One of the less developed features of Twelve Minutes is the audio.
So far I’ve only implement the minimum required so you understand what is going on (e.g footsteps, opening and dropping objects, etc) and any important gameplay specific audio cues. This means that sometimes you will have awkward moments of pure silence.
Silence is not a bad thing, but in this case, it just feels incomplete. What is the role of the audio in this game? What is it supposed to do, and can it be an integral part of the gameplay?
I know I want the audio to ground the stylized environment, making it feel believable and expand on what the visuals are trying to say. I also want it to reinforce the core gameplay aspect (the time loops) and help convey the emotions your character is going through.
Since the start of this project, I’ve been gathering several songs that inspire me and get me in the right mood to think about the themes of the game. Here are some of them:
Once Twelve Minutes started to get more fleshed out, I decided to listen to these songs while playing the game. I realized they are great when I’m thinking about the characters and their emotions but when I’m playing it just bothers me! They are too noisy and repetitive and impose on whatever feelings I might be having.
I want to create mood but I must allow the player to hear himself. Also listening to them over and over gets tiring fast.
A few months ago I watched the movie “Animal Kingdom“, a masterpiece written and directed by David Michôd with a soundtrack composed by Antony Partos and Sam Petty.
The soundtrack in this movie is very subdued, strong enough to have a presence but to never speak on the top of the actors. Here is one of the tracks:
I listened to the rest of the album by itself and was amazed how it fits with what I’m trying to do. It doesn’t impose, sets a inner rhythm almost like a heartbeat, and delves into the sadness and fatality I’m trying to explore.
This made me write a quick music manager so I could load tracks and crossfade between them depending on the knowledge/state of the player and NPCs. This way I can stop running a music player on the background and can easily test different tracks at different points in the game.
I decided to add the Animal Kingdom soundtrack and it immediately felt more cohesive, speaking a uniform language.
Just before GDC and PAX, since I knew I there would be a lot of playtesting, I decided to spend a couple of days getting ambient sounds for the apartment objects so it wouldn’t feel so silent. I don’t mean ambient background noise but unique sounds per object.
I was surprised how hard that turned out to be…what sounds does a bedroom make? If you sit on the bed or open a drawer, you will have sound, but what if nothing is happening?
Over the next few days I made the effort to pay attention to the silence of my apartment, the office or any indoor environment I would be in. As I forced myself to do this, I started to see that the world, even when there is silence, is full of subtle sounds.
The humming of the fridge, the flickering lightbulb, the ticking of a clock, the cracking of the wood floor, and the list goes on and on.
I immediately started to add all these to the apartment and noticed how richer it feels, and the more I explore, the more I am able to say just with audio.
I can even create my own symphony building a crescendo to key moments in the loop. As a very rough example, imagine you hear a muffled argument of the neighbors next door, followed by a cat meow, some dogs barking and finally a ambulance passing by. You will naturally interiorize these sounds and be able to tell when certain things will happen without having to look at the clock and check the time.
Also, just by increasing the volume or pitch of certain sounds (e.g. the wall clock ticking) , I can create tension and stress.
Now I’m even asking myself, do I even need a music score? Can the apparent silence of the apartment do it all for me? Let’s find out!