We’re big fans of innovation in mobile games here at Gamezebo, and Somethin’ Else’s Papa Sangre II not only made us use our smartphones and tablets in exciting new ways this past Halloween, but the game itself was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before. A horror game that’s told completely through the use of sound, Papa Sangre II has players putting on headphones, closing their eyes, and spinning around to face whatever sounds are lurking out there in the darkness. It is a truly fascinating thing to behold, and even more so when you try to imagine just how Somethin’ Else went about creating this modern masterpiece in mobile gaming.
I recently had a chance to interview Nicky Birch, the Head of Products at Somethin’ Else, who served as the Executive Producer on Papa Sangre II, and also managed the internal marketing and promotion of the audio-only horror game. We discussed everything from the challenges of making a strictly audio video game, to working with actor Sean Bean, who provides the voice of the game’s eerily haunting narrator. But as you might expect from a team whose game is shrouded in all kinds of darkness and mystery, not everything about Papa Sangre himself could be brought into the light over the course of this interview. After all, what fun would that be?
You can read the full interview with Birch just below this paragraph, and be sure to check out my 5-star review of the incredibly innovative Papa Sangre II right over here. And of course, I encourage everyone reading to give the game a spin for yourselves: that is, if you’re not afraid of the unnerving scratches of the mindlice growing closer in the distance, or fleeing for your life (err, death) through the black recesses of your very own mind.
Gamezebo: The sound effects in Papa Sangre II are some of the best I’ve ever heard, especially for a video game. What is your team’s background or experience in doing sound design?
Nicky Birch: Thanks! We are an audio specialist studio, and this is our third audio-only game after Papa 1 and The Nightjar starring Benedict Cumberbatch. Our games studio is set within a wider content agency who make amongst other things a great deal of radio and audio content for brands and broadcasters. Including 30 weekly radio shows for the BBC. We get audio and we know the power great sound design has to create drama of the mind.
The sound designers for Papa Sangre II are brothers Ben and Max Ringham who come from a theatre background. It was their first game and they brought a totally fresh approach to the game. They would record noises on their iPhones wherever they could find them; for example you may find the sound of a London supermarket lift or a gate in a children’s playground used somewhere in the game. Now doubling up as terrifying locations inside the museum of memories.
GZ: What are some of the biggest challenges to creating a strictly audio game?
NB: The key thing is that in audio games you are deprived of on-screen feedback, so even basic gaming instructions like telling a player they are close to dying becomes more challenging as it has to be described in sound only. So for example, we used a Geiger counter in the submarine level to demonstrate when the player is close to danger. Also you are limited by the amounts of directional sounds that one person can legitimately comprehend at any one time. Which means you need to instill meaning to every sound that you use, and very little sound is there as decoration.
GZ: Each area in Papa Sangre II feels like a real tangible place when you move through it, complete with its own specific layout of landmarks and obstacles. Did the team use any sort of visual maps or location markers as a guide when crafting the actual audio world?
NB: Yes there are maps of each level. That is how the game levels are designed – though these are top secret documents which only the producer and game designer have ever seen, not even me. @Papasangre has probably corrupted the files by now.
GZ: How was the development of Papa Sangre II different from that of the first Papa Sangre? What sorts of things did you learn from making the first game that you were able to apply here in the second?
NB: Hugely different. The first was a piece of magic, we wanted a 3D sound game and realized there was no technology to help us, so we had to build it. It was beautiful and a real innovative ground breaker. But then the phones got better and every iOS update messed with our game and finally broke the game completely. So for the second Papa game we went right back to the beginning and built a brand new binaural audio engine that could power the game and futureproof it.
And lo, the Papa Engine was born. Now that engine can be used on all our future audio games plus any developer who wants to use it can license it themselves. So with much stronger tech behind us, we began to think about how we can make a game with better gameplay, have a returning game (achievements) and crucially use the gyro controls system for much more immersive play.
GZ: Can you explain a little bit about how you utilized the gyroscopic technology of a mobile device to work in concert with the game’s sound effects?
NB: To make the game truly immersive, you are you in the game….only you are dead you. All instructions are provided though your headphones. Using the phone’s gyroscopic controls adds to this immersive feeling by allowing you to physically turn the phone around the room you are in. As you turn around, the sounds stay in the same place. Which gives a true perception of whatever landscape you are in. You can then point to the direction of a sound, walk towards it, avoid it, or in some cases shoot it. This is all down to the design of The Papa Engine – it’s a brilliant piece of tech!
GZ: What were some of your favorite sound effects to create for the game?
NB: I love the polar bears as they feature in the trailer at the end and spook me out. I’m also really pleased with the submarine level as you get a real sense of being in a confined space using just audio.
GZ: And I’m almost too afraid to ask this, but how did you make those unnerving sounds of the mindlice?
NB: The mindlice… well they just went to the zoo and recorded the mindlice…I think.
GZ: What was it like working with Sean Bean on this project?
NB: Sean was a total legend – he played the game a few times before recording and really got into character. His acting really helped add a new dimension to the game. We are really pleased with the results – he is scary as hell.
GZ: Thanks so much for your time! One final question – what’s the deal with Papa himself, and the eerie world that he comes from?
NB: Now that would be telling…