Heard About: The musical grammar of Device 6

Heard About: The musical grammar of Device 6
John Broomhall

By John Broomhall

May 22nd 2014 at 3:10PM

John Broomhall talks to composer Daniel Olsén about his work on Simogo's critically acclaimed iOS thriller

Among this year’s crop of triple-A blockbusters nominated for the coveted Game Audio Achievement BAFTA, Simogo’s Device 6 was an intriguing and exciting contender – in part, a sign of the times in game sound.

Along with Sweden-based game creator, Simon Flesser, composer and co-sound designer Daniel Olsén was responsible for realising its audio vision from his home half a globe distant in California.

Olsén, originally from Sweden, describes the enigmatic iOS title: “Device 6 is a bit like playing a written novel. The words create the map you are navigating on. They stretch out when you walk, form paragraphs when you enter a room and change directions when you reach a corner.

“There are sound effects such as footsteps and doors and you can hear music playing from different machines throughout the game. To progress, you have to solve puzzles based around visual, text and audio clues.

“There aren’t a lot of graphics in the game so the audio, together with the text, creates most of the atmosphere and imagery in the player’s imagination. You also get clues through recorded messages. Since you are almost completely stripped of visuals, you pay more attention to the audio, which is an extremely vital component to the experience – even more so than many other games.”

This project was completed in six months with very few people – it was created quickly with strong unified direction and lots of freedom.

Daniel Olsén

Olsén’s main task was to write the music, but he also contributed some sound effects to the game. Flesser, meanwhile, was in charge of audio direction, creating sound effects and fitting all the audio together in the game. The pair worked closely to ensure all sounds and music felt like they are part of the same universe – no small feat given that they were in different time zones.

“Because I do this in my spare time, I had mostly evenings and weekends,” explains Olsén. “I would usually stay up late and by midnight, it was morning in Sweden, so Simon would wake up and listen to my stuff. Then we would chat a bit and sometimes I would make adjustments before bed.

"Simon and Simogo gave me a lot of creative freedom, but we had talked for many weeks about audio direction before I even got started, so I wasn’t working blind.”

LITTLE VS LARGE

So, how would Olsén compare working on games like this with larger console titles in terms of opportunity for artistic expression?

“I have never worked on a large console title so I can only guess what that’s like,” he says.

“This project was completed in six months with very few people – it was created quickly with strong unified direction and lots of freedom. A bigger title’s development can span several years and a lot of people want to have opinions about everything, including music and sounds.

So I think if you have a somewhat unusual idea about the audio, it might be harder stick to it in a big company because there might be people with a different vision. Someone might even stop you because they would rather play it safe since there is a lot of money involved. In fact, those who still manage to do something unique in those productions should earn extra respect.”

Securing a BAFTA nomination is a striking testament to Device 6’s music and sound creativity. Olsén describes the nomination as an “incredible honour”, and expressed shock at going up against the likes of Battlefield 4, BioShock Infinite and GTA V – triple-A titles that have larger audio teams spending countless hours working on them.

“I think what might have earned us a spot was simply creativity and a unified audio direction,” says Olsen.

“Device 6 never strives for realism, but it still wants to create a believable and relatable audio experience. It doesn’t really care about how people might perceive individual pieces as long as everything makes sense as a whole. I think we managed to have all the audio merge well, and in a lot of places it’s hard to tell the difference between music and sound effects.

“In the end I feel like the game got its own voice – something that’s distinct and instantly recognisable. I think that is important and I want to believe that is why we were chosen.”