Listening to Soundscapes

Getting back into university again

There’s much excitement abound, especially with all the music and sound related work in-store this semester!

Things are off to a relatively calm start this year, which I’m definitely thankful for. Having taken part in DARE Academy as a member of Crabertay, this past summer has been more or less non-stop for myself. We (as in, Crabertay) are a small indie outfit of eight, so everyone ends up having to diverge from their specific role from time to time. This meant that despite being the producer, I got to try my hand at making some of the more intense music for the game.

The teaser trailer for Beats of Dischordia, our DARE Academy game. The songs most audibly present in this video clip were made by Findlay on the team, and not myself.

Having a deadline and a goal for making some music helped me learn a lot about music production. Our little custom written music handler had some strict limitations for playing audio clips. We had multiple team meetings discussing the best way to approach it and we came to the conclusion that each song would be comprised of three clips: an intro section, a loopable mid-section (which is played back twice), and an outro section.

I am a firm believer that setting up boundaries, regardless of whether they’re arbitrary or not, can be a good way to compartmentalise learning and creativity. During the morning lecture last Monday, we were told to think of some goals that we want out of the modules. Much in the same way of our little music engine’s technical limitations, setting a clear goal will no doubt help further my learning.

Early targets

In my spare time, I am slowly building up my understanding of music theory. I would like this to supplement into my learning across both audio modules, pushing in towards the territory of becoming a composer. For my final assessment, my primary goal is to build up a musically coherent soundscape although at this stage I haven’t many ideas for what that could look like yet, although I think it would be fun to have various diegetic environment sounds form some kind of procedural song.

While I’m still a long way off from being truly confident in my audio design or music production capabilities, I’m determined to get a stronger grasp of the fields to the point where it could lead to a secondary career path outside of the games industry. At any rate, I am thankful for the learning opportunity this year’s audio module provides and look forward to attempting to make a great soundscape!


Analysing a soundscape

The lecture task for this week was to (as I had taken note of it) “Go and find a game I really like and try to analyse a soundscape.” I have chosen to take a look at a minute of gameplay from The Last of Us (2013), where Joel, Ellie, and Bill break into a high school, escaping a horde of zombies.

In the video below, I’m specifically referencing the time between 3:00:28 and 3:01:30.

Key auditory features

In this section, I’m taking note of the most important sounds I am able to identify from the soundscape in the time-frame previously mentioned.

Diegetic

  • Metallic door and furniture clanging noises.
  • Groans and moans from zombies attempting to push their way though the doors.
  • High treble grating cricket/insect type ambience.
  • Aggressive tones in voice tones.
  • Footsteps become more present in the quieter walk through the school corridor.
  • Room reverb.

Non-Diegetic

  • Music from (or something that sounds like) a marimba.
    • Constant linear rhythm.
    • Droning constant lower note.
    • Higher note being played inconsistently, forming a minor chord.

Informal analysis

The soundscape constructs an uneasy tension which helps to mould the upcoming combat with the zombie “runners” (at 3:01:30 in the embedded YouTube play-through above.) The sound design paints a highly uncomfortable and lethal environment. The grating metallic noises of the doors banging and the disturbed anger in the voices of the characters in the scene makes the situation seem highly volatile. This tension is strengthened further with the constant yet near-discordant clanging music quietly mixed into the background sound effects. The heightened presence of the characters’ footsteps in the ‘calm before the storm’ walking down the corridor, emphasised further by the highly reverberant ambience, makes the hall seem foreboding, as if the high school corridors are much bigger than they are.

The scene invokes this sense of angst and anxiety, almost telling players there might not be a zombie just around the corner, but don’t count your luck on it. Scenes such as this present throughout most of the game promote intense, high stakes soundscapes which are, I find, much in tune with the game’s narrative design and story writing. To me, the atmosphere aligns with thriller tropes, verging into horror. Some similar examples that come to mind include Silent Hill (1999) and Outlast (2013).

As Harry enters the building, the tense music fades and the static from his radio picks up the surrounding enemies.
As the patient runs into the distance, their footsteps reverberate around the halls. On top of the repeating non-diegetic camera beep, the game’s music drones and pulsates establishing an uneasy tension, hurrying the player to find more batteries and escape the facility.

Published by SeylorDev

Hey! I'm Lyes Oussaiden, a student at Abertay University studying Game Design & Production. I'm also the Producer and Audio Designer for Crabertay.

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