Design - Music
Nova-111 uses a simple 3-layer dynamic music system based on how many enemies on are close by. If there are 0 enemies close then only the Base Layer 0 plays. This is usually some bass and pads with possibly some melodies played every once and a while. If there is 1 enemy close by then the Tension Layer 1 fades in over top of Base Layer 0 with some light percussion and maybe another harmony element. If things are getting real and there are 2+ enemies on the screen then Tension Layer 2 fades in over top of the other two layers with some heavier percussion (usually Euclidean based) and more harmony elements. In some cases the Tension Layer 2 will fade out Layers 0 and parts of 1 but that is on a per track basis and can be heard more in World 3 where the music is a bit "stranger" and there is bigger contrast between Layers 0 and 2.
All in all the music for Nova-111 is made of of small simple loops that gain movement and interest from the dynamics of gameplay. If the player sitting around not moving or near enemies, the music will stay pretty chill and hopefully unobtrusive. If the player is moving around a lot the music should have nice ups and downs like any normal track while at the same time hinting and influencing the players behaviour by letting them know enemies are near. It may be a little bit "video game-y" to have the music fade in and out based on enemies being close but I really really don't care because this is a video game. I intentionally wanted Nova-111 to sound like a video game, which is something I will discuss more when we get to sound effects.
The music was also made in short, simple loops for pragmatic reasons. As an indie game that was potentially going to be (and is going to be) on a handheld console; performance and memory was an issue. So instead of writing 5+ minute long looping tracks that would take up precious memory; I felt we could take advantage of our audio engine FMOD Studio and have the engine take these fragments and turn them into the song much like Ableton Live had when I first composed the tracks. Additionally: given the relative inexperience of all of us devs involved; I did not want to make a complex music system that would bite the project down the road due to design, memory, size, or performance reasons. I feel like we made the right choice, although now I know we would have been able to handle a system much more complex even if the game didn't warrant it.
Due to the fiscal realities of an indie studio porting the game to multiple consoles; FMOD Studio is only used for the PC/Mac versions. PC/Mac were the ones I had direct involvement in and am looking forward to hearing how great of an admittedly difficult job Funktronic Labs and porting developer Curve Studios did moving the audio over to consoles.
The sound design in Nova-111 was also a real treat because again; I had free reign to make whatever I wanted (with some light direction and revision suggestions of course).
Design - SFX
Like I alluded to before; I wanted the sound effects to sound like a video game. By this I don't mean annoyingly repetitive, lo-fi, of "bleepy". I wanted the sounds to be clear, enjoyable, iconic, and read well. I am a big fan of Japanese sound design in Mega Man X, Final Fantasy, and Mario games and I have an interest in sound design in anime. In all those cases the sound design is simple, with few (if any) variation, and an emphasis on sounding cool and reading clearly.
With Nova I focused on having just 1 cool sound for each action and either: breaking it into pieces and adding independent pitch variation on each part, or just pitch/volume variation on the single asset. Some sounds that will get heard a bunch like rock explosions, impacts, fire explosions, and damage glitches there is a lot more asset variation. But I always wanted a chomper enemy to sound like a chomper enemy so the player has a clear read on what is happening. Additionally; time, space, and performance were factors in deciding which elements should get more variations vs others. But ultimately it came down to if the game would feel better with more or less of the varied sounds and I think variation does not always equal a better experience.
At the beginning of the project I also focused on the ship; the Nova-111 having mechanical non-organic sounds and all the enemies having organic sounds. Most enemies are made up of fruit squishes, my voice, bubbles, and other non-metal sounds. Whereas the Nova-111 and its abilities are all metallic, synthetic, or in some way "not squishy". This philosophy shifted slightly when we added some more robotic/inorganic obstacles/enemies but even in these cases there are some organic elements to those creatures.