GAME AUDIO: The ‘Oddworld New ‘n’ Tasty’ Balancing Act [2014]

GAME AUDIO: The 'Oddworld New 'n' Tasty' Balancing Act [Hosted by AudioMediaInternational]

Date: 30/06/2014

Author: Michael Bross

Source: http://www.audiomediainternational.com/opinion/game-audio-the-oddworld-new-n-tasty-balancing-act/03351

Recently, our team wrapped up work on Oddworld New ‘n’ Tasty, where we had been involved in various aspects of the game’s audio.

This included everything from sound design to VO recording to music.

I’ll address our work on music, since that was where I made the most hands-on contributions and where we faced the most interesting creative challenges.

To give a bit of background on the game itself, ‘New ‘n’ Tasty’ is a reboot of Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, which was released back in 1997. It was known for its amazing visual beauty, story and its unique and ‘odd’ take on the platformer style of gameplay. For the development of ‘New ‘n’ Tasty’, the core gameplay from the original game is still there, but the reboot had been re-imagined and then developed with today’s creative tools and tech. What has resulted is an experience that is fresh and new.

I’ve been involved with the Oddworld franchise now for 13-plus years and that includes working as internal audio director/composer for the first four of those years when the company’s studio was on the central coast of California. My first two projects there were Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee (2001) and Oddworld Stranger’s Wrath (2005).

Through the years, I’ve worked with Lorne Lanning (Oddworld’s creator) on his projects, and through this whole timeline, I’ve become very familiar with the IP and have developed a strong collaborative rapport with Lorne.

After a number of pre-production meetings to hash out scope, it was decided that much of the original music could be still used for the gameplay experience itself. I did contribute to that, but it was mostly to create transitions for the original soundtrack. Most of my focus for this game was on cutscene work since new movies had been created along with re-timings and adds to the old movies.

The one issue that came up on this production was that most of the original music for the original Abe’s Oddysee cutscenes was no longer available in source form. The only place it existed was in the mix with the sound effects and voice. There was no way to separate this material once it had been mixed together (original mixes from 1997). This was problematic once movies were re-timed and new scenes added. So, what I had been doing was creating new music and then, in scenes where I was able, fusing it with the original soundtrack when it was salvageable. About 90 per cent of it wasn’t salvageable due to lack of source.

What we decided to do was, instead of re-creating the original music note for note, we would take the approach of capturing the emotional spirit of the original tracks while infusing contemporary elements. This created freedom to make natural choices for the score.

There was approximately 25 minutes worth of cutscene music to write. The process involved composing to picture, then getting feedback from Lorne and iterating based off his input. Since he only lives 15 minutes from the studio, it was easy to get together with him to discuss.

At the same time, I was also checking in with Michael Taylor, the sound designer/mixer over at developer Just Add Water (the game development team) to see what he was doing on the sound design and VO editing side. He would send me his work-in-progress mixes and I’d listen to those to see what the best approach was to melding music with the sound design and dialogue.

In the process, it was a balancing act of creating something new while being mindful of the music from the original game. As a longtime audio director and composer, I felt a deep connection to the game, to its original music and to the intriguing challenge of artfully fusing the fresh with the familiar.

The game comes out on July 22. Be sure to check it out!