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The Witcher Composer Interview, Adam Skorupa

Adam Skorupa has composed music for some of your favorite games. SteelSeries sat down to talk to the Polish artist to hear more about what kind of sounds he's into and the importance of quality audio equipment.

One of the best known Polish sound designers and composers, Adam Skorupa is responsible for one of the most famous Polish products — The Witcher 1 and 2. In his 25-year-long career, he has also worked on Painkiller, Bulletstorm, and most recently, Diablo Immortal. SteelSeries speaks to the composer about his background. Plus, he gives a recommendation on a headset to better enjoy gaming sound.

1. Tell us about your work.

Creating music isn’t just my job, it just so happens to be a passion and a great love of mine! The music for "The Witcher" is probably a good example of this. When I was working on the tracks for the first Witcher, I had virtually no budget to record a live orchestra or even a few soloists. I compensated mostly by being very enthusiastic and trying to find creative yet cheap solutions.

I found that working on arrangements with essentially a fine-tooth comb can really help to cover weaker, unrealistic instrument sounds. When it came to singing, I sang one of the tracks myself. I’m not a singer, by any stretch, but I am ambitious and quite stubborn. The result was… acceptable, although far from perfect.

Working on the music for "The Witcher" has had a huge impact on my current creative process. My main focus is still on the detailed arrangement of my pieces. . The more detail, the greater the pleasure of listening to it. The listener will always find new elements in the track, when they listen to it again, after the first time.

The same goes for sound design. To make the image a player would see, sound as realistic as possible, I have to take care of the smallest of details, such as the sound of the characters' clothes when they move. I do this because I want the player to have the most immersive experience possible when playing a game.

Audio technology

2. What kind of technology is most useful to a sound designer?

We have a lot of toys that have dials and sliders, blinkers or things that go "beep," all of which, of course is incredibly expensive. The rooms are prepared in a special way to get the right acoustic conditions, so it’s pretty quiet here. But one of the most important "toys" I have as a composer and sound designer are my loudspeakers, called studio monitors. Why would studio monitors be important? In short: from these loudspeakers, you can hear the sound you’re working on exactly as the sound designer or composer created it.

In layman’s terms, these speakers are designed to "not lie" so that when I am working on them, I can hear every detail of what I’m actually doing and control it.

All of this is done primarily with the target audience in mind — in my case a gamer. Gamers, unfortunately, usually own a "budget" set of speakers or headphones, the so-called "consumer grade". These cheaper setups unfortunately "lie;" I mean, they often don’t produce the sound as it really is. They narrow it down or colour and distort it from what the designer or composer originally intended.

I was pleasantly surprised by the headphones I recently received from SteelSeries, the Arctis Nova Pro Wireless. While listening back to my own compositions, I was surprised to find that these headphones quite faithfully capture all the details in the arrangement of my music. It’s good to know, there are companies out there, which try to give the audio, we composers create, justice.

SteelSeries gaming headset

3. Tell us about your roots as a composer.

When I was a child, I discovered that I am an "aural learner" (oral). My primary sense is hearing. I remember and learn things mainly by saying them out loud, I remember people's names more than their faces, and I remember movie soundtracks more than the visuals they were composed for. Most people are "visual learners" and only about 30% of the world's population are "aural” learners.

Maybe that is the reason why I have to fight really hard to have good audio quality in the games I work on. It's also the reason why, when I talk to developers, I try as much as possible to encourage them to assign a greater role to sound and audio in the games they create. As a result, I’m very interested to see the extent to which the player is able to hear what I, the artist, would like to convey through sound.

When I test audio products on the market, I look for authentic sound that I created in these games. And SteelSeries is on the right path. I appreciate when a company like them puts in the effort to try replicate and recreate the audio experience I had in mind for the gamers. It shows how much respect they have for my work, or work of any composer or sound designer.

The Witcher soundtrack composer

4. What is your dream game project?

That’s an easy answer — games where audio is an important part of the game mechanic. Sound design is, of course, an important element to help create immersion for a game. It helps the visuals become even more real and so on. But for me, it's not enough. I want sound to be an element that, for the player, in a lot of moments will be a more important source of information than the visuals.

There are relatively few games on the market like that, and the opportunity to work on some which have that kind of focus on audio in mind would be like winning the lottery!

I imagine one of the reasons for the small numbers of games where audio has such a strong focus is partly due to the fact that it’s difficult for a developer to assume that players have speakers or headphones of sufficient quality. Gamers themselves are also not used to the fact that audio can be such a powerful and important aspect of a game’s mechanics.

Video game sound design

But I’m sure you can remember the music levels in Rayman Legends, or playing melodies on instruments in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. Some games go even a step further than that. For example, in Dark Echo and Lurking the sound serves as an echolocation mechanic on which the whole core gameplay is based.

Gamers' expectations are changing. Gamers are becoming more and more demanding and looking for new experiences within games. And now they have access to high-quality gaming headsets, which present a true audio reproduction, as intended by the sound designers like myself.

I really hope that it continues to encourage developers to turn audio into a more essential element of the core game loop. I for one believe that games that rely heavily on audio are an unmet niche in the games market, and I’m sure there are a lot of very exciting mechanics to discover.

Big thanks to Adam Skorupa for speaking with SteelSeries! We hope that you're convinced about the importance of audio in video games. Upgrade your gaming headset with a SteelSeries product today.

Check out Skorupa's music on Spotify and on YouTube Music.

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