Asbjoern Andersen


Ori and The Blind Forest is an impressive new game developed by Moon Studios and published by Microsoft for the Xbox One and PC – and it sounds absolutely spectacular. The game has been four years in the making, and I got the chance to have a talk with Sound Designer Andrew Lackey, who’s Audio Director and Lead Sound Designer on the game.

Read on to hear the sound team’s creative vision for the game’s audio, how they tackled the massive mix, Andrew’s favorite sounds – and how they were made.

Check out the launch trailer for Ori And The Blind Forest below:

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Hi Andrew, congrats on a fantastic-sounding game! What’s been your role on the project, and who else is on the sound team?

Thank you! It’s been an incredibly gratifying project. I’ve been in love with it for a long time, and it’s amazing to see players enjoy it as mush as I do. I am the Audio Director and Lead Sound Designer. Gareth Coker is the composer. Beau Jimenez, Geoff Garnett and Kristi Knupp are the sound designer/implementors. Plus we had very strong support from the engineering team on the game. Gennadiy, Willem, Arie, David and Arthur all playing huge roles writing tools, systems and advanced implementation. Eric Braa and Aeralie Brighton were our super talented voice talent. Dan Smith and Boyd Post at Microsoft really helped us to elevate tech and schedule issues, and got behind our sonic approach.
 

The game has been in development for four years. What have been some of the major milestones, in terms of the game’s audio?

The game was more of a slow march to completion rather than milestone driven. The major wins along the way were proving our cinematic aesthetic and tech on the interactive cutscenes, getting Ori’s platforming sounds dialed in, designing Kuro, defining the voices of Spirit Tree, Sein and Gumo, filling out the game with deep depth of field ambiences, enemies, UI… and Mixing it… mixing it was huge.
 

What’s been your overall vision for Ori’s sound design? And if you were to sum up the sound of the Blind Forest, what are some of the key sonic components?

Ori is a mix and refinement of many genre’s both in film and gaming. It’s beautiful, poignant, and suspended in time as much as it is exhilarating, fun and challenging. To do all those things well I knew we needed to create an expansive sound in the aesthetics, mix and density. We needed to be nearly silent at times and we needed to rip peoples heads off with terror at times. We needed to be hyper-realistic/naturalistic and psychologically spooky.

We needed the kind of detail in foley that draws people in very close to subtle action to create empathy with characters, but we also needed to saturate people’s senses to drive them to escape.

 
We needed the kind of detail in foley that draws people in very close to subtle action to create empathy with characters, but we also needed to saturate people’s senses to drive them to escape. In short, my aim was to create a highly dynamic and fitting sonic world for Nibel and all of this environments, characters and events, but also stretch as far as we could the peaks and valleys of dynamics, detail, humor, spookiness, naturalism etc.
 

The game genre has been described as ‘Metroidvania‘ – is this mix of genres something that’s influenced how you’ve approached the sound too?

Probably the most important aspect of the game is getting the platforming to feel fun and responsive.

We went for a light and agile feel for Ori, but you’ll also notice it’s very tactile.

We went for a light and agile feel for Ori, but you’ll also notice it’s very tactile. Wood sounds like wood, rock sounds like rock when you latch on, slide down or climb up walls. The textures end up making more of the meat of the sounds, as opposed to the impact of a foot for instance. Ori is mass-less, but Ori’s energy is real. So we focused on how Ori’s energy would affect the elements.

Beyond that, adventuring is key as well so we really wanted the player to feel the shifts in ambiences, moods, levels of hostility, creepiness, as the player moves through the world.
 

How does the game’s soundscape evolve as the player progresses through the game?

I’m very proud of the mix for Ori. There is a significant amount of sound that changes with environments and sequences throughout the game. This goes back to my earlier comment about stretching the aesthetic, density and dynamic range. If the moment is chill, relaxed and peaceful. We took that about as far as we could with the mix and sound design.

When it was time to get big, we were able to ramp up to epic scale.
 

The game has a natural progression much like a film would have so there are major events that happen as part of a 3 act story with a climax and denouement at the end. When it was time to get big, we were able to ramp up to epic scale.
 

What are some of your favorite sounds in the game?

The game is full of meaningful sounds…I’ll give you two.

I really like the connection between Ori and the Spirit Tree, and one sound in particular felt really great in connecting them. In the Attack cutscene when the Ori’s are communing with the Spirit Tree (before Kuro attacks) there is an ahhh sound that could almost be mistaken for a music element. I wanted to do sort of an hom chant kind of spiritual harmony thing there. I took some recordings of myself and my daughters and used the Windows app Paul Stretch to create this effect. Then I did the same thing with Eric Braa’s voice for Spirit Tree on some breathing he did. Those sounds became the basis for a lot of other sounds in the game.

The other example was really serendipitous. We just happened to be working on the game’s opening scene Prologue with the Storm and the Ori leaf journey. I wasn’t in love with the lightning material I had in my library (it’s so overused), plus I was a little grumpy that the visuals kept changing. We also had significant technical challenges completing that scene because of frame rate issues. I was about at my wits end, and this gnarly lightning storm came through our area.
We always have our field recording rigs ready, and we grab them as soon as a storm comes. On that day, we recorded some of the best lightning I’ve ever heard recorded.

On that day, we recorded some of the best lightning I’ve ever heard recorded. It scared the bleep out of us, but the mics just soaked it all up.

It scared the bleep out of us, but the mics just soaked it all up. No rain, just raw enormous thunder. If you know me… I LOVE recording my own sounds.
Lightning is one of those sounds that is very distinctive from one strike to another. They worked perfectly, and they sound sooo fresh and unique for the game..because they are.

 

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The game also features an astonishing soundtrack – how did you strike a balance between the music and sound design? And what’s the interplay like between the two?

Gareth had a tremendous feel for the game that I sync’d with immediately. I’m not sure if he influenced me or I influenced him, but we just got each other without a whole lot of arm wrestling. We both work with a lot of restraint and a big picture mentality. We respect that players don’t need or want to be prodded along with unnecessarily busy sound. They enjoy depth, detail, lusciousness and subtlety just as much as huge climatic moments.

The sequence starting in Prologue when Ori is walking through brambles is a good example. We get very quiet there before the huge climax at the end of Prologue (the opening cinematic). Then Gareth’s music in Sunken Glades to start game play has a very ‘relax, chill out and enjoy the forest atmosphere’ vibe. That could have easily gone the way of adventure music to drive the player a bit.

That wouldn’t have been a bad choice necessarily, but had he started with higher energy adventure music there we wouldn’t have been able to establish the sound effects for the ambiences, Ori’s movements, the UI and other interactive sounds as clearly. For the player this is a little playground space of sorts. In a sense we suspended time here so the players could hang around a little and feel safe to play.

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A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the game’s soundtrack

 
We also threw suggestions at each other pretty regularly. And again, I got to mix this game, which really allow me to push fx, voice and music in and out of focus in ways that give the player a lot of different sonic feels.
 

From a technical standpoint, how did you go about implementing the sounds for the game?

Wabi Sabi Sound was fully integrated as the sound team. We co-owned implementation with the programmers but the division of labor evolved over time. All of the tuning and mixing was our domain.
 

What’s been the biggest challenge in getting the sound right for the game?

Because the game wasn’t scoped 4 years ago to be the long, open, complex game that it became, we were under scoped on tools pretty significantly. The game was done in Unity 4, but shipped using a branch of the Unity 5 beta engine. It was a fairly dicey ordeal, but we really needed some of the new tools. We did not use a 3rd party audio tool, which in retrospect would have been the right choice. We ended up writing a lot of tech to supplement what we had. The game being full 5.1 surround, tightly mixed, with DSP was a gnarly challenge that we pulled off with great thanks to Moon’s amazing tech team.
 

From the teasers I’ve seen for the game, it looks like you’re doing some voices too?

Yes…haha…I’ve done tons of creatures over the years, so Gumo (humorous Gollum-like character) was pretty fun. I’m also doing Ori and Naru. Naru was a bit of a stretch, but we ended up being very minimal with her. I love doing voices especially as part of my design.
 

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Andrew Lackey, beavering away on the sound for the Gollum-like Gumo character

 

Response to the game has been phenomenal across the board. Did you know you were onto something special with this one?

The team collaboration on Ori was incredible. I really can’t say enough about it. Everyone was deeply invested, everyone spoke up about things they liked or didn’t and everyone did their best to integrate the ‘team’ feedback.

The team collaboration on Ori was incredible. I really can’t say enough about it.

I’ve been involved with a lot of projects, and I’ve never seen a team interaction function so well. It wasn’t always perfect and there were plenty of fierce disagreements, but everyone kept the game success at the heart of everything.

A LOT of love and talent has gone into this game by a great many people. I could feel it was special from the very beginning. I didn’t know it would be a broad commercial success, but I knew the project was coming from a special place in the hearts of the team that started it.

 

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A big thanks to Andrew Lackey for the story behind the sound for the game! Find out more about Ori and the Blind Forest here, and visit the Wabi Sabi Sound page here.
 


 
 
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