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.

 

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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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  • Environments Rare Winds Play Track 102 sounds included, 233 mins total $149 $44.70

    From all 4 earth’s corners, air streamlines the environment and shapes our stories. Discover the cinematic world of rare winds!


    This sound library is the ultimate achievement of a really ambitious project of recording winds from very remote places across the world.

    Included are authentic recordings from the Boreal region (North hemisphere: in Canada and Iceland), from the Austral region (South hemisphere: Tierra del Fuego in Argentina and the Last Hope province in Chile), on Islands in Mediterranean region (Thira in Greece), in the Sahara desert (Marocco), Isle-aux-Grues (Canadian winter), and more (see file list for more details)


    These were recorded either in urban settings, countryside, or complete wilderness.

    Included is a set of useful synthesized, tonal, and designed winds.

    The sounds are categorized into 3 folders: Designed, Indoor & Outdoor.

    WHAT’S INSIDE:

    • 102 stereo files
    • Highly focused and meticulously edited sounds
    • Ready to use Loop
    • Urban area and Wild area
    • Useful Designed & Synthesized Wind Sounds
    • Recordings from the Boreal region (North) in Iceland & Canada
    • Recordings from the Austral region (South) in Argentina & Chile
    • Recordings from Islands in Greece & Canada
    • Recordings from the desert in Marocco
    • Abandonned houses and shelters
    • Marina, lake, forest, car, flags, arctic, metal pole, prairie, street, mountain, grass, …
    70 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574377199
    Add to cart
  • City Life Nature Ambients Bundle Play Track 263+ sounds included, 683 mins total $160 $48

    This bundle includes 4 different libraries.

    The Baltic Sea sound library is compilation of 56 WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, Sony PCM-M10, two Oktavas MK012 set in MS, XY and ORTF setup. All the sounds were recorded far away from the cities and roads. Since most of the sounds were recorded in late winter, there are no insects or birds in background. There are few files that includes the sound of birds, but I left them on purpose, because of the overall feel of the files. In this library you will find beautiful sound of waves crushing on the rocks and shore, recorded from different perspectives in different stereo configurations, during calm and windy days. In addition to those sounds, there’s foley like walking, running and swimming in the water.

    The Harbours Of Norway sound library features 25 files with ambients recorded in Myre, Sto and Nyksund, very small towns with direct access to the sea. Most of the sound effects were recorded at night, but since it’s a polar day time of the year, it was very pleasurable to walk and look for convenient places to set up my gear. Everything was recoded with ORTF setup built from two Sennheisers MKH 8040. Inside this library, you’ll find a lot of seagulls, waves crushing on the rocks and plants, windy ambients from the cliff, industrial sound from port in Myre with ship unloading the cargo, walla with steam engine boat and additional sounds from boat engine market and air cooling aggregates from food containers. Every file was recorded in 96kHz, edited (i removed any unintentional bumps, pops and unwanted sounds). I limited EQing to removing harsh frequencies, or enhancing a little bit the good sounding ones. At the end of the chain there is a small compression, for louder sounds.

    The Summer Ambients sound library contains 33 beautiful WAV files recorded with Sound Devices 702, Rode NTG3, two Oktavas MK012 in MS and stereo XY pattern. All sounds were gathered in different and beautiful places like forests, lakes, meadows or swamps. You can expect amazing ambients, textures, different birds, insects, forest during rain, calm and windy days. It’s a perfect library for designing background sounds. Everything was recorded in amazing Masuria in Poland.

    Summer ambients Update – library got 2x bigger and heavier than the original library. 59 additional files, 123 minutes of high quality audio recorded with Sennheiser MKH 8040 ORTF setup, Rode NTG3, Oktava MK012 XY setup plugged into SD702 and Sony PCM-10. It features ambients from the forests, ponds, swamps, meadows, lakes and suburbs recorded is very quiet locations, mostly just before the sunrise, during the day and before sunset far away from the cities.

    Water Flow sound library took me about six months to record, consumed about 15 thermoses of tea and 42 litres of gasoline to get to all locations. It offers 90 BWAV files recorded in different locations. Huge part of this library is based on the recording sessions on the rivers. Two completely different locations, recorded regularly for the last 5 months allowed me to create this unique sound library. Most of the recording sessions took place during winter just before the sun was rising to reduce the amount of unwanted sounds. Almost all recordings are completely clear and only few have birds in background, since it was my intention to record some location ambients with natural backgrounds.

    You can see the metadata and sound list below.

    70 %
    OFF
    Ends 1574377199
    Add to cart
  • Cars Cars In Motion Play Track 561+ sounds included, 340 mins total $150 $45

    The Cars In Motion sound library gets you exterior sounds of cars driving at different speeds, slow/medium/fast/very fast pass-bys, reverse sounds, accelerations, braking sounds and a lot of additional files. You’ll find different engines, and cars with different character.

    From a small BMW 114i through to a powerful Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 with Magna Flow exhaust, up to a fast twin turbo BMW 640D F12. In addition to cars there are also files covering big machines like tractors and excavator.

    The library features 561 WAV files with total length of 340 minutes, recorded in 96kHz and 24 bits with a Sound Devices 702, two Sennheisers MKH 8040, Rode NTG3 and Sony PCM-M10.

    Here are the cars included in this library:

    • Audi A4 Allroad 2.0 TFSI – 73 files – 73 minutes
    • Audi A4 B8 2.0 TDI Avant – 11 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 114i E87 – 20 files – 10 minutes
    • BMW 530D E60 – 55 files – 21 minutes
    • BMW F12 640D Gran Coupe – 87 files – 49 minutes
    • Excavator MF 860 – 30 files – 20 minutes
    • Jeep Grand Cherokee 4.7 V8 – 62 files – 51 minutes
    • Renault Kangoo 1.6 16V – 71 files – 32 minutes
    • Renault Master II 2.8 dTi – 21 files – 13 minutes
    • Renault Master F3500 dCi135 – 30 files – 12 minutes
    • Tractor Case II CX90 – 15 files – 10 minutes
    • Volkswagen Golf II – 26 files – 13 minutes
    • Other Cars – 60 files – 23 minutes

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Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Cars Hyundai Kona Electric Car Play Track 428 sounds included, 98 mins total $100

    An electric car sound library with a range of FX from the Hyundai SUV, Kona.

    The library includes numerous driving FX on both gravel and asphalt including pass-bys, take offs, corners, approaches and skids.

    It also contains a large range of interior recordings from driving at highway speed all the way to buttons and switches.

    Multiple FX on each track – recorded in Sydney, Australia

  • Cars Car Interiors Play Track 430 sounds included, 14 mins total $69 $38

    car interiors library is a great supplement for all the car engine sounds that you already own. That way the action on the inside of the car is not stale at all. Dashboard buttons, seatbelts, automatic windows, switches, switching gears, brake, clutch and gas pedals, vents, turning signals. They’re all here!

    Got a whole bunch of roaring car engine sounds but then realised that you’re not equipped with all of the boring stuff like:


    car door handles, seatbelts, turn signal, air vents, buttons and switches, seats, storage compartments, horns, windows, pedals (gas, brake, clutch), handbrakes wend

    and all other Car Interior sound effects? Well then.. look no further! This is just the pack for you.
    160 wav files with over 400 single sounds in total. Car Interiors will spice up that car interior scene with real, crisp sounds, recorded from over 6 cars in total!

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  • Destruction & Impact Cinematic Strikes Play Track Up to 4140 sounds included From: $119 From: $95.20

    ENORMOUS SOUNDING PERCUSSIVE HITS

    CINEMATIC STRIKES joins the BOOM Library Cinematic Series – and it focuses on big sounding drums. A whole world of cinematic percussive sound design lies a few clicks away: From devastating cracks and stomps over crisp swells and rolls to epic ensemble hits – you will be sure to find and build just what you are looking for.

    With the ultimate flexibility of different microphone positions, single and ensemble hits, flams and swells using various drums and beaters, you couldn’t be better equipped to design huge blockbuster and trailer hits – or simply place ready-to-use DESIGNED sounds into your timeline and feel the earth shake.

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – CONSTRUCTION KIT:

    FLEXIBLE SOUND DESIGN TOOLKIT

    The Construction Kit offers you one of the most comprehensive drum hit packages ever recorded. Carefully planned to satisfy and complement every spot in the frequency range, you will never run out of low end booms, aggressive cracks, mid-range body impacts, reverberant tails and excellent sweeteners to top it off.

    PERSPECTIVE & RHYTHM

    Not only are you able to produce impressive sounding hits, but also transition into, out of and between peaks. Control the attack and release of each sound, using rolls, flams, double hits and other meticulously performed techniques. Three coherent microphone positions make spatial adjustments a breeze.


    Files: 618 • Sounds: 3708 • Size: 13 GB


    CINEMATIC STRIKES – DESIGNED:

    MAXIMUM PUNCH – AND THEN SOME

    CINEMATIC STRIKES – Designed is what you get when layering and processing Construction Kit sounds BOOM Library style.

    From rumbling low-end BOOMS, soft and natural sounding WHOOSH HITS to aggressive, frontal CRACKS and PUNCHES, the Designed library showcases what’s possible, while saving precious time and budget on a tight schedule.

    This package is particularly useful for filmmakers and trailer sound designers.


    Files: 108 • Sounds: 432 • Size: 1.4 GB

    CINEMATIC STRIKES BUNDLE:

    THE BUNDLE – The best of both worlds at a discounted price.
    The Bundle gives you the full sound design power as it contains both – the DESIGNED and the CONSTRUCTION KIT edition at a discounted price.


    Files: 726 • Sounds: 4140 • Size: 14.6 GB
    Included sounds – keywords:

    BASS DRUM, BOOM, BOX, CAJON, CONCERT TOM, CRACK, CRASH, DAIKO, DOUBLE HIT, ENSEMBLE, FLAM, FOOT, GONG, HARD BEATER, HIT, JAM BLOCK, KICK, KODO, LOG, MALLET, BIN, PUNCH, ROLL, SINGLE, SNARE, SOFT BEATER, SPLASH, STICKS, STOMP, SWEETENER, SWELL, TABLA, TAIKO, TAMBORA, THUNDER SHEET, TOM, WHIP, WHOOSH HIT, WOOD PERCUSSION, WOODBLOCK
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  • Destruction & Impact Implosion Play Track 42 sounds included $100 $70

    Implosion is a sound effects collection of buildings being destroyed with explosives. It features 10 unique building implosions recorded across the country.

    Each implosion was recorded with 4 to 14 channels of audio. To offer multiple perspectives, mics were placed as close as 150ft (~50m) and as far away as 2000ft (~600m) from the various explosive demolitions.

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  • Drones & Moods Audible Silence Play Track 105 sounds included, 170 mins total $80 $64

    The eerie sound of wind resonating through wires, fences and abandoned buildings.

    Recorded using the JrF C-Series contact microphone, these recordings capture the metallic resonance of wind with natural ebbs and flows.

    All sounds were recorded using the JrF C-Series contact microphone stereo pair and Sound Devices Mix-Pre 6.

     

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