Jonathan van den Wijngaarden talks about his sound career

Audio designer and composer Jonathan van den Wijngaarden has had his share of broken illusions and fairy tales with no happy endings. After working at two of the Netherlands’ most promising studios that failed by aiming too high, he remains optimistic and takes the lessons learned into his own endeavors as a freelance audio designer and composer.  We sit down with Van den Wijngaarden about his work on Adam’s Venture part 1 and 2, freelancing and the importance of good sound in games.

The Golden Age of adventures

 

The second installment of Adam's Venture has you entangled in a ruthless dig on the Temple Mount that's stirring up the entire region.

One of the most well-known games Van den Wijngaarden worked on is Adams Venture (part one and two). “It’s inspired by Lucas Arts adventure games mixed with the Indiana Jones movies.” Van de Wijngaarden tells. “The music, although inspired on the classics as well, has a style I created especially for this title.”

“My music for Adams Venture 1 led to a great amount of positive reactions on my work, even though it was kind of a rush job for me. But people told me they could really see the LucasArts influences in the game. For me the music for Adam’s Venture is one big tribute to LucasArts and their Golden Age of adventures. These games put a huge mark on the musical choices I make today as a professional and sparked my love for the genre as a whole.” Van den Wijngaarden hopes that one day he’ll be able to create a third installment for Adam’s Venture together with Vertigo. The studio was founded with [some of] the guys from Coded [Illusions]. The IP belongs to Vertigo. Richard, [the creative director at Vertigo], and I know each other very well, I’m pretty liberal when it comes to music creation and styles. Ideas go back and forth all the time, and they [Vertigo] are very keen on making sure I remain involved in the puzzles they’re making. I also handle a lot of the audio-implementation work.”

Although Van den Wijngaarden acknowledges that he would consider working with Vertigo full-time if and when the studio starts working on multiple titles, he is currently still happy working freelance. “I currently have my own studio at home. With over 5 years of experience working with the Unreal Engine 3, doors get opened for me. I really hope we can create a third installment for Adam’s Venture to close off the trilogy. Right now it’s pretty much comes down to waiting and seeing how Episode 2 is received.”

Freelancing for small and large projects

In 2008 Jonathan was asked to act as chair for the BGin Audio Special Interest Group.

Besides working on the Adams Venture games, which were relatively large projects, Van den Wijngaarden also worked on smaller projects. For him, the differences between these two types of project are clear as crystal. “There’s a difference in quantity of material I have to deliver. With large and middle-large projects, like Adams Venture, you quickly notice that it’s a more iterative project. The Need for Speed Hot Persuit webgame for EA  [I worked on] was a relatively small project that doesn’t require an extreme amount of work, which I liked. I’m a huge fan of the original Hot Pursuit and it’s music. It is a franchise I always wanted to work on, even though the game in this case was rather small. At least I can take that one off my wish-list! I really had a much clearer overview for this project, which is refreshing. You gain a lot of control over the project, which makes the process communicating and getting comments from the client a lot easier”.

With his own home office to freelance away in, Van den Wijngaarden still cannot deny the hardships a freelancer has to go through. “It’s always quite a fight to be a freelancer in the videogame industry. Obviously this has everything to do with the current economy, but it’s also tough because a lot of things are changing. There’s a shift taking place towards a more professional industry, [where] it’s no longer just about making fun games. There’s a larger consciousness of risks and the fact that you need to take these into account, contrary to the past times where you got a pile of money to build something big to wait and see whether you’ll be successful or not. Currently evolution usually comes in tiny steps.”

This consciousness is something that he notices in his work as a freelancer as well. “People don’t have the tendency anymore to experiment much and they prefer to work within systems and structures they are familiar with. There is slower development in this process than there used to be. There used to be an avalanche of change, and now there are just some snowballs being thrown every once in a while. It’s a different way of growing. This doesn’t necessarily make it a negative thing, it just makes it different.”

The importance of sound

Recently Jonathan was awarded with a Dutch Game Award for Best Audio Design on Fairytale Fights.

During his time as an audio designer at studio Playlogic, Van den Wijngaarden experienced the challenge of having to stress the importance of sound, which was sometimes overlooked in the production process. “You can’t blame the people per se for this; it is usually a matter of time pressure. When working on this kind of production cycle, you know that you will have to make some sacrifices. You can’t constantly be on top of everything. I had to miss a lot of meetings to reach the deadlines. But still, I was able to stress the importance of great audio: audio isn’t important, as is often referred to, but essential to a great experience.”

Fortunately, as Van den Wijngaarden explains, the moment this landed with the team, they had to think about how the game was supposed to sound as well, not just about what it can do and what it looks like. “That aspect was overlooked in the beginning. It is wise to always have an audio designer involved as early in the project as possible, preferably when you’re still in concept phase.

“It is funny that people often use sounds to explain a gameplay mechanic with whooshes and crashes, but forget about this aspect altogether when drawing their initial plans! We ended up with a lot of consultation with lead-designers and artists, which led to collective creative decisions, instead of individuals telling others what to do. Personally I had a lot of freedom. My only limits lay in the scope of the game”.

Van den Wijngaarden recently finished his work on Adam’s Venture 2 and the Sims Medieval Facebook game for EA. The soundtrack to Adam’s Venture 2 is set to be released digitally on Jonathan’s Bandcamp website.  Jonathan also contributed to the upcoming One Big Album project by The Game Music Initiative.

Special thanks to Javier Sancho for his help on processing this interview

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Written by Vlad M.

Vlad wears many hats, but he’s mostly known for his work as a freelance game journalist, researcher and consultant. He’s always looking for the next game related project to sink his teeth in. You can find his adventures over on www.VGVisionary.com

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