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Pathfinder: Kingmaker Kickstarter Update #8: The Sound and Music of Pathfinder

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Pathfinder: Kingmaker Kickstarter Update #8: The Sound and Music of Pathfinder

Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Thu 15 June 2017, 22:47:37

Tags: Owlcat Games; Pathfinder: Kingmaker

The Pathfinder: Kingmaker team are pretty dedicated to their daily update schedule. Their latest Kickstarter update is about the game's sound and music, a topic made more interesting by the fact that they already have a few samples to show off. Kingmaker's composer is none other than Mr. Poor Man's Jeremy Soule himself, Inon Zur. The developers appear to be putting an emphasis on creating ambient audio that is rich and adaptive, an important thing for making a game that feels alive. I'll include two of the four audio samples from the update in this post.

Sound and music became an essential part of every pen-and-paper RPG session, and it is an even more important part of the computer game. While working on Pathfinder: Kingmaker our first goal was to bring the world of Golarion to life. To achieve this goal we had to approach sound from many directions: sound effects are here to illustrate all the important actions and conditions of the player, while music and dialogues are helping to create a unique atmosphere of good old fairy-tale. This tale, we hope, will keep the player occupied for 40 or more hours.

To make our game audio vivid and memorable, first, we've conducted a research of several classic CRPGs and detected the brightest elements of their sound design. For example, Baldur's Gate 2 has great ambient sounds and emotionally charged magic spells while the strongest side of Dragon Age is its vivid dialogues and harsh, brutal combat sounds. And it is impossible to imagine Arcanum: Of Steamworks And Magic Obscura or Divinity: Original Sin without their excellent soundtracks.

Inspired by those games, that many consider classics in cRPG genre, we decided to take those ideas and approaches and make them fit for the modern game, but still very familiar and a bit nostalgic. On this basis, we created our sound document, which defined general aesthetics of the audio for Pathfinder: Kingmaker.

To start our work we had to set a mood for the whole game, and the best approach to this is to write a musical theme that represents this mood. We started our extensive creative research for the theme with the "Anvil of Crom" track by Basil Poledouris.

This musical composition proved to be an excellent reference - just like the events of Kingmaker module, the movie "Conan the Barbarian" is full of epic battles, intrigues, extreme manifestations of human nature and exploration of strange and inhospitable lands. We wanted to add these kinds of emotions to our game, so the composer Inon Zur wrote for us several beautiful pieces of music, which set the mood and provided the main theme for the Stolen Lands.

When we talk about sounds for the computer game, it's vital to remember, that unlike the game master, the game has no freedom of expression of its own. One of the important goals for the game audio is to make the player feel at home in the imaginary world, and for that, it must tell much more than we can see on the screen. To achieve this, we've created several systems which help to highlight the main emotion in every single moment of the game - whether it's a quiet conversation, a fierce battle against multiple enemies or a cautious exploring of an unknown location.

Besides, we can control the atmosphere of the game by changing the ambient sounds according to the activities on the screen, such as starting a battle. We want to concentrate on the action - so birds and other non-combat loud sounds around the player should immediately become quieter. Same thing happens in a dialogue.

Or we can change the mood of the scene, for example, we highlight the importance of the player in the throne room by changing lively chatting ambiance to whispers as the player, being a Baron, starts a conversation with one of the companions.

We try to avoid static nature sounds. The audio presentation for every location usually consists of several sound layers. Some layers are playing all the time; other depend on the hour of day or night. And a lot of the layers can only be heard if we are nearing some particular place - it can be chirping of various birds, humming of insects, creaking of trees, the rustling of gravel near the rock and so on. Also, we can hear something we can't see, if it is important for the right feeling of location - it can be the howling of a lone hungry wolf in the middle of the night, or distant rumble of an avalanche in the mountains, growl of hiding monster or laughter of playing children. All these sounds can tell us something about the location we are visiting.

Combat sounds have their specific qualities too. There can be more than 10-12 characters fighting against each other on the playing screen - each of them moving, attacking, taking damage, casting spells and commenting actions. Our sound system highlights the noises made by the members of our group: their attacks, hits, voice reactions to important changes (health-bar low, critical hit, fainting or death). This solution is important to the UI as it makes combat scenes understandable and clear. Some actions are so important that their sound will be heard even from a distance, like dealing a mighty blow to your enemy, which knocks him out or tears him into pieces. So even without paying attention to some particular part of the battle, you'll understand you've got one less problem to worry about.

The music in Pathfinder: Kingmaker isn't meant to be too catchy: tracks change each other after a significant pause, which lets the player feel the atmosphere of the location without unneeded distractions. However, if something important is about to happen - like a sudden battle or a cutscene - you will learn about that by a recognizable tune. And this tune is meant to be the signal that warns the player about an incoming situation.

All these systems must still undergo some fine tuning, but we won't stop even after that. In the future, we plan not only to improve what we've created but also to add some new sound mechanics. For example, we plan to add ambient location sounds which depend on the character's actions. When entering Stealth mode, we will correct the sounds of out footsteps and armor. We will provide voiceover to the most important and emotional dialogues, and the composers will create more tracks to create a special atmosphere in even more locations.​

The music is pretty nice, and the gameplay snippets look fun too. That writing is totally Avellone. Imagine if we could have an entire game like that...

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