A Sneak Peek at Techtonica’s Sci-fi Soundtrack

Hey Groundbreakers! ICYMI, we finally announced our launch date last week. Techtonica will be coming to Early Access on July 18th!

As we get closer to launch, we wanted to start giving you more details on what the Early Access release will look like. And that begins with some more exciting news.

Techtonica’s Original Soundtrack will be available on day one on Steam!

We took the time to deep dive Techtonica’s music and SFX this week with our Composer and Sound Director, Brandon Ellis. You may have heard his music – under the name Cityfires – in Catlateral Damage: Remeowstered & 30XX!

First, let’s take a moment to listen to some music. There are two versions of each song in Techtonica. These change in-game depending on how close you are to big machines. Below are two examples:

Let’s hear from Brandon.

What was the original inspiration for the River Biome tracks?

Brandon: The team had some very clear goals right from the start to help direct the type of mood we wanted. It was important to use the music to help the player have a feeling of mystery and isolation while exploring the biome. But on top of that, we wanted to make sure the music reflected a sense of productivity and progress as the player slowly builds out their factories all across the world.

It was also really important to make sure the music wasn’t scary or uncomfortable! I realized very early that it’s a fine line between relaxing music and sounding like something is about to jump out at you around the corner.

How much do you take into account the environment? Did anything inspire you there?

Compared to other “level themes” you might think about from video games, the River Biome, a large series of caves with rivers stretching out all throughout, has a lot of room for interpretation and influence. We decided to settle on some specific instruments to serve as the foundation for this biome: lots of piano, bells, and synth pads. I would consider those “watery” instruments.

And then the design of the biome itself is a really interesting blend of expansive space AND stone walls and ceilings all around you. We want the music to almost sound like it’s just coming out of the ground and echoing through the caverns, like it’s part of the planet itself.

And adding the “Factory Mix” of the tracks ended up being a really great idea by our game director!

How did the idea of intense factory music versus ambient exploration music come about?

There are tons of games that have dynamic sound when you’re in or out of combat. The FTL Soundtrack, for instance, has an incredible dynamic flow between when you’re planning out your moves and when you’re actively trying to not die for your 100th run in a row.

And while Techtonica doesn’t have combat, it does have two really different experiences that the player moves between: exploring the world and trying to uncover what exactly you’re doing on this planet, and working in your factory to keep up your productivity.

So Richard, our Game Director, brought up the idea of having the music change when you’re in your factory and when you’re out exploring!

What are the major differences between those tracks?

When you’re in and around a bunch of mining drills, assemblers, and smelters, it can be hard to hear the light ambient music that occasionally fades in and out. So the “Factory Mix” of each track adds some percussion, bass, and more intense synth sounds to blend better with your machinery. And as you step away from the factory floor and move into the more natural spaces in the game, the music will fade back into the more ambient mix. The goal is just to properly match the vibe that the player is experiencing.

Where did you pull inspiration for the machine sounds from?

A majority of our machines in the River Biome have real-world analogs we can pull references from. So typically it’s a blend of recording huge, industrial machines and blending them with synths and effects to match their size and scope in-game.

Some of those machines are more real than others, so for some of the more fantastical and futuristic sounds, we relied a lot more on creating synthetic sounds. The idea of making all the sounds for the M.O.L.E. (our handheld black-hole mining tool) was really daunting because it had so many parts to it: the mechanical tool itself, the black hole radiating energy out in front of you, the rocks cracking and exploding…. That one was definitely a giant blend of real sounds and some really wild synth work.

How many layers of sound does each item have? Which is the most complex?

The M.O.L.E. was definitely pretty daunting, and several other machines have some pretty involved triggers. Some machines like the Smelter are just on or off, but others like the Monorail can have 4 or 5 different “states” they might be in. Those were complicated not just because they have a lot of moving parts and visual elements that need to be reflected in the SFX, but because they need extensive implementation to make sure they all trigger at the correct points.

How do you balance the music in game with machine sounds and environmental sounds?

It’s definitely a challenge to properly balance it all, but luckily the music intensity change and the natural flow of the game between the natural and artificial sections help ease the player between all the different sounds. You expect the sound to be more dense when you’re around a bunch of machines, and that allows for a really pleasant feeling when you move back out into the wilderness and can hear the gentle flowing of the water again.

Anything special in the SFX you might not notice?

I had a hard time finding the right sound for the mining drill’s motor sound, and I ultimately settled on using some recorded samples from a bunch of motorcycles! And I’m actually really happy with how that turned out!

Also my favorite way to test new sound implementations is to just record myself saying whatever the machine is doing. And when I forget to replace them, I usually get really confused messages from the QA team asking why the monorail is saying “WHEEE!!!” as it flies past. Or why the Assembler is just saying “LASER LASER LASER.” I keep telling the team we need talking machines in our game.

How many tracks will be in the final OST?

I think the goal is to have a robust, unique set of songs that play in the River Biome. As of right now the River Biome has about 11 songs that will randomly cycle during gameplay.

We’ll be posting a tracklist in the upcoming weeks and more info on the OST as we get closer to launch!

If you want to meet the rest of the community and speak directly with more developers, join our Discord.

See you soon!

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