Summer 2017 felt like August 1940 for me as I was commissioned again by Escape Plan Ltd to produce another soundscape to accompany their brand new escape room experience. Our successful partnership on Escape Plan's first escape room, The Adventure Begins, set us up perfectly for another exciting WWII-themed recreation for London's escape room gamers to tackle.
The Battle for Britain
The name of the Escape Plan's second experience should offer some clues on what we were trying to achieve. The Battle for Britain drops teams of players into the midst of a Luftwaffe attack on a 1940's RAF base in southern England. Players must tackle a series of challenges designed to test their teamwork, communication and problem solving skills. The goals of the game are to marshal the RAF response against the Luftwaffe and then escape the base. As was the case with their last experience The Adventure Begins, Escape Plan put great effort into crafting an atmosphere that oozes authenticity and attention to period detail. My job as sound designer was to take this approach into my own work and create a rich sonic atmosphere that put players right into the auditory world of the Battle of Britain.
The decision was made early on to keep the room format and audio playback system similar to what it was for the previous experience. This meant that the soundscape would once more be divided across two distinct rooms, each with a different identity and sonic palette. The first game room would be an officers mess hall and the second room would be the base's operations room. Whilst these rooms would each have their own sonic identity, it was important for me to be able to tie both soundscapes together in subtle ways to make the whole audio sequence feel like a flowing, unified experience.
There were a number of ways I achieved this. Firstly, the configuration of the sound system and the proximity of the rooms to each other meant that the audio from each room could be faintly heard in the other. Whilst this may be a problem in other installations, it allowed me to add extra impact to certain sounds, such as plane fly-overs and explosions outside the base's buildings. By layering these sounds into both room's soundscapes, the volume and impact of them helped to add weight and reinforce the feeling that the game was taking place in a small part of a larger airbase. I employed this tactic on The Adventure Begins and it worked wonders. I've put a link at the bottom of the page to my article on the soundscape production for The Adventure Begins, so check that out for more info on how we initially set up the sound system.
The unification of both game rooms using a layered sound system presented many problems for me during the design of The Adventure Begins. Thankfully, Ableton Live swooped in and saved me with it's flexibility for live playback, on-the-fly hardware routing and synchronization of multiple audio clips to one master clock and timeline. I would highly recommend anyone who is involved in sound installations and hasn't previously considered using it to check out Ableton Live. It's a really flexible solution.
Thankfully we had already configured it for use with the game's sound system on The Adventure Begins, and we decided to keep much of the functionality the same on The Battle for Britain. We gave each room it's own stereo bus, connected to a pair of speakers for both left and right channels. By positioning the speakers in a square pattern, with one in each corner of each room, we were able to give the impression of surround sound without it actually being mixed in surround. By implementing some sounds in both room's soundscapes simultaneously, with slight delays, we were again able to make certain sounds seem like they were passing across both rooms in a long sweep. Very useful for all of those plane and dogfight noises.
The only addition we made to the sound system was to add a microphone in the operator's room and use liberal side-chain compression to automatically duck the volume of the soundscape when the mic was used. Thanks to Ableton's flexible routing options this gave the operator the ability to talk to the teams in either or both rooms during the game to offer hints if needed. Coupled with the cameras already installed in the operator's booth, the addition of the mic gave even more flexibility to respond to different circumstances that might crop up in each team's game.
The first audio example here is the intro to the game in room one. The player's game time begins after 30 seconds of audio, with a significant audio event helping to launch players straight into the chaos of the Battle of Britain. The game definitely starts with a bang!
The happenings in the game's introductory audio should help explain why the gamers suddenly find themselves with the responsibility of leading the defense of the base and the need to escape quickly. Players will eventually find themselves in the second game area; the operations room. You can hear a clip of the soundscape from that room below. Listen out for an ominous ticking noise and a well-known tune.
Escape Plan Ltd
To give any more information than I have done would be to spoil the experience for those who haven't done it, so I'm going to leave it there. Here's hoping that the sound designers among you have found this useful, and that non-sound designers and sound designers alike will want to head down to Escape Plan to take on The Battle for Britain for themselves.
You can find more info and book your game using the link below. Also, use the bottom link to find out more about my first soundscape collaboration with Escape Plan.