I was introduced to Joonas Turner
at GDC last month by Vlambeer's Jan Willem Nijman. "You need to talk to this guy," he told me. "He's doing the sound for Nuclear Throne
This particular Finnish sound designer has had a rather exciting last couple of years. In 2012 Turner decided to focus solely on video game sound design after he graduated from school -- he actually studied movie sound design, but his video game hobby quickly overwhelmed his potential movie career path.
This change in direction is, in part, down to one Jukio "Kozilek" Kallio
, who you may know as the musician behind pretty much every recent Vlambeer game, including Nuclear Throne, Luftrausers, GUN GODZ
and Yeti Hunter
Kallio introduced Turner to a local Helsinki indie game developer gathering founded by Petri Purho, and Turner began attending numerous game jams and creating sound effects for anyone who wanted him.
This is where Turner met Johannes Vuorinen of Frogmind, the dev who went on to create mobile hit Badland
. Vuorinen and Turner hit it off, and soon Turner found himself creating the sounds for Badland
"Joonas made us realize that we were super stupid for not having a sound designer on our games. He just adds so much."
"A lot of people tested Badland
during 2012/2013 at gatherings and events," notes Turner, "and they noticed the sounds, and luckily wanted me on their projects as well. That spun things in good motion for me."
That wasn't Turner's only big project -- around this time he also met the team at Facepalm Studios, and went on to help them with reverb programming and sound mixing for their highly-lauded puzzler The Swapper
Then in early 2013, Turner took part in the Mojang's game jam, Mojam, where he was part of the Vlambeer's team. He created the sounds for Wasteland Kings
, which later went on to be Nuclear Throne
-- and based on his work during that jam session, the Vlambeer guys knew they needed him for the full project.
"We were working on Wasteland Kings
," Vlambeer's JW tells me, "and Jukio said 'I have this friend who does sound design, shall I get him for the jam?' We were like sure."
"Joonas just blew us away," he adds, "and kinda opened our eyes, and I guess our ears, and made us realize that we were super stupid for not having a sound designer on our games. He just adds so much. Most of the Nuclear Throne
sounds are just done with his voice -- reload sounds, things opening and closing -- it's just been super great working with him."
"Working with Vlambeer has been pretty much the most ideal way of working with games so far," Turner tells me. "They actually let designers be designers and they trust who they hire."
Trust, says Turner, is one of the biggest tipping points in a relationship between a game developer and their designers, and one that isn't discussed enough.
"The effect of trust can be huge," he notes. "One of the ways this is reflected in Nuclear Throne
is that I decided to write an actual spoken/written language with syllable/dialect systems which the inhabitants of the world speak, just because I felt like taking the game that one step further."
Vlambeer loved the idea and trusted Turner to get it done, and it's paid off well for them. The trust issues runs deeper than that, though, as Turner says that the biggest hurdle he faces as a sound designer for video games, is convincing indie devs that sound, not just music, deserves a budget.
"Sound still seems to be the underdog, even though it is one third of the overall immersion and feel of the game."
And Vlambeer completely agrees, although it took working with a sound designer to get them to realize this. "It's weird how a lot of people just don't really pay attention to sound design -- at least, that was how it was for me personally," says JW. "I was like 'Eh, we'll get someone to do cool music, and then I dunno, get some sound effects.'"
"And now I realize that this is just as deep as every other aspect of the game," he continues. "It's never something we paid attention to. With Joonas, he's super into his stuff, and he really loves sound design, and that's been starting to inspire us to also take it to the next level. So with Nuclear Throne
, we're also going to redo the audio engine and see if we can get that to a point where it's even more interesting."
Adds Turner, "One of the hardest things has been to stay professional and finish the job when I've worked on games that don't actually let me design the sounds properly. They just try to just push it to sound like other current top selling 'pleasing' casual games."
And it's not just game developers who misunderstand the importance of sound design, says Turner -- it's also very hard to convey this to the games press.
"Sound still seems to be the underdog, even though it is one third of the overall immersion and feel of the game," he reasons. "Luckily, lately I have been noticing that people have been getting more into sounds through the current rise of indie games, where there have been talented sound designers onboard who care for originality over the ultra-used sound libraries that we have heard forever reused."
For Turner, if sound designers continue to push forth the message that sound can be used to create immersion, deliver unique experiences, and help tighten gameplay, we may well see sound designers more in the limelight in the coming years. "Or so I hope!"