On Music, Sound Effects, Story

Music and Sound Effects

Once in a while I get a question, from someone who really liked the music in Braid, what the soundtrack in The Witness is like. The answer to this question is that there isn’t one. There is (almost) no music in the game. This is not an arbitrary decision, but is in fact very important to the coherence of the thing we are making.

The Witness is a game about being perceptive: noticing subtleties in the puzzles you find, noticing details in the world around you. If we slather on a layer of music that is just arbitrarily playing, and not really coming from the world, then we’re adding a layer of stuff that works against the game. It’d be like a layer of insulation that you have to hear through in order to be more present in the world.

Instead, we put a great deal of care into the sounds of the world around you, in a way that maximizes immersion in the game. This is made trickier by the game’s setting: you are alone on this island, and there are not even any other animals. There are no birds in the trees! In everyday life if we imagine the sound of nature, we’ll think of some elements that have no place on the island: a forest naturally has the sounds of birds, plains with smaller shrubbery will have crickets, a marsh will have the sounds of many insects. There’s none of that in this game because in this game you are really alone, and it has forced us to be very creative with the audio in order to ensure things have depth and texture to them. This work is being done by Wabi Sabi Sound, who did the sound for the very atmospheric Dead Space series, and more recently some smaller, artier games like Ori and the Blind Forest.

We thought it would be fun to release a few more small videos to give you more of a feel of what the world of the game is like, so here’s:

Story and Voicework

Lately I have been doing a lot of work on story and voice acting stuff. When wandering around the island, you may find voice recordings that were placed by … well, at the outset of the game, you don’t know who; and as the game goes along, there is an interesting mystery to unfold about who these people are or were. In the game currently we have what is known as “temp voice”, which is me reading all the parts under very noisy conditions and just getting them into the game so we can make sure the data works properly with the engine, to get all the subtitles into the game and roughly synced with the audio (which we need to do sooner than later so we can give the translators those subtitles, which they will translate into many different languages).

We have cast the real actors and starting tomorrow we’ll do our first test readings with those actors. We’ll use this to get a new layer of temp voice in the game, which will get it closer to final; this will allow me to see how the game really feels with this stuff in there, possibly to adjust the nuances of the way the recordings appear in the game and the way they are played back. When everything feels good we’ll do a set of final recording sessions. There’s not a whole lot of time until release, and we have several holidays coming up, but we’ll get it done!

We are working with Warner Brothers Game Audio in Burbank, California to do the voice stuff; they are providing the facilities and voice direction and production assistance. After we do a few recording sessions I will have more details to share in this department.

On Music, Sound Effects, Story
Localization

Earlier, I mentioned subtitles. As many games do, we will be localizing our game so that people who speak many different languages will be able to understand the words. We are not recording voice acting in different languages, mainly because it is pretty hard to make sure quality is high when you do that. It is hard enough making sure acting is good in just *one* language. We generally seem to feel the same way about movies: a foreign-language dub of a movie is generally considered to be inferior to a subtitled version, because the acting is so important.

Our localization efforts will involve menu text and subtitles, just as for a good movie.

This is not 100% final, but here’s the list of languages we are planning to have translations for, at launch:

  • English
  • Italian
  • French
  • German
  • Spanish (Spain)
  • Spanish (Latin America)
  • Portuguese (Portugal)
  • Portuguese (Brazil)
  • Arabic
  • Russian
  • Chinese (Simplified)
  • Chinese (Traditional)
  • Japanese
  • Korean
  • Polish
  • Indonesian

We may add more languages later but man this stuff is expensive, so there is a limit to how many languages we can do at once.

We will have more news for you before too long!