Sound Byte: Auditorium HD
We talk to technical director Dain Saint at Cipher Prime about the upcoming PlayStation Network title.
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Now if you haven't had a chance to play or see Auditorium yet, you can go to www.playauditorium.com for a demo (or watch our demo from Today on the Spot.) The game is relatively simple at first, with the goal of diverting the flow of light to charge up meters that eventually play music. As the levels get progressively harder, more layers of music will start to play once you've found a way to line up everything. It's visually quite simple but extremely mesmerizing, especially once you've activated all the sounds. Unlike the repetitive victory themes that we often hear when we complete a level, it's a treat to hear the music play in Auditorium--like a grand symphonic finale that's different each time. It was originally a flash game on the PC, but it will be coming to the PlayStation Network as Auditorium HD, with new levels and Move support. For more info on the game, check out the interview with developer Dain Saint from Cipher Prime.
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GameSpot: Tell us about yourself and your role at Cipher Prime.
Dain Saint: My official title at Cipher Prime is technical director, but we all do everything--coding, designing, marketing, accounting, etc. There are only three of us, so we have to! Traditionally, I've handled all the music and audio, but we've got a new employee who is very gifted that's been contributing to the new projects we are working on.
GS: What is your musical background?
DS: I've been playing piano for about as long as I can remember, though I'm not all that great at it. I took two years of lessons back in middle school, but that's about it for formal education. Since I can't sight-read music, I pretty much play everything by ear, and I transfer that skill to other instruments. I also play bass, rhythm guitar, and sing a bit. I absolutely adore anything that comes out of a string instrument. I even have a violin! It's very pretty. I'm sure one of these days I'll learn how to play it.
GS: How did the idea of Auditorium come about? What was the inspiration behind it?
DS: When Will and I started CP, we were doing high-end Flash design, so we wanted to create a sort of digital business card that would showcase what we could do with the platform. Will figured it should be a game, since they're fun, and we decided on doing a shmup since they're obviously the most fun. Naturally, the first thing you make in a shmup is the explosions, and so I set off working on this particle system to do the explosions. But in doing that, we ended up spending hours and hours just playing with these particles instead of actually getting work done. Somewhere in there, we realized other people would probably have just as much fun playing with the particles, so we scrapped the rest of the shmup idea and just built a game around flinging pretty particles around the screen.
GS: What made you decide to use the audio as the goal for each level instead of going with something like the visuals?
DS: Before we had started working on Auditorium, I was messing around with ideas for a full-Flash website for Cipher Prime. I wanted something very cinematic, so I wrote looping snippets of orchestral music--one for the about page, one for the client list, etc. So when we were working on this game, Will added in the goals that needed to be filled with particles. It just sort of clicked that if I split the track I had written into each individual instrument, we could treat the whole game like a really pretty mixing board. It was a beautiful moment--many high fives were had.
GS: How did you settle on the tone and feel of the game, as well as the instruments that were featured?
DS: So, some time in college, I got into Rob Dougan, who did a lot of the orchestra-plus-drum-machine tracks that ended up in the Matrix movies and, like, everywhere else in the early 2000s. Way overplayed. But apart from the tracks everyone's heard, he had this incredibly beautiful piece called "Will You Follow Me?" that was all orchestra--no techno--and created this beautiful sense of rhythm, motion, and emotion with very minimal percussion. So I started messing around on that end of things and started listening to a ton of film scores. I got into Danny Elfman because he's incredible at making these very recognizable themes--just fantastic use of leitmotif--and Franz Waxman was a consummate genius all around. His work on Rebecca is without equal. By the time we got to work on Auditorium, I had already written quite a few little orchestral snippets inspired by works like these.
With Auditorium HD, I wanted to be much bolder than I was with the online version. We ended up getting Cinematic Strings, which is a phenomenal performance-based string library. You can get lots of little nuances--vibrato, trills, really solid staccato, etc.--which I simply couldn't do with the Classic version. So I ended up composing 10 new tracks for the Modern playlist--all double length--so about twice as much music as the original playlist. And I decided to really tell a story--to create a sense of journey. I actually wrote a story that goes along with the music; I might make that available at some time. I played a bit more with different genres while still keeping that Auditorium sound. "Carefree" is this really fun big-band/jazzy track and "Obscura" is a creepy horror-movie-tinged piece. So I'm looking forward to seeing how people react to the new set!
GS: How was the development process? What were your biggest challenges? Your fondest memories?
DS: I think the biggest challenge up front was that we had never made a real game before. I mean, Will had done some modeling/mod work for Quake back in the day, and I had made these little quiz games in QBASIC, but we had never made games from the ground up. And it was our first real project together. So there was a lot of just figuring out what we needed to do in the beginning. Since our background was web, we made a web game--just so we could minimize the amount of new things we'd need to learn.
I think one of my favorite stories from making the online version is the release. We were still ironing out bugs and content down to the wire, and we decided come hell or high water, we would finish the game on time. We ended up working for 72 hours straight. Let me tell you--you start to hallucinate at hour 50. But I had a great time, and I wouldn't trade that experience for anything. I wouldn't do it again, but I wouldn't trade it either!
So when it came time to do the PS3 version, we decided we'd learn from that experience. We stayed in touch with our PSN developer Empty Clip Studios through the whole process. Will handled the HD graphics beautifully, and I got to basically go in a room for a month, scream for a while, and come out with the soundtrack. We had phone meetings pretty much every day and hounded them on the tiniest of issues. I think at one point, we literally had them shift a texture two pixels to the left. And they were absolutely gracious; they knew we wanted to make the best game possible, and they put in the work to make it happen. So all in all, I'm very happy with how the port came out!
GS: What's next for you guys?
DS: Right now, we're playing a lot of Starcraft II. Like, a lot. Occasionally, between rounds, we work on our new super-top-secret music game for a popular mobile device, so stay tuned for that. After that, we've got a few more titles lined up that we are really excited for. We're trying to bring on a couple more guys to help us juggle all the business and marketing. For now, back to Starcraft (I seriously think Blizzard has managed to digitize crack).
GS: We know how that feels! Thanks for your time!
Sound Byte is GameSpot's game music blog, which covers every aspect of music in games, including interviews with top game music composers and discussions of new and classic game soundtracks. Have a question or suggestion? Leave us a comment below. For a list of previous Sound Byte features, click here.