Audible contacted Clean Cuts Interactive about a new project kicking off with Amazon’s Alexa Games team
A first-of-its-kind, single player voice role-playing game for the Alexa family of devices called Starfinder.
Adapted from Paizo’s massively popular tabletop RPG of the same name, the Starfinder Alexa skill transports you to the futuristic science-fantasy streets of Absalom Station. Choose from one of five unique characters, begin your 25-minute adventure, and expose a conspiracy only YOU can unravel. With Alexa as your game master, navigate your way through this world of “rogue human misfits” and “menacing alien creatures” – with your decisions determining your own unique outcome.
So with an exciting storyline written and top tier voice acting secured, Clean Cuts Interactive was tasked with bringing the Starfinder universe and all its inhabitants to life with sound design. So off we went.
In order to create a world that would resonate with Starfinder fans we first had to understand the game and characters. So we ordered our Starfinder Beginner’s Box and spent hours reading rulebooks, browsing gameplay catalogues, searching fan-art and of course, playing the game (R&D, obviously).
Once we felt properly initiated into the Starfinder Society, we got to work on the sound.
For the pilot episode, our workload fell into two main categories:
1 | SFX Assets: Standalone sound effects that are called dynamically by code during gameplay. These include weapons, UI sounds, background loops, and anything else that is played outside of the narrated scenes.
2 | Linear Scenes: Segments of narration and dialog that make up the storyline. The scenes are recorded and edited by Audible, then the narration files are sent to Clean Cuts Interactive for sound design and mixing.
Starting with the weapons assets, we shot straight for the stars…heavily layered plasma rifles, floor shaking sonic boom grenades, ripping flamethrowers! We couldn’t wait to hear them in the game! So off went the first batch of sounds to the Alexa Games team to implement and we pulled up the skill on our Echo and…the sounds fell flat. We were encountering the first of several creative and technical challenges: creating detailed sound design that holds up under the compression and speaker quality of the Alexa devices.
We quickly found that the compression algorithm required by these types of devices has a stronger-than-expected impact on the sound quality. What sounds rich and textured on studio monitors can quickly turn blurry and unimpactful when played through the device. However with this being an audio-only interaction, texture and nuance in the sound are the only tools we have to create an experience for the user.
Our new challenge: build a soundtrack with energy and subtlety that conveys under heavy compression, but still sounds huge and impactful in full resolution in the event that higher audio quality is supported in the future..
Challenge accepted and on we went, back and forth with the Alexa Games team, refining our sounds with creative mixing techniques to achieve the energy and detail we wanted to hear. Eventually we struck just the right balance and the weapons felt right.
Meanwhile, the narration files were arriving from the Audible team. There were over 250 total scenes in the pilot episode, driven by descriptive narration and unique voice over characters. Groups of scenes make up sequences, with each sequence taking place in a unique environment with its own obstacles and alien creatures.
The storytelling and voice acting is incredible, We created rich ambient layers to bring each location to life, and used Foley to mimic the actions described by the narrator. We developed unique sound profiles for each character that helped strengthen the connection to the player. If you listen closely, you’ll even hear some of our engineers lending their voices as goblins or aliens in a few scenes.
Throughout the entire pilot, the Clean Cuts Interactive team was in constant contact with the Alexa Games and Audible teams. The Starfinder skill is a new concept, and this close collaboration was instrumental in creating such a great product. Whether it was managing the recording, editing and delivery of huge amounts of files, keeping three teams (in two time zones) on schedule with multiple progress tracking spreadsheets, or even programming the skill on the fly to create a more ideal functionality, everyone played an important role in making this such a successful launch.
And a successful launch it was! The pilot episode was released in November of 2019, with the next batch of episodes already in production. Dubbed “the future of voice gaming”, Starfinder has been met with rave reviews and a 4.7 star rating on Amazon.com. Clean Cuts Interactive is proud to be a part of this new gaming experience, and look forward to a long run in the Starfinder Society!
Since the pilot episode launch, our team has continued refining the sounds for subsequent episodes. Not to mention pivoting from in-studio to a completely remote workflow as stay at home orders went into effect in March and April. We went from owning 50% of the audio production process to 80%, expanding to include session scheduling, pre-session tech checks, in-session engineering, and post-session naming, clean-up, and transfer to Audible. In total the production will span 600 pages, 120k words and over 2,500 individual audio files, allowing players to experience over 8 hours of gameplay depending on their choices.
Clean Cuts Interactive is proud to be a part of this new gaming experience, and look forward to a long run in the Starfinder Society!
In the meantime, you can play the Pilot episode for free right now!
Just say “Alexa, play Starfinder.”
Sound Like You Mean It
Clean Cuts is an award-winning creative boutique producing inspired, emotional audio and sound design for all media.
Have a project in mind? Contact Paul Perret.