A Way Home

In this series, we hear from the five teams that participated in our Dolby Atmos Step Up Your Sound Game Jam, about their experiences with Dolby Atmos for mobile game creation. 

Read on to hear from Team Square about their game, A Way Home.

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Meet Team Square

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A Way Home is our jam game project made in 8 days about amnesia and Alzheimer’s Disease. Through the narrative of the gameplay, we aim to teach the player about the experience of having a close family member suffer from amnesia and how to help them. The player controls the game character - an elderly man who is a veteran and suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease - to find the way home. His daughter is waiting for him in the house. The gameplay is brought together through 4 different game scenes. In each scene, the elderly man needs to collect several items that represent his most precious memories to find his way off of the mountain. 

In A Way Home, the old man is guided by sounds from his memories to find his way back home. Each of these sounds helps the character remember an important moment of his life. When designing the game, we wanted the players to be able to really hear each critical moment. We picked moments from the main character’s life where sound plays an important role. For example, one of the moments is set in a train station where the old man is sending his daughter off to college.

The game is set on a mountain during a snowstorm. It’s a visual representation of the character’s inner feelings. More importantly, we wanted to create a disconnection between the environment and the sounds, making the experience surreal. For example, when the player first enters the game, they wake up in a dark cave. Besides the ambient sounds of the cave, the player will also hear the sounds of the warfield which come from his memory of being a soldier in a war. 

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In the beginning, the elderly man wakes up inside of a mountain’s cave, knowing nothing about himself anymore. He then picks up various items to regain specific memories related to them. A medal triggers his memory about the war. A Chinese tiger toy cues the memory of his daughter. A bundle of firewood brings back his memory of his career as a lumberjack. He needs to regain these memories in order to go back home to see his daughter again. The mountain in the game also represents his internal mental world that he is lost inside of. A spirit in the forest guides him along the way.

We separated the game into three parts, each with its own unique visual design. Instead of putting details on the models, we choose to rely on color and light to move the story forward. In the beginning of the game, the cave is only partially lit by a campfire, making the environment dark with extreme high contrast. It helps visualize the character’s fright when he finds himself lost in the mountain having lost all his memory. The second part of the game is set in foggy woods covered by snow. We used desaturated color and low contrast to visualize loss and confusion. The last part of the game is set in a valley with a river and green plants. As the player picks up more memories, the environment also becomes more colorful and bright. 

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Our levels were designed using spaces that would allow sound to be a key guide for the player. First, we wanted to highlight the immersive experience brought by sound via locations which have strong geographical features such as caves, forests and canyons.

Secondly, we simplified the visual guidance in the game scene. We wanted to rely on sound as much as possible to be the main guiding tool for players.

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For example, we have designed 3 different sizes and shapes of the space for our first cave scene. After entering the game, the player is born into a large room in the cave. Although the light is relatively dark, the player can still feel the size of this space through the echo of footsteps and water drops. Then the player will hear the sound of wind coming from the hole at the end of the tunnel. Players will naturally choose the direction where the wind comes from. But when the player gets closer to the entrance of the cave, the sound of the blizzard will be louder. This means that he cannot venture out at this moment.

We placed a second relatively small room in the middle of the tunnel. This was done in order to show how the size of your space impacts the way you hear sounds. This room is a basement. The first objective sound from the lower-left position can be heard only when the player is passing by.

After the player has completed the first objective, they will immediately find that the sound of the snowstorm at the entrance of the cave disappears after returning to the tunnel. At this time, the player will naturally walk out of the cave to complete the first level.

Our game introduces spatial audio as a guide for the player, which creates some very unique gameplay.

Our game sound design is based on real life, so most of the ambient sounds you hear are realistic, like the wind, birds singing, fire crackling, waterfalls and rivers. But for the guiding sound of the collectable items in our game, we chose to use something that doesn’t fit the scene. This was in order to help the player understand that there is something special happening there.

With Dolby Atmos, we could create very detailed audio for our scene and collectable items. With the medal, for example, we wanted it to have some audio related to war. When you are further away, you can only hear some cannon explosions. But when you get closer you start to hear tanks and planes. When you get very close, you can even hear a pistol and a deep breath. In our second scene, a snow forest, the player is searching for a toy tiger. This toy makes the sound of a bell ringing when you are further away. Up close, it makes the sound of a baby’s laugh.

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Dolby Atmos allows you to create spatial audio. This allowed us to design a very special audio experience for the player, especially when sounds played behind and above them. To emphasize this feature, we made sure that our terrain was not flat. The mountain and valley shows off the change of height of the sound. When you stand near the waterfall and look up, you hear some very realistic sound effects. We purposely made these sound effects subtle. However, with everything working together, they added a lot to our game to make it so layered in comparison to normal flat stereo. The spirit guide was the final touch for us to emphasize the power of Dolby Atmos. This guide spins around the player and provides some clear spatialized audio changes in height and position.

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Games are often more visually-oriented with sound effects working to simply add atmosphere. In working with Dolby Atmos, we were able to integrate sound into the core gameplay experience. It helped level up the feeling of immersion even more. Through the ability to intentionally choose what the player is hearing, our storytelling was able to take on new meaning. We also added a sound emitter on the spirit guide in the game. As it keeps moving around the player and leads them to key items, Dolby Atmos creates a great audio-immersive space around the view.

After playtesting the game on the mobile phone, it became clear that Dolby Atmos really helped us achieve a kind of design that is sound-reliant. The player can complete all the tasks with very limited visual guidance. This is amazing!

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To hear more from Team Square about their experience with the Dolby Atmos for mobile plug-in, check out their video.

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