It’s always a pleasure to check in with the folks at SomaTone Interactive Audio, the studio that has crafted the music, sound effects and voice-overs for some of the most popular casual games of all time, including the Mystery Case Files, Diner Dash and Virtual Villagers franchises. We asked managing partners Kane Minkus and Nick Thomas to highlights some of the best casual game audio moments of 2008.

Looking back on 2008, what are some of the biggest milestones in casual gaming audio?

Kane Minkus: There were several big milestones in Casual game Audio in 2008! First and foremost, we spent a month in Germany recording three soundtracks with the Berlin Film Orchestra for three Big Fish titles: Hidden Expedition: Amazon, Mystery Case Files: Return To Ravenhearst, and Azada: Ancient Magic. This was  a huge achievement for the casual games industry as the audience received the production value of the music in these games very well! This helps continue to push the quality bar in casual game audio up. Afterwards, Big Fish decided to actually release the Mystery Case Files Soundtrack with the game itself. This was a historic moment in casual games seeing as it’s the first casual game to ever release a full, live orchestra soundtrack with the game.

Then in July of 2008 we released CADI – the first ever interactive music audio interface for casual games. This gave casual games a way to use music and sfx interactively with the change of mood and action in the game. What a year!

What were some of the most memorable characters that SomaTone was able to bring to life through voice-acting?

Nick Thomas: While we have seen a huge increase in the requests for VO in casual titles, there are certainly a few voices who clearly stick out as perfect fits for the characters in the game.  The first, and my personal favorite, is Madame Fate, from Mystery Case Files: Madame Fate. This project was the perfect marriage between a script, the role, the character direction, and of course, the actress selected for the part.  

Another great character, although a bit more "common" is Sara, the sweet, ambitious farm owner in Fresh Games’ Ranch Rush. This game is a great example of how good voice over can improve the immersive experience of a game by drawing players into the game story line.  Another great title worth mentioning is Mystery Legends: Sleep Hollow. The script provided by Pixel Storm, along with the superb performances delivered by actors playing the Narrator, and Hessian added a level of haunting intrigue that music and artwork simply cannot deliver.

Apart from these titles mentioned here, there are some amazing casual titles due to be released in early 2009 and will be landmark releases, featuring a full script for some 40+ characters….  Stay tuned!

What game proved to be the biggest challenge to come up with audio for?

Kane Minkus: Mystery Case Files: Return To Ravenhearst was definitely the soundtrack that pushed our team. Both to come up with totally unique creative elements in the sound design and voice over, as well as managing all the moving parts of writing for and recording an orchestra. Taking us almost 6 months from top to bottom with the audio (when it normally might take us 2-3 months on a smaller game), this project was a phenomenal experience and gave us huge latitude to really push the boundaries of music, sfx and VO in Casual games.

What game had the most exotic soundtrack, and how did it come together?

Nick Thomas: Exotic…  It is tough to pick a single winner in this category.  On one hand, the Berlin Scores for Azada: Ancient Magic, Hidden Expedition: Amazon, and MCF5 were exotic in the groundbreaking, film score quality of production for casual games.  In terms of instrumentation, or an untraditional musical approach, I would also have to mention Mystery Legends: Sleepy Hollow. Any casual title which uses the soundtrack for Resident Evil for their temp music is clearly going to end up with an exotic sound track, calling  on a dark fusion of traditional symphonic and electronic instrumentation.   

What are your predictions for 2009? What will the state of casual game audio be like a year from now?

Kane Minkus: We think we will continue to see a lot more involvement with live musicians, and orchestras in the coming year, as well as, more use and attention towards interactive elements in the audio soundtracks of casual games. I think we will also potentially see some casual games really focus on the music as a game play mechanic, as well as do some really unique things with the audio soundtrack to support the game play and story. As there are more and more hybrids of casual/core games, we think the audio design will start to become more ambitious.