The PlayStation VR (PSVR) made its debut in October of last year and reminded gaming insiders how limitless the industry can be. At the end of May, developer Impulse Gear and publisher Sony released the first person shooter Farpoint, which follows a space adventure set on a hostile alien planet and features the new PlayStation Aim Controller. The response to the game has been overwhelmingly good with IGN exclaiming, “Farpoint is more than a proof of concept or another tech demo for virtual reality. It’s a full-fledged sci-fi shooter that feels fantastic to play with Sony’s high-quality PSVR Aim Controller (and slightly awkward without it). If I were to recommend one shooter to a PSVR owner, this would be it” and WIRED going on to say, “Farpoint offers a complete, robust, and truly impressive experience.”
In the below exclusive interview we decided to speak with Farpoint’s composers, Stephen Cox and Danny McIntyre of Unified Sounds and learn more about the process of scoring a hit VR game.
-How would you all describe your score for the game?
Stephen: The score could be described as a small orchestral ensemble with heavy elements of synth and custom ambient/ethereal tones. We spent a lot of time crafting an original sound palette that would sit well within the environment. Although there are many action and suspense cues, the majority of the score is heavy on emotional content support… depression, loss, love and everything in between.
Danny: Farpoint is a little different than most scores in that there’s a heavy element of sound design, which set the stage for more traditional scoring. There’s also a lot of solo violin and cello parts, which isn’t really uncommon but is a key part of the Farpoint sound. It’s a fun, adventurous and certainly scary score, but there are also moments of nostalgia and even love.
–Farpoint marks new territory with the new PSVR Aim Controller invention. In 10 years what other types of products do you think will go along with videogames?
Stephen: The Aim is so awesome. Seth Luisi of Impulse Gear and the masterminds at Sony just nailed it. I think gloves could be on the horizon, maybe a full sensor suit complete with haptic feedback. It’s possible that cameras and tracking will become so advanced that every part of your body will be represented in VR with perfect 1:1 precision. Imagine mixing that tech with Augmented Reality. Constant immersion… “We are Borg.”
Danny: I think they’ll just continue to sharpen the experience more and more until VR feels the same as reality. Farpoint made great strides in conquering motion sickness and making you feel truly immersed in the world. I think the industry is constantly learning and it won’t be long until there will be little difference between VR and reality. That’s actually kind of scary!
-What was the most difficult part of scoring a VR game such as Farpoint?
Stephen: The fact that it was uncharted territory for everyone involved. We were all reinventing the wheel along side Impulse Gear and Sony. Immersion, or keeping the user experience immersive, was the top priority. As the game progressed, we realized that we could push the music into new territories without disrupting the immersive experience. Walking that fine line was the toughest part.
Danny: Knowing that you’re one of the first composers to ever score a virtual reality game, but that’s also the most exciting part of scoring a VR game!
-Do you find that the setting or characters most influenced your score for Farpoint?
Stephen: In the beginning of the project, the setting definitely influenced the score the most. Matching Farpoint’s visual aesthetic musically was the first hurdle. Once we had our head wrapped around the sound palette we started to explore character driven themes, mainly for the cinematics. I started to think of Dr. Tyson being represented by the solo violin and Dr. Moon being the cello. The characters’ emotional counterpoint guided our musical decisions in many ways.
Danny: I think it was a healthy balance of both. It’s the setting that creates the drama for the characters. We needed to create a sound for the world, yet remember that it needed to be colored by the character’s perspective toward that setting. It’s the fear of the characters that drives the music of the planet. There’s also a lot of emotional cinematics during the game with some really good character development and we always kept that in mind from the start.
-Can you tell fans of the game something they might not know about the Farpoint score?
Stephen: Aside from a few sample based percussion sounds, everything you hear in terms of drums, impacts and “beats” were played in by our colleagues Dave Kropf, Michael Schicianno, Stephen Wheeler or Danny and myself. From motorcycle handlebars to frame drums to giant dumpsters, nothing was off limits. It helps to have a bunch of percussion principals on the team.
Danny: Trumbacca. There’s a sound heard throughout the game that began as Steve playing a busted old trumpet that was sitting in his closet for years. I should throw in that Steve is not a trumpet player. The recording was processed and manipulated a lot and became one of the most important and influential parts of the score for us. Sound design was a key element of the score. We played and recorded a lot of strange things and that one turned out the best. It really inspired us to move in a cool direction.
-Did you work very closely with the game’s sound designers? Because there are a lot of gunfire and other outside noises.
Stephen: I did initially when I was flown out to headquarters to get familiarized with the game. I was brought into the Erik Buensuceso’s office (Lead Sound Designer) to see how some of the early demo music was working in-game. It was here where I got a solid tutorial on the implementation system and how it was going to work with music. I was seriously blown away by the sound design this guy came up with, even in the early stages. It only got better as the builds progressed. Towards the very end I got to see Ken Felton (Sound Manager) in action as he was working late into the night tweaking our music in the cinematic mixes. “3dB louder,” he said. Fine with me! I was very impressed with how the whole team poured their heart and soul into this game.
-When you all were scoring the game, were you working from storyboards and images or the finished product?
Stephen: We didn’t get to see the finished product until a month after the score was wrapped. The initial confidential notes we received, complete with screenshots, concept art and some awesome reference tracks, really let our imaginations run wild. As the game progressed we got some game captures as new levels were made. Then finally locked cinematics that we could score to directly. Sony and Impulse Gear were so good about NOT being heavy handed in exactly what they were looking for musically. Always allowing room for creative exploration.
Danny: We were mostly working from written notes and eventually rough cuts of cinematics. It’s really fun to play the game and see the final scenes and remember how rough they were when we were scoring them. It’s like that most of the time when scoring for any form of media. You very rarely get a polished, completed visual handed to you when you’re scoring. You have to get use to working off a work in progress.
-What other types of video games would you like to score?
Stephen: Any, bring it.
Danny: There really isn’t a type of game or style that I wouldn’t want to work in. If I had to pick a genre, it would be Sci-Fi but I love pretty much everything. I’m really lucky to be able to score for media!