Exploring 3D Sound

As well as making atmospheric graphics, I love creating and working with sound and music.

Graphics come more naturally to me as I tend to think of myself primarily as a visual artist (yep, too much time spent sketching Brad!), but audio can make an incredible – perhaps sometimes overlooked – difference to a digital story. Imagine a computer game with no sound. It would be like a silent movie!

With Episode 6, I’m still using music just as much as I have done in previous episodes, but this time I’m also incorporating atmospheric audio directly into my… how do I describe them? My “game worlds”. Wow. That sounds so cool. 🙂

This doesn’t mean just mean using sound effects necessarily: I’m using ambient soundtracks in a three dimensional way as well.

For instance: let’s say I end up wandering off into a very creepy area of my underground subway. Maybe this triggers an appropriately eerie soundtrack. And then, maybe that soundtrack fades away when I find my way out…

See what you think to the little 3D environment demo below which I created in Coppercube (a fantastic software program for making 3D apps and games). Can you find the source of the crackling audio? Press/click and drag the screen to pan around, and use the arrow keys to move through the dark corridors. Note: You need a WebGL enabled browser to see this! (My recommendation: Google Chrome.)


In Episode 6, soundtracks blend in with any other sounds I have going on, such as subway announcements, distant tube trains, my own echoing footsteps as I walk around. The result is wonderfully immersive.

Scripts and Logic

I’m a pretty good coder (yep) but one of the coolest things I’ve discovered whilst making The Last Gas Station is “visual scripting”. This is like coding and requires a knowledge of programming logic (there’s no getting out of that one!) – but, for the most part, it’s much faster, and you don’t actually have to type anything. 🙂

Visual scripting isn’t built into Unity directly, it’s something you have to “plug in”. I’m using a tool called Playmaker which is fantastic, and already being used by some really great games companies to create cool projects.

Because visual scripting involves linking code together in chunks, it’s also great for telling interactive stories.

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For instance, I can ask the reader/player for a response to a situation – say, whether or not to answer the phone when my boyfriend calls – and then adjust the story accordingly depending what the reader/player chooses to do.

Environments and Atmosphere

canalchaseTo tell the story of The Last Gas Station, I’ve developed two different environments using a free game engine called Unity: an underground subway and a remote desert. (Actually, there’s more than that, but these two are the main ones).

Both are entirely made in 3D graphics which is a big leap for me, although making Hometown 2’s Canal Chase was a good primer, and I’m surprised by how easy I’m finding it the more I play around.

These environments are also very different in tone: one is very claustrophobic and dark (in fact it reminds me of the end of Episode 4 : Hometown), the other is bright and warm.

I built my previous episodes mainly out of photographs, video clips, audio tracks and text. This time, I’m trying to make a first-person exploration style computer game, where you can literally be “in my shoes” as the story unfolds.

OMG it’s hard work – I could so do with my own full-time game development team (maybe one day) – but also very exciting, and I love the fact that I can take my photos, videos, sound effects and writing, and put them all “inside” my game world.

Here’s the best bit: although my episode isn’t far off being completed now, I’ve barely written a single line of code. 🙂 NO WAY. How is this possible?

 

Alice Field checking in

Hey. Thanks for visiting my blog! I’m currently making The Last Gas Station (episode six, no less) of my digital narrative series Inanimate Alice. This blog documents how I’m building the work. I hope you find it interesting.

I’m nineteen years old, I have a boyfriend and I work at a remote gas station just outside the city. I’m up against the clock to deliver my latest college assignment before the deadline, but as usual things aren’t exactly going to plan. I’m running soooo late. I’m trying to make this episode in the style of a 3D computer game where you can explore and interact with things as the story unfolds.

Want news about the Episode’s beta release in December? Cool. Just enter your details on my website’s homepage. You can also follow my Twitter feed here: @inanimatealice. 🙂

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