Asbjoern Andersen


In 2011, Gord McGladdery began A Shell in the Pit, which transformed from a solo project into a beloved Vancouver-based game audio studio. Since then, the team has been responsible for the sound and music in dozens of titles - from the instantly recognizable soundtracks for Rogue Legacy and Viking Squad to the innovative technical design for Fantastic Contraption and Parkitect to the story-driven sound for Fossil Echo and A Night in the Woods.

In this interview, Gord shares with us how he maintains an innovative work environment and a resilient business model with the help of meditation, his love for spreadsheets, the strong local indie community, and of course, the amazing skills of his teammates - Em Halberstadt, Joey Van Alten, Chris Tammik, and Rachel Sim.


Written by Adriane Kuzminski; images courtesy of A Shell in the Pit, Miguel Araujo, Infinite Fall, and Awaceb.
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Hi, Gord – to start off, how many games have you and your team worked on at A Shell in the Pit so far?

We have done full soundtracks and/or soundscapes for over 30 titles and had smaller roles in at least an additional 15-20.

 
Could you tell us a little about your personal history of getting into game audio and the beginnings of the studio?

I thought I wanted to score music for film. I won a scholarship to VFS’s Sound Design for Visual Media program and half-intended to leverage that as a back-door to film composition. Then I fell in love with sound design in general, and particularly game audio due to how innovative one can be with real-time implementation.

 
Were you inspired by a specific composer or game?

Even though it’s not at all the type of music I write myself, Jessica Curry’s score for Dear Esther was the first time I heard game composition with my picky-ass hipster ears and was like “oh wow, ‘game music’ ain’t what it used to be.” So much emotional depth and just… class. Jessica Curry’s music is just classy as all hell. As far as dynamic audio, the incredible ability to set the tone in INSIDE – almost completely sans music – is the first thing that comes to mind.

 
Since your team does both sound and music, what kind of games or genres do you keep an eye out for?

It is important we work on games that interest and aesthetically mesh with my team as individuals, so the type of games we pursue are influenced by who has bandwidth. There is plenty of crossover for all of us, but if indie-narrative-fan Em is the only one with bandwidth, we aren’t going to pursue a local co-op shooter. Chris doesn’t have quite as much curative freedom since Moona, our audio tool, is used in any Unity game developers want to use it in.
 
The 5 team members of A Shell in the Pit
 
Could you tell us a little more about Moona? What games have employed it and how has the studio benefited from it most?

Moona is our Unity-based audio tool that covers a lot of the basic logic functionalities that other audio middleware tools might provide. It gives our sound designers much more sophisticated control of the Unity audio engine, including voice and instance prioritization, lead & follow action presets, RTPCs, and a bunch of other things. It’s led by our audio programmer Chris Tammik. Chris started with us as a sound design contractor, but when I saw how passionate they were becoming with audio programming in their spare time I knew there was no way it wouldn’t be an asset for us to bring Chris on full-time and simply have them do that. We were struggling with 3rd-party anything (middleware, plugins, etc.) with VR games in particular, so I really wanted us and our developers to have more control of our projects at a more technical level. When a project needed to be using a constantly updated version of Unity on tight hardware-driven deadlines, relying on large tools with complex codebases became overwhelming and I felt like a real pest hammering their support lines all the time. I decided I’d much prefer, in many cases, to have someone on the team who could tackle issues with more immediacy.

Audio implementation in Moona

Audio implementation in Moona

It also allows us to mold the tool on a project-specific basis. For instance, Parkitect has an orthographic viewpoint which introduces really weird attenuation issues when you have tall emitters in 3D space. The top of a tall tower with people yelling on it might be 100m away from a merry-go-round in the game world, but to the viewer they may only be a few pixels apart, so the user feels like they should have equal loudness. Where the heck does the listener go? This was a huge problem for which Unity had no native solution that persisted literally for years, but Chris was recently able to fix it by making modifications for Moona. Now we have that as part of our toolset for other orthographic titles, should they arise.

Games that have used Moona (and its previous rudimentary version, TaT) are Splitter Critters (this was the first game, and it used TaT which actually blew up in our faces immediately before launch, haha. Software development is hard), The American Dream, Fantastic Contraption (we were recently forced to switch from Wwise for very particular spatialization plugin issues), Parkitect, Iron Tides, and a few unannounced titles.

 
With three employees at A Shell in the Pit, how do you balance everyone’s roles and personal goals?

Now four! We just hired Rachel Sim. To answer your question, it’s important to me to minimize micromanagement. Everyone at A Shell in the Pit has as much autonomy as they want on projects, which is why it’s so important everyone can work on stuff they enjoy, believe in, and feel ownership over. I often see our company as an incubator for artists with only as much managerial meddling as is asked for/required from myself. It takes a lot of trust, which is why I am very careful about who I hire. Everyone on our team is capable of self-management to varying degrees and I only step in to fill in those gaps of variation.

 

Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • This is a unique bicycle library that captures this characteristic bike in clean, quiet, nicely performed true exterior rides. Including multiple perspectives, speeds and actions. From fast passbys on asphalt to slow onboard recordings and smooth stops.

    The UglyBike is a typical old bicycle that’s working fine, but needs some TLC. It is a bicycle that’s just average, a little rattle a gentle scrape, a bike that everyone has had but got traded in for a newer one. A story of unrequited love.. :)

    Speeds and actions:
    Three speeds. Departures from slow, medium to fast getaways. Arrivals from slow stops with gently squeaking handbrakes to heavy stuttering skids.

    Five perspectives:
    1. Onboard Front: captures the whirring tire and surface sound.
    2. Onboard Pedal: nice overall combination of pedaling, crank creaks, chain rattle, tire and surface sounds.
    3. Onboard Rear: close up sound of the rear axle, with chain, sprocket and switching of gear.
    4. Tracking shot: mono recording of the passby, keeping the bike in focus while passing by.
    5. Static XY shot: stereo recording of the passby that emphasizes speed.

    Overview of perspectives and mic placement:

    Onboard recordings are 2-3 minutes long depending on speed. Higher speeds > shorter duration.
    All 3 onboard mics are edited in sync with one another to make layering easy.
    All Passbys, Arrivals and Departures move from Left to Right.

    Metadata & Markers:
    Because we know how important metadata is for your sound libraries we have created a consistent and intuitive description method. This allows you to find the sound you need easily, whether you work in a database like Soundminer/Basehead/PT Workspace work, or a Exporer/Finder window.

    However, we are aware that some people have different needs for different purposes, so we’ve created a Metadata Reference Guide that explains the structure. And because we’ve automated the metadata proces, you can be confident that a ‘find & replace’ command will always replace all instances.

    Download our Metadata Reference Guide

    Download complete metadata PDF

    If you have any questions about this, contact us!

    Additionally, we added Markers to some wave files, so specific sound events are easy to spot in Soundminer or other database apps.

    Need more?
    The UglyBike library is part of the complete ‘City Bicycles’ library package available at www.frickandtraa.com. It consists of all 4 bicycles and includes additional surfaces and extras ranging from one-off  bicycle passes captured in the city and bounces and rattles. The extra bicycles surfaces and additional effects are also available seperately here on ‘a Sound Effect’. If you’ve bought a single library and want to upgrade to the full package, contact us for a reduced price on the complete City Bicycles library. Every part of City Bicycles that you paid for will get you an extra reduction on the full package.

    Video Thumbnail
    Responses:

    344 AUDIO:City Bicycles has a plethora of content, for a great price. The perfect balance between a great concept, great presentation and outstanding execution, lands them an almost perfect score of 4.9..

    The Audio Spotlight: City Bicycles is worth getting if you are in need of great sounding and well edited bicycle sounds.

    Watch a video created by Zdravko Djordjevic.

    Video Thumbnail

     

    Add to cart
  • Environments Museums & Galleries Play Track 272 sounds included, 800 mins total $100 $80

    This library features a wide range of recordings from various museums and galleries, each differentiated by the nuances of their size and space. All recordings feature pristine echos, walla and movement. The library includes stereo & 5.0 recordings from:

    • War Museums
    • History Museums
    • State Museums
    • Science Museums
    • Art Galleries
    • Photography Galleries
    • State Galleries

    All sounds were recorded using a stereo pair of DPA 4060s, DPA 5100, Sound Devices Mix-Pre 6 and Sound Devices 788T.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1556056800
    Add to cart
  • The American M5 High Speed Tractor includes over 20 gigabytes of recordings of a WWII US military vehicle with a Continental 6572 six-cylinder petrol engine with 207 horsepower. 188 sound fx document a full suite of performances from M5, also known as versions M5A1, M5A2, M5A3 and M5A4.

    The performances include starting, idling, departing, arriving, and passing by from 6 exterior perspectives at slow, medium, and fast speeds. 10 additional perspectives feature motor, interior, exhaust, tracks, and other locations that capture idles, driving, and steady RPMs from onboard the tractor.

    Includes extensive Soundminer metadata.

    Add to cart
  • Cars Volvo 242 DL 1975 Play Track 364 sounds included $249

    The Volvo 242 sound fx collection includes 271 sounds in 13.51 gigabytes of audio. The 242 is a DL 1975 version of the car, also known as models 240, 244, and 245. It features 25 takes of recordings from the Swedish vehicle and its 4-cylinder B20 A, 82 horsepower engine.

    16 synchronized perspectives capture both onboard and exterior performances. Eight onboard perspectives (12 channels, including 4 in AMBEO) recorded driving at steady RPMs, with gearshifts, and ramps using microphones mounted in the engine, interior, and exhaust. Eight other exterior perspectives (18 channels) showcase driving at fast, medium, and slow speeds approaching, departing, and passing by. There are also steadies in neutral, blips, and performed effects, as well as an Altiverb impulse response.

    All clips have 18 fields of Soundminer, BWAV, and MacOS Finder metadata.

    Add to cart
  • Sports Downhill Skiing Play Track 37 sounds included, 13 minutes 08 seconds mins total $35 $30

    Get ready to hit the slopes with this wintery gem of a sound library!

    Taken from many trips up and down the slopes in Upstate New York, this library gives you in your face gliding swishes, crunching carves, turns, stops, passbys from the left and right, falls, jumps, landings, poles poking and scraping the snow, chairlift machine sounds, bindings, and more!

    If you need authentic skiing sounds this library has you covered. Whether you need to create loops and insert carves in a video game or film project or if you need lengthy recordings of full trips from the top of the mountain to the bottom this library will give you it all. Enjoy Downhill Skiing!

    14 %
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    Ends 1555970400
    Add to cart

Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

Along with hiring people who are creative and independent, minimizing micromanagement, and seeking projects that interest your employees and fit in their bandwidth, what other qualities do you believe help in running an ideal indie studio?

I spend a LOT of mental and emotional energy on making sure we have a sustainable business model and ensuring we have multiple income streams and aren’t relying too much on one thing. Just as there must be room for failure creatively as a sound designer, you must also make room for failure as a business owner. If I am hiring people I want to be hiring them indefinitely, so losing one contract or having one revenue-share game tank cannot be the thing that sinks the company. My worst fear is running out of capital and having to lay people off. I think I’m doing alright, but I probably have a few more years to really get this sussed out. I have piles and piles of spreadsheets calculating our overhead costs, incomes, salary contingencies, affordable bonuses, etc. Without a word of a lie, I get a huge kick out of spreadsheets. Like I think they are really fun and would totally be happy working with them all day every day. The only reason I do music and sound design for games is because I don’t think I could handle the endemic pressure brought on by the fame and glamour of the elite spreadsheeting world.

 
Ha! I can only imagine their inner-circle is filled with Macallan scotch and macros.

As a volunteer mentor with the Audio Mentoring Project as well, what do you think of mentorship in the indie game audio world?

It’s tremendous. Lowering the bar of entry for the less privileged has been the guiding principle in founding the Vancouver Sound Designers Group as well as the podcast (Beards, Cats & Indie Game Audio or BCAIGA). We want to share information at as low a cost as possible and psychologically empower people from all walks of life by interviewing and hosting talks from soundies and composers of all backgrounds. I try to incorporate these ideals into A Shell in the Pit as a company.
 
Dozens of sound designers gather at the Vancouver Sound Designers meetup

Photo of the Vancouver Sound Designers Group by Miguel Araujo

 
Speaking of the podcast, not long ago in one of the episodes (and in a guest post for Designing Sound) you talked about meditation. Has this practice affected how you approach daily life at A Shell in the Pit?

I can’t lie, I am still not in a steady habit but I know it’s good. I often rephrase it for the less… open minded – I’m from a small, conservative (by Canadian standards) logging town so have I vestigial unease with anything that may lead to me hearing the word chakra – I reduce it to its most banal description. For me, “meditation” is leaving the house without my phone and going & sitting somewhere for 30+ minutes. “Meditation” is intentionally boring myself until all my restless thoughts of bills & deadlines wear themselves out and my brain can get to work on more interesting things. I assume the more one does this, the faster one can get to this productive state. This is how I have solved many of our more complex business-oriented problems as well as come up with some decent sound design ideas.

 
Can you give us an example of one of these times?

I came up with our dynamic budgeting spreadsheet via my poor man’s “meditation”. It is a spreadsheet that automatically tallies assets lists into a budget based on the filename prefix. It allows us to collaborate with developers on both the game’s asset list and the budget all at once, giving budgetary control to the developer and allowing them to balance their priorities with contracts paid at an asset-level. I also came up with all our different budgeting models by just sitting and thinking for a long time. Rarely do we lose contracts over our pricing, because by mixing and matching revenue share with up-front payments of some sort we are able to come up with something affordable for almost anyone.

 
If that doesn’t convince people to unplug once in a while, I don’t know what will! This system must save you so much time and give your developers a sense of ease. In another episode of your podcast, however, you talked about something equally as important: failure – and how not every project is guaranteed to be a hit, no matter how much time and love you put into it. Do you have any words of advice to help others become more resilient in these situations?

Keep surging forward. Of the multifarious ways a project can underperform, most are wildly out of our control as audio professionals. One cannot force the public to love anything or bend the winds of the cultural zeitgeist. Failure in chaos does not reflect the quality of one’s work or self. We are children holding out our little soap carvings hoping Mom & Dad will like it, but maybe our sibling kept them up screaming for attention all night and they’re worn out & we don’t get the reaction we were sure we’d get from them. In the moment it is devastating, but I promise it’ll be a lot easier to overcome that sting of failure by getting lost in a new carving than by sitting in your room in circular negativity. Revisit it later with less raw emotion for objective analysis. All our “failures” (which I don’t see that way) hurt less because we have always had new things to occupy us.

 
What a beautiful metaphor and wise way of looking at it. Makes it no surprise your team has been so successful. What do you find most fulfilling about running A Shell in the Pit?

Providing “dream” jobs to a diverse staff. I want and desperately hope we can keep them that way. So many “dream” jobs in entertainment wind up being so crushingly illusory. There are too many stories of excessive crunch, harassment and toxic work culture. I am trying – even if it is just with our tiny, young company – to fight against that by taking cues from great workplaces like Klei & Audiokinetic. We may not have free beer & skittles at the office… or even an office… but when I can tell everyone is doing the best work they possibly can because they love what they are doing and aren’t burnt out, overworked or apprehensive for the sustainability of their livelihoods, I feel like we are really accomplishing something.

Cartoon animals stand in a cirle around the words A Night in the Woods
 
Klei is, of course, your neighbor in Vancouver – do feel the local community plays a role in helping you maintain a dream workplace?

Without a doubt. I may be biased, and Vancouver isn’t without its flaws – it was recently awarded the top spot as the Least Affordable City for real estate in North America – but we have one of the best indie game communities in the world, largely (if not entirely) attributable to the organization Full Indie who hold monthly meetups and yearly Summits with world-class speakers. Em just did a talk on the sound for Night in the Woods at the most recent summit and brought down the house!
 

It seems like every time I see news about that game, it has won another award! Are there any upcoming projects you can tell us about?

I’m very excited for Wandersong, launching in 2018. I have written over 50 songs for it and I have to write another 50 in every imaginable genre. Em has been working on the SFX for it with Greg Lobanov, the developer, who built us arguably the most capable & complex audio tool Gamemaker has ever seen. We will also be releasing The American Dream in the near future, by far the most subversive game we’ve ever worked on, and Joey & I will soon be launching Full Metal Furies, the next game from the developers of Rogue Legacy. Parkitect is wrapping up as well! Tons going on.

A young person sits near acamp fire encircled by two large rock-shaped hands.
 
That’s a lot of exciting stuff. It will be fun to hear what you compose for Wandersong, knowing your diverse yet distinct writing for Viking Squad, Bunker Punks, Splitter Critters, and Okhlos (to only name a few). Considering the sheer amount games your studio has created sound and music for, which project are you most personally proud of?

That is like picking my favourite child! So I cannot. Em’s work on Night in the Woods is some of the best sound design in indie games ever, in my opinion. Fossil Echo was one of our best team efforts, and Moona has come such a tremendous distance since Chris began developing it that it has even replaced a major middleware tool in one of our biggest projects.

 
Great stuff! And finally – a very BCAIGA question – if Doctor Who suddenly popped out of his TARDIS and offered to take you any place in any time period so you could record one sound of your choosing, what would that sound be?

This might be everyone’s answer, but I’d love to do some field recording in the Jurassic period & get me some extinct sounds.

 
Thanks for sharing with us! Where can people follow you and the rest of the team on social media?

We are all on Twitter:

Chis: @chtammik
Em: @emaudible
Gord: @ashellinthepit
Joey: @VanAltenAudio
Rachel: @rachelsimpleton

And Facebook.

 

A big thanks to Gord McGladdery for sharing his wise perspectives from running A Shell in the Pit
– and to Adriane Kuzminski for the interview!

 

Please share this:


 


 
 
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Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • This is a unique bicycle library that captures this characteristic bike in clean, quiet, nicely performed true exterior rides. Including multiple perspectives, speeds and actions. From fast passbys on asphalt to slow onboard recordings and smooth stops.

    The UglyBike is a typical old bicycle that’s working fine, but needs some TLC. It is a bicycle that’s just average, a little rattle a gentle scrape, a bike that everyone has had but got traded in for a newer one. A story of unrequited love.. :)

    Speeds and actions:
    Three speeds. Departures from slow, medium to fast getaways. Arrivals from slow stops with gently squeaking handbrakes to heavy stuttering skids.

    Five perspectives:
    1. Onboard Front: captures the whirring tire and surface sound.
    2. Onboard Pedal: nice overall combination of pedaling, crank creaks, chain rattle, tire and surface sounds.
    3. Onboard Rear: close up sound of the rear axle, with chain, sprocket and switching of gear.
    4. Tracking shot: mono recording of the passby, keeping the bike in focus while passing by.
    5. Static XY shot: stereo recording of the passby that emphasizes speed.

    Overview of perspectives and mic placement:

    Onboard recordings are 2-3 minutes long depending on speed. Higher speeds > shorter duration.
    All 3 onboard mics are edited in sync with one another to make layering easy.
    All Passbys, Arrivals and Departures move from Left to Right.

    Metadata & Markers:
    Because we know how important metadata is for your sound libraries we have created a consistent and intuitive description method. This allows you to find the sound you need easily, whether you work in a database like Soundminer/Basehead/PT Workspace work, or a Exporer/Finder window.

    However, we are aware that some people have different needs for different purposes, so we’ve created a Metadata Reference Guide that explains the structure. And because we’ve automated the metadata proces, you can be confident that a ‘find & replace’ command will always replace all instances.

    Download our Metadata Reference Guide

    Download complete metadata PDF

    If you have any questions about this, contact us!

    Additionally, we added Markers to some wave files, so specific sound events are easy to spot in Soundminer or other database apps.

    Need more?
    The UglyBike library is part of the complete ‘City Bicycles’ library package available at www.frickandtraa.com. It consists of all 4 bicycles and includes additional surfaces and extras ranging from one-off  bicycle passes captured in the city and bounces and rattles. The extra bicycles surfaces and additional effects are also available seperately here on ‘a Sound Effect’. If you’ve bought a single library and want to upgrade to the full package, contact us for a reduced price on the complete City Bicycles library. Every part of City Bicycles that you paid for will get you an extra reduction on the full package.

    Video Thumbnail
    Responses:

    344 AUDIO:City Bicycles has a plethora of content, for a great price. The perfect balance between a great concept, great presentation and outstanding execution, lands them an almost perfect score of 4.9..

    The Audio Spotlight: City Bicycles is worth getting if you are in need of great sounding and well edited bicycle sounds.

    Watch a video created by Zdravko Djordjevic.

    Video Thumbnail

     

  • Environments Museums & Galleries Play Track 272 sounds included, 800 mins total $100 $80

    This library features a wide range of recordings from various museums and galleries, each differentiated by the nuances of their size and space. All recordings feature pristine echos, walla and movement. The library includes stereo & 5.0 recordings from:

    • War Museums
    • History Museums
    • State Museums
    • Science Museums
    • Art Galleries
    • Photography Galleries
    • State Galleries

    All sounds were recorded using a stereo pair of DPA 4060s, DPA 5100, Sound Devices Mix-Pre 6 and Sound Devices 788T.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1556056800
  • The American M5 High Speed Tractor includes over 20 gigabytes of recordings of a WWII US military vehicle with a Continental 6572 six-cylinder petrol engine with 207 horsepower. 188 sound fx document a full suite of performances from M5, also known as versions M5A1, M5A2, M5A3 and M5A4.

    The performances include starting, idling, departing, arriving, and passing by from 6 exterior perspectives at slow, medium, and fast speeds. 10 additional perspectives feature motor, interior, exhaust, tracks, and other locations that capture idles, driving, and steady RPMs from onboard the tractor.

    Includes extensive Soundminer metadata.

  • Cars Volvo 242 DL 1975 Play Track 364 sounds included $249

    The Volvo 242 sound fx collection includes 271 sounds in 13.51 gigabytes of audio. The 242 is a DL 1975 version of the car, also known as models 240, 244, and 245. It features 25 takes of recordings from the Swedish vehicle and its 4-cylinder B20 A, 82 horsepower engine.

    16 synchronized perspectives capture both onboard and exterior performances. Eight onboard perspectives (12 channels, including 4 in AMBEO) recorded driving at steady RPMs, with gearshifts, and ramps using microphones mounted in the engine, interior, and exhaust. Eight other exterior perspectives (18 channels) showcase driving at fast, medium, and slow speeds approaching, departing, and passing by. There are also steadies in neutral, blips, and performed effects, as well as an Altiverb impulse response.

    All clips have 18 fields of Soundminer, BWAV, and MacOS Finder metadata.

  • Sports Downhill Skiing Play Track 37 sounds included, 13 minutes 08 seconds mins total $35 $30

    Get ready to hit the slopes with this wintery gem of a sound library!

    Taken from many trips up and down the slopes in Upstate New York, this library gives you in your face gliding swishes, crunching carves, turns, stops, passbys from the left and right, falls, jumps, landings, poles poking and scraping the snow, chairlift machine sounds, bindings, and more!

    If you need authentic skiing sounds this library has you covered. Whether you need to create loops and insert carves in a video game or film project or if you need lengthy recordings of full trips from the top of the mountain to the bottom this library will give you it all. Enjoy Downhill Skiing!

    14 %
    OFF
    Ends 1555970400
 
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