After numerous attempts at forming/joining jam teams over various discord servers, and wishing that I knew how to code a little better, I finally found a team for Alakajam 4, the second game jam to date that I have participated in. Following on from Symphony of Bones, where I focused primarily on composing the score over anything else, I wanted to adopt more of a sound design role in whichever game I made next, to expand on my foley and implementation skills. Ultimately I was really happy with my contribution, and thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to go full on 'Ben Burtt’, helping to bring a cute 3D fighting robot to life.
The theme for the jam was ‘Falling’, which our team extended to ‘Falling Apart’ after some brainstorming. Inspired by tamagotchi style pet-simulators, we decided upon our concept:
“In the distant future, Robot Combat is now the world’s most popular sport. You have been hired to maintain Robots in the garage of a Robot Maintenance Centre. The owners of the machines almost never interact with them. You are their only contact day to day. Media outlets deny that the robots are able to feel or even communicate with humans. Having spent so much time with them you know otherwise.”
The desired character of the robot fell somewhere on a spectrum from brutal/industrial to cute/cuddly, so even before the specific animations were decided I had a palette of sound to work with. I took my trusty Tascam recorder and harvested as many mechanical sounds as I could from my newly moved into house in Dublin. Luckily, the owners had plenty of what I needed - an old radio, an old printer, lots of old metal - plenty to build a foundation for the robot’s movement and internal mechanisms. To add cute to the mix, I designed a monophonic synth patch to mimic R2D2 style bent beeps and boops, which I layered over the movement. The sounds were manipulated mainly with a frequency shifter in Ableton, which allowed me to emulate the speeding up and slowing down of the mechanisms, in order to eventually sync up the sounds with the animations in an iterative process of sharing work.
For the music, I went for a casual, almost Wii Sports vibe, using funky synth chords, arpeggiated melodies and some assorted ‘workshop’ samples to fill out the ‘mechanic’s atmosphere. The music loop was split into three levels of intensity, which would increase or decrease depending on the condition of your robot. This was achieved through a simple adaptive music system designed in Fmod, where each level of intensity would fade in or out when a certain value was reached on a ‘progress’ parameter that was integrated into the game in Unity.
Overall, the reception to the finished game was mixed - generally the gameplay, or lack thereof was criticised for not giving the player enough control or choices. However, the art direction and the audio was well received, with high praise for the character and ‘cuteness’ of the robot. I was overall pretty proud of my work, and despite the lack of the depth of the game itself it served as a good showcase of sound design and style. A goal for the next game I work on is to take even more control over the implementation of the audio, and use more of Fmod’s interesting and advanced features, as well as focusing a little more on optimisation (WebGL and Fmod didn’t always play nice with this project).
You can play Falling Apart at https://alakajam.com/4th-alakajam/405/falling-apart/.
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