Limbo

Sound Design Project
Limbo Game

Limbo Sound Re-Design

“Wwise Limbo Redux” was an open project from Audiokinetic and Playdead games that gave sound designers access to Limbo’s Wwise implementation. A challenge was put forth for sound designers to propose and implement an alternative approach to sound within the game. Seeing as Limbo’s existing sound design is – in my opinion – pretty much flawless, I thought this would be a difficult but rewarding task. In approaching this one I had three essential goals:

  • Respect the game! Retain the incredible mood and sense of isolation and wonder.
  • Create an immersive score that adds some orchestrated melody to the experience.
  • Implement all audio using Playdead’s randomization approach to audio in order to avoid the repetition of traditional linear orchestration and loops.

I broke down the implementation of this project into four videos: an audio tour of the menu music, an audio tour of the in-game music, and an associated Wwise video for each. You can view the videos below, or continue scrolling down to read about my creative approach to this project and look at some supporting images. Enjoy!

Video 1: Limbo Menu Orchestration

Video 3: Wwise Menu Implementation

Video 2: In-Game Music

[youtube http://youtu.be/s7fnA304BsY]

Video 4: Wwise Music Implementation

So, here’s what happened…

I’m very happy with how this project turned out. From a technical perspective I achieved all of my implementation goals and created a completely dynamic musical experience. In tackling this one I broke things down into four steps:

  • Create orchestration “clips” in Ableton Live
  • Modify Wave files as needed within Fission
  • Edit Wwise project modifying/adding sound files and containers to Actor-Mixers and Events
  • Build, run, play, and enjoy Limbo with my new randomly orchestrated soundtrack

The biggest challenge was coming up with a theme and instrumentation for the game that didn’t completely ruin the sense of isolation, confusion, and wonder. Limbo intentionally lacks traditional melodic audio to create more space and a greater sense of environment – it really puts you in the shoes of the boy and adds to the immersion. But adding music… well that’s the challenge! I ended up deciding on a rather moody piano sound, along with various parts from other traditional instruments such as violin, viola, and cello as well as a few world instruments like the koto and “forest” drums to add to the slightly mysterious feel.

I split the audio into two main sections: the menu and the gameplay. Since the menu represents a more structured environment – and one that the player will spend less time in overall – I decided to implement more traditional phrasing here. I created a number of individual parts for right-hand piano, left-hand piano, cello, and viola. I then exported each phrase so that when randomly played in a sample-arcuate transition from one to the next each part would line up in time with the others. But I also varied the length, in measures, of each clip so that the overlap of each continues to change, resulting in a composition that is always unique from one play to the next.

I also decided to make the player part of the orchestration by adding different notes of the key to menu selections. For example scrolling through the menu randomly plays one of 5 pitches from an Obo. Just by skipping around in the menu the player can add to the melody and overall orchestration.

For the music during gameplay I took a much more experimental approach in order to avoid repetition over a longer period of time and to also add to the sense of instability through the melody. All of the sample lengths are different so that there is no traditional in-tempo overlap of melody. Each phrase from the various parts comes and goes and interweaves with each other in a complementary yet very independent way.

However, to add some dimension to the music and avoid things getting boring I did create a number of compositional “blocks” to be randomly selected as well as specifically triggered during certain events. For example, most of the musical arrangements happen around the root chord of the chosen key. However at times the game will change to phrases centered on the fifth of the key, or even modulate briefly to an alternate key. I also created two compositional blocks for the end of the game – one that adds the proper emotional context to the boy breaking through the glass, and another that resolves out of our minor key into a major key when the boy sees the girl in order to give a greater sense of overall resolution for the player. While these two are specific only to the end-game, each block is still comprised of a number of different phrases so that each “Ending” and “Resolution” is still randomly generated and different from one play to the next.

Overall I’d have to say that this was a personal success, and a very enjoyable and rewarding project for me. Not only did I learn a lot more about Wwise, but I created something I am proud of. While I will always enjoy the original sound design, I’ve grown rather fond of my added orchestration, so I think I’ll continue to play it this way!

Thank you Audiokinetic and Playdead!!

I claim no coypright to any of the Limbo images here or the artwork – I’m only using them as part of describing this Wwise project and will remove them if asked. I encourage anyone who is intrigued by this game to buy it and play it. You can get the game here: Limbo Game.

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