SPARKING EMOTION – CREATING SOUNDSCAPES, MUSIC, AND AUDIOBOOKS FOR AGEMONIA
Jussi Kärkkäinen is a busy person. He does for Agemonia what would be done by a team in larger productions. “Yes, I create our soundscapes, music, atmospherics, do the recording and editing… I also play all the instrumentals as well as use various software instruments for the audio. In the future we will hopefully have broader horizons, but currently I do it all, and there is a lot to do!
Agemonia will feature a lot of audio and music, as befits a large epic tale of fantastic proportions. The game will have individual atmospheric music for every scenario. In addition, there will be location-bound music (all locations in Runedale and other places, all the shops, inns etc.), and loads more. And of course, the audiobooks, some of them already published.
A lot of the sound work is possible thanks to a plethora of talented voice actors and most of all the hard work of one man, Jussi Kärkkäinen. Jussi works as a sound designer in the Finnish Ryhmäteatteri, and his work entails background in TV and gaming.
“Yeah, back in the day I did sound work as an assistant sound designer for a Warhammer 40k game called Squad Commander for Red Lynx in 2007. It was published on the Sony PSP,” Jussi says with a smile.
“How did you end up in the project?” was my first question, though I somewhat knew what the answer might be, since I had interviewed Jussi along with some other members for an article that will be published later this year.
“We’ve known each other since high school with Max, played in the same bands and whatnot. And now I work in the theater for my day job, like Max.” Jussi has been working along with Toad Kings (Max’s board game company) too, though this is the first time a game has such a plethora of audio stuff. “I can’t recall where we got the app idea from, but it has all snowballed from there… There’s a LOT of material now. The audio books by Mike Pohjola, the soundscapes, intros… yeah, guess one could say there’s a veritable hoard of material,” Jussi comments.
Yes, the audio books. “We started off with just having audio books, where our wonderful voice actor Eric Verspoor would just read them out loud. I think we did Zuva’sai first. Then we thought of adding some flaire to it, since it happens underwater so having some underwater soundscapes with the audiobook,” Jussi explains. “We also had female characters and a male reader… and in the end there’s this huge octopus fellow, so we wanted a more husky voice… and in the end we just ended up adding and adding to the stuff, and got to where we are now.” The audiobooks, while not hugely long, 20-40 minutes, are indeed more like a radio play now. “Yeah, I guess they are. Not like a play since we have a narrator, but they are certainly more robust than just something you read aloud into a recording. Way more so.”
Creating soundscapes already started from Max’s roleplaying sessions back in the day. “Yeah, we were playing Warhammer Fantasy and Max put on some cave ambient sounds for a spelunking dungeon adventure, and I bickered that this was not that kind of a cave at all,” Jussi says with a laugh. “That was the original spark of ‘doing it better’, and we indeed have thought about how the soundscapes are created. A lot!”
Jussi also has a definite grasp and style on how soundscapes and atmospheres are created. “Cities need to have a sound of their own. An inn in Starhaven is different from an inn in Runedale. Places need to tie in with their music and sounds, to create the feeling of truly unique environments.”
“So how do you create a soundscape then? Where does it all start?”
“Well, usually we talk with Max, him explaining, me questioning, and then it all comes together. For me personally, there’s wonderful intros by Mike that usually make it ‘click’ for me. If there are very essential things, they need to be heard. It is a seemingly endless world of opportunities in regards to the soundscape, but you need to realize the opportunities when they present themselves, and put in the work to have them in place.”
Game music is indeed very essential, as we all know from games, movies and entertainment. It is not without its potholes and difficult bits, though. “Yeah, Max has been very essential in his descriptions. But you need to be careful,” Jussi says. “If there is like a scenario with a feeling of urgency, increasing tempo, running against the clock, you need to create it in a manner where if the atmospheric is say, 10 minutes long and the scenario lasts for 20 minutes, that the music doesn’t get stuck, get too repetitive, but feels natural and progressive.”
One thing that Jussi abhors is music that is repetitive and predictive. “Like having one bad guy background music. Or a ‘fight song’, you know? One 2-minute loop of “battle music.” Things like that get stuck in your head and end up haunting your dreams, right?”
As a player of some board games where the atmospheric is 10 minutes long and sessions last for 240 minutes, I can only concur that the song gets stuck on a loop in your head. Or in say, Final Fantasy, where the battle music is always the same in some games.
“So what’s the best thing in this project in your opinion?”
That’s easy for Jussi to answer too. “The feeling of being involved in creating something awesome and big right from the get-go. In this scope. It is so awesome that you just want to keep going and doing to see what it will become.”
Max and Jussi both have a background in theater, so no wonder the voice cast features Finnish theater professionals. “Yeah, Eric is Canadian and our main voice actor, but we have about ten other actors involved so far, with more to come.” For especially an American audience, Nordic actors could be an exotic and daunting concept to some. “I personally love it, how the characters really sound fantastic. The main thing is that the language is understandable, but I think the flaire that is added by our professionals really makes it shine,” Jussi comments. “We’ll just have to hope that the grand audience will enjoy it as much as we hope they will. One awesome thing is that since the theater circle in Finland is small enough, we’ve had a pretty good hunch of who suits which role best.”
When asked about game music and background, favorites, and classics, Jussi has a couple of nostalgic favorites. “Fallouts, in terms of music. Definitely. One and two, and especially New Vegas. I loved how walking the desert in that one had good atmospheric music, then maybe a mouth organ tune or two thrown in occasionally… That’s something that we have in Agemonia as well, in the atmospherics. The music fits the mood and the environment.” A background in gaming and enthusiasm for the scene is evident in Jussi’s work, too. “Yeah, I’ve always been a fan of game music, all the way back from the 80’s, stuff like Commodore 64 Falcon Patrol etc… I couldn’t hum it from the top of my head, but if I hear it, I’d recognize it in a heartbeat,” Jussi laughs.
Jussi is busy in the future as well. “Yep, more audio books are coming out, a lot of stuff is ready, and then there’s the game scenarios too. The lockdown has been good in that I have managed to anticipate things, create things for stuff that might be used in the future. Like things on the Breach, but more on that maybe once the base game is out and about,” Jussi says with a conspiratory tone.
To conclude our chat I ask what Jussi would recommend for anyone interested in the game. What would be the best thing in his opinion? “Well the audio books of course. They’re just a mind-blowingly awesome way to get immersed in the world. Listen to them while going for a walk, they’ll open up the world, characters, peoples and culture just so much. If you’re planning on playing the game and are already eyeing the heroes with a keen eye, definitely listen to the audio books. The game experience will be 100% more immersive!”
Having listened to the audio books myself, I can only concur.
If you haven’t listened to them yet, don a pair of headphones and head to the summer sun and listen to them. I promise you that you won’t be disappointed. 😉
-Ville-Eemeli Miettinen, Content Creator Goblin