The art of creating music and sound for video games has evolved from the bleeps and bloops those of us of a certain age would remember well, into an immersive and essential experience in modern game play. Professional gamers use sound cues for a competitive edge and sound design can help build tension, driver immersion, set the mood and even solve design problems.
We reached out to composer and sound designer Ben Lukas Boysen to talk about how gaming sound design has evolved over the years and his top picks. Boysen, also known as Hecq, has been based out of Berlin since the early 2000s and has a slew of albums and EPs under his belt. In 2014, he was featured as the lead track of Jon Hopkins’ LateNightTales. Over the years he has worked on some amazing projects including with Sebastian Plano in composing the music for Everything, a simulation game developed by artist David O’Reilly. Everything won the Jury Prize at the 2017 Vienna Independent Shorts Film Festival and was the first game to have its trailer qualify for an Oscar. You can listen to the beautiful music that accompanies it here.
1. How was gaming sound design changed in recent years?
The main keyword that comes to my mind must be „immersiveness“. The approach in my earlier personal work, to make no distinction between sound/noise and music, seems to have been many designers and musicians' approach really and has been beautifully developed and incorporated over the years. Music and sound design are so finely tuned against (or towards) each other compared to the olden days of games and aside from it being obviously more realistic and overall improved it became an integral part of the stylistic aesthetics. Good examples for me would be the games Inside, Control and Doom 2016. In very different ways these games build incredible momentum that supports the story arc by the way they wed sound design and music.
2. What are some important things to consider when you are designing music for games?
Coming from a composer's background first and considering myself a sound designer second these days, I still would say the following would be true for me personally: The work needs to serve the purpose. This might sound more obvious than it is probably as there are so many different layers you could approach a soundtrack and the respective sound design to it. Because of these layers I find it important that the sound design, music and game become one sensible body of work with all the individual parts forming the DNA of the lore. Questions i would ask myself could be: Is there a way to mutate the story arc sonically? Can you implement or utilize elements of the story / characters / world as an integral part of the sound? I’d say the bottom line is: Everything depends and serves everything else so the relation between all elements needs to be carefully crafted and balanced.
3. What is your favourite soundtrack from a game (or top 3)?
In no specific order:
Various Artists: Bioshock Infinite (Burial At Sea)
Ludwig Forssell - Death Stranding OST
Martin Stig Andersen - Limbo & Inside (Technically two positions but these are too hard to decide…)
4. What is your favourite thing about what you do?
I can be a five year old on my job. Most of the time anyway. There is a big time window where I can play, invent, question things to an almost absurd amount and be unreasonable - all to get to a certain result. After that there is another time window where I go into a much more adult and technical mode where I stop questioning and creating in the original sense of the word and arrange and mix, build tracklists and cue sheets. I love the mix between these very different worlds and am very happy that I'm allowed to be a jumper between them for years on end.
Experience (or relive) the music of the games mentioned in this article below and check out Boysen’s work on Spotify.
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