When In Rome
[ Amazon Alexa Board Game ]
Sensible Object approached us to produce the audio for the first ever Amazon Alexa powered board game, When in Rome! This exciting project consisted of bespoke music, sound design and a whole load of VO.
The game features 20 cities from around the world, each with their own ‘Local’ who acts as Alexa’s co-quizmaster. Each city also has its own bespoke musical theme which plays after a question is asked as an indicator as to how long they players have left to answer. There are also some signifier sound effects for specific events within the game.
The musical challenge was super unique and honestly one of our favourites ever! As mentioned, each city has it’s own bespoke music as well as there being a non-specific version which plays in between-city instances and acts as an audio identity for the game. This version was composed first and the unique versions were each based on this game-wide theme. The purpose of the music is to act as a kind of ‘countdown’ but to also add an extra level of authenticity. There are 60 and 30 second versions of each track (to be used with different questions difficulties) as well as a sting version for the initial signifier that the player has landed in a city.
So the aim was to convey a sense of fun with a slight tinge of urgency while also representing the cities in a recognisable yet not too stereotypical or obvious way! Phew! So with the original non-specific track written and signed off we began the task of collecting references, looking up instruments and contacting musicians who could record for us. One of the great advantages of having access to the Locals was their specific knowledge of the cities they represent.
We started with a wealth of music tracks and interesting ideas from this great knowledge base. For example Adrienne from Montreal suggested we incorporate the city’s Metro sound, a short 3 note motif, into the track. This worked perfectly and made the track instantly recognisable to anyone from Montreal. Other examples include using recordings of Haka singers for Auckland’s theme; integrating sections from Tokyo’s VERY musical Metro line; sampling New York’s Underground door warning and using recordings of Kookaburras to give an extra layer of interest to Sydney’s music.
Another important consideration when aiming for authenticity is instrumentation. We did a lot of research into what kind of instruments are most prevalent in the regions associated with the cities. This then ties in with the genre of music most associated with the city and whether that genre would work in context, i.e. would it work broadly in the same tempo as the others and could it raise in tension satisfyingly to facilitate the countdown effect?
A few of the tracks ended up in different tempos to the rest as it wasn’t possible to use the same tempo throughout (you can’t really have a 128BPM hip hop track!) Next came the sourcing of authentic samples and recordings in order to deliver the best representation of the places in question. Where it was possible we hired musicians to record parts, this is obviously the ideal situation as it achieves the highest level of authenticity. We managed to get tabla, didgeridoo, a host of South American percussion recorded to name a few. For other, more rare instruments such as Oud and Ehru we sought out meticulously sampled software instruments blended with recordings from the relevant regions to incorporate into the compositions.
The sound design was another interesting aspect of the project as it had to convey certain aspects of the game with the aid of no visual representation. For example, a sound is needed to help to reinforce to the player when they should take an upgrade card. These sounds all had to be representative of their function but also subtle enough as to not be jarring. We went with a relatively naturalistic palette to keep things brief and subtle as to not take up too much attention but still enhance the player’s experience.
A huge part of this project was the hundreds of hours of voice over recording that was necessary to facilitate the number of questions, answers, comments and more that each Local could potentially say to the players over the course of many games. 15 of the 20 Locals were recorded by Dan in our studio in Somerset House; 5 were recorded on location in their respective cities. The mammoth task amounted to some 130 hours of recording and 4400 files all recorded, processed, named and uploaded by hand!
We had a lot of fun working with Sensible Object on this project. Not only did we get to meet many interesting people from around the world; we also got to test our compositional skills a ton of different ways. The combination of writing for many different locations and the challenge of keeping the usage the same between tracks made for a super interesting project.