Anyone following the MOBA market recently has heard of Strife. Announced in August after two years of development, the game brings some new ideas and fun to the MOBA genre with a familiar free to play approach. We got the chance to sit down with Stephen Baker, the Sound Audio Engineer for S2 Games to talk about how his work impacts the player’s experience and why music and sound should never be overlooked. Sometimes it may go unnoticed, but Stephen explains why sound is critical in any game you play.
Stephen works on all the sounds in the game: NPC voices, weapon effects, spell effects, and just about everything you hear. All of these sounds are coded in by hand and bring the game to life for the player. The ambient sounds create the mood of the game as players enter into a battle. Stephen also gets to work with dialogue to give the players direction and enhance the story. The big changes with Strife come in the form of how music is used in the game, and how it will impact the emotional response you feel even if you don't know why.
Stephen works with the composer Daniel James on the game daily in an iterative process to bring all the music into the system. Strife uses something they're calling The Conductor which is an adaptive music system. It has been put in place to enhance the dynamic feel of the game. The Conductor begins very low and subtle when you're just laning or getting a match started. It can be taken to the extreme by stacking musical tracks as the action ramps up. It really cranks up the drama of events like destroying towers, having your base assaulted, or even just jungling. It can add in different instruments and continue to build as the game progresses.
The Conductor is used throughout the game at different points. For example, when you are attacking the Tower layers of music continue to compound as you do more damage. Once you stop attacking those layers will go away, but will return if you attack the tower again. This aspect continues through out all portions of a match. There is a death piece, a resurrection piece, victory and defeat, all of which have multiple layers.
Stephen said that right now Strife only has one map, but composing new sounds and music for other maps is something the team would welcome if and when they arrive. Stephen explained that music is there to set the tone as the team enters the arena. It should be epic and powerful. This form of adaptive sound has never been done in a MOBA. All of the sounds are streamed in from the install as needed so only a small portion of memory is used for sound and music... you won't have worry about latency or lag because of fancy scoring.
Depending on where you are in the game sounds and music come will fade in and fade out based on the situation. As mentioned above there are different scores for areas or moments. All of which will play starting from the background music. If you are fighting a Guardian then the soundtrack builds up from the normal music into the much more dynamic battle music of the Guardian fight. The baseline score kicks off all the dynamic music based on situation. As tension mounts in the battle, music will reflect the conflict.
The Tower encounters have their own forms of music which will rise and flow with how you are fighting. Once a tower is destroyed the music shifts to a more conquering and accomplished feel. This adaptability can flow with the game changing for each scenario. Once the towers are destroyed, you will go back to the ambient music until perhaps a team fight breaks out, then the score will shift again and raise the emotion behind the battle.
Music and sound are often an underestimated art in any video game. Stephen was nice enough to give us insight into how critical music and sounds can be, especially in a MOBA where games can be so fast paced. From a sound engineer’s point of view so much of the emotional level in the game can be raised or lowered based on the mood you create. Never underestimate how much work and time goes into the sound of a game. It may just make the difference between enjoying a game, and feeling a game.