The Sweetest Games keep the Kingdom Playful

We caught up with Dominique Devoucoux, Head of Audio at King. She has worked in audio and sound for over 18 years and prior to joining the world of game audio she worked as a Post-Production Supervisor in the film industry and as a Sound Designer. She has since worked for notable gaming companies and worked on titles including Candy Crush Saga and Farm Heroes Saga. 


Devoucoux is passionate about bringing the art of theatrical sound design and music standards to games to enhance player experience. “My first job in the industry was as a Sound Designer/Audio Producer for EA Games where I shipped four titles of the AAA Need for Speed franchise in four years. This role gave me the opportunity to deep dive into the world of game audio which was new to me then and very different from film audio where the work is linear and the tools are readily available. I also have experience working as a Post-Production Supervisor in the film industry, overseeing the entire post production workflow from discussing creative and technical needs to final deliverables.”


Having the experience of delivering many film soundscapes she has found that there are a few areas where theatrical sound design can be translated into games. “The way we approach sound effects is very film-like. We have worked with foley artists who are specialised in recreating everyday life sounds like footsteps on surfaces, but also creating brand new sounds by experimenting with fabrics/materials and sound manipulations. This process creates a unique library of sounds not available elsewhere.”


“When it comes to music we very much follow the process of film music. We produce high quality virtual tracks first that we then record at amazing music studios such as Air Studios or Abbey Road with a fully blown orchestra where session musicians work on AAA games or feature films.”


Devoucoux also wants to improve the mixing approach and tools to ensure smooth transitions between different audio elements, helping to maintain a cohesive and believable game world. “Effective audio mixing and balancing can also help to ensure that each component is audible and serves its purpose within the game. This is more important than ever when working with mobile games, as there’s a need to ensure there’s no harsh sounds or conflicting frequencies for players on their devices or headphones.”


Music and sound brings a game to life and has the power to transform a player’s experience. When paired with the right visuals, music and sound can help the storytelling become much richer. “There are several things to consider when achieving a truly immersive audio experience. First, you want to make sure you take the time to establish and absorb the creative DNA given to a game. You want to fully immerse yourself in the player experience, reviewing everything from the narrative to the tone and the visual assets. Second, it’s important to work closely with the creative and technical teams, including those who are building the narrative, art design and gameplay to understand the art of the possible and to help inspire your own creative thinking for the audio composition.”


“You might want to consider the balance between music and sound in the game to ensure an immersive experience. Music and sound can be used to evoke emotions and set the desired tone for different game moments, whether it's suspense, excitement, or tranquillity. Matching the audio to the game's narrative and gameplay will enhance the emotional impact on players. Last but not least it is also important to bring your own touch, your own signature sound. We tend to hear the same expected audio cues, the same “safe” recipes especially in casual games and it’s worth exploring new territories, new tech approaches to try and stand out.”


Candy Crush Saga recently turned 10 and King did a complete audio revamp. “Candy Crush Saga’s music had been left untouched for a decade. Ahead of the game’s 10th anniversary in November 2022 we wanted to completely refresh the soundscape to enhance the player experience, creating something that would honour the past, while at the same time look forward to an exciting future. We wanted to depart from the previously melancholic feel and generate a closer emotional connection to the game. Keeping in mind the feedback we got from players after the pandemic we wrote the music around two key themes: success and hardship. The idea of these - the descending Hardship theme and the ascending Success theme - is meant to convey that you can overcome any hardships and ultimately succeed. Both in life, but also on that hard Candy Crush level you can’t get past. At that point we wanted the music to feel joyful, adventurous, bring a greater sense of optimism and on the whole sound a lot more organic.”


“We spent a lot of time defining the new soundscape of Candy Crush Saga working closely with the narrative and creative teams to identify the characteristics and signature sounds that we wanted to associate with the new audio. We wrote and iterated many demos. The finalised masters were recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Angel Studios with a 57-piece orchestra, an orchestrator and a conductor, which helped to add a real quality to the sound. We went from having three minutes of audio in the game to 30 minutes of carefully crafted, emotionally loaded orchestral music.”


When choosing the sound for the new music Devoucoux wanted to retain some of the quirkiness from the original Candy Crush Saga, but also add other emotions into the music. “We took inspiration from the 50s, 60s and Jazz-Pop. We listened to a lot of film music including from Alexandre Desplat, Henri Mancini, Yann Tiersen, Ben Charest and Joe Hisaishi.”


The new music in Candy Crush is designed to evoke emotions and set the mood for different gameplay situations. The music has been written keeping in mind the need for a different pace, alternating between energetic and calmer tracks. “Whether it's a sense of excitement during challenging levels or a feeling of accomplishment after completing a difficult stage, the music complements the player's emotional journey. Our players are incredibly diverse with different tastes in music so we’ve aimed to create a soundscape that appeals to the masses but still has a strong homogenous identity throughout the 15 tracks. What really makes it stand out is the care and craft we have put in, achieving quality standards not seen in casual games. This project is the signal that King is committed to raising the bar for its games’ soundtracks and more broadly that it is committed to delivering exciting audio content going forward.”


Music Season in Candy Crush Saga was launched in May which coincided with Kings partnership with the Jonas Brothers, who launched a new track exclusively in-app. “These types of partnerships allow us to combine people’s passions for both gaming and music. The artists benefit from the reach of our games and the potential to attract new fans and our players benefit from exciting new experiences that go beyond the core game play.”


So how does Devoucoux incorporate feedback into the games she is working on? “King has the benefit of working on live games, which means we are able to constantly innovate and adjust elements based on player feedback and preferences. We have a strong data driven culture which allows us to capture and try to understand what makes our players tick. We put the player experience at the heart of everything we do. For instance, during the pandemic, we received feedback from Candy Crush players about how much the game was helping them cope through the tough times. This was one of the catalysts that made the team want to revamp the music and sound within the game to be more in line with the emotional arc of the game.“


“What is really challenging in our segment of the industry is the fact that our games are always live and that new content is released on a regular basis. So, when starting a project it is important to identify if this content will become a permanent fixture of the game or whether it is seasonal, and question ourselves on how we translate and adapt the brand essence of the game to these add-ons so they don’t feel out of place to the rest of the soundscape.”


Devoucoux has worked on many great projects at King. “What I love most about the work that I do here is the diversity that I am exposed to. King has 12 live games and some additional games at various stages of prototyping, which means that the content we produce is so varied. In the same week we can write pop tracks for live ops, or a country track for a new feature, or an EDM track for one of our new games. This exposure gives me the opportunity to work with different creative teams and experience the impact audio can have in every single game.”


“It’s a very exciting time for audio at King! We’ve upscaled our team and we’re a team with big ambitions. It's inspiring to see that the company is willing to commit to raising the quality standards of audio.”

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