音频设计师Van den Wijngaarden谈工作经历及经验
作者：Vlad Micu/Javier Sancho
在音频设计师兼作曲师Jonathan van den Wijngaarden的职业生涯中，幻象不时破灭，有些美好开局的故事最后却没有圆满收场。他曾经在荷兰两个最有前景的工作室工作过，却都因树立过高的目标而失败，但是他仍然保持着乐观心态，吸取自己此前失败的经验教训，转变成为独立音频设计师和作曲师。
在VCR属于最高端科技的年代里，Van den Wijngaarden是少数接触到家用PC的幸运孩子之一。他的父亲在IT部门工作，这使他及其家人成为荷兰首批接触PC的人。“他以前给我买过《吃豆人》和《Dig Dug》等游戏的软盘，不久之后我拥有了属于自己的PC，因此体验过众多共享件游戏。”
玩过一段时间的PC后，14岁的Van den Wijngaarden开始自行制作《命令与征服》的脚本和模型。他回忆道：“我过去常常将自己的磁带录音机放在PC旁边，录下《命令与征服》的音乐，这样我不玩游戏的时候也可以听到这些音乐。”通过《命令与征服》mod制作社区，他通过电子邮件联系了负责该游戏音乐制作的天才设计师Frank Klepacki。接下来的4年时间里，他们经常互发邮件，Klepacki在此期间为Van den Wijngaarden制作的音乐提出自己的建议。当时，他还参加了钢琴教授课程，但这并无法满足他自行制作音乐的愿望。“我放弃了钢琴课程，这样我就能全心全意地投入到音乐作曲中。Frank Klepacki成了我的正式顾问，在游戏音频设计方面给了我全面的指导。”
Van den Wijngaarden试水游戏行业是进入Coded Illusions工作。他接触了公司的创始人Richard Stitselaar。Stitselaar刚刚离开Guerrilla Games，创办了自己的游戏公司。他们两人都对游戏很感兴趣，尤其是《命令与征服》，当Stitselaar得知他曾师从Klepacki学习游戏音频制作后，觉得他对自己的公司会有帮助。
他们的首个合作想法《Nomos》（游戏邦注：项目早期称为《Haven》）未完成便已夭折，这是款带有宗教元素、《银翼杀手》风格的科幻游戏。他回忆道：“我们挤在一间小型办公室内，我常常戴着耳机制作音频，数米之外的其他员工用播放器大声放着猫王的歌曲。当时，我们显得并不专业。”当Coded Illusions获得首次投资后，事情有所改观。相对首批雇员的行为，工作室显得更为专业，许多新员工来自于Guerrilla。但是在工作室中，Van den Wijngaarden仍然需要负责多项事务，不仅要进行音频的设计，还要负责管理、关卡设计、挑选游戏设计想法和编写故事以及对话。
2004年，Coded Illusions的未来似乎很光明。在随后的4年半中，团队极有抱负地工作着，Van den Wijngaarden亲切地说道：“我们像朋友般合作，制作很棒的东西。虽然我们的经验尚有欠缺，但是我们充满了激情。”不幸的是，团队的激情并没有挽救公司的失败局面。2008年末，Coded Illusion在短时间内便倒闭了，这群人还没反应过来就发现自己已经失业了。到底是哪里出了问题呢？Van den Wijngaarden说道：“刚开始事情进展得很顺利，我们自行为游戏构建引擎。但是在2004年夏天，某些公司管理人员参加了GDC，首次见识了虚幻引擎3。当时，Xbox360刚刚发布，因此开始采用新引擎制作游戏似乎显得格外诱人。”他解释道：“行业正处在转折点，我们认为应当为下一代主机游戏的开发做好准备。”于是，虚幻引擎3成了工作室新的倚重工具。他回忆道：“它确实非常吸引人。但虚幻引擎3却并没有让项目的成长受益，因为我们在项目中添加了过多超过我们开发能力的新想法。《Nomos》不再是个小型游戏，而是让开发团队精疲力竭的虚幻引擎3游戏。”团队的激情使他们想要通过该引擎来实现各种新功能，在游戏中添加RPG元素、更多的动作和更多的故事，而这个面向射击类游戏的引擎根本无法承载如此多的内容。换句话说，代码已经无法处理团队编织的过高幻想。
现在，较小的游戏，包括内容被削减后的较大项目，可以很容易地利用数字化销售渠道，获得广大的休闲玩家市场。Van den Wijngaarden解释道：“但是在当时，数字化独立游戏市场还未受到重视。”所以，整个团队不知道要如何继续发展这个抱负过高的想法，而资金上的问题进一步加重了公司的困境。Van den Wijngaarden承认：“如果公司从小型项目开始做起，应该算是更为睿智的选择。从预算较低的项目做起，然后逐渐加大前进的步伐。作为公司，我们不可能在短时间内就突飞猛进，当时付出的许多精力现在看来都是徒劳。”
2008年秋，Coded Illusions整个团队的梦想彻底破灭了。创始人Richard Stitselaar成功保住了IP，创办了新公司Vertigo Games。他雇佣了旧公司的部分团队成员，开始开发《Adam’s Venture》。和许多前团队成员一样，Van den Wijngaarden选择前往Playlogic Game Factory，这个工作室全力开发其首款跨平台游戏《Fairytale Fights》。“我很容易便进入了工作室。在Coded Illusion的工作中，我获得了丰富的虚幻引擎和音频方面的经验，因此我几乎无需面试就进入了公司。”当时，他在Playlogic的工作并不轻松。他在休假的时候进入公司，而《Fairytale Fights》必须在夏季发布。Van den Wijngaarden对此很担心。“在计划还未完善和没有音频设计文件的前提下，我怎样才能在8个月的时间内完成这个项目呢？与新的团队合作会遇到什么问题呢？我决定先放下这些想法和忧虑，尽全力完成项目。”Van den Wijngaarden花了很长时间才回想起这段经历。“这个阶段的工作确实很紧张，几乎形成了我记忆中的黑洞。”
他回忆道：“最主要的方面是，它已经不再是‘我自己’的项目，这也是我必须习惯的地方。其他人已经规划出了《Fairytale Fights》的概念，而且该项目的原型已经塑造了很长时间。”游戏离上架只有8个月的时间，而且现在还没有任何音频成分，Van den Wijngaarden只能挖掘程序说明书来寻找游戏的潜在想法和感觉。“对于这个项目，我的主要专注点在于培养自己同项目间的联系，让它感觉起来像是自己的项目，同时在音频上展示出游戏的特色和个性。”《Fairytale Fights》的独特艺术风格已经成形，看起来就像是塑像黏土版的《Happy Tree Friends》。“《疯狂世界》这款游戏给了我最多的灵感。我努力借鉴其场景方面的多样化设置，在音效上体现出《Fairytale Fights》角色间的差异。为所有武器设置独特的射击和携带移动音效，尽管这个方面的工作量很大，但却是游戏特色中至关重要的环节。”这也是Van den Wijngaarden从其顾问和导师Klepacki身上学到的经验，他说道：“Klepacki曾告诉我，努力在音乐和音效上体现出自己的风格。这也是我崇拜Klepacki的原因，他总是知道如何在设计中坚持贯彻自己的风格。即便我不知道游戏的制作人，我也可以通过游戏的音频识别出这款游戏是由他制作的。”
那么，这次又出了什么问题呢？问题还是出在抱负这把双刃剑上。“我们在时间上有很大的压力，最后我们不得不削减25%已经制作完成的内容。否则，我们无法在规定时间内完成游戏的制作。削减的内容中包括游戏的最后一个章节，共有4个关卡。这意味着我们必须制作新的终极BOSS。起初，我们还想要在游戏中添加某些RPG元素和NPC间的对话。但是，制作NPC对话就意味着我们还必须将这些内容本土化，我们根本没有足够的时间。游戏在短时间内被削减了大量的内容，使《Fairytale Fights》最终成为单纯的打架游戏。”至少，这次团队实现了游戏的削减，而且游戏成功上架了。游戏得以成功地准时面世，主要归功于主管Olivier Lhermite。“他的表现堪称奇迹。不仅制定出合适的工作流程，而且让团队将注意力放在最重要的方面：游戏设计。”Van den Wijngaarden承认，项目的游戏设计启动得太迟了。在之前的时间里，项目的主要侧重点和精力都放在美术风格和场景上，却忽略了游戏最本质的内容。“Olivier确保所有团队成员都理解了游戏玩法，而且全天候工作，保证所有开发进程正常运转。”
在这段充满艰辛的职业生涯中，Van den Wijngaarden时刻铭记Klepacki的另一条经验。“作为创意工作者，在艺术创造和娱乐产品制作间取得平衡是件很困难的事情。作为艺术人员，你的主要注意力应当放在制作出最高质量的作品上，但同时依然要确保有足够的数量。因而，你必须在质量和数量间找到平衡点，确保每个音效都同样卓越。你无法将所有的事情都做到完美，重要的是，你制作出的所有成分间应当和谐一致。这便是我在制作《Fairytale Fights》过程中获得的经验教训。”
Composer and Audio Designer Jonathan van den Wijngaarden on How Ambition can Kill Your Project, Coded Illusions, Fairytale Fights, his Mentor and his Love for C&C.
Vlad Micu/Javier Sancho
Audio designer and composer Jonathan van den Wijngaarden has had a career where illusions got broken and fairy tales did not really end happily ever after. After working at two of the Netherlands’ most promising studios that failed for aiming too high, he remains optimistic and takes the lessons learned into his own endeavors as a freelance audio designer and composer. Van den Wijngaarden gives us a first quick post mortem look of Fairytale Fights. The final project of the fallen Dutch game studio, Playlogic Game Factory.
Long Distance Mentor
In the era where the highest tech in the house was probably the VCR, Van den Wijngaarden was one of the first few privileged kids to have an expensive PC in his household. His dad worked in IT, which made him and his family one of the early adopters in the Netherlands. “He used to bring me floppies with games like Pac Man and Dig Dug but soon enough I got my own PC to mess around with and play a lot of shareware games”.
A few PCs later, 14 year-old Van den Wijngaarden found himself making his own scenarios and mods of Command & Conquer. “I used to put my taperecorder next to the PC to record the Command & Conquer music so I could listen to it even when I wasn’t playing,” he recalls. Through the C&C modding community he decided to get in touch through email with the musical genius behind the game, Frank Klepacki. They started exchanging emails for about 4 years in which Klepacki gave feedback on Van den Wijngaarden’s music. He followed keyboard lessons at that time, but that never satisfied his craving to make his own music. “I quit the lessons, so I could pour my heart into tracking (sample based music, red.) and composing music. Frank Klepacki took me under his wing and became my official mentor giving me something close to a full scholarship in game audio design.”
Van den Wijngaarden’s first professional job in the game industry was at Coded Illusions. He got in touch with the founder, Richard Stitselaar. Stitselaar had just left the upcoming Guerrilla Games to start his own company. They shared the same interests in games, especially Command & Conquer, and when Stitselaar learned about his “scholarship” with Klepacki, he was as good as hired.
Their first idea became the illusion they never got to finish, Nomos (in the early days also called ‘Haven’): a sci-fi, Blade Runner-esque game with religious elements. “Huddled together in a small office, I used to work on the audio with my headphones on while the rest would sit a few meters away listening to Elvis loud through the speakers. We didn’t take things very professionally then,” he recalls. When Coded Illusions got its first funding, things started to get more professional with its first official employees, many of them coming from Guerrilla. Van den Wijngaarden remained as an all-rounder in the office not only doing audio design but also being involved in management, level design, pitching game design ideas, story and dialogue writing.
Illusions Breaking the Code
In 2004, the future for Coded Illusions looked bright and for four and a half years the team worked very ambitiously as what Van den Wijngaarden fondly remembers “a group of friends making cool stuff. What we lacked in experience, we definitely made up for in enthusiasm.” Unfortunately the team’s enthusiasm is what may have put an end to the illusion. In the end of 2008, Coded Illusion went bankrupt quite instantly and the close group of friends found themselves on the street before they knew it. What went wrong? “Things started well building our own engine for the game,” Van den Wijngaarden says. “But in summer 2004, some of our managers went to GDC and got their first taste of the Unreal Engine 3. At the same time, the Xbox360 had just been announced and things looked very tempting to start working with a new engine.” His explanation: “the industry was on the front of a major turning point, getting ready to develop for next-gen consoles.” The new promosing tool in the studio became the Unreal Engine 3. “It was too tempting,” he recalls. “The Unreal Engine 3 made our project grow disproportionately because it enabled us to pour in so many ideas we could not develop. [Nomos] wasn’t a small humble title anymore, but a full blown Unreal Engine 3 title.” The enthusiasm made them want to add an endless list of features that this shooter-oriented engine offered, including RPG-elements, more action, more story. In other words, more illusions than the code could handle.
“What we had was not bad, but there was no way of getting our project sold to a publisher.” The team’s enthusiasm and creativity ironically started to become a burden. “We couldn’t sell this to publishers, because it was not finished enough and no one was willing to admit that the game needed a lot of cutting.”
Nowadays, smaller games, including bigger projects that got cut down, are easier to market through digital distribution and a broad market of casual gamers, “but in that period the market of digital indie games was not taken seriously yet”, Van den Wijngaarden explains. So he and his teammates got stuck with an overambitious project that had nowhere to go and an economic crisis that did not make things easier. Van den Wijngaarden admits: “it would have been a lot smarter to think and start small. Starting with a lower budget and consequently attempt to take a bigger step. We were not able to build a track record as a company and a lot of good work has gone to waste.”
Fighting for Fairytales
The whole team of Coded Illusions ended up on the street at the beginning in fall 2008. Founder Richard Stitselaar managed to keep the IPs and start another company, Vertigo Games. He was able to hire some of his old team members to start developing Adam’s Venture. Like many of his former team members, Van den Wijngaarden wound up at the Playlogic Game Factory, a studio that was set full sail to release its first next-gen cross-platform title, Fairytale Fights. “I got in there very easily. I had built up a lot of experience with Unreal Engine and audio at Coded Illusion and I hardly had to do a job interview.” Working at Playlogic at that time was not that easy. He started at the company in holiday season and Fairytale Fights had to go gold after the summer. Van den Wijngaarden had his worries. “How was I going to finish this project in eight months with no plan ready yet and no audio design document? What problems am I going to encounter in crunch time in a team I’m not used to work with yet? I decided to get all those thoughts and worries out of my head and go for it.” Van den Wijngaarden has to dig deep into his memories to recall how that process was. “It was such an intense period, it kind of turned into a black hole in my memory”.
“The main thing I had to get used to was that this was not MY project anymore,” he recalls. “Others already mostly worked the concept of Fairytale Fights out and was long past its prototyping.” With only eight months time to get the game on the shelves, there was no audio yet and Van den Wijngaarden had to dive into the documentation to get submerged in underlying ideas and feeling of the game. “My main focus on this project was to make it feel like my own project and give this game its own identity in audio”. Fairytale Fights already had its unique colorful art style, looking like a plasticine version of Happy Tree Friends. “Psychonauts was the game that inspired me the most. I tried to convey its diversity in settings to give Fairytale Fights its distinct character in sound. Especially giving all the weapons unique firing and handling sounds was a huge workload for me but crucial in giving the game its own identity.” This was one of the many lessons Van den Wijngaarden had learned from his mentor and inspiration, Klepacki: “always try to put your own signature on the music and sound. That’s what I admire about Klepacki, he always knows how to stick to his own style and sound. I can recognize the games he has worked on immediately, even without knowing he worked on it.”
So, what went wrong in this process? Again, it was the double-edged sword of ambition that killed the cat in boots. “We were under a lot of time pressure and in the end we had to cut about 25% percent of what we had made. Otherwise we never would have made it. Among the things we cut was a final chapter with four levels. This meant having to come up with a new final boss and invent a new main villain. Originally we also wanted to add some RPG elements and conversations with NPCs. There was absolutely no time for spoken dialogue, since that meant we had to localize it too. All kinds of drastic changes were made in a short time which stripped Fairytale Fights down to a pure brawler game.” At least this time the cuts were made and the game went gold. One of the main forces for getting the title shipped on time was managing director Olivier Lhermite. “He performed miracles. Not only by creating the right workflows but changing the focus on what was needed the most: game design.” Van den Wijngaarden admits that the game design aspect came late, maybe too late. During the process, the main focus and strength of the project had been its art style and setting, but somehow it lost it focus on the kind of game it should be. “Olivier made sure everybody picked up on the gameplay and worked fulltime on making sure everything worked and felt right.”
Another of Klepacki’s wise lessons that echoed through Van den Wijngaarden’s mind throughout the tough process is one seems applicable for any game development process. “As a creative person it can be difficult to balance the fact that on one side you are making an artistic creation and on the other side you are working on an entertainment product. As an artist you are primarily concerned with creating the best quality, but at the same time you will have to deliver a certain amount of quantity. Therefore you have to find balance between quality and quantity and make sure that each sound is equally great. You can’t make everything as perfect as you want it to be, it is more important that all the components you make work in harmony and offer a complete package. That’s a lesson that I got to experience very closely while working on Fairytale Fights.” (Source: Gamesauce)