Our friends and long-time collaborators Curiscope asked us to create the sound design for their virtual reality underwater educational adventure: Operation Apex. Curiscope are a startup founded by Ed Barton and Ben Kidd. Curiscope’s mission is to help people understand the real world in a new way. Their award winning experiences take curious minds on wild adventures that inform, inspire and drive enthusiasm for learning.
Here’s Operation Apex in their own words:
Enter the deep.
Use virtual reality to uncover the secrets of the big blue in an atmospheric deep sea dive. As you bear witness to an underwater marvel, your mission becomes clear. Take your research rig out into open sea in search of the largest great white shark ever seen…
Enter the deep to discover the most expansive, fascinating and diverse ecosystem on Earth. Using virtual reality, put on your diving gear and explore the underwater world. Venture through reefs scanning for marine creatures and hidden discoveries. Operation Apex is designed for room-scale and seated modes so you’re able to explore no matter the size of your playspace. With complete freedom of locomotion within the game, simply, use the triggers on the controllers to propel yourself forward and travel through the underwater world.
So, we were tasked with creating the soundscape for this underwater adventure. Operation Apex is set in the real world, slightly in the future. This means the atmospheric sounds of the game should be realistic and believable paired with the fancy tech you use to navigate and explore the world. The key was getting the balance between the realistic and the futuristic right. We needed to immerse the player in the world while building interest in the wealth of information the game provides and create a compelling user experience with regards to the tech employed to aid the exploration.
The game features numerous environments: deep sea, shallows and open water to name a few. We wanted to keep these distinct from each other to give real variety between areas in the game. The ambiences reflected the location and helped to enhance realism and emersion. The deep sea level is really quite tense and scary, as we believe it should be! The ambient sound was slightly hyper-real with some added subby rumbling to suggest tension. Conversely the shallows are much lighter and more abundant with the sound of waves above and kelp gently rustling. We achieved this by making multiple underwater recordings with hydrophones and contact mics, we ended up splashing around in a bath at one point to mimic the swooshing of kelp! We worked in-house with Curiscope on the implementation of our sounds. We were keen to create a super immersive sound scape to match the beautiful visuals. We placed individual sounds in the world so that the player’s awareness of sounds changes as they move through the environment. Here’s a video of the shallows to demonstrate the peaceful sound working with the visuals to create an immersive space for the player:
To create the tech sounds we made subtly hi-tech electronic sounds using synthesisers to convey the real sound of the player’s instruments as they’re heard in the real world and combined this with some more ‘game-like’ sounds to convey the progress of certain actions in the game such as scanning a sea creature. The player has multiple tasks to undertake using the various extensions of their tools. We aimed to match the haptic feedback of the VR controllers with the audio to make the translation between button-press and in-game action as smooth and interactive as possible.
There were also a lot of diegetic sounds to consider such as fish moving underwater, fish eating bait and various environmental sounds. Again we built up a large bank of underwater recordings that we manipulated to fit certain uses. The challenge was getting a balance between realism and the kind of hyper-realism we’re used to in games and film which heightens the action of relatively mundane sounds by augmenting them with unreal elements. We did this for sound such as the great white biting its bait and the whale shark had it’s own rumbly ambience that was audible when the player was near it. This was to emphasise the size of this huge creature and help the player to feel in awe of these amazing sights that we usually only see on a TV screen.
The musical soundtrack of the game was created by Sam Swallow, you can check out his work here
We have worked on many projects with Curiscope and we urge you to check out their website for more awesome stuff!
Operation Apex has been well received and is available on Steam here
Client — Curiscope
Our Roles — Sound Design and Implementation
Production Time — Sept - Dec 2017
Launch Date — 11 Dec 2017
Platforms — HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, Windows Mixed Reality