Yesterday I started playing this beautiful game, called Monument Valley (exclusive mobile game). It has been in my wish list for a while for many reasons: first, I love puzzle games; second, I like to try games that seems to present some kind of new experience or gameplay; and third, it’s screenshots looked incredibly beautiful (and I love beautifully designed games). So, I decided to buy it. And I do not regret.
First, my not so professional opinion about its looks. Monument Valley is that kind of game that makes us sure game is a type of art. It is impressively well designed, has amazing colours and scenarios, and sometimes you just wanna stare to see how it moves. Clap, clap, clap!
And, for sure, its audio does not fall behind: it is a mix of some concrete sound design, a lot of abstract atmosphere sounds and musical notes. All of this gives the game a feeling that reminded me a lot of FEZ (a game that I already wrote about here – The FEZ Soundtrack and SFX)
The fist thing that caught my attention was how the background and sound design elements set a “zen” mood. It reminded me a lot of Buddhist and Balinese sounds (mixed with modern synth textures), giving the game a calm, yet mysterious, tone (I know Bali isn’t a Buddhist country, but sometimes – maybe just in my head – the sound of them have similarities). Perhaps this happens because I have used a lot of the Native Instruments Balinese Gamelan instrument, and some of the sounds seems to be taken from there.
It is also really interesting how Stafford Bawler (the game’s sound designer) used musical notes to punctuate some of the player actions. For instance: you can move some of the scenario “pieces” (that’s the main gameplay solution for the puzzles) so you can get Princes Ida where she needs to go. So, every position of each scenario piece has it’s musical notes – when you slide a piece or chance the game’s perspective to a specific position, it plays a note. And if you have the curiosity of doing this quickly (like I had) you notice that all the notes form a chord. An example: in the game’s menu, you move a kind of a sanctuary prospective to choose the level you want to play. Each of the side of the four sides of the sanctuary has its note, forming the Cm chord (C-D#-G-C). Cool, right!?
Maybe, the only thing that annoyed me a bit was the sound that plays whenever you click somewhere you want Ida (the character) to go. The sound it self is ok, but sometimes I fell it’s a bit loud in the mix.
Finally, I would like to share two articles and a video about the sound of Monument Valley.
First, this one, called “Heard About: The sounds of Monument Valley“, that is a technical article focused on Fabric, the middleware used to implement the audio into Unity. In Stafford Bawler words “With Fabric it’s almost like FMOD and Wwise had a baby and I really like theparent-child hierarchy structure Fabric uses, which fitted well with my way of working”. It also has some small, but cool, inside info about the process of creating the background sound of the game.
I started out creating background ambiences based on realistic sounds – and this extended to my approach for materials, say stone-dragging sounds for large slabs of marble sliding against each other, but over
a period we realised I was chasing my tail a bit – looking for better and smoother material sounds and more perfect ambience. It became apparent something more abstract was needed, including sounds with musical tonality (with music being the ultimate abstract sound).
“The result was that both individual object sounds and the ambient backdrop became very musical and harmonious – and the more we went on, the less we wanted audio realism. With this principle established, my design approach was completely unlocked and I focused on the mood and story-telling for each chapter. It became a more artistic and compositional kind of approach.
he second article is an interview with Stafford (by the SoundArchitect Blog). A really good talk, where he shares his background on game audio, and some cool info what were the influences for designing the game’s audio, and the instruments he used. Some of the Q&A, below:
What were your main musical influences that inspired your work in Monument Valley?
Ken Wong and Manesh Mistry provided me with some fantastic examples to listen to of what they wanted me to achieve with the game’s audio. There was music by folks such as Brian Eno and Tomas Dvorak. I’ve been a huge fan of ambient music myself over the years having listened to the likes of The Irresistible Force (Mixmaster Morris) , very early Aphex Twin, Tangerine Dream, Ry Cooder (Paris Texas) and others. The game’s aesthetic and gameplay design in itself was also a huge inspiration.
What is your favorite piece of equipment you used while working on Monument Valley? (Software or Hardware)
It was a whole mixture of software and hardware really, as the game’s audio evolved so did the way I was creating the sounds, however as I never really got into the software synthesis revolution of the last 15 years or so I’ve had to use what I’m familiar with which is all my old gear, things like the Waldorf Blofeld, Roland Jupiter 6 and JV2080, but it wasn’t enough to just record the performances or sequences from these machines, I’ve discovered that to make the kind of soft ambient music that the game needed I had to apply a lot of post-production, in the end a lot of stuff was played live , one instrument at a time, then layered up, mixed, reversed, processed in different ways to create the sound you hear ingame.
Can you talk us briefly through your creative process when presented with a new game to work on?
It really depends on the game, but typically I find out the all the essential details – the game design, what kind of game it is, what kind of presentation and art style the game is aiming for, typically this informed by the genre of game. Being a technical designer I then tend to think about the audio systems required, and which kind of middleware solution would best serve that, Once the ‘nuts and bolts’ are in place I’ll start sourcing audio material, either through libraries or recordings, designing the sounds and integrating them into the project. An iteration process begins here as well with feedback meetings and reviews; to make sure what I’ve created is suitable for the game and meets the client’s vision. (Although quite often it’s my job to help them think about what that vision might be in the first place!)
Lastly, the video. A 22 minute recording, where Stafford talks about his work in the game, the creativity process and do some interesting comparison between “traditional sound design” and the one he created for Monument Valley.
Well, hope you enjoyed it! 🙂
Mauricio Ruiz – www.mauricioruiz.me