Behind the Sound of Turn-Based Strategy Game, Oakenfold – With Dean Katz-Ritov
Oakenfold is a turn-based strategy game with a twist. Created by indie game developer Rutger van Dijk and published by Studio Taghua. The game combines the classic turn-based flow with a puzzle-solving dynamic. Available on Steam, Oakenfold is a roguelike adventure where the player gets the ability to try out all the potential solutions by “reversing time” and redoing the steps all over again to find the best outcome.
Behind the sound effects design of this clever time-reversible strategy game is Dean Katz-Ritov, an audio designer and composer for different platforms like Nickelodeon or BlackBoard Studios.
Dean, like many sound designers, started his career as a musician. He quickly found himself wanting to make music for film, commercials, and animation and then more and more involved in sound design. During the 2020 pandemic, he became interested in game sound design and started experimenting with tools such as Wwise, Unity or Reformer Pro and got fascinated by them.
Being a big fan of creating sound effects for horror, comedy or anime, one of the things that attracted Dean to work in the game audio design world was the flexibility and openness available in making sound designs for the different creatures, worlds or narratives in the video game industry.
Dean controls every aspect of the overall sound and decides how a certain piece should be perceived. Sound design is more than just creating the different elements of a sound; it’s about building the logic for how and when sound effects should play.”
Eager to know more about Dean’s workflow, we asked him about his approach to Oakenfold’s sound effects design and how he implemented some of the Krotos software in the process.
Oakenfold’s Sound Design
For Oakenfold, the process of game sound design was very collaborative. It started with Rutger van Dijk, the game developer, explaining the dynamics of the game and providing references, ideas and even sound demos.
“The sound designer needs to plan ahead what might happen during the gameplay.”
At the beginning of every project, Dean plans what is going to do and the tools he would use to create the sound the game might need. For Oakenfold, he wanted to focus on what would fit perfectly with what we see on screen, in the most diegetic way. He asked himself how each element of the game would sound and came up with ways to bring that to life with the tools available.
Due to the inherited nature of Oakenfold, the main challenge for the game’s audio design was avoiding the effects sounding repetitive while keeping them dry and clean-sounding and making them pop over the ambient music.
For Dean, one of the most important aspects to keep in mind for any game sound design is to create an adaptable soundscape to the player’s decisions. That’s why he focused on accentuating the effects caused by any of the player’s actions, like explosions or the environment’s reaction, and taking into consideration how each of them will sound as the game progresses throughout its different levels.
This way he achieved the sense of an ever-changing soundscape for the game audio design.
Another important aspect Dean worked on was the UI. Especially for any sonic feedback the game will provide when the player would win or lose. Dean focused again on the player’s experience. But this time, he took advantage of his musicianship and skills as a composer. He thought about textures and orchestration to create the feel of an old-school synth and give UI sound design some identity while retaining the DNA of the game.
“Just having the developer being part of the sound design was just fantastic. I loved it very much.”
Finally, one of the most important sound design considerations for Oakenfold was bringing to life the “rolling back in time” game dynamic. Also known as Timescrubber™. Dean recalls it as one of his favourite parts of the game audio design process.
He worked closely with Rutger van Dijk and experienced the gameplay to come up with the right sound effect. Dean told us how he was able to hear the sound of the Timescrubber™ system in his head and very quickly tested those ideas with Rutger directly in the game. A true lesson on how collaboration is key to obtaining the best results.
Game Sound Design with Krotos Plugins
Krotos Audio plugins played a big part in the sound design of Oakenfold.
Dehumaniser 2 was Dean’s go-to tool for designing the whole monster soundscape on Oakenfold. From small buggy insect monsters to really big mythological creatures. By using only a microphone and his voice, Dean was able to experiment, play around with weird sounds and come up with the effects for the whole range of creatures in the game without worrying too much about the technical side. Fast, flexible and efficient.
“Krotos makes plugins that I can really trust. They provide me with the tools I need to create high-end sound without the need of being in the studio.”
Another tool Dean used during the game audio design was Weaponiser. It is great to see how game sound designers come up with unorthodox ways to use Weaponiser and this was exactly one of those cases. Dean explained how Weaponiser was rarely used for gunshots in the game sound design process but instead, he used Weaponiser to add layers of sounds to the actions of the game, providing more depth to the whole game sound design.
In Dean’s words: “Dehumanizer and Weaponiser together just really gave me everything I needed to create a whole universe of monsters. Covering a wide spectrum of sound effects from steampunk, fantasy, horror, action and dystopian monsters by simply making weird noises on a microphone.”
Sound design can be considered a hidden creative art. A compelling and attractive way of creating sonic worlds inside the box with tools such as Dehumaniser 2 or Weaponiser.
For Dean, it is very important to have this type of intuitive yet creative software to explore the artistic aspects of sound design. This way sound designers can connect and inspire players and listeners, enhancing and elevating their sonic experience.