Create your own Interactive Audio Experience – with sonicS11 min read
“In school, I could hear the leaves rustle and go on a journey.”
— Clint Eastwood —
Sound has an enormous influence on your emotions and your subconscious. I have dealt with this topic in more detail in this post.
But it doesn’t only influence your perception. It also conveys the fictive world of emotions on a deeper level. That’s especially true if you assume that the sound hits your ears through some good quality headphones.
Why audio works so well as a storytelling medium
As a medium for storytelling, the crucial thing for me is that sound can build a bridge between the real and the fictitious world. It allows you to move freely between both worlds.
No other medium – and I say this as a film lover – can draw you into the world’s magic in such a comfortable and yet focused way. When you enter the portal so often you are so emotionally connected with the world and its characters that you think you have real friends or enemies there. This is exactly what we so longingly look for in stories when we dive into an adventure to escape from everyday life.
This medium needs its own genre
On the one hand the differences to other media are clear and sometimes serious. On the other hand TGWSTW – a project that will pave the way for this new genre – is actually a game for smartphones. And I really didn’t intend to reinvent the wheel.
But when I look at today’s world of apps, I regret to find that the definition of game is not quite what it used to be. Most mobile games today are defined by the fact that they are short and not particularly demanding. They are supposed to be played on your way home between the subway stations.
A story driven adventure like TGWSTW can’t work this way.
The listener/player has to invest some more time. He has to get involved and want to dive completely into the world. He is not looking for a fast pastime but wants to experience an adventure, which will stay in his memory for a long time.
That’s why I slowly became friends with the idea that in connection with the strong emotions this is more an experience than “just” a game. And so the term IAX was born, an abbreviation for Interactive Audio Experience.
Comparison: IAX and the usual media
It is interesting to compare the IAX genre with other media to see what it actually offers. Of course you can look at such a comparison from many different perspectives. And I don’t want to try to convince a fan of ordinary video games that he should rather use the most powerful graphics card ever. The one up there, between his ears.
I wouldn’t be able to do that anyway, because the respective consumer groups have very different expectations of entertainment in general and how they like to spend their free time.
I look at this comparison much more with the eye of a fan of story driven entertainment, because that’s the core element we’re interested in, right?
It challenges your imagination and creates a beautiful head cinema.
However, you experience it all through your inner voice in your head. You have no relation to the characters, their personality, their emotions.
Depending on how good and detailed the author describes everything (a Ken Follet leaves no doubts here) you sometimes have a stronger, sometimes a weaker connection to the fictitious world and its inhabitants.
But the biggest difference and at the same time a big disadvantage I see is the lack of interaction. When you read a book, you are “only” a silent observer. You don’t take an active part in the journey, because you don’t play a role there. It is therefore for me no experience in this sense, but “only” a good story. No more and no less.
In my opinion, the gameplay of video games nowadays seems to be in the foreground (it wasn’t always that way).
Even with a successful title like “The Last Of Us” the story is comparatively flat. Had the zombie fighting sections been shorter at the expense of a better story, many of the current fans wouldn’t have bought the game at all. If it’s about my taste, that’s exactly what I would have liked. More story, less fighting.
But I think that’s exactly the problem the big studios have. Developing good stories is time consuming and time is money. That’s why I dare to doubt that game developers will continue to focus more on game play in the future. That’s when they can use their production pipelines efficiently. Probably not much will change in that respect.
In addition, even when a story driven game comes onto the market, the plot and the ending are often childish and absurd. It’s like they have a need to do justice to gaming in general, and therefore give the story a playful touch to make it funny. There are exceptions, of course, but there are far too few.
1990 in Germany. I am 10 years old. Today I once again spent the whole day outside with friends. We went too far with some bicycle stunts and I ripped my knee and both elbows open.
When I come home in the evening I am totally exhausted but happy. My mom is not that pleased when she sees me – dirty like a chimney sweep and full of blood like a boxer.
Already during the shower and the following dinner I am looking forward to another adventure.
Dinner swallowed in one piece. Good night.
Off to the room.
Loading the tape. Play.
Under the cosy blanket.
Headphones on. Closing my eyes.
Head cinema on.
Those were the days. Geez.
I grew up with audio dramas. The best known of these was the series about the youth gang TKKG. Its members always got into mysterious or dangerous situations or places. So they had to investigate on their own to solve those mysterious cases. The canvas of sound was not that great actually, but when I heard a bike riding over gravel, I was always dashing along with it.
Unfortunately here, too, the interaction is missing.
I wish I could have helped interactively with the search for a thief. That would have been an adventure! It also remains the biggest shortcoming of today’s audio dramas and podcasts. I’m never quite in the middle, but remain a curious listener outside.
Cinema does one thing incredibly well. It combines story and sound better than any other medium. Sure, you have the picture now. But one could argue once again how well the director’s vision fits our own imagination.
I think if we can enhance films with sophisticated interaction, we’ll get an entertainment medium that can probably only be surpassed by holography. But the way there is long and expensive. And the first steps like “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch” left a lot to be desired, to be honest.
The question is whether and how many people are willing to pay an additional price for playing a leading role in the film and making choices to change its course. Because only if this direction is regarded as highly profitable will the big Hollywood studios agree to cover the much higher production costs.
I’m not sure this is ever going to happen
Paradoxically, the medium closest to the IAX genre also has a crucial flaw. The story often doesn’t stand in the foreground or is too shallow and linear.
Instead, the developers often simply try to make a video game without a picture. They try hard to adapt the game mechanics from ordinary games and make it somehow playable.
Basically, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s an audio game after all. And that’s a good thing.
Because IAX is supposed to close that gap. TGWSTW is not an audio game, but a journey with game elements.
The sonicS engine
The S in sonicS stands for “Story”. Sure thing.
It’s mainly targeted at writers and creative content creators. That’s why I currently tend to offer the sonicS engine as a service in the cloud (after the full development of TGWSTW). I believe that such a service would ensure an incredibly convenient and smooth creating process via Click and Drag & Drop directly in your browser. You wouldn’t have to have any programming knowledge, nor would you have to familiarize yourself with new software. Everything would be as simple, convenient and self-explanatory as an online mailbox.
So much for theory.
We’ll have to wait and see how well we will be able to put this into practice. At the moment new ideas are coming up constantly during the development of TGWSTW and things are changing quickly. The big challenge here is to not overload sonicS with unnecessary stuff but only equip it with effective and reasonable features.
And that’s why it’s so important that you, the Creator, join us from the very beginning. Shape it with us and benefit from an outstanding user experience later on.
What it could look like
I would like to outline a rough draft of a possible creation procedure. That will hopefully help you to imagine, how you as a writer could create IAX content in the future.
Please keep in mind that these are still loose ideas that will yet change umpteen times from now. It’s all about the idea.
You upload your whole story, which can consist partly of dialogue, player responses and narrative. The files are formatted in such a way that each part is identified as an individual segment.
Then you upload the final version of your audio files. In this respect it would be my wish to develop a kind of online mixer integrated in the cloud service. It would allow those creators among you, who are not familiar with audio editors, to easily compose and save your audio scenes online. We could make all (thousands) of our audio recordings available in a database you could pick from. Any of these audio files would be in high quality and duration to ensure that they wouldn’t repeat too quickly. It sounds just terrible when you loop a short sample of foot steps for a longer period of time. (Knock, knock… Knock, knock – argh)
Now you build your story tree by connecting the segments bit by bit. Assign each segment the corresponding audio scenes to be played.
With simple if/then conditions, you easily create the necessary logic for player responses and other interactive elements such as inventory puzzles.
When everything is ready you have the option to publish your piece of art via our network. This means you don’t have to worry about your app being compiled with errors or having problems submitting it to the App Store. We handle also app maintenance and crash management. Of course you can also do the publishing yourself. In this case we will create the build for Android and iOS which you can then simply download.
That’s all, by and large. Our goal is to provide a highly user friendly service. It should make the creation of appealing and high quality IAX content a true joy.
Its simplicity should outperform any available game engine on the market, so that non-technical storytellers can concentrate on the essentials and create their masterpieces. There’s a good chance we can achieve that, because thanks to the missing graphics, most of the functions of a usual engine are not needed.
Your audience will love it
I think “The Girl Who Sold The World” will be a great showcase project.
Already now voices are getting loud that this is an intense and special experience. And we just started. That gives us good reason to believe that IAX means the next level of story telling – also for you.
You have the chance to be there right from the start and be one of the first successful IAX creators to secure your market position.
I think I can safely say that most bookworms and movie fans wouldn’t mind getting involved in the story world to decide where the journey should go.
Quite the opposite. I know they’ll love it.
The question you have to ask yourself is, even if you are not (yet) a fan of TGWSTW: Would I like to offer this exciting and deep form of storytelling to my audience? Am I ready for it? Am I committed enough?
Because one thing is for sure. We don’t do things by halves. We focus on quality. We rely on enthusiasm. You too should have a similar mindset, so that we can achieve great things.
And that is not just a phrase. Let’s start a movement that will get fans of story driven entertainment around the world excited about IAX content.
AND just another tiny reason:
The first one hundred IAX creators and ambassadors, who join our community HERE, will not only get the chance to share ideas and shape the platform to their likings BUT — receive a free lifetime access to sonicS!
We’d love you to become part of this movement!
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