We work so you can play! Sonic Valley's slogan couldn't be more true. With some amazing mods behind them, and interesting times ahead, Vance Dylan and Wayne Ashby took some time out to talk about sound, mods and the nicer side of life.
Posted by methy on Aug 11th, 2006
[page=The Art of Noise]
Sonic Valley describes itself as a small team of sound designers, composers and programmers dedicated to audio for video games. That's of course a good thing in our books, and their interest in mixing mods with professional quality sound has made a contributing reason to the interest we have in many of our favourite mods.
Sonic Valley is composed of Vance Dylan, the founder, manager and sound designer. Second in command is Wayne Ashby, music lead and assistant manager. From there, the team grew to Tom Todia, Luke Hatton and Hermann Rauth, who are all specialists in sound design and implementation. The other member of Sonic Valley is Daniel Alves, who does a lot of their programming and technology development.
Vance Dylan and Wayne Ashby took some time out from working on some of the most popular mods around to talk about sound, Sonic Valley and how they went from being some guys who loved music to being paid to record themselves stabbing watermelons with a knife.
Sonic Valley began when Vance ran into Wayne when he was working on Shattered Faith. "I contacted Wayne," Vance recalls. "After he ignored me for months, he finally got back to me. I was thinking, this guy must be really good, because he won't even talk to me!" Wayne, of course, can't stop laughing at this little recollection. "When things slowed down with Shattered Faith," Vance continues. "Wayne brought up the idea of starting some sort of a collaboration. It was something I'd contemplated the year before, but I couldn't find find anybody then."
"It was my idea to start Sonic Valley, but of course, I wanted to call it NoiseCraft at the time," Wayne adds. "I think that we were really lucky to find the guys that we have got here. Top of their game." Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? "It all came together really quickly," Vance continues. "Having all these talented people just makes the process so much faster. We're so lucky that it's been working out so well."
Indeed it has. Such is Sonic Valley's fame within the modding community that they have many people coming up the them and asking them to work on their mods. However, they can't accept every mod, so they don't often go with mods that are just starting up or have little chance of success. Sonic Valley generally approach mods that they want to work with. "Iron Grip got onto ModDB, that's how I found them - or course," Vance says of how he originally began working with them. "I was really, really interested in what they were doing, a total different universe,the artwork was amazing, really professional guys to work with." While Sonic Valley are in a position where they can choose which mods they work for, they consider mods that come to them. At their level though, the importance of a well formulated help wanted request is even greater. "I got one the other day," Vance muses. "It basically just said 'we need sound or whatever it is you do' and that was about it. Those are the ones we leave alone. Sometimes it happens and somebody will just approach us, and we look at their design documentation, check out their art and see if the thing is close to being finished." Many modders seem to want Sonic Valley to work on projects that have nothing to show for themselves, which can end up with their mods being overlooked, even if they show promise. Vance, from Sonic Valley himself wrote a tutorial on the matter, which is meant to help modders in recruiting sound designers and composers.
Because of their effiecency, they don't need to work for the full life of a mod anymore. "Really," Vance says. "We've got it down so that we only need to be there for three or four months to do a whole mod, we don't have to be there for the full life cycle." It sounds as though we are going to see some more mods with the Sonic Valley sound in the near future, which is important, because, as both Wayne and Vance are very quick to agree, too many modders ignore the importance of sound.
[page=Sounds are people too.]
Every single game benefits from good sound. It's what makes weapons feel powerful, it's what tells the player when there is someone creeping up behind them. It defines moods, character and atmosphere. It can create feelings of anger, pride and respect. Basically, it's pretty damn important.
Yet somehow, many modders don't seem to see the importance of music on the overall quality of a mod. "Don't even get me started," Vance says. "It's one of those things that gets thrown in at the last second." This is pretty visible after a quick scan of the Help Wanted postings here on ModDB. 144 requests for Sound Technicians, as opposed to 344 requests for a Weapons Modellers. "I don't know," Vance confesses, "I guess a lot of guys think of it as almost as important as needing a website for their mod. It's like, we need a website, we need a guy who can do some graphics, oh, and get one of those sound guys thingies for our mod."
It can't be down to not thinking about it, because every modder knows that weapons have to make noise, and that good sound doesn't come out of thin air. "They don't have an appreciation for it, or understand it," Vance says. "They know that they need it." I agree. It seems that most modders know that they need the sound, they just don't see it as being high up on their list of priorities. "They don't take it seriously," Wayne adds. Vance agrees: "There's not a lot of times that you'll find a dedicated sound designer working on a mod."
Well, Sonic Valley are some dedicated sounds designers, and it's damn sure they are working on some mods. The major titles they have been involved with include the very popular Hidden Source, Iron Grip : The Oppression and the highly anticipated Battlefield 2 mod, Desert Conflict. Sonic Valley can it all. They have expertise and experience in everything from weapon sound effect to intense musical scores in a variety of styles.
"It's really great to be able to say that we're able to provide everything," Vance says. "Wayne is an awesome composer and has that wrapped up. He has a really good finger on what's happening in music for games, and is writing some terrific stuff. Everybody is kind of a musician as well, so we can all jump in on stuff and help each other out. We've got music covered, we've got sound design covered, we've got implementation and we've got programming as well." As they are able to provide the complete package, they are giving a pretty damn big service to the mods they work on.
"The way we look at it is that it's only going to cost time." Wayne says of working on mods. "It's not going to cost any money, so we can afford to come across all of these problems and iron them out as early as possible." From that perspective, working on mods does make a lot of sense for gaining valuable experience.
But of course, Sonic Valley aren't exactly amateurs either. They have some fairly sophisticated methods of getting sound that most games don't normally have. They recently recorded authentic weapons for Iron Grip: The Oppression, a level of quality that only a few commercial games can boast. "The great thing is that it didn't cost anything but gas," Vance says when asked about recording weapons for Iron Grip. "Even though we wanted to take a professional approach to match that of the guys who are doing Iron Grip, stuff like that isn't really hard to do. It just takes a little bit of planning, and organisation, and getting your things together." That is, of course a philosophy that can be applied to more than sound design. "Although, I suppose," Vance continues with a laugh. "Not everybody has a large variety of machine guns kicking around their house. Only my friends." Obviously, having friends with lots of guns is pivotal to success.
Sonic Valley's professional attitude towards sound design has certainly caught some rather important eyes. "We have been contacted by Valve who are looking for us to record several explosions including blowing up an actual bridge for one of their future projects but we can?t say more than that." Vance reveals cryptically. "We're in negotiations and we're hoping everything goes through." Obviously, the future for Sonic Valley looks interesting, to say the least.
They still want to work on some mods though. "Mods are great for solving problems, and tweaking how we work together." Wayne says. "That way, when we do go into a big project, where we are getting payed to do it, we're not messing them around. We know exactly what we're doing, who's doing what and it all falls into place.
Indeed, the future looks like it will be falling into place for this start up company gone good. They have some will have some big projects coming up, and they're unlikely to go anywhere but up. I think it's safe to say though, that with all the time they've invested into mods throughout their life as Sonic Valley, they aren't going to move too far away from mods any time soon.