From its humble beginnings as a crowd-funded project on Kickstarter, Broken Age has soared far beyond the heights of what anyone could have predicted or even imagined. Take, for example, this neat little fact: initially, the funding goal for the game was $400,000 but within a month the donations from backers had not only reached that but had easily surpassed it. The final total? Over $3.45 million. The big question is, do the 87,000+ people who backed the game feel their money was well-spent?
From a sound point of view, there is little that can be criticised about the game. Between its star-studded voiceover cast and its show-stopping soundtrack, there’s no doubt that the first act of Broken Age, released in 2014, has some of the most incredible sound work of any recent video game release.
The voiceover cast list reads like a roll call of some of the most talented and interesting individuals in the entertainment industry – from Hollywood actors Jack Black and Elijah Wood to legend of nerds Will Wheaton and even the creator of television’s Adventure Time, Pendleton Ward. Not to be forgotten are talented video game voiceover veterans Masasa Moyo and Jennifer Hale.
When it comes to the soundtrack, the professional and polished quality of the work is immediately clear. One would expect nothing less of the composer at the helm, Peter McConnell, who since the 1990s has composed for nearly 50 video games, including the likes of Grim Fandango, Escape From Monkey Island, and a plethora of Star Wars titles. Here, he has delivered a soundtrack that feels nothing short of grand and cinematic. This larger-than-life sound is in no small part due to the live performance given by the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra.
As you progress through the game, it’s impossible not to become completely wrapped up in the atmosphere of the world created by the team behind Broken Age. From a sound perspective, the work done on this game is truly close to perfection.
Hotline Miami is a game that has seen glorious and lasting popularity because of a number of refreshingly original qualities. It emerged straight from the bowels of Europe as the first and most admired work by Swedish indie game developer Dennaton Games. Perhaps the most notable trait of Hotline Miami is the unavoidable, unashamed and (a little worryingly) addictive violence. The soundtrack for Hotline Miami seems to be generally accepted by the wider gaming community as one of the best of its genre in recent years. It contains all the right ingredients for a soundtrack that you’ll struggle to get out of your head, and will forever remind you of the many sleepless nights you spent in front of Hotline Miami.
The Hotline Miami OST has so far wrangled a staggering 2,000,000+ YouTube views which is impressive for any standalone game soundtrack, let alone a debut release from an indie game developer. The artists behind the music include MOON, Jasper Byrne, Elliott Berlin and El Huervo, to name a few. The music they have used for Hotline Miami follows the tried and true pattern of catchy, repetitive beats that ride along beautifully with the infamously violent gameplay. There are four main segments in each chapter of the game, each with their own splendid tracks.
The start of each chapter takes place in the player’s home, which is one of two segments where death isn’t looming around every corner. The music reflects this with cool, breezy tracks that really do remind me of what I would imagine the sleazy side of 1980’s Miami to be like, despite never having been there. Next comes the violence that you will no doubt replay many times each chapter, accompanied by the bread and butter of hypnotic techno, with the track ‘Hydrogen’ by MOON being a perfect example of one of many such tracks featured in Hotline Miami. During this stage of the game the music puts you in a sort of murderous craze that has you grinning through the murder and carnage. What follows is one of my favourite examples of how game audio can be used to influence a game’s mood. After the massacre is over, the music dies down to a single mournful drone as you are forced to retrace your steps through the blood and gore you so happily wreaked only moments ago. You’re given a chance to reflect on your motives and question why you’re even performing such atrocities in the first place, the lonely noise amplifying any mixed emotions you may feel. I never fail to be amazed at how effectively creepy such a simple level ending can be.
Miami Hotline is ultimately a great game with a soundtrack that is arguably of equal enjoyment to listen to. As far as indie games go, there is little doubt about the ingenuity of Miami Hotline and its music, hats off to Dennaton Games and the artists.
In an open-world game where exploration is a major aspect of gameplay, the importance of the game’s various audio elements cannot be overstated. In such a game, the music needs to be carefully and consciously crafted to enhance the environment created by the visual aspects of the game, while the sound effects must be realistic but not distracting. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter delivers all this and more, with a high standard of voice acting performances and an atmospheric soundtrack.
The driving force throughout The Vanishing of Ethan Carter is the player’s immersion in the story as it unfolds. To progress through the game, the player must piece together a series of mysterious events through clues and puzzle solving. The motivation to keep playing is greatly assisted by the high quality of the voice acting, which lends believability and dimension to the characters. Most of the voice actors are relatively low profile, such as Jake Amigo as the titular character and Marty Allen as supernatural detective Paul Prospero, both of whom deliver emotive and sincere performances. The cast also includes Hollywood actress Ashley Laurence as Missy Carter and voice acting veteran Michael Sinterniklaas as Dale Carter. Sinterniklaas has voiced many characters throughout his career, most notably that of Leonardo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series. In Ethan Carter, he lives up to his legendary status with a strong performance supported solidly by Laurence.
The music is stirring, eerie and often filled with tension, setting the mood for keeping the player in suspense and on edge throughout the game. Mikolai Stroinski is the composer responsible for the soundtrack, and his compositions do an excellent job at enhancing the game in terms of both atmosphere and enjoyability. This music, together with the impressive voice performances and sound effects of the game, are an essential part of what makes The Vanishing of Ethan Carter so memorable and so haunting.
"Game audio can have a significant impact on the player in a variety of ways. Audio tells a story by setting the mood or directing the player with queues. Audio immerses players in a world through music and ambiance. Music creates emotional responses such as anticipation, wonder, fear and joy."