Surround Sound: a Q&A with the audio team behind Farpoint

Farpoint. Farpoint. SONY COMPUTER ENTERTAINMENT AMERICA

Unified Sounds is a music production house that has done music for many different media, including television, movies, art installations and more. The talented team's latest project is crafting the audio experience for Farpoint, an upcoming title for PlayStation VR. We were able to catch up with Stephen Cox, CEO of and composer for Unified Sounds, to ask him about the experience and some of the team's future plans.

GEEKNIFTY: Unified Sounds has done music for television, movies, video games, and even art installations, with a variety of different styles. How does the team determine what music is best for which experience?

 

STEPHEN: Usually there is a conversation about sound palette, instrumentation and the overall emotional arc with the client and within our team. Many times we will have very specific marching orders from the client regarding their vision. Regarding the Sony Interactive Music team, they know how to describe and articulate exactly what they want. They also know how to probe and decipher what the developer wants in order to communicate effectively, minimizing the back'n forth. Sony provided a very well written project brief along with musical references before we even knew the game was called Farpoint. We studied some recent (and not so recent) sci-fi film scores like Interstellar, The Martian, and Alien. These references definitely helped us hone in on the emotional tone and vibe. Despite all this, we had a tremendous amount of creative freedom to explore new sounds and writing styles. Much more so with Farpoint compared to our work with TV or film.

 

GEEKNIFTY: What are some of the challenges of developing video game music, especially for a VR experience? Is it different from your normal music composition process?

 

STEPHEN: The biggest challenge is immersion, or keeping the player immersed in the VR world. Farpoint is such a beautiful, alien landscape and the experience can be quite eerie at times, so matching that musically and sonically was first priority. Once my writing partner, Danny McIntyre, and I cracked that code with the demo, it became apparent that immersion, or keeping the user immersed, was going to be our biggest challenge. Immersion also dictated ensemble size, musical density and overall frequency content. The way the instruments interacted with the space is very important. We tried to keep the score very wide and reverberant as if it was a part of the background ambience, which it almost is at times. We found that less could be more in terms of ensemble size even though some of the cues are very thick.

 

GEEKNIFTY: Looking at your video game portfolio, it appears that Farpoint is the first major sci-fi video game that Unified Sounds has worked on. What was it like approaching something new like this? Was it particularly different, or difficult, or exciting?

 

STEPHEN: The fact that you aren’t scoring to a locked picture, like a film or show, can be tough initially, yet so much more freeing! I found myself really loving the nonlinear process of writing the score. Also writing chunks of music or overlays that can be triggered at any time while fitting into an underlying loop was a fun challenge. Deliverables are more complex in a game compared to TV or film. Handing off organized sessions and countless files to give the engineers as much flexibility as possible (while still retaining your sonic vision) requires a certain degree of technical skill and planning. You always have to think about the guy down the production pipeline, making sure you are not making more work for the implementers and engineers. The process of crafting new sounds from organic sources, textures… stuff no one has heard before. Being a part of that "world building" process sonically was such a thrill for all of us.

 

GEEKNIFTY: Is there anything about Farpoint that you are particularly proud of? A specific piece, or a challenge that was overcome?

 

STEPHEN: I would say the main theme, which was the demo piece that got us the gig, after several revisions. We put extra time into the revisions and tweaks to make sure it encompassed the overall arch of the game and the right balance of instrumentation. Seth Luisi, co-founder at Impulse Gear and Jonathan Mayer, Senior Music Manager at Sony Interactive, pushed us hard for which I am very grateful. The main theme was really the first piece that went through the three-way collaborative process between Sony, Impulse Gear and Unified Sounds. It set the tone for the entire score and the creative flow increased dramatically after the theme was locked down.

 

GEEKNIFTY: Is this work that you hope you can do more of in the future?

 

STEPHEN: Absolutely! I loved every second of the process, but it is possible that I was spoiled by the awesome Sony Interactive music team. I learned so much regarding implementation and game development working with these guys (big thanks to Anthony Caruso and Rob Goodson at Sony). The proper implementation of music for a game can elevate it to new heights when done properly, especially in VR. My team and I are looking forward to taking on more of that responsibility for future projects.

Farpoint  is available now, requiring a PS Plus membership to play. You can see more of Unified Sounds' work at their website.

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