May update: Our Spatial Sound Secrets
Hello to all the rusty robots out there. I hope last month treated you well and that spring isn't giving you too many allergies.... I know the longing for Jenny Montage is tough and painful, that she's is something that's hard to forget, and soon you'll be able to meet her again. Here at the Peanut Button studio, we're working non-stop to bring Retropolis 2 to the finish line so you can meet her again, and this time she's more beautiful and heartless than ever! Besides gushing about Jenny Montage, we continued to work at the studio on the animation for the game, on final puzzle fixes, so they are challenging but balanced (it's the most fun to crack a puzzle just a second after you think of giving up, it takes time to get to that point), and we also worked on a few other things that we can't tell you about yet... But, we do have some other news for you - RETROPOLIS 2: NEVER SAY GOODBYE IS COMING TO EARLY ACSESS NEXT MONTH! It is super exciting to get our new game out for you to play. Some details: Our early access is going to roll out on Quest headsets via App Lab, and later on other headsets. Stay tuned for news and make sure you follow us on our social media channels, so you don't miss out on more news to come.
And now to our May update: this month we finished the sound-mix for episodes one and two! As we have already mentioned before, Retropolis 2 will consist of four episodes, and completing the sound mix for the first two episodes is a significant milestone, as the sound mix is the final stage of the creative work - from here on, it's just about testing, fixing bugs and adjusting the game to various headsets.
In honor of the occasion, I thought I'd share a little about our spatial sound work. When you see Retropolis, it's evident how much our visual work with 3D is nuanced and colorful, but (and this is an important tip for anyone who is experimenting with developing virtual reality) to make the "magic" of virtual reality really happen, it's crucial to give attention to sound, no less so than to graphics.
Our culture these days is very focused on what we see in front of us, but, as humans, we also hear the world around us, and sound tells us a lot about what we don't see, what's behind a wall or what's going on inside someone's stomach. And when the right sound joins an in-game action of a player, it doesn't only make it more believable, but it also has a greater impact on the overall feeling of the game. When tasked to choose the right sound effect to accompany an action, I'll sometimes dedicate an hour or two to choosing the right one. It's that important.
And most importantly in audio: music! Our soundtrack is one of the elements that makes Retropolis what it is. Our work on music begins long before the mixing stage, when Peanut Button's musician, Yuval Levi, reads the a script draft and looks for the right ways to express the emotion behind the events. We talk a lot about the characters' motivations and the meaning of the story, so Yuval can compose sketches that we implement into the game as early as the first development stage, to ensure that the feeling is right and that the music connects with the gameplay, in rhythm and tone.
To achieve the final sound of the game, we need to record actors, effects, and foleys, (which are also sound effects but tailored specifically to the animation. If you're not familiar with the term, I highly recommend searching YouTube for videos about making foleys for movies; it's definitely the coolest profession in the world.) What I'm describing here is not far from the way sound is designed for movies and television, but unfortunately, from what I see in indie games in virtual reality, there isn't enough investment in the various elements of sound.
After we have the various elements (and when the deadline is pushing us), Yuval and I start working with Eyal Shindler ,(who shares my first name but is a different person, I promise). Eyal has years of experience in sound work for movies, TV, theater, and more, so he can bring creative ideas for sound design from all sorts of fields. First, we start mixing the music that Yuval composed. Here's a short clip with random bits of our music mixing, where you can hear a bit of the music from the game that's about to come out.
Once the music mix is done, the following question arises - how do we export it from the sound software and implement it into our game engine. Because we're working in VR, the possibilities are very wide, and we don't always want to export stereo music like a regular video game. When we want to create a real cinematic effect, we export the music in four channels (or more...), and we can place them around the player to simulate a cinematic surround sound system. I really wish to see more VR games do this, it makes everything feel so much cooler.
After we have the music, dialogue and SFX, we decide what other sound elements can be added to enhance the experience or creative ways to use the abelites spatial sound. The potential of working with spatial sound was one of the biggest surprises for me when I started developing for VR, and I'm constantly discovering new things to do or trying to imagine new ways to use different tools.
A small example is the distance to volume ratio, where the "correct" way to use it is a parabola graph that generates realistic sound propagation. But of course, sometimes we want to play with this graph. Here's an example from Retropolis 2, where the player collects a card left by the magician. And to create a sense of mysterious magic, there is a sound that only emerges from the card when it is very close to the player's head. This is an unrealistic behavior of sound, but it achieves precisely the effect we want to achieve right now. (If you want to get the immersive feeling of a VR game - put on your headphones when you watch to this)
It's a small detail, but it's things like that can turn a game into a really cool experience.... well, it turns out that I wrote a little more than usual. But what can I do, sound in VR is one of the most exciting topics for me in my work, and I also feel that more people need to know about it. I would love to hear your thoughts on these monthly updates. Do you want them to be shorter? or longer? Are there topics that interest you to hear about? More about the work process, or maybe more about the backstory of Retropolis? Comment here or write me through our newsletter. Please let me know. The only reason I wake up in the morning and work is for you, the fans of Retropolis who just need more quality narrative adventures in VR! Until next time,
Eyal from Peanut Button.
If this post made you too eager for the music of Retropolis, the whole OST of the first game is available so you can listen to it now :)