Michelle Travis

Michelle Travis

Mar 18 2014

Elements of Sound

Part of the design of a game is its sound, and NEXUS is no different. Not only were we going to need basic User Interface (UI) sound effects (clicks, sliders, check boxes, error sounds, etc.), but we were also going to need music. And from the beginning, one of the ideas I'd had in mind was that each Element of NEXUS would have its own distinct theme. Fortunately, the others were enthusiastic about the idea. And as we launched our earlier IndieGoGo effort, we offered specific tracks that would only be available to the backers. It was eventually decided that eight tracks would be made available with NEXUS — one for each Element, and a main theme for NEXUS itself. The IndieGoGo backers would then receive three special tracks — one for each of the Greater Arcana.

My first task was then coming up with ideas for each Element — what would each Element sound like? What were the keywords associated with each? What would they be conveying? And so I eventually put together a list of keywords and imagery for each Element.

Next up was finding a composer for the music. Fortunately for me, during my years as a video producer, I'd made several contacts in the production music industry, and from those, I began my search. Eventually the field was narrowed down to three, and then one — Vladimir Coman-Popescu of Controllerism.com, whose music I'd first discovered on AudioJungle and subsequently used in my CITY OF HEROES "Freedom of Thought" video. Vladimir and I kept in touch after that, and he'd expressed an interest in collaborating with me on future projects. I dropped him a line to see if he was still interested. Thankfully, he was!

After sending him an email with my list of ideas, we began a series of Skype conversations (the most efficient way of handling lengthy conversations between Seattle and Bucharest, despite the nine-hour time difference). Over the course of about a half-dozen hour-long sessions, with Vladimir sharing his desktop with me so I could see him navigating his way through various music composing programs, we began to create the sound of NEXUS. He would play quick riffs for me of thematic ideas, and then we would discuss instruments or sounds — for example, for the Element of Shields, I envisioned bells and other metallic sounds. For Masks, Vladimir had samples of a wonderful sound between a harp and a piano. His renditions for Mirrors evokes the sound of water, from drips into a still moonlit pool to the swift flow of a stream and the endless depths of the sea.

Vladimir then also took on the challenge of becoming our Sound Designer, creating all the clicks, checks, notifications, and so on that the game's UI would need. I compiled a list of as many sounds as I could think of related to UI design as well as what the game itself would need, and passed it along to him. This would then in turn give NEXUS a much more cohesive sound.

During those hours, there was a lot of back-and-forthing — adding elements, removing them, layering them, balancing the sounds, and all during freeflow conversations between the two of us of ideas and how to implement them. (And let me be the first to say, I am still astounded at just how FAST Vlad works. It's almost unreal. As a client, I cannot recommend him strongly enough to people.) We even discussed the inclusion of sound effects as underlying textures, such as sweeping wind for Pennants and gongs for Shields. And you can imagine how surprised I was when the sound of styrofoam packing peanuts effectively became the crackling undertone for the flames of Lanterns.

But the one track that unanimously won over EVERYONE in the Ætheric office was, without a doubt, the music for the Element of Tomes. "Give me something monastic, almost Gregorian", I said to Vlad. He delivered a piece that sent shivers down the spine of everyone in the office. (Which then prompted a frantic brainstorming session of where else the music might be used, since, as everyone agreed, it was just too good NOT to.) Then there was Melissa grooving in her office chair to the sound of Shields...

We did hit a stumbling block when it came to the Greater Arcana music, but in the end, both Vlad and I were able to turn it into a positive despite the misstep. A clarification of communication between Vlad and the Ætheric team led in turn to a clearer idea of what we wanted to accomplish for these particular tracks, especially since they would be larger in scope and execution than the Lesser Arcana's seven Elemental themes.

As of this writing, Vladimir is beginning work on the three Greater Arcana as well as on NEXUS' main theme, "Eternity," a piece that promises a scale and scope as grand as its name.

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