Gaming Frequencies: The Station

Feb 21, 2018 By Austin Trunick
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The isolation of outer space has been a key element in so many of science fiction’s best pieces of entertainment. There’s a fear of the unknown: charging into the universe’s endless, uncharted depths without any idea of what you’ll encounter there. There’s also the loneliness of it all: the concept that you’re getting ever-further from the world you know and the people you love – all of whom, in many cases, you may never see again.

The Station is the latest in this fine tradition of speculative storytelling. An interactive, first-person mystery – available to be experienced on Steam, the Xbox One, and PlayStation 4 – The Station puts you aboard the Espial, an exploratory vessel dispatched to investigate mankind’s first-discovered intelligent, alien race. Little is known about their culture, except that they are engaged in a deadly, planet-wide civil war. Fearing that the aliens could turn their weapons on their new interstellar neighbors, the Espial is fitted with a cloaking device that will let its three-person crew observe and study the aliens from above, without detection. The corporation funding the trip, however, has lost contact with the crew – and it’s your job to find out why.

By solving puzzles, examining crew logs, and surveying the wreckage found aboard the Espial, you’ll gradually piece together the fate of the crew. There’s an excellent feeling of horror in The Station; not in the sense that you’ll be battling alien beasties, like in so many other games, but that you’re being watched by someone (or something) lurking in the station’s dark corridors. The Station's compelling mystery and well-tuned puzzle difficulty will keep gamers engaged through the game’s three-hour story, like they’re part of a particularly nerve-wracking sci-fi movie.  

So much of The Station’s foreboding atmosphere comes thanks to its sound design. As you move about the Espial’s various quarters, the hum of the spacecraft’s machinery – as well as distant voices, and other creepy sounds – help you feel as if you’re stepping into a place where something really bad just occurred. (The game isn’t very long, but boy, the ambience is dense.) Additionally, brief passages of a traditional musical score arise to heighten some of the game’s emotional moments.   

We asked Creative Director Kevin Harwood and Audio Director Duncan Watt of The Station’s design team to tell us about how they crafted their game’s audio experience.

This an independent game from a relatively small team. Can you tell us briefly how you came together, and about some of the core ideas that led to creating The Station

Kevin Harwood: Dave, our Executive Producer, and I were just coming off a sequence of MMO projects in succession when we met up to talk about a game idea I had been working on. Dave instantly fell in love with the project and we both immediately set out on designing the experience. To build out the rest of the team, we called a bunch of our other friends in the industry and like that we were off!

The sound in this game seems to be all about building atmosphere. Music is kept to a minimum, while the hum of the station serves almost as the game's score. Tell us about crafting the sound of the Espial.

Duncan Watt: Early on, we decided to give the Station itself a voice, almost as if it was a character in the game. Each area of the Station has a 'personality' - I asked the designers to assign a 'feel' to each of the locations/rooms - for example 'sanctuary' or 'light tension', etc. Each early ambience track reflects this - and the ambiences (and corresponding emotional 'feel') updates as the player moves through the story.

Music does enter the soundtrack at points, where it's used to heighten the emotional impact of a moment, or to add to the tone. How did you decide where music was necessary, or most appropriate?

Duncan Watt: There's an overall arc to the story, and the underscore follows that arc. I'm fascinated with the challenge of following the player's choices and path through that arc - and hopefully we've given the player the feeling the game 'knows' what they're doing, and the score supports the decisions the player makes. We're using underscore to push the story forward at times as well - but the underlying ambience throughout the game plays a large part as well, blurring the line between underscore and ambience. In the end, we'd like the game to feel and sound natural, regardless of the way the player chooses to play.

The only song with vocals plays over the end credits, which isn't uncommon for video games. Knowing that this track would act as a sort of punctuation to the game's finale -- and would be the last thing gamers experience -- how difficult was it to find a song that fit perfectly? 

Kevin Harwood: As soon as we heard the track we knew it was the perfect fit. It’s composed in minor melodic which is almost fitting given the somber experience players will be feeling in-game. Queuing the song to play after the ending and the conclusion to the mystery, this track lends the perfect composition to reflect on.

There's a great tradition of artists and creators mining the isolation of a space station for horror and mystery, from films like Solaris to Alien, and even games like the classic System Shock. What are some of your favorite space station-set pieces of entertainment?

Duncan Watt: To be honest, outside of the Alien series and a few games (Mass Effect, Dead Space), I'm not really a fan of the 'space station' genre. The Station (hopefully) feels lonely, abandoned, and slightly dystopic - but the constant presence of the massive engines and machinery allow for a wide range of approaches to the ambient underscore. That said, I'm a sucker for a good 'stinger'...



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February 22nd 2018

Feel like I’m watching a fiction movie. The trailer is very cool. Thank you for sharing the game.

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