Landscapes of Sound: G.A.N.G. Awards

With so many creative uses of sound like the triggered footsteps of an alien monster or an amazing metal solo from legendary guitarist Steve Vai, game audio landscapes are carefully tailored pieces of art that immensely affect the aura and overall emotion of a game.

The work being honored at the Game Audio Network Awards varies from complex sounds triggered by an excellent A.I. system to jaw-dropping cut scenes that gets even more emotional when just the right song pours into the mix. In many cases, the audio experiences are so rich that choosing a favorite nominee in each category can be extremely difficult. Get ready, gang, as we are about to step into the candy shop of sound with this year’s G.A.N.G. Awards.

Music of the Year

When dealing with Destiny, one may put the game in same boat as Halo and label it regurgitated, however, its music supersedes this preconception and gives it room to be considered. Upon first glance, the soundtrack feels huge, like an ambient field of sound that hits you with a strong blow. It deserves to take the trophy for this category because of its hard-hitting and emotionally driven tracks. Although Halo 2 Anniversary’s soundtrack was brimming with uniquely driven metal guitar tracks and Far Cry 4 permeates its landscapes with vibrant cultural sounds, they are not quite enough to compete on the emotional level that Destiny has achieved with its soundtrack.

Sound Design of the Year

The nominees are Destiny, Middle-Earth, Sunset Overdrive, Alien Isolation, and Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare. Destiny most likely won’t win because it brings only basic zappy-like sounds to the table that mirror what’s already been done in games like Unreal Tournament. These sounds get fairly repetitive and have already been done in many games prior to Destiny. In Sunset Overdrive, you glide on power lines like you’re skateboarding, triggering fairly simple but voluminous sound effects as you collide with objects. Middle-Earth’s main designs for sound are grunts from ogres, sword slashing, and swooshy effects that are a product of your special immortal ranger powers. These effects just don’t seem like they are really enough to give you the “wow” factor you need in order to select your vote.

Sound design is a tricky category to judge because the level of interactivity is often unclear, but what must stand out in voters’ minds is the richness of the sound effects. Even though the line between the Audio and Sound Design categories is a bit blurry, it is safe to say that Call of Duty is favored to win while Alien: Isolation deserves the win.

Best Interactive Score

Among the contenders, Bioshock Infinite’s Burial at Sea DLC sticks out the most. You appear in vibrant and extremely colorful olden days’ Paris sitting in an outdoor café. As you look around, you take in the sights, listen to the birds singing, and are graced with the elegant sounds of the legendary French ballad singer Edith Piaf singing “La Vie en Rose”. The catch is, as you walk down the historic cobblestone streets, an array of street musicians add in their improvisations to the song that seems to be miraculously playing in the atmosphere. The melodic ambiance is carefully glued together from a wide selection of lush instrumentation.

While Bioshock uses carefully tailored instrumentation, Alien: Isolation takes a different approach to interactivity by creating scores that adapt to your stealth gameplay. Haunting violins send chills down your spine and adapt to your interactions with the alien monster as you creep quietly around the dark and gloomy corridors. That being said, Bioshock is worthy of the win, but Alien: Isolation’s use of sound on the interactive environment will most likely spark more votes.

Best Original Instrumental

For this category, only two words need to be said: Steve Vai, the legendary virtuoso guitarist who has now left his unique mark on the video game music scene. It’s about time that a highly respected rock guitarist shreds on an unbelievable video game soundtrack. The track seriously rocks hard and seamlessly blends electronic sounds with the raw power of metal. Destiny has an amazing soundtrack filled with emotionally-packed, dramatic pieces, yet the uniqueness of the electro/metal blend in the Halo Theme does deserve recognition.

Best Original Song: Pop

Let it be known that Halo 2 Anniversary soundtrack rocks hard, and it does so with the help of “Breaking the Covenant”. As soon as you hear this piece, you’re guaranteed to bang your head along to the chug of the kick drum, bass, and grinding guitar. This one definitely deserves some kudos; however, it would be hilarious to see South Park’s “Princess Kenny” win for its outrageously dumb humor.

Best Audio for an Indie Game

The battle in this category is likely down to two amazing contenders: Transistor and The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. Transistor’s use of spacious indie guitar riffs, combined with strong beats and synthesizers, make for a unique blend of musical soundscapes. The Vanishing of Ethan Carter makes you feel like you’re in an unknown land of adventure and discovery with its reverberant tribal, gong, and choral vocal sounds. Transistor does a good job dabbling with the mixture of indie guitar and electronic sounds, but Ethan Carter’s use of music to put you in the shoes of a curious, wandering adventurer speaks directly to your inner Indiana Jones.

Best Game Music Cover/Remix

The Best Game Music Cover/Remix is a unique, new category that expands the scope of the guild beyond audio professionals to include independent musicians who now have a chance to show off their talents. Favored to win due to its strong recognition through the original Grammy win, Baba Yetu (Peter Hollens feat. Malukah) evokes a sense of family, traditional African sounds, and is very reminiscent of something you’d hear off of The Lion King. The strong, deep vocals are the strong point of the performance and pierce through the mix like a triumphant lion.

So much expression and emotion flows out the violin of Taylor Davis that it sends chills down the spine of any listener. The insertion of the violin personifies the expressions of crying, yearning, and sorrow, and makes it feel all the more lifelike. Although not necessarily favored to win, this piece deserves recognition for its unmistakably brilliant arrangement and technical skill.

Audio of The Year

In 7 of the past 12 years, the Audio of the Year and Sound Design winners were identical. If a nominee has the upper hand on sound design, assume that voice acting and music must be pretty extraordinary to sway a different result for Audio of the Year. With strong work in each of these areas of emphasis, expect Call of Duty to capture the flag in this category despite potential franchise fatigue. Its all-star voice acting, sound effects, and use of sound in explosive combat give it a well-respected edge over its competition. The sounds when you get into your exo-suit, scale a wall with your magnetic gloves, or the havoc of gunfire and warfare that swarms around you makes it feel like you are right there in the heat of battle. It would be hard for a game to compete with Call of Duty if its only key features were merely voice acting or music. However, because franchises rarely win this category, Alien: Isolation has a real shot at winning with its use of stealth-activated sound effects that trigger the risk of being caught by an alien predator. This unique feature stands out from all the other games in this category, but may not necessarily be enough to sway the opinions of this year’s voters.

Remaining categories at the ceremony will include: Best Original Soundtrack Album, Best Handheld Audio, Best Cinematic Cutscene Audio, Best Dialog, Best Original Song: Choral, Best Game Audio Article, Publication, or Broadcast, Best Audio Mix, Best Sound Design in a Casual/Social Game, and Best Music in a Casual/Social Game.

Find out the winners on March 5th at the Game Developers Conference.

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