Interview: Hexany Audio Discusses Creating Out of This World Sounds & Music For the New Men in Black: Galactic Getaway VR Experience
The Men in Black universe is expanding even more this month. Not only are fans of the Men in Black series able to experience a new chapter with Men in Black: International, but there is also a new virtual reality experience at Dave & Busters titled Men in Black: Galactic Getaway. The game, by VRstudios and development partner Strange Reptile, follows players as they chase down and apprehend a wacky crew of alien criminals who have stolen deadly jars of glowing green goo and insect parts (of the planet-destroying kind!) before they escape from Earth. Two wise-cracking aliens help guide the players every step of the way as they make their way through New York and London, wreaking havoc and causing lots of destruction, and finally to a showdown of epic proportions! With completely different endings, combined with other elements of variability including subtle differences in gameplay; randomized player characters; seven different randomly assigned weapons; and dialogue that responds real-time to your performance, Men in Black: Galactic Getaway is never the same experience twice.
Another aspect worth noting is the original audio for the game by Los Angeles based game audio studio, Hexany Audio. The team there was in charge of everything from the score to the sound effects and voice overs. So when you hear the chirp of the Noisy Cricket gun or the cars on the streets of New York, that was all them. To get a better idea of what goes into creating the sounds for a vr experience like this, the Hexany Audio team explains more precisely below.
-Danny Elfman’s themes for the Men in Black films are very orchestral, did you follow that approach with Men in Black: Galactic Getaway?
Matthew: Absolutely! I wanted to stay as close to the iconic sound of the franchise that Danny Elfman had already invented, so that means using the same wacky orchestra and synths everyone has come to know. Before writing my own score for Men in Black: Galactic Getaway I actually took Danny’s main theme to the first movie and made a note for note transcription as a way to analyze the harmonic/melodic style as well as the orchestration and combinations of different synth effects. This allowed me to familiarize myself with this kind of writing and allowed me to write a bit more naturally
-The game takes you many places including London and New York. Did your score change from city to city?
Matthew: Yes actually, the feeling of progression throughout the experience was one of the goals I had with the score. I wanted each of the new areas you encounter to feel fresh and exciting. I tried to accomplish this by changing key, tempo, musical ideas, and timbres as well as trying to give little periods of rest in-between the action.
-Two aliens act as guides for the players. Did you give these two aliens specific themes? If so, can you describe that?
Matthew: Because the experience is so short, I tried to keep the spread of themes to a minimum. Sticking mostly to the ostinato and melodies from the original main theme. Though there is a motif I sort of attributed to the character of Mother. A little choral stab idea on the upbeats. I tried to interject this idea throughout the whole London scene, though you can also hear it in the outro.
-Were there any obstacles you had to overcome with creating the score for this game?
Matthew: The biggest obstacle I think was trying to match the quality in the writing and production to the level of Danny Elfman’s work. He is such a masterful composer. Trying to get a lot of these fast string and wind runs to come through using all virtual instruments was a bit of a challenge, but I thought it came through in the end. It was actually super fun to write in this style and to try and get the virtual orchestra to sound as real as possible.
-Men in Black: Galactic Getaway is a game for multiple players. If it was for a single player would your scoring approach been any different?
Matthew: The multiplayer aspect is definitely taken into account, especially with this style of gameplay. We knew that with 4 people playing at the same time in a Dave & Buster’s Midway was going to be pretty noisy with people having a blast and talking loudly while playing. This means that the music needs to be very upbeat and active to have any chance at being heard well. Additionally, especially in a traditional game; if it’s single player, the approach is a lot more cinematic in nature as it’s more about guiding that single person through the story. This experience, the main idea is fun, we wanted the 4 players to have a blast fighting their way through the Men In Black universe.
-There are seven different randomly assigned weapons in the game. Was one more difficult than the others to create the sound for?
Richard: Jason Walsh was our Lead Sound Designer on the project so I’ll let him take this one! I’ll say that this was a great process working with VRstudios, Strange Reptile, and Dave & Buster’s to figure out how these weapons should sound and feel. Our studio Hexany Audio does a lot of weapon design for various games, but this was one instance where we got to challenge ourselves a bit further given the out-of-the-box nature of the weapons.
Jason: I think the one that everyone is most familiar with is the Noisy Cricket. The movie helps sell the power of the gun by having the characteristic sounds precede the actual gun shot. In the game, the sound is triggered when the player shoots, so I wanted to make sure the signature sci-fi cricket chirp was incorporated into the gun shot in a natural way. We ultimately had the chirp play as the ‘tail’ of the gun shot. I wanted it to flow naturally into the big explosion that the gun shot makes, so it took a few rounds of testing it in game to get the length and cadence to feel right.
-Did you all do the voice over work for the game too? If so, can you talk about what’s involved with that?
Jason: Hexany handled the voice over process for Men in Black: Galactic Getaway. We were given references for what each character should sound like and found voice actors and actresses that fit the bill. The clients made their casting decisions, and we recorded the final VO at our studio here in Los Angeles. After getting all the VO recorded, we experimented with some different vocal processing that we thought sounded like Men in Black and sent it back to the clients for their approval. The performances are seriously great. Hearing them processed into aliens makes it all the more entertaining.
-In the experience there are deadly jars of glowing green goo, sound wise did you do anything to highlight this to make more threatening?
Jason: Those jars are the pieces of Mother, the main enemy of the game. At the beginning of the game when the player sees Junior carrying the jars is also when the majority of the story is being given to the player through dialog. It’s one of those moments where we have to make sure we aren’t stepping on our own toes sound-wise. Luckily the back and forth dialog between the enemy characters cues the player in to everything they need to know about the jars and their mission.
-New York is filled with all sorts of random sounds, which city sounds did you emphasize for the New York scenes?
Jason: New York definitely has a lot going on. The ambience has distant traffic, buzzing lights, idling engines of the cars on the street, steam, gusts of wind, and some different layers that fade between each other based on altitude. At the very beginning of the game the enemies detonate a stasis device that freezes all the people, so it’s like the whole city is on pause. We omitted a lot of the crowds and wallah that you may expect to hear in New York because of that.
-For people that aren’t familiar with VR projects like this, is there a director whom is giving you instructions on how he wants things to sound? What were your instructions for this game?
Jason: Kevin Bachus was the one overseeing the project from Dave & Buster’s along with Chanel Summers from VRstudios who was executive producing the project. They gave us a lot of freedom to be creative and build a unique sounding experience that still has a quirky sci-fi feeling like Men in Black. The game is a VR experience built for immersion as well as an arcade rail shooter, so we spent a significant amount of time polishing the mix to strike a balance between cinematic moments, dialog, and sound to give satisfying feedback to player’s actions.