Over the past two weeks, I was given the pleasure of being able to sit down and do an interview with Vincent Diamante, the audio director for Skullgirls. In our review of the game, we made sure to mention how well the audio fit with the art style, as well as how important it was in making the entire game one cohesive experience.
NG: Hey Vincent! Before we get started, I just wanted to thank you for agreeing to do this. I enjoyed the hell out of Skullgirls, and I thought the soundtrack really complemented the art style. That being said, how exactly was the aesthetic concept created? Was the idea from the beginning to be a jazzy, film noir-esque fighting game, or did that idea evolve over time?
VD: I’m really glad you enjoyed the soundtrack. Honestly, much of the soundtrack style was already in place before I joined Reverge Labs in early 2011. I joined the company not too long before they made their formal announcement that they were working with composer Michiru Yamane. By that time, the aesthetic target was solidly in place. Art-wise, Alex had a really strong idea of what it meant to be “dark deco” with his influence from things like the roaring 20s and Darkstalkers, and very early in the relationship, we asked Yamane to focus on jazz as the way of bringing the game to life, and she was very excited to pursue that.
NG: Interesting. It’s always nice to see an alternative style taken in terms of audio, and it isn’t always as well received by the community as Skullgirls. The last time I can really remember a soundtrack to a fighting game having so much jazz influence would probably be Marvel vs. Capcom 2. While I seem to be in somewhat of the minority for enjoying it, it seems most people only remember hearing “take you for a ride” being repeated over and over. Skullgirls, on the other hand, seems to be garnering nothing but praise for its soundtrack, which draws a lot from jazz, but I also get these hints of neo classical in some of the tracks.
So, forgive me for not already knowing, but what exactly does the role of Audio Director encompass? What were your exact responsibilities regarding Skullgirls?
VD: As the Audio Director, I ended up touching everything related to audio. Some days, I’d find myself working only on the meat and potatoes sound design of the fighting game. Other days, I’d be working on something more behind the scenes, like the music playback system for story mode. A really busy day might see me spending the early morning directing composer Michiru Yamane with feedback on the latest iteration of some stage music, using the middle of the day to tweak a character script, working the afternoon in the recording studio with the voice actors, then spending the night processing voice files for characters. Basically, if it had to do with audio or music, I was around to make sure that it hit the quality we wanted before getting into the game.
NG: Were there any challenges in particular that stick out to you? What would you say the most challenging part of overseeing the entire audio side of Skullgirls?
VD: The basic sound effects were definitely the most difficult part. Nearly the entire development time, I was working on just “whoosh” sounds and impact sounds. From the beginning, there was this idea to move away from where fighting game sound design was going, especially in the 3D fighters, and bring it back to the more old-school, more abstract quality that the serious tourney fighting game players remember from a decade or so ago, while rectifying it with this visual look that’s unique and ultramodern. I spent a lot of time working with [the project leader and designer] Mike Zaimont as well as parsing comments on the sound in SRK, Dustloop, and elsewhere.
Since we were constantly letting people see progress on the game through things like Friday Night Fights and presence at tournaments and conventions, things like YouTube comments and blog posts really informed my process of getting a sound that the fighting game community would best respond to. It’s pretty neat that I could get feedback from the FGC on new sounds on a weekly basis. Of course, even with my ear constantly to the ground, the sheer diversity of the community meant some people appreciated this specific sound design more than others, but I think this ultimately ended up really successful.
NG: Going off of something you mentioned in your comment, where do you feel that sound design is going in regards of newer fighting game titles? There does seem to be a focus on more electronic/synth feel to a lot of the 2D fighting games, especially so in Street Fighter X Tekken, which I felt had a somewhat forgettable soundtrack. If you could change one trend in current game music, what would it be?
VD: There’s definitely some cool stuff going on these days. The quality that can be had these days with audio budgets, both in terms of money and memory, are pretty incredible. There are some really good game soundtracks out there these days. In terms of interactivity, though, I think we’ve stepped backwards compared to the really interactive soundtracks made with sequenced music back in the 90s. Of course, increasing memory meant we could start doing high quality recordings of soundtracks, but this was at the expense of interactivity. I think now, anticipating the next generation consoles, we’re getting to a point where we can have both high-quality music and high-interactivity music.
Now, for fighting games specifically? I’d love to see what other genres of music can be paired with some cool fighting game action.
NG: What exactly do you mean by an interactive soundtrack? For me, the first thing that comes to mind for me is one of the Def Jam: Icon, which had musical cues for events that would happen in the stages you’d fight in. Do you have a different meaning to the idea of interactivity in a soundtrack?
VD: Well, back in the day, there was a basic level of music interactivity in Street Fighter II: if someone’s energy dropped below a certain threshold, switch the music. It was kind of cool. They kept it going even with media that were not appropriate for it (read: CDs with Red Book audio). I think just keeping on going with that would be interesting. There’s some really fun stuff going on nowadays with character themes switching in and out and effects processing on the music and all that, but it would be cool to try for something even further than that.
What if the music score could tell that a player was playing this rush down combo-heavy character in keep-away turtling style? Would it be a rewarding sort of music? Or would the music be subtly chiding you for playing the character in a way that wasn’t intended? I’d love to find out what that music could be.
NG: Funny you mention that, as that’s present in Street Fighter X Tekken. Once your health gets low, the bass drops out of the audio, and the music is drastically different as a result. It’s not as much fun as it was in Street Fighter 2 with the faster paced music. That made the entire situation seem a lot more dire or drastic. It put a lot more weight into the situation. In SFxT, it doesn’t have that same impact though, so I can see what you’re saying. I think your idea for interactive audio sounds like it’d be a bit hard to implement well, but at the same time I can see it being absolutely amazing if it can be implemented. To that, I can only say keep on doing what you’re doing.
I think that just about wraps it up. Is there anything you’d like to add before we close this out?
VD: Well, right now it’s just an idea. It might end up being inappropriate, too distracting, or perhaps even too little of an effect in the heat of battle compared to the work that goes into it. Still, it seems that it’s an idea worth pursuing. Hopefully I can play around with that idea and others while pushing on the core stuff of Skullgirls that people are expecting. Can’t exactly sacrifice character VO for neat experimental ideas, right?
NG: Thanks so much for speaking with us, Vincent.