Orion's Leap

One of the larger projects I recently worked on was a VR game called Orion's Leap. Originally I was excited by the prospect of working on my first VR project because I wanted to get some experience with spatial audio. Although I was disappointed to discover that the project wasn't going to feature any spatial audio, I did get the opportunity to work with Ambient Electronic music, which is a genre I'm largely unfamiliar with.

So I started the project as I usually do by sitting down with the team and discussing what we're attempting to create and what design choices need to be made in regards to both sound and the game as a whole. The first meeting was really productive because the creative lead had a pretty decent idea on what direction he wanted to go in with both the music and the sound effects. I also discovered during this meeting that I would be working in a team with two other audio students. I knew one of them very well and had already worked with them before on other projects. The other, by the name of Insan, I had to get to know quickly which proved to be an important part of the projects direction and development.

We were given the soundtrack to Jodorowsky's Dune which was actually not the soundtrack for the movie Dune, but the soundtrack for the documentary about the film. After discussing this reference piece with the other audio team members and discussing some of our personal strengths and weaknesses, I discovered that Insan had a lot of experience making this type of music. This caused me to shift the team dynamics around a little, usually I like to act as producer on these types of projects although having noticed Insans ability I decided that he should lead the way on this project. Shortly after this he created the first demo piece which is what the rest of us modeled our own tracks after.

We each made the main theme and accompanying battle theme for one of the games three main levels and we split the sound effects up into related groups so we could keep everyone in their own head space. For example I made all of the sound effects relating to the players actions, Insan worked on the enemy sounds and Jordan worked on the menu and environmental noises. Production was smooth for the most part although I would have preferred more contact between the members of the audio team, a lot of the time we went past each other and straight to the game developers. I think in the end this caused our works to be a little disjointed and instead of the game having a cohesive soundscape I think you could tell that three very different people worked on the audio.

As for sound effects, we were told to hit somewhere in the ball park of the Metroid Prime games, although they didn't want the game to be as "realistic" so we had to keep that in mind when designing sound effects:

This was the final version of the forest main theme that I created:

Like all my children I'm very proud of what I created although it does have some flaws which I will work on for next time. I think it's not as interesting as a normal piece of ambient music, which usually sacrifices melodic and harmonic content for a more layered sound design experience. Having to step away from my favored methods of composition I was left with little to no ideas on where to go with the piece without being able to rely on typical harmonic developments and instrumentation. I think one of the secrets to this kind of music is to keep the listener entertained with ever changing sound design. Introducing new "instruments" all the time seems to be the way to go when making ambient music.

I think the sound effects I created for this project were much better than any of the music that I produced. This was probably because I have been working on a lot of sound effects lately and I feel like I'm in the right head space for sound design at the moment. The best and probably most important sound effect I created for Orions Leap was the Grapple Hook Hit sound which was used to give the player positive feedback when their grappling hook struck something they could swing from. I used a Creative Commons royalty free whip sound effect I downloaded ages that I've been dying to use. This along with some reverb and a light sizzle of white noise turned it into the final product that sounds really satisfying when heard in game. A sound effect to accompany a games main mechanic like this needs to find balance between being to over the top when played over and over and being too dull as to make the game less exciting. Originally I had a bell "ding" at the same time as the whip crack to indicate positive reinforcement for the player but after testing within the game we discovered that it was too much when heard once every couple of seconds. Removing the bell sound I feel put the sound effect right in the middle of that balancing act.

Overall I think the project will be marked off as a success although for me personally I feel like I learnt too much during this project for it to be a true "success", which can only be a good thing. At this stage in my career, failing is still really important and although I'll always have a sense of pride in the things I work on, learning new techniques about my practice and processes is more important and more valuable than succeeding for the time being.

I've still got more to reflect on for this period which I'll include in some of my other blogs, thanks for reading and stay tuned!

Till next time,

Corey.

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