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The story behind the stunning music and audio of Transistor on PS4

Supergiant Games reveals how it created the game’s memorable score

Hey everybody! I’m Darren, the audio director at Supergiant Games and composer for Transistor. I’ve been blown away by the amazing response the game and the music have been getting, and I thought I’d tell you a little bit about my approach to the game’s music.

From our point of view as a team, audio is a really important part of creating an immersive, atmospheric experience, and everything I do as audio director is in service of that. Supergiant is based in of San Francisco, but Logan Cunningham (our talented voice actor) and I are all the way in New York. Since we’re a small team, we have to make do with whatever we can get our hands on when it comes to making games!

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“The constraint of working out of my home studio, with only the resources available to me, is a big part of my creative process”

That’s my apartment (and dog and baby) to the right. Just about all the sounds and music in Transistor were created here. The constraint of working out of my home studio, with only the resources available to me, is a big part of my creative process. It means that all the music in the game is made up of some combination of recorded instrument parts that I play myself, as well as software instruments or samples from a sound library — and also Ashley Barrett’s vocals, which we knew would be a big part of the game. At the moment I don’t really have the means to record live drums properly (neighbours…), so I end up using a lot of samples and software instruments for percussion tracks.

The main thing that I try to focus on when composing is vibe. What should the piece feel like? If I start with a particular feel in mind, this dictates a lot of things about the piece right away, such as tempo, production aesthetic, tonal palate (happy, sad, major, minor, and so on), and gives me some useful constraints for how to proceed.

For Transistor, it was also important to me to define the sonic palate of the game overall. By selecting a handful of instruments and using them to varying degrees throughout all the pieces in the game, I could connect the pieces to one another sonically, even though the content of each piece was very different.

To help out with this process, I tried to create a genre for myself to work within, which I ended up calling “Old-world Electronic Post-rock.” After a lot of experimentation, I zeroed in on electric guitars, harps, accordions, mandolins, electric piano, and synth pads as some of the primary textures in the game. Each of these instruments tries to express some component of that genre mash-up.

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From an implementation standpoint, I wanted to try something I had never tried before: multi-channel music! For Transistor, every piece of music in the game consists of multiple stems playing at once, which we can then manipulate individually in real time. This lets our level designers turn certain tracks on and off at will, and we can also apply real-time effects to individual channels.

For example, when the player enters Turn() mode, we apply an EQ filter to the music tracks, and bring in a vocal track that is silent during real-time gameplay. We really liked how this sounded during development and ended up using it throughout the game. This multi-channel approach also lets us get a lot of mileage out of each piece based on which channels we use at a given time. Sometimes just playing the percussion of a given piece of music adds a lot of tension to a scene!

Get the Transistor Soundtrack here

If you’d like to have a listen to how it all came together, we’ve posted the Transistor Original Soundtrack online in its entirety! We recommend playing through the game first though, since the game and the music are so closely tied.

“I tried to create a genre for myself to work within, which I ended up calling ‘Old-World Electronic Post-rock'”

Though I composed all of the music myself, it really was a team effort to get it all implemented the way it’s presented in the game. Chris Jurney, one of our awesome engineers, was instrumental in the technical setup of this stuff. Greg Kasavin, our creative director, did most of the scripting of when these types of multi-channel changes actually occur in game.

And Camilo Vanegas, our incredible animator/3D modeler, was responsible for creating the beautiful, mournful animation you see when you press the L1 button to hum a song, and the vocal track comes in. Amir Rao our studio director first thought of the idea that maybe you could stop and hum a song at any point, and we’re really happy we got that in the game and that it’s been so well received.

The vocals were also a really important part of this game. After all, you play as a singer! I was lucky enough to work with my friend Ashley Barrett who provided all of the vocal tracks you hear throughout the game. We worked together over a two-year period and more than a dozen sessions to put together all the vocals for the soundtrack, which we recorded… in my closet.

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No kidding! The setup isn’t fancy but for us, it works. Now I could go on all day about all the aspects of the audio in Transistor, though perhaps that’s for another time! Thanks again to everyone for being so enthusiastic about the game, and we really hope you enjoy it. The outpouring of support has been overwhelming, and I can’t wait to hear from the rest of you!

16 Comments
0 Author replies
woestijnkroket 23 May, 2014 @ 16:09
1

I only loved 3 or 4 tracks on the Transistor OST, Bastion was better imo. Btw who did the voice of the narrator?

izanagi_1992 26 May, 2014 @ 13:31
1.1

Logan Cunningham. Same guy who voiced Rucks in Bastion.

madmanwithabox12 23 May, 2014 @ 16:35
2

Vita? :)

3

So the music is only on PS4? loollll…

When? Mp3? IN? Ps3?

3.1

When? Mp3? IN? Ps4?, i mean :D

Just wanted to say thanks for making such a great game!
Will there be a sequel or do you have DLC planned?
Is it true that Supergiant is just a 12 man team? Kind of an ironic name for the studio lol or was that the point?
Also any chance of custom controls? The rear touch pad sucks on Vita and I would much prefer to use the bottom right corner of the front touch screen to pause the battles!

Hey Darren! You are amaaaaaazing!
When I was playing Bastion, I head to listen to the soundtrack for weeks. And now you got me again!
“We all become” plays on heavy rotation in my office and I just can’t stop listening to it.

Keep up the great work! :)

Yesterday I did play Transistor on my PS4 long past the time I would have to go to bed. I really, really like the game. It is rare when a game feels like a finished, complete piece of art all in itself. Transistor does. The sound design and above all the music is spectacular. It really takes one away to some other place. Cant wait to go there again tonight. Many thanks!

7

So great to get such insight from the composer. I have refrained from listening to the OST before I play the game (which should be soon) but I’m glad independent musicians are getting support from bigger and bigger studios and delivering great work in return. Same with Child of Light. Congrats to you sir!

alphastreamz 23 May, 2014 @ 20:08
8

Fighting the first boss an hearing the the in circles was very intense…

9

I think you’ve just sold the game to me based on the music alone! Playing the youtube version of the album in the background while I’m waiting for Wolfenstien to install (PC) and I’m almost tempted to just skip playing that and buy this instead!

10

Really cool to read a story from this side of the development process too – too often these kind of features focus on animators/programmers etc instead of the guys behind the awesome music in games… Funnily enough my dream job was to be involved in making music for games ever since I played Super Metroid as a youngun, but that never came to light…

11

Excellent job on the audio. :)

Putting a speaker in the DS4 was one of the best design decisions Sony made, and the way it’s used during the game adds a dimension to the experience that I hope to see occuring more frequently in the future.

12

Love the game, love the soundtrack. Ordered the CD version from the store and spent my commute to and from the cinema yesterday listening to the digital copy. Top work Mr Korb :)

PS Very cute baby and dog combo :D

bradigor1981 24 May, 2014 @ 12:31
13

Ashley Barrett has a wonderful voice and she really reminds me of Jenny Lewis. Have added the soundtrack to my Spotify playlist and it is getting a lot of listening already.

14

Sweet collection of guitars!

Plus nice lil’lad… I’m quite sure he will grow up to be fan of great music.

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