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In Software
Sound Design

By Varun Nair

Meltdown – A Binaural Sound Game

On 28, May 2012 | No Comments | In Software, Sound Design, Work | By Varun Nair

A wormhole is detected.

Nothing is seen. Disturbances are felt. Things can be heard.

You hear creeptures amongst a swarm of sounds.

Find and kill all seven of them. You have ten minutes. You have your ears.

 Meltdown is a location based binaural sound game that was developed as a prototype to explore the use of location based technologies and their influence on sound.

The game: a sonic rift and wormhole has been detected at a park and the effects cannot be seen but felt. If the creeptures aren’t killed, the infected area will become a sonic dead zone. You have the technology to listen to them amongst the sounds they have trapped in space. Eliminate them and return the area to normalcy.

The search and destroy concept of the game is not new. What makes it interesting is that the player interacts directly with the environment (within a fixed area). There is no screen. There is no typical game controller. Armed with just an iPhone (which is a weapon and scanner) and their ears, they must walk and think like a hunter. On encountering a creepture they must binaurally locate it, bring it closer to them (using a gesture) and kill it by stabbing the iPhone in the correct direction. The game is immersive not only because it is binaural but also because it includes sounds from the environment. For example, the player might hear the swing moving (properly localised with the correct distance and angle calculations) but won’t see it moving. They might hear someone running across or a dog barking without seeing any of it while they interact with the environment and react to it with their body and minds.

The game has limitations in its current form. GPS accuracy isn’t great (although we found work arounds). Being a prototype that was developed in little time, it does not run natively on the iPhone. Instead, the iPhone communicates with a computer running Max/MSP. The game was completely developed in Max/MSP (and JavaScript). We built most of the systems ground up – interactive sound players, interactive mixer, synthesis modules, granulated file playback systems, dialogue system, gesture identification scripts, location and binaural angle calculators, etc. The binaural processing was made possible (thankfully) with IRCAM’s spat family of objects. Max has its limitations, although, it is fantastic as a prototyping system. Given the time (and budget) it would be great to develop this as a native app (that could be played regardless of the location) and have the freedom to make it sound better with varying layers and levels of complexity and better gameplay.

Here’s a video of the gameplay which was recorded live. The soundtrack is binaural, so please use headphones! It shows different snippets of the game – the tutorial, a few kills, location specific sounds and a successful mission.



Below are a few elements of the soundtrack in isolation. Binaural content again, keep those headphones on!

The Creepture:

Meltdown – Creepture on SoundCloud

SonicEchoes (the trapped sounds swimming around the environment):

Meltown - SonicEchoes on SoundCloud

Ambience (a tonal bed that responds to the player’s movements):

Meltdown – Ambience on SoundCloud

We got lots of interesting feedback from a whole lot of people who played the game and most of them wished they had it on their smart phones. We put some statistics together (just because we could!) after the first preview and here’s what was concluded:

I would be happy to break the Max patches and scripts down and show what we did. Maybe I will over the coming weeks.

Created by:

Abesh Thakur
Richard Robinson
Orfeas Boteas
Varun Nair

and Roz Ford for the AI voice.

Made possible with the University of Edinburgh

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