Rumblings from The Studio at Epic Stock Media

Behind the Sound Design for Age Of Salvation

ESM Team,

Age Of Salvation is a real time, browser based, sci-fi themed military strategy game. An HTML 5, Webgl developed indie game project recently completed with the help of Epic Stock Media sound designers and composers.

About the Game: A fast paced, game of tactics and resource management, that allows real time unit deployment and live battles between multiple opponents. Advanced network integration allows players to join their friends in daring raids, or rush to their aid as reinforcements during live battles. The future of war is here. Build the ultimate military base, upgrade your defenses, train an army, discover new technologies and enjoy the battle for global domination.

  • Developer: Rechavia Elias
  • Sound Designer: Collin Scudder
  • Composer: David Levy
  • Type of Game: Real Time Strategy
  • Platform: Mac/PC
  • Inspirations: Star Craft and Clash of Clans
  • Audio Post Production Duration: 3 months
  • Sound Effect Licensing Budget: Low
  • Amount of Sounds Needed: 100+ files
  • Types of Sounds Needed: Sci-fi themed Vehicles, Building Ambiences, UI, Weapons, Tech.
  • Field Gear: Zoom H4N, Rode NTG2, Audio-Technica AT897
  • DAW: Logic Pro X
  • Computer: iMac with 32Gb of Ram

Here's an inside look at our day to day experience in developing the sounds for Age of Salvation. Our story is organized around some of the common challenges you find in indie game design projects. The story begins when I met Rechavia doing internet elancing. He’s a young talented, developer from Israel who’s been developing Age Of Salvation for 1.5 years full time. The full alpha version is now complete. So it's time to write about some of my experiences during the production.

Challenge #1 - We lived in distant time zones: I live in Tennessee, David (the composer) lives in Texas and Rechavia (the Developer) lives in Israel. So Right off the bat we had about a big time difference with Rechavia to work around. To close this gap, we worked in shifts. One of us would be going to bed and the other waking up and during the points of our day where we met in the middle, we would communicate progress/updates.

Take Away - Find a project you believe in and that will help you overcome the barriers to getting the work done. Figure out a way work on it, make it work, stay up late and geting the job done is all possible when the project is inspiring to you.

Challenge #2 - Audio implementation is tricky at scale: When you're dealing with big battles, explosions, gun fire, and multiple points of view, you know all that good stuff, it's tricky to keep it all together. At least it was for me. AOS was my first game to have full control over sound FX implementation. In the game there are a range of units that can engage in a fight at any given moment. The problem for me was at first I ran into distortion issues when sounds would layer over one another playing at the same time, causing the sounds triggered to stack and peak. I tried experimenting with different EQ’s, tones, bass, textures as well as some hi-fi sounds to try to figure out how to make them work in conjunction.

What I found that helped me was to make sounds that  fit well in the overall battlefield audio mix. First, I considered all the sound possibilities in the game environment (Such as amount of units firing at once, type units, triggered sounds, music, ambiences etc). Once I began thinking along those lines I could slot my sounds with EQ to fit right into all the warfare and mayhem.

Take away - Create and implement sounds that sit well in the overall battle mix. Look at the bigger picture, then execute sound by sound considering the primary and most important frequencies of each sound. Consider all the audio events can happen in your games environment at any given time.

Challenge #3 - We had a very low sound design budget: We had little to spend on licensing sound effects. Before starting a project in my opinion it's always better to just go ahead and bolster your pre existing sound libraries. I’m a true believer in the more source sound effects you have to work with the better. More options you will have “Yoda Voice”. So looking over the spreadsheet of sound details/requirements needed for the game, I noticed it required a lot of futuristic weapons and vehicle sounds such as tanks, hover crafts, space ships, cannons, lasers, machine guns, electrical discharges, sonic blasts, destroyed buildings, etc. At the time I had very little experience and knowledge creating such sounds from scratch. I didn't want that to hold me back from creating my own sounds though. So I did some research, read blogs, tried to gain as much knowledge as possible then I jumped right into field recording big hits, slams using different materials, lots of household source material, and motors among other things.

During my recording sessions I would focus on listening for unique tones, frequencies, and envisioned how these sounds might be processed and edited together when it became time to sound design back in the sound design studio. I wanted the game’s audio to be elite, addictive, exciting, original and in general to give an indie game a AAA title sound. So After collecting source to the best of my ability and with what little gear I had, I proceeded to search online marketplaces for sound libraries to help boost production value for the specific areas I was lacking in.

Take Away - Purchase sound libraries if it will help production value. Using a sound library can save a lot of time too. Field record your own sound effects to collect source as much as possible in advance, it's crazy how useful organic source sounds are and they can easily be combined with your existing sound FX libraries. When recording, listen and focus on unique textures, tones, and frequencies. Visualize how your recordings will be edited in post.

Challenge #4 - Having total control: - Full audio implementation control was a challenge in itself but by far the best experience I’ve had in game sound design. This is a browser based game, so we did not have any game audio engine software. Rechavia actually had to create his own audio engine so we both could go into the code to implement sounds. I would create sounds with specific file names that would correlate to the sound list code Rechavia created. Then I would go into the code to adjust numbers for volume factors/ level to mix every audio assets in the whole game. The fact is being able to create, implement and go straight into the game to “test like a mad scientist” how your sounds work will literally save time, streamline quality control and instantly give you an idea if what you are doing is making sense.

Personally knowing that I could test out the sound effects before presenting them to get approved, gave me more creative freedom to go above and beyond, to experiment with abstract designs, try unusual ideas and to just have fun. It was great. I would go bananas by orchestrating staged epic battles inside the test version of the game with eccentric sounds implemented. In the past, when dealing with developers/games I would work from a sound requirement list, which entailed me asking the client for the types of sounds that are needed, description of the sound, duration, and any examples or references. Once we both were on the same page, I would create and send the client batches of files.

The difficult thing about this process is the client would have to test out the sounds on their side and get back to you if revisions were needed - instead of getting to test things out personally on your side. I would recommend trying to figure out ways to have the capability to implement and test your sounds FX on your side. It will save time, energy and allow you to have real time perspective.

Take Away - If you're making sound effects for a game, acquire a test version of the game so you can implement and test sounds from your side. Experiment like a mad scientist would and don't be afraid to try new sound FX approaches.

Challenge #5 - Commitment and teamwork - Working with great clients and talent is essential to producing an amazing production. From talent, positive attitudes, teamwork, constructive criticism, all of it matters in this kind of a project. Rechavia (the Developer) and David (the Composer) to me are the paradigm of the type of players you want on your team. Hopefully your team members are the ones who will force you to level up, try new things instead of using your usual bag of tricks.

From the start, it was understood that we were going to go all in, no excuses, no exceptions, and do whatever it took to make it sound great. Working with these nerds, who set their egos aside for AOS made a world of a difference. Feedback on the team was all about constructive criticism and about creating the end result we wanted, an epic product. Another important thing we had going on was, the collaborative, supportive channels both team members kept open for each other. This positive action created a mentality/line of communication to run ideas, feedback, and occasionally some jokes to each other freely.

Take Away - Drop ego. Build together. Face a project with an openmind/learning point of view. Keep open ears and eyes. Provide blunt honest feedback to the team and the project will benefit. Work with talented people to push you to new creative heights.

Interview with the Game Developer: Rechavia Elias

What challenges did you face during the production for the Age of Salvation game?

I think that the biggest challenge I faced was to make the game run with all the complicated AI algorithms. Currently the game can handle hundreds of units with path finding, collision avoidance and many more algorithms with 60fps. There’re a lot of challenges in this process for example, when I started to build the game engine, I used an old version of chrome (big mistake) and drew everything using canvas 2d. The game was running on 60fps while drawing a decent amount of units, but one day I found out that in the new version of chrome (V.33 if I remember correctly) the frame rate dropped from 60 to 6 (due to really bad algorithm.) This algorithm tried to reduce the amount of memory spent on the GPU mainly because it was the same code for mobile phones. I opened a bug and Chrome team fixed it after about 2 months, but every time they updated and improved their performance on one thing, it would mess up another, making the the frame rate stall and never come back to where I wanted it 60fps. Disappointed, I decided to migrate to webgl and control all the optimizations myself. Now the game can run hundreds of units with all the effects on 60fps.

There were also a lot of challenges in making the game very scale-able and efficient while  making it safe from cheaters. Another challenge I faced was finding good freelancers! It is not an easy process, you will need to hire 3-4 bad people before you find someone good like Collin and David.

Do you have a highlight of what you learned making the game?

I think that I learned a lot of stuff while working on this project. I used google cloud services, aws services, and implemented a lot of AI algorithms (20+), which was really fun thing to do! I remember the first time I implemented AI, all the units started to react to each other like they were alive. Such a memorable moment in development!

Describe your experience working with a sound design team.

I usually believe that a good artist should be given a lot of freedom in his art, that's why I specifically tried to have them do what they thought was best and gave them as much freedom as possible. I also created another version of the game so it was easier to edit the sounds to see the result in the test version of the game. I gave it to the sound design team with a configuration file and they created and tested like 10 different sound effects for every sound effect in the game (almost 1000 sound effects!). Every few days we would go over the workflow, to discuss which worked best, it always was the sound effects the team recommended.

David did the whole soundtrack for the game. He did an awesome job. Besides both Collin and David were really enthusiastic about the game, and my vision, making it a truly awesome experience to work with them.