West Ghost Games formed this past December when four friends who were a part of the games and technology world in the San Francisco Bay Area decided to join the Playcrafting and Dolby Atmos “Step Up Your Sound” Game Jam. When we learned that we were going to be able to use Dolby Atmos to innovate sound for games and interactivity, we did not think twice. This was something Dalia had always wanted to do, and I had experience working as a sound engineer. I asked my contacts, Unity developer Isaiah Johnson and software engineer Lily Riley, to join the team. We found that we all share a love for great stories and adventure games. We are fans of Zelda, Undertale, Resident Evil and NieR Reincarnation.
The concept for the sound came first and drove the theme. We all wanted to do a cinematic adventure game with a story. We recounted how sound makes horror movies really come to life in films like The Shining and Hereditary. Creating a soundtrack with atmosphere and layering intensity was instantly something the entire team wanted to explore with Dolby Atmos. In our game, the protagonist is camping with some friends she doesn’t know that well. She decides to bring her cat Nala along with a harness and leash. The friends camp out at a remote wilderness site, in tents and sleeping bags. In the middle of the night, she mysteriously wakes and realizes that Nala is missing.
The storyline takes an unexpected turn thanks to Lily Riley’s story writing. Lily is an engineer who has worked with VR and modeled the cat demon in the game. I began by composing some atmospheric layers that loop throughout the scene and complement one another when layered. We also wanted the sound to drive the plot so we brought in some adorable cat yell sounds. This allowed the player to follow the sound and look for the cat. Isaiah Johnson, being our Unity dev, implemented Unity objects and scripts such as the interactivity of the flying demon you meet in the game and the puzzles that the player must solve to find her cat.
A challenge presented in any game jam is actually implementing your ideas in a short span of time. This time, we had a week. Dalia is a software engineer who has worked with a wide variety of technologies and worked on our Wwise integration, solving lots of Unity and Wwise, errors. Lily and Dalia together tackled version control in git. Lily brought her knowledge of LFS for large file storage. Lily tackled the Android build from Unity.
This game has 3D sound using Dolby Atmos and Wwise thanks to Dalia Nahol's engineering and sound design. Dalia designed interactive spatial audio using both Wwise spatial audio in 2D and the Dolby Atmos renderer for 3D provided by Dolby as a Wwise plugin. The Dolby Atmos renderer in 3D allows you to add height to your sound design, thus adding an extra dimension. Dalia added this to heighten aspects of our various cat sounds, which move around our landscape as the game progresses. The demon cat, for example, soars around the scene, including above and around the player's head. The Dolby Atmos plugin makes the 3D aspect possible. The Wwise event trigger in Unity makes it possible to hear this sound once the demon cat gets close to the player.
It was exciting learning to work with a 3rd dimension in sound. One challenge was to deal with the realities of space and volume once you have another axis to move along. One thing learned in the 3D sound design’s first iteration is that once you add this height coordinate, you are moving away from your listener, making your sound relatively quieter. This is even more impactful when you are already far away from the listener. For example, suppose you are already off to the front right of the listener. Your sound would be far away. Now, adding height to that sound would make the sound appear even further away and, thus, quieter. Due to this fact, Dalia decided to make height be inversely related to distance along the sound plane when mapping out the paths. This allowed important dialogue to be emphasized to the player when being guided by the cat demon guiding the player. In other words, when a sound was on a path already far from the listener before adding the height (Z coordinate in Wwise, Y coordinate in Unity), she made sure the height was lower so the audio would still be easily discernible. When the sound was along a path closer to the listener, she allowed the height to be higher since the total distance was still close enough for the listener to hear properly.
We decided to sometimes allow the audio to fade out and be barely audible, far away along all 3 coordinates for a bit, then come back along a closer path. This technique was especially useful to mimic the nonlinear ways of a real cat moving through a mountainous landscape.
See below for an example of one such path of the cat, moving quickly in the space of 5 seconds.
Below is a schema of the sound buses and attached sounds used in the game. Wwise as middleware allows you to use separate buses for separate purposes. The Dolby Atmos 3D sound buses have several child buses, where the 3D paths live and are attached to individual sounds. You will also see the use of the Dolby Stereo renderer buses below, used more for the theme and the overlapping area sounds that are triggered as the player enters different parts of the game on their way to find their beloved Nala.