4L Games, the indie games team housed at Toronto-based Guru Studio, approached us in January 2018 in order to collaborate on the sound design and soundtrack for their first major title: FRACTER. It was initially developed for Android and iOS and launched on both platforms in the summer of that year. Aesthetically somber, grainy and entirely in black and white, FRACTER is a puzzle game in which players guide their way through an infinite darkness using beams of light. The goal: find lost pieces of yourself while evading hostile spirits.
4L Games was looking for a rich and emotionally compelling interactive soundtrack. The low light setting as well as the gameplay design had the potential to rely heavily on sound cues in order to facilitate navigating through the various challenges and puzzles.
The timeline for production was relatively short; starting midway through development in February 2018 and went until July 2018.
FRACTER’s compelling minimalist visual aesthetic required a suitable response from us. This inspired the sonic direction we started playing with.
The gameplay’s quick shifts between sophisticated puzzles and sudden intense escalations called for distinct yet parallel approaches. On the puzzle side, we aimed for a seamlessly musical and almost playful approach, in which players could create their unique musical pieces. In contrast, the intense escalations required a highly responsive sound signalization system for conveying critical information, such as the whereabouts of multiple, often hard-to-see, enemies.
We translated the minimalist imagery of lonely lights shining within a dark environment into plain – almost personified – interactive musical tones. In addition, this sound was layered amidst atmospheric soundscapes that self-randomize and evolve reactively with the gameplay.
The main challenge we had to overcome through this project was to comply with technical constraints of mobile gaming while not being tiresome for players during the repetition of gameplay challenges within the same level.
Our interactive audio & music system was created using Wwise, which allowed very rapid experimentation during the process of prototyping. Thus, we could directly test our ideas in-house with in-game parameters and environments from the very first few days. Moreover, it provided us with the capacity to quickly adapt to changes in scope and creative choices in the project throughout the rest of the development process.
By doing this, the tempo naturally modulates as we experience the scene and supports the deep
We chose to merge sound design with music as much as possible. Therefore, we assigned a distinctive voice to each of the puzzle objects within the game environment, such as the mirrors, windows, lanterns or large more mechanical pistons and platforms. Then, we carefully selected a specific set of instruments from our large repertoire, with the aim of creating tonal and harmonic qualities that would distinctly stand out from the environment.
We also created an interactive audio system based on each object’s parameters (i.e., weight, size, pulse, etc.). Those objects were organized along musical scales that would interlock and react with each other in order to create new subtle tonalities. This facilitated guiding players along the paths to be taken.
All instruments were recorded in the studio (i.e., marimbas, hang drums, cellos, violins, handpans) and each recorded note for the puzzle objects was processed through a single large custom audio processing chain. This allowed to wrap it all together and give everything a specific sonic signature complying with our initial goal: blur the lines between “organic” and “electronic”.
Much of the sound design originates from musical instruments as well. For instance, the hub world doors that open to the sound of a bow bouncing on a loose bass string.
Concerning the musical background or ambience, we needed it to be significantly distinct so as not to be confused with the puzzle objects. Therefore, we specifically chose instruments that could come in and out in a subtle atmospheric manner. In addition, the instruments had to possess rich harmonic overtones that we could mask or emphasize in order to shift between tonally harmonic or inharmonic depending on the level of tension.
By controlling these dynamics as well as providing object with specific sounds that were reactive to players’ interactions, we could enhance players’ immersion by making them feel that they were directly involved in the musical creation. At the same time, we made sure to not sacrifice crucial gameplay information. As the player moves through each unique room of varying sizes and shapes, we worked to convey shifts that moved from contemplative to tense, to silent, to wonderous, to rewarding.
FRACTER represents one of our finest achievements in mobile audio up to date. This was made possible thanks to great collaboration. The team at 4LGames was always understanding and willing to discuss new ideas.
We always felt comfortable experimenting with new ideas before evaluating them together. Thus, we truly believe that a great collaboration is the key in enhancing creativity while delivering a project on time.
As a consequence, we have been nominated in the Game Audio Awards 2018 for “Best Sound Design” and reviewers often cite the sound and music as being a key feature they enjoy.