Total Mayhem Blog #2

This week we’re celebrating the 23rd birthday of our ‘Sound Guy’ Leon van der Stel. We thought this was the perfect opportunity to bring up the subject we haven’t discussed too much of yet: the music and sound design of ‘We Were Here’ and ‘We Were Here Too’!

For us, the music of the game was very important. It had to create tension and keep players engaged as they were figuring out how to advance through the game. To get a certain musical ambience that matched our intentions, we had to miss Leon for quite some time during our minor ‘Game Design and Development’. When being surrounded by us in this crowded room with thirty other students, we knew we were just holding him and his creativity back. So most of the time Leon could be found in his ‘at-home’ studio!

You just graduated Creative Media and Game Technology, congrats! Did your graduation project had anything to do with music?

Many thanks! No actually, both my graduation project and course were computer sciences related which might seem a very unrelated to my interest in sound design! Next to computer sciences I always make time to work on music though, with my interest going out to video game soundtracks, sound effects and electronic music in general. Prior to working on We Were Here my experience in sound design for games was actually very little, so it was a great learning experience for future, larger projects.

A lot of times you didn’t have much material from the team to work with (we were kind of chaotic most of the time and changed style and location quite regularly). How did you manage to create the most fitting vibe?

Audio was very important for the overall feel to We Were Here. The game was all about getting players immersed in this experience with their partner, so the sound effects and music had to be subtle enough to not break their immersion. To create this kind of ambience I mostly used synthesizers, guitar, bass, vocals and the experience and skills from my talented friends. Next to working in my studio, I like to do field recording with my Tascam DR-05 V2 digital audiorecorder. The small clips I record actually get used a lot in my work!

The We Were Here project was pretty chaotic, I was pretty inexperienced when it came to creating music for games of this scale. Before we even had any puzzles completely designed I started creating bits of sound effects and song samples. As development of the game progressed, I had to scrap a lot of work because most of it didn’t feel right.

With my work on We Were Here Too I waited more patiently till more rooms and puzzles were finished being designed to avoid making the same mistake! I often visit the Total Mayhem Games studio to have the team listen to what I made for feedback and new ideas. The music has to reflect the mood of the rooms and create tension for the players to amplify their experience. One of my goals with We Were Here Too was to use more of the following elements:

  • Synthesizer, low pulse
  • Percussion high fast
  • Percussion low slow, like a heartbeat
  • Guitar
  • Song, choir, primal

I also decided to do something new with the timbres and harmony in the design in comparison to We Were Here, inspired by songs like these:

For the choir idea I asked the assistance of a talented friend of mine and had some jam sessions where we tried imitating these songs with choir and guitar.

Here’s a preview of this first jam session we had:

In the second session and after some feedback I wanted to create more tension in the song. Here’s one of the percussion jams where I used a pulsing low synthesizer to get you on the edge of your seat:

My workflow is a little chaotic, I put all recordings and ideas in a project and keep jamming till I get a solid idea going.

These tracks are constantly tweaked based on feedback by the Total Mayhem Games team. For example the first version of this song was a little too busy to the point where it stopped feeling like good background ambiance to be talking over.

 

You record all the sounds and effects yourself. Can you name some of the weirdest sounds you recorded / strangest thing you had to do in order to make sound tracks for We Were Here?

A good example I can remember are the whispers in We Were Here. At some points in the game the player could hear a whispering voice, an idea I got from a Harry Potter movie. I thought it would be a fun idea to try and create these ‘whispers of a lost soul’ myself so I spent an hour moaning in the microphone – my neighbours must’ve loved that!

Example of the whispers:

What was your inspiration for the soundtrack of We Were Here?

We Were Here and We Were Here Too have a lot of inspiration from multiple big titles such as Diablo, Far Cry, Amnesia, Dark Souls and Doom, but also soundtracks from Hans Zimmer and John Carpenter.

What track are you most proud of from We Were Here, and why?

Hmm, not really a track but more the overall ambiance of We Were Here. The unsettling feeling of tension and discovery. I’m really proud that I was able to create my own piece for this game.

We Were Here Too’s style differs quite a bit from the original, how does this affect your approach to the sound design?

In We Were Here Too I’d like to explore a more industrial inspired style, though my work process hasn’t changed from We Were Here (apart from being more patient!). I’m still trying my hardest to give the players the same overall experience of tension, atmosphere and discovery.

What do you want the player to go through / experience when hearing (and talking over!) your music?

The music amplifies the dread of this abandoned fortress. With some rooms and puzzles I want the player to feel tension, as if they were being hunted with building percussion and pulsing synth waves. Other times I want the player to feel the sensation of unsettling discoveries. I won’t be satisfied till players can truly immerse themselves as if they were truly there.

Thank you so much for your time and effort Leon!

If you would like to know more about the music and sound design of We Were Here and We Were Here Too, don’t hesitate to contact us with your questions!

Love,

Ben & Lucia.

 

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