Making music and mixing sound is a tricky task that requires tons of technical knowledge alongside creative impulses. For Psychonauts 2, the range of inner worlds and psychic powers allows for a variety of sounds and songs. That means a lot of work and tons of recording... but what happens if you need to fix something that you can re-record and what do you do as levels change throughout development? In the chat below, composer Peter McConnell and audio director Camden Stoddard break down the technical process involved with one of Psychonauts 2's darkest levels. Which wasn't so dark at the start!
Ford's Follicles, one of the three fractured parts of Ford Cruller's mind that players explore during the game, is a tangled mass of hair and repressed memories whose initial audio design was based loosely on bouncy and brighter barber shop ideas. When you think of a barber shop in real life, it's friendly and sociable and packed with energy. Peter's initial music reflected that feeling but as the game progressed, it was clear that the level was shaping into something else. With COVID-19 complicating orchestral recording processes and scheduling concerns making addition sessions unlikely, the original track was warped into something more sinister.
You can still hear that first track in the game over radio and in small sections of Ford's other mental landscapes but the fresh music in Ford's Follicles is the result of flipping it backwards, slowing it down, and twisting it into something else entirely. When I chatted with Camden and Peter, one of the chief takeaways I had was that sound and music is both incredibly precise while being strangely malleable. You work on a precise idea but that doesn't mean it's impossible to adjust even in the strictest circumstances. It's a testament to their talent that helped bring so much of Psychonauts 2's mood to the forefront. tldr? This is basically magic.