[ Video Game ]
Pixel Spill approached us to create the sound design for their narrative-lead game Outreach. It’s a first-person zero gravity mystery set on a Soviet-era space station – what could go wrong?
Outreach is an extremely story lead game with both the visuals and audio playing an integral part in communicating the story to the player. For example there are a lot of unseen events that are conveyed purely through audio: the Soyuz capsule’s docking thrusters; modules turning on and powering up or shutting off. We added in subtle unexplained creaks and groans from the station during quiet and dark moments in order to maintain or increase the player’s tension. This ethos is also applied to Adam Fligsten’s music which we had the pleasure of implementing. The music is sparse and brooding, only used at times of narrative significance or to increase tension in otherwise very quiet sections such as during EVA.
On the practical recording side of the sound design we had a serious task on our hands. Not only does Outreach require a large amount of bespoke foley for things like space suits and the various devices and technology around the station but finding references to take inspiration from was tough; this tech was virtually top secret at the time and is only marginally more available today. With this in mind, we undertook the task of creating realistic sounds without a hard indicator of what ‘real’ really was! One area in which we knew how to approach things practically was the foley for the player’s suit. We constructed the sound of the suit using a combination of bags, coats and leather clothing. We placed these over the microphone and manipulated them to really get a sense of the proximity of the suit whilst on EVA. We also recorded a lot of material using a contact mic attached to metallic and cloth-based materials. This technique helped us to capture movement and interactions THROUGH the suit for the parts of the game set in a vacuum where no sound would be transmitted to the player from outside of the suit. We combined these foley recordings with the contact recordings for the sounds of the player grasping and interacting with objects and hand-holds whilst on EVA outside the station.
For the internal sounds of the station we recorded a lot of appliances, computers and other devices that we thought could be analogous to the technology whirring away inside the station. We then constructed the ambiences for each module ensuring that every module has its own distinct sound. In a narrative focused game the sound design is crucial when it comes to bringing the environment to life and to ground the player in the narrative.
We took a granular approach to building up the ambience of the ship by meticulously placing audio around the level in the Unreal Editor. For example the Science Lab Module gurgles with water pumps whilst the Orbital Defense Module has a real sense of oppression and danger to it, as you might well expect from a space weapon designed to inflict huge amounts of damage!
We also had the task of creating realistic audio transmissions and telemetry for the player to receive from his ground control. We studied old recordings from the 80s from NASA and the USSR and tried to match them. We processed the recorded voices with multiple effects including ring modulation, distortion and narrow band EQs to match the source material we found. For the tape recordings the player finds in the game we actually ran them through some of our outboard 80s tape gear for a truly authentic effect.
As the narrative is such a driving force behind Outreach it has been incredible to have some big names attached to it such as Adam Harrington and Seamus Dever The gravity of the vocal performances mixed with the authentic processing we’ve applied to the recordings have really brought the narrative to life.