minimalist music styles are designed to produce a ‘trance like’ state for the listener; a result far easier to achieve within this music due to:

  • sustained single intervals
  • rich multiplicity of overtones and harmonics
  • slowly changing structures
  • small-scale patterns of notes

Ambient music is more capable of achieving this goal than complex compositions because the music is designed for the listener to appreciate the soundscape, built into it. This allows time for ‘the ear’ to dig deeper into the subtleties and complexities of the music’s sonic textures  and draws the listener into a subtle and fascinating world of sound. (Whittal, 1999; p326). This style of music is obviously well suited to a games where an alternative environment is created that is designed to be immersive for the player. It was suggested by the game developer Joshua, that the sound design and visual effects are an important part of the game play experience.

Mixdown reflection

When I set about the task of creating the soundtrack, I chose an instrument instrument samples from the Ableton library which suggested an ‘ambient soundscape’ and selected the ‘Abstract-MkII’. The instrument sample had a few sections within it such as: filter amount, filter motion and velocity sensitivity. These elements were very important to creating a piece of music that was equal parts ‘minimal’ and ‘immersive’. The instrument sample is an electric piano sound that has a very long ‘sweep’ so that once a note or chord was played, the erosion plug in that was included in the very extensive instrument sample within Ableton, extended the natural decay of each note or chord. Erosion is essentially a highly tunable phaser that can be used to add specific harmonics to anything that’s passed through it (“Erosion Effect Ableton Live Tutorial – Ableton Production Tutorials”, 2017). There are settings for: white noise, wide noise or sine wave, to be added to the original sound source. The parameters for this plug in were pre-set, and quite effective for the purposes of the game soundtrack so, I didn’t attempt to change anything. The result was a ‘swirling’ sound that would lift and swell so that singular intervals of notes and in particular, sustained chords, were turned into something resembling a legato string section but without the traditional tonal qualities of acoustic instrumentation. This also was a musical realisation of a request from the game maker to provide the sound of ‘rushing wind’, to suggest a bird flying around at high altitude.

NEST_MENU CHORDS
Click to enlarge

Another element was added to enhance the potential ambience of the music being created for this game soundtrack, which was ‘ping pong’ delay. The inclusion of this effect assisted with the ‘immersive’ aspect of the music within the game. The effect is enhanced for stereo because it sends the signal across the stereo field from left to right, repeatedly. The amount of repetition can obviously be adjusted to suit the situation and also assists in creating the necessary repetition that is a feature of ambient music. The settings that I used for this situation was: Feedback – 20% / Dry Wet – 30%. I wanted the note and chord tones to be distinct and use the ping pong delay to enhance both rather than completely overwhelm the integrity of the musical source. With both the Abstract Mk II instrument sample and the ping pong delay, the tonal qualities of each note and chord were emphasised, harmonic distortion was added and the delay created a hypnotic quality about the music and an immersive sound experience.

Another aspect of both the menu music and the main game play music was the inclusion of another densely layered instrument sample. This one was called Fifths Sweep.

NEST_MAIN GAME_FIFTHS SWEEP
Click to enlarge

The combination of the ‘Abstract Mk II’ and the ‘Fifths sweep’, was effective in creating an ‘immersive, swirling’ sound and the interplay between these two sounds was largely responsible for the ambient sound texture that was created by using both. The duration for the midi notes of each sample was deliberately altered to utilise both the specific settings of each sample and the interaction of each sample with ping pong delay (stereo delay).

The midi notation applied to both samples used in the menu music and the main game play music, was deliberately altered to compliment the textures of each sample. The shorter midi notation for the ‘fifths sweep’, was designed to trigger the delay repeats more frequently. The strength of the modulation sweep on this sample enabled it to be a clear and distinctive, over a shorter time period. This suited the overall purposes of the music as a longer midi note duration may have resulted in an over-saturation of sound.

The longer ‘modulation sweep’ of the ‘Abstract Mk II’ actually inspired the writing of the music and this was emphasised in the music . When the modulation ‘sweep’ reached the end of it’s cycle, it felt like it was time for a chord change. In this sense, the modulation sweep was used rhythmically.

Click to enlarge

In The Studio

The neve console was used to create added warmth from the pre-amps and master bus compression was used to control some of the peaks that were a little out of control, due to the sweep of the frequency modulator and the stereo imaging of the ping pong delay. This tended to play havoc with the overall balance of the final stereo image of the production. After listening to the results of the music in the neve session, a few decisions were made. The first decision was to reduce the amount of musical elements within the ableton sesssion, by removing, cello and viola samples. The other thing that I noted was that there was too much master bus compression on the mix and a lot of the ‘transparency’ of the music was lost. The ‘swirling’ and ‘immersive’ quality of the music was increased to the point of losing ‘space’ or ‘transparency’ within the music. A decision was made to book another studio session in the Audient 8024 studio and make use of the outboard gear available there.

The second studio session in the Audient 8024 studio was far more successful, and I felt that some ‘space’ had been returned to the game play soundtrack. The plan with the second session was to map all of the tracks to the mixing console and use the patch bay to take the master bus output into the Lexicon MX 200 effects unit. I selected ‘ambience’ reverb for the first processor and chorus for the second. The result smoothed out the sound and the compression added warmth and kept the levels under control.

Lexicon MX200_digital fx
TLA 5021-Ivory

Deliverables

Menu music – melody 

Game play music – added frequency modulation

Foley tracks – within categories

 

Bibliography

Erosion Effect Ableton Live Tutorial – Ableton Production Tutorials. (2017). YouTube. Retrieved 22 December 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqzFg4XWtYI

Prendergast, M, 2000. The Ambient Century: from Mahler to trance-the evolution of sound in the electronic age. New York: Bloomsbury.

Whittal, A. (1999) Musical Composition In The Twentieth Century. New York: Oxford University Press.

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