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Funcom | Official Site
MMORPG | Setting:Fantasy | Status:Final  (rel 05/20/08)  | Pub:Eidos Interactive
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Developer Profile Interview With Morten Sorlie

By Guest Writer on May 31, 2007 | Interviews | Comments

 Developer Profile Interview With Morten Sorlie

Tell us a little about your childhood. How did school and where you live influence your choice to join the video game community?


Morten Sorlie:

Computers, consoles and games did not play a significant role in my childhood. Our free time were mostly lived outside, riding our bicycles, playing ball-games, climbing trees, skiing during winter-season and so on.

As I grew older my interest for music became dominant, and I spent many hours every day playing and practicing piano and electronic organ (believe it or not, they were quite popular back in the early 80's). Late 80's and early 90' I started fumbling with synthesizers and MIDI, my urge to connect them to computers and sequencers to write music is probably what later on led me into the composing business. My interest for video games back then was probably less than average, and my fascination with Funcom (where I started) was not so much that they made video games, but more that they could offer me a job where I would get paid to write music. That has changed significantly over the years, though!

Can you remember your first video game? How often did you play, what other games had an influence on you?

Morten Sorlie:

My father always brought home his old computer from work, so my first encounter with pc's and games was on the 8088 and 8086, both with monochrome screens. I didn't play more than a few hours every week, partly because I wasn't allowed by my parents, but also because I wasn't that interested in games. I can't remember which game was the absolute first, but I do remember that GATO; a submarine war-simulator; was the first game which made a great impact on me. Later on, the Kings Quest series also had a great appeal, followed by a lot of the other Sierra-games from that era. Parallel to these early pc games, my best friend got a Commodore Vic20, and we played a lot of Jupiter Lander and Road Rash (I think it was called).

Besides games what other influences brought you into your career? Whether it is books, movies, or artwork everyone has different tastes, tell us about yours.

Morten Sorlie:

I've always been extremely fascinated and influenced by the great modern jazz-pianists. Even today, Keith Jarrett's wonderful solo-concerts, Chick Corea's corny synth-solos or Michel Camilo's amazing latin-arrangements makes me want to skip everything else and just practice at my piano. As my role in Funcom these days has drifted from being a composer to more sound-design oriented stuff, I draw a lot of inspiration from sound-design in films. Every time I hear clever sound-design in movies, I try to decipher how it is done and learn from it. As an example, the sound for the different space-ships in the new Star-Wars movies are absolutely stunning, not to mention the pod-racers. Or the ring-modulated scream from Neo as he is brought back from the matrix and into real life.

What was your first job in games? What other games have you worked on?

Morten Sorlie:

My first encounter with the games industry was Funcom, and my first job was as a sound designer for a title called "DragonHeart - Fire and Steel". This game was in its final stage production-wise, and as a freshman, I was given the task of giving the sound its final touch. I did not at all feel qualified for that task, but I guess we managed to pull it off anyway. After that, a series of games followed, "Deadly Skies", "Pocahontas", "No Escape", "Steel Rebellion"(unfortunately never released) and "The Longest Journey" to mention a few, where I worked on both sound-design and music. Parallel to this, we were in production of our first online-title, a game which had many working-titles and ended up as Anarchy Online. Anarchy Online was the most ambitious project in Funcom history, and with this title I got much more involved in sound- and music-technology. Most significant is our SIM-player, the technology which gave us the possibility of writing interactive music. I'm not going into detail about this player, as its nuts and bolts have been explored in other interviews, but I'm very proud to hear how well this tech worked for this title. Even now, 6 years later, a lot of players still haven't turned music off! ? Today, almost all serious developers have their own funky way of handling interactive music, but at the time Anarchy was launched, we were pretty cutting-edge with such technology. My latest completed project is "Dreamfall", the sequel to Funcom's epic adventure "The Longest Journey".

What is your job at Funcom? How did you get your foot in the door?

Morten Sorlie:

I am Audio Director in Funcom, but I started out as a composer/sound-designer for the same company back in '95. Funcom was founded in '93, and a few friends of mine were hired as programmers and producers back then. Through them, I was presented to the owners of Funcom, and after delivering a few musical demos, I was hired part-time as a composer and sound-designer.

Take us through a typical day of work on Funcom while working on Age of Conan, what is it like when you show up at the office?

Morten Sorlie:

Well, not two days feel the same, but I guess there are three main ingredients; coffee, content and design. I assume that the coffee-part is pretty self-explanatory, I drink too much and it is how every working day starts, with a big cup of black coffee. The second ingredient is content, and that is probably the most fun part; making sound-effects quite simply. In difference from making music, which tends to be a very organized, methodical and formal process, making sound-effects is more of an open, crazy process without boundaries. At the moment I'm working with sounds for all the different spells in Age of Conan, and I can't count all the different sources of which these sounds consist. Sampled and processed vocal and screaming, modeled synthesized sounds, tweaked library sounds, recordings of vacuum-cleaners, animals, distorted instruments etc. The list goes on, and the results of these recordings are as unexpected as they are exiting. Great fun!

The last main ingredient in my working day is system-design. My responsibility is to sort out how we will control all the different sounds in the game. It can be everything from how footsteps are controlled; checking for ground-type, footwear type, size of character, other items that the player wear which will make a sound as the player moves (the sound of chain mail when moving is an example of this). Other examples of this could be how we create multi-channel ambiences and how these are interlinked with the environment system in the world. If we for example look at a typical forest ambience, this ambience will of course sound differently based on time of day. Different and more birds in the morning than at night. If it becomes windy, the sound of the wind will sound differently in the forest than in the desert, with more rustling sound. If it starts raining, you want the sound of the rain in the forest, but you also want to quiet most birds. These parameters, and many more are all part of a huge system controlling sound ambiences throughout the game.

The video game industry continues to grow very quickly. What are your hopes for games in the future?

Morten Sorlie:

I've become more and more of a social gamer, and if I may speak on behalf of myself and my friends which all are of the same generation, I believe that few have time to sink deep into a lot of today's advanced and involving games. We have wives, kids, work, friends and other interests, and just as we may have time to watch an episode of "24", we like to have games as a "quick-fix". A few tunes with Guitar Hero, a quick race in Gran Turismo or a game of tennis with Nintendo Wii.

Although I share the fascination and excitement for the really huge and serious titles with the latest in graphics and technology, I want to see more of those "in-your-face"-games which everyone can understand in less than 10 minutes and one doesn't have to commit to for more than 10 minutes.

How have things been progressing with Age of Conan? Have you enjoyed working on such a strong IP as Conan?

Morten Sorlie:

If Anarchy Online was ambitious, Age of Conan is over the top. No matter what part of Age of Conan you look at, you will see how it represents the next generation of online games. When we look at the audio-part of the game, I can hands down say that I've never been more excited about the wonderful and fitting music, written by our composer Knut Haugen, and the level of detail that has been put in the soundscape of this title. Not only do we have an insane amount of sound effects made for this title, but the technology controlling them has never been sweeter and more involving. I hope our players will crank up the volume as they play! :)

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