Creative Team of Hexany Audio Leads New Wave of Sonic Gaming & Commercial Experience
“Sound is very informational and can convey data to a player that they can absorb outside of the digital spectrum. It also provides this emotional component…in terms of reward and things feeling good or scary. You’re getting both functional and emotional from audio in a very strong way.” -Richard Ludlow, Audio Director/Owner of Hexany Audio
There was a decade when video games were merely 16-bit adventures that young kids would play in their parent’s basements and eventually outgrow. But video games and their sound design have taken center stage and become some of the greatest soundtracks of our time. Just check out the staggering views on YouTube and you’ll hear why so many are clamoring to pump up the volume on these mix sets.
Video games are fully immersive experiences that seamlessly integrate elements of film, dialogue and music. When it comes to their pulsating music bed or spectacular sound design, for video games there are very few companies that specialize in providing full-scope creative services for these sonic marvels. That’s where the sound designers and composers of Hexany Audio enter the picture.
In today’s gaming market, there is just as much emphasis on game scores as you would hear on big-budget Hollywood films and your favorite commercials. Hexany’s client roster spans outside of games as well, including: theme parks, VR and trailers for some of the biggest Fortune 500 companies from Coca-Cola and Nike to Activision and Sony.
Most notably, Hexany’s audio and sound design work can be heard on Tencent’s Arena of Valor, which has become the largest MOBA (multi-player online battle arena) game in the world.
The full-service, one-stop shop for everything audible in video games company was founded by Richard Ludlow and few of his friends from Berklee College of Music. Even with a relatively small, but ambitious and highly innovative staff of creatives and game-lovers, Hexany has exploded on the scene and made a dent in the industry.
Find out how Hexany managed to become a key player in the field of video game production audio and sound design and collaborate with some of the biggest global companies.
Q&A with Richard Ludlow on Audio & Sound Design:
RB: What’s the history of your company and how did you get off the ground?
RL: Our company is a video game audio production studio. Initially, it started more as a creative collective. It was a couple of friends at Berklee College of Music. “Oh, you know, I’ve got two demo tracks, you’ve got two demo tracks, let’s put them on a website and that was the inception of it.” It wasn’t exactly a company. After doing that, we started working on some projects, and it gradually picked up. We got more projects, and pretty soon we realized that specializing was a bit more beneficial than a broad approach that we had initially taken. We like games; we should kind of focus on that. We actually saw a big uptick in work in that field.
RB: Why do you think sound design is so important to selling the video game experience?
RL: Number one, it’s very functional. If you’re running low on health or if you need to know where something is in the game – the type of “power-up” you’re getting or whatnot – I think sound is very informational and can convey data to a player that they can absorb outside of the digital spectrum. It also provides this emotional component, obviously, in terms of reward and things feeling good or scary. You’re getting both functional and emotional from audio in a very strong way.
RB: Can you tell us about your background in music and sound design?
RL: At Berkelee, I discovered sound design and post-production audio and sound. Then, I got more into sound and music for video games.
RB: Can you explain the six services your company offers? 1) Original Music; 2) Implementation; 3) Dialogue, Voice Over; 4) Sound Design; 5) Audio Programming; and 6) Sonic Branding
Both are phenomenal and work in very different genres. Sound design is sound effects: Weapons, explosions, foley, ambiances, everything for games. The next two are very tied: Implementation for audio middleware work or implementing sounds into these systems and putting them within game engines. And then, we do Audio Programming and scripting as part of that. We have a technical sound designer, Nick. There’s a lot of set up, custom scripting, programming and building tools, tied together with the Implementation. Both of those are actually tied very heavily to the other with Sound Design. We’re not just throwing assets all over the wall. Dialogue and Voice Over, we do a lot of that as well. So for games, we’ll bring actors into the booth and do their casting direction, recording, editing, and processing. And then the last thing is Sonic Branding of a product or a game. It’s usually this interactive component that people are coming to us for and that we specialize in.
RB: Does a client usually provide temp music or does the composer come up with their own material?
RL: Sometimes a client will come to us and they have a very specific vision in mind that they want, and they will have selected some reference material. However, very often, we are given a project and asked to develop those ourselves. Sometimes people come to our company as a whole to handle music, sound integration, everything for their game. And other times they come to us just for one of our composers. Sometimes they really aren’t sure about their game’s direction, and we provide that music direction and help decide what the game sound will be.
RB: Is this done remotely, or does the client usually work with you in person?
RL: A lot of our work is remote. If they are local to LA, we’ll go to them and play their games. That’s why it’s usually easier to go to them, so we can play the game, have that initial discussion and talk with their team. I always think it’s great to do that discussion in person or Skype call. And then if possible, the first draft of the music is played for them, again, in person. Having control over how people are listening to it, is helpful and important, if you have that luxury.
RB: How does the casting process work when you do voice overs for clients?
RL: The first question is union or non-union, and that affects your casting pool. We basically like to ask for their casting documents, description of the character, and some artwork for the character. We then ask for a description of the voice that they’re looking for. Then it’s great to get a prototype of the character in terms of a reference or a celebrity – just a voice that’s familiar or YouTube link. If they don’t [have that], that’s totally fine and you get a broader range of options, but it’s nice to sometimes have this foundational starting point.
We work with a couple different agencies, and depending on the game’s needs, we will send out an audition with three to seven lines from the game for the actors to read, and then we’ll filter those out and send them to our clients with the best options.
RB: How long does it take for your company to finish audio / sound design for video games?
RL: It varies. If we’re set up with the game’s engine and we’re doing a sound design and integration, it’s usually anywhere from three months to a year. But we have plenty of projects that we work on for two, three years as well.
RB: Can you tell us about your company’s work on Arena of Valor? RL: The company Tencent that we do a lot of work for in China, has Honor of Kings, and it’s the most popular game there for sure. Based on just the sheer size of China, it’s actually the most popular game in the world if you’re looking at daily active players. And it’s funny because a lot of people never heard of the game let alone Tencent. We were working on the Chinese version of Arena of Valor (Honor of Kings) and Tencent said, “We’re gonna bring the game to the West, but we wanna redo some of the music, and add new characters.” They took a lot of elements and kept them the same, but they also modified things and culturalized and changed them for the Western market. It was neat to re-imagine the game for the West.
RB: What’s the process for creating a sound design for VR?
RL: It’s a very different process. First off, with VR, you’re gonna be using headphones 99% of the time. The process is very heavily tied to integration. It’s a lot more time, a lot more detail, a lot, a lot more work.
RB: What’s the best way for someone looking for your services to get the whole process started?
RL: The earlier the better is always great, at least to have a discussion. I think some people wait to approach audio until later, because maybe a fear of cost or something. But we do not bill hourly. I know a lot of people do, we don’t because we prefer to base our billing based on content. Sometimes that means we wait until later to start designing sound because we want locked animations, but it’s nice to know early on and start the discussion.
RB: Is there a budgetary range you can give us for your services?
RL: It’s so vast and varied. We will do projects for a couple thousand dollars that are less in content, or we’ll do six-figure projects, so it just depends on every project’s needs.
RB: Do you have any advice for anybody that might want to start their own small company to serve people in the multimedia industry?
RL: I think the things that were very beneficial for us early on was finding out what we were good at, which was video games and not going too broad. Relationships seem to be the biggest part of finding projects and working on cool things with great people. Meeting people and building relationships, those are really the most important.
Richard and his team at Hexany have not only immersed themselves in the audio and sound design nexus of the gamer world, but their story serves as an example of how artists can merge technology with their raw talent to tap into a thriving market. Their journey from students to businessmen can inspire a new wave of service-minded creatives who will only heighten the interactive experience we consume daily. Who doesn’t like the sound of that?