Behind the Scenes: The Sounds of ABZU
Giant Squid's ABZÛ took E3 2015 by storm, receiving multiple nominations and awards for its beautifully enchanting underwater world. Wanting to know more about the game's soundscape, I contacted the studio's Sound Designer, Steve Green, to ask a few questions about his involvement in the project.
*Disclaimer: Steve and I went to college together, so, despite our inherent professionalism, this interview may come across as rather casual. It is also spoiler free – respect and integrity first and foremost!
Now let's dive right into it! (pun intended)
Gameskinny [GS]: Alright, Steve. Would you mind filling the readers in on what it is that you do at Giant Squid?
Steve Green [SG]: I'm the Sound Designer for Giant Squid. I'm responsible for the sound effects, their design and, loosely, their implementation through the use of Wwise. The other half of integration is done by two main programmers, Cosmo Fumo and Pete Angstadt.
TL;DR: I'm responsible for all audio except for music.
GS: That's a pretty big task, especially considering that ABZÛ is set primarily underwater. What are some challenges you’ve faced while creating a soundscape for this environment?
SG: Challenges for creating an underwater environment seem to be endless. The world underwater is alien to many of us, I think. As I create this, I attempt to focus on making it alien, or different, yet slightly familiar and inviting. I find myself using land-based life and animals as references and starting points to go underwater with.
GS: It’s interesting that the ocean, though very much present in reality, is still so foreign to us all. Has it been stressful at all, trying to capture both the realism and magic of this unknown? Do you feel pressured to maintain this duality?
SG: It's a pressure, but it's a good pressure. It keeps me on my toes, trying to create an audible world that matches the beautiful visuals Matt Nava has been creating. I think going into this though, with that balance in mind, I tend to side a little more on the magic side. I want to maintain the sense of wonder and exploration that the game is presenting the player with.
GS: And you're doing a great job, by the way. Then again, not all magic is wondrous. On one hand we have cute, little torpedo drones, and on the other is a great white shark.
SG: I think the little drones are some of my favorite things as of yet to design. I've taken ideas and elements from so many of my favorite robots and machines from other movies and games and went about creating my own with them in mind. As for the shark, being a dominating creature in the ocean, I'm going with ideas from dominating creatures on land. Lions, wolves and a few human created sounds are some of the palette I'm using for sharks – all of which can be, in my eyes, looked at as top-of-the-food-chain type creatures.
GS: Wow. Even though you mentioned using land-based animals for inspiration, I didn't expect that. Did you do this instinctively?
SG: I think instinctively, yes. I tend to look at what I can manipulate to create a more unfamiliar, while still familiar sound. Not all of our creatures take sounds from others that actually exist. Dolphins, for example, are being created using kitchenware. Some creatures need a unique touch to keep this world mystical. Some creatures even use kitten sounds.
SG: Yeah, spent a day at a local humane society playing with kittens to get what I needed.
GS: That just made my day. A bit more on the personal side, I can’t help but wonder what it’s like working with Austin Wintory. The man composed the first video game score to ever receive a Grammy nomination. That must be pretty insane.
SG: Austin is fantastic and a big inspiration to me. I feel as though our collective work so far goes hand in hand very well. We bounce ideas back and forth frequently, which is amazing to have. In doing so, we're making sure that there is a strong connection between the sound design and music. I don't want to speak too much for Austin, though.
GS: No, that’s perfectly fine and respectable of you. I know you've played Journey, and now you're working with multiple members of its development team. Have you revisited it at all for inspiration here? Or are you attempting to create a unique experience apart from that familiarity?
SG: That's actually a really good question. I've been using it as a reference in a different manner. Steve Johnson was the sound designer for Journey and I love his work, but I've been trying to stay as far from it as possible. This may change in time, but I want to create something new, rather than regurgitate old things. Once again, I really do admire his work.
GS: So a sense of nostalgia, but with new car smell... Now I'm even more excited than before. Steve, you've more than answered all the questions I had planned, so is there anything left that you'd like to say about this experience?
SG: Just that being a part of this project has been phenomenal, to say the least. I've been given the opportunity of a lifetime and everyday I'm striving to create the best thing I possibly can. I hope it's as great to play as it's been to create.
And there you have it! The soundscapes of ABZÛ are being woven together diligently by the talent over at Giant Squid. A massive thank you to Steve Green and Giant Squid for allowing me to conduct this interview. Expect to see their hard work made available for PC and PlayStation 4 early in 2016.