Established in 2004 and previously known as 'Phoenix Freeware Online', Phoenix Online Studios began as a fan group of King's Quest fans coming together to create an unofficial sequel to the series.
Their first project, The Silver Lining, got the attention from publications such as PC Gamer, Computer Gaming World, GameInformer, Edge Magazine, GamesTM, Kotaku, Mtv News and Joystiq. Today, we've been granted an IP license by Activision to publish all 5 episodes free to play.
Phoenix Online Studios is currently working on their first commercial endeavors - Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller, recently released Episode 1 last October, and Episode 2 is about to be released Jan 30th, 2013. The game follows a Boston FBI agent, who lost her brother years ago to a serial killer who was never caught. With post-cognition abilities, Erica Reed is able to see the past of the objects just by touching it, adding a twist in this paranormal adventure game.
More information about Phoenix Online Studios or any of our projects can be found at www.postudios.com
Last May, composer Austin Haynes wrote a guest blog about composing the music of Cognition–music that went on to win the Adventure Gamers’ Aggie Award for Best Music 2012, AND win the Reader’s Choice poll for the same category! So I think it’s safe to say the man knows his music. ;) Here’s what Austin has to say about composing for Cognition.
Hi, I am Austin Haynes, the lead composer for Cognition: An Erica Reed Thriller. I also did the music for The Silver Lining, which was a fan game based off of King’s Quest. When I got involved in Cognition, the first point to discuss was what kind of music would fit the game? I had seen the lovely artwork designs and after discussing with Cesar Bittar, the project director and CEO of Phoenix Online, we both came to the conclusion that electronic elements along with some acoustic instruments would be a good fit. In our discussion, I learned that the game had dark imagery so the textures of synthesizers and otherworldly sounds would fit nicely along with dynamic instruments such as piano and strings. It is dark, mysterious, but also personal and heartfelt too. The setting was clearly different in comparison to The Silver Lining. This would be our first commercial game but as with the rest of Phoenix Online, we welcomed the challenge.
When making the music for the trailer, the visuals were so rich and strong, that it was quite clear in what emotion was needed to capture the moment. It had to be creepy, scary, gritty, and compelling. I used drones and processed sounds to achieve this along with screams I recorded to emphasize the pain and fear these victims were experiencing from these killers surrounded by the city.
There are a few different ways music is used in Cognition. There are some themes used for main characters and also of places that the player may visit quite a bit to make it special and memorable – nothing like music to set the mood. There are cinematic scenes that have to have the music timed and locked in with the visuals. This is very much in the same way that music is scored to film. I like to watch the video and get the sense of timing to start the composing process. This helps me set the pace for the music. Because a lot of changes happen in these videos, the music needs to reflect that so it can be challenging and rewarding at the same time.
Another different use of music is during gameplay. How long will Erica be in certain areas? What is the mood we are looking for here? Because things can change while you are playing and as you progress, we have certain music layers that can come into the mix when needed, making it a very immersive experience. For example, I have some distortion running through large ensemble percussion that comes in as the tension increases during a moment in Episode 1. Being able to have these layers is possible do to the Unity Engine we are using. For intense scenes, distortion was a great way of getting that gritty sound which brought a whole other level of dimension musically to the experience. This is exciting and different from movies that are always locked and set with how everything will go.
There is also the question of implementation. Because a player can spend a long time in a certain area, how long should this music be? Should it be looped or come and go? When it comes to in-game music, I sometimes need to imagine what it is like during early development because the objects, animation, graphics are still being implemented. Most of the time artwork, music examples, or descriptions are provided which gives a good indication of what is needed.