SPOTLIGHT: Orange Byte Studios – the game audio specialists

Call it fortunate or unfortunate, but creativity in the Indian game development industry is being driven by the independent studios – small teams with big ideas and shoe-string budgets.

A common challenge facing many of these developers is the lack of in-house talent for art and sound, and that’s where specialists like Orange Byte Studios come in. The studio specialises in game audio and is quickly building an impressive portfolio for itself, comprising big names like Jump Games as well as indie start-ups like This Way Up.

We caught up with co-founders Eric Dillen, Rahul Singh and Lambert Shadap to find out more about their rather unique venture.

MCV: Tell us a little about Orange Byte Studios (OBS) and what you guys do?

Eric Dillen: Orange Byte Studios is a professional sound production studio. Our aim is to provide exceptional sound services and offer a one-stop audio solution to video game developers.

Our core expertise lies in custom music composition, sound design, character voiceovers, consulting, implementation, mixing and mastering. Our team comprises of composers, audio engineers and sound designers, who are experts in the implementation of sound within the game environment and we work with game developers of different sizes, budgets and needs.

MCV: How did Orange Byte Studios come about?

Dillen: In 2007, I was working as audio lead at Aurona Technologies and was lucky enough to be part of the first indigenously developed game for the PS2 (Hanuman: The Boy Warrior). I am sure most people might have played the game or at least gone through the reviews. All I can say is that it was a good start, but I somehow felt the need to express myself more musically and had the urge to work independently.

It was then that I got in touch with close friend and now co-founder of Orange Byte Studios, Lambert Shadap, who was in the US at the time, and we decided that we needed to start something on our own. With music being the common denominator, we knew exactly what we wanted to go after. At that point, there was no one offering game audio services exclusively; there were composers and studios who were doing it, but only as supplemental source of income.

Before any of our plans and ideas could see the light of the day, and before Lambert could return from the US, I was busy with a couple of other studio projects, imparting audio training as an audio domain expert, and also doing the odd audio job to keep myself going. It wasn’t until 2010 that we decide to get OBS off the ground. Being the only composer, while Lambert was busy setting up the logistics for the start-up, we realised that we needed another composer on board to get things moving fast. I immediately thought of Rahul Singh, a splendid composer and sound designer who specialises in electronic/computer music and is another nerd when it comes to his profession. It came as no surprise that he was genuinely interested in the whole idea and immediately opted in. He came on-board as the third founding member of OBS, and is one of the primary audio composers on the team, responsible for making important sonic and aesthetic decisions.

L-R: Eric Dillen, Lambert Shadap, Rahul Singh

MCV: Video game audio is quite a niche, and even more so in a country like India. What made you decide to focus on video game sound?

Dillen: Playing video games was what I did growing up. The first games I remember playing were Casio handhelds like Submarine Battle and Western Bar. That got me hooked to the world of video games, and that’s where it began. It wasn’t until 2000 that I started playing the guitar and thought that it would be cool to use my music on the games I love to play. Games were getting better and the need for well-produced soundtracks became the norm. Game composers were now looked at as rock stars/celebrities with their own fan following, and gamers were buying games based on the music alone, or if their favourite composer did the score. Now that musicians had more game audio memory to show off their inner muse, it was sort of a natural transition for me.

Rahul Singh: India has emerged as an efficient and reliable market for client servicing and business outsourcing. Apart from being skilled and hardworking professionals, we also show our prowess in understanding the global requirements of quality and variety and in bridging the gap that could have possibly emerged because of cultural differences.

The Indian game industry is growing from strength to strength; we have gaming giants who’ve set up shop in India and our very own pioneers. With the advent of social media platforms and smartphones, games are finally getting their due exposure in India. However, I was baffled to see that game audio was being outsourced to studios abroad. We wanted to change the perception that Indian musicians and sound professionals were only good at mainstream media that demands Indian sensibilities. We believed that we could deliver audio content that is as per global standards and sensibilities. We wanted to reach out to all the game developers and game studios in India and tell them – we have arrived, we are efficient, cost-effective, and in your neighbourhood.

MCV: You touched upon it before, but what services within the field of game audio does OBS offer?

Dillen: Apart from game music, we do sound design, audio consultation, mixing and mastering, and we do voiceovers as well. In fact, we are currently working on a title that is primarily VO-driven. However, we are also planning to have our own game audio tool (audio middleware) in the near future, creating a single point for all your game audio needs.

MCV: You’ve done non-gaming projects in the past. Is that something you continue, or is your focus entirely on games now?

Dillen: Game audio is our forte, but we definitely have the liberty to also choose and take up non-gaming audio work that comes our way and the ones we see fit. Musically, this approach keeps our ears fresh and helps us to experiment with new sound ideas in the game environment.

MCV: You’ve done a couple of projects for Jump Games. How challenging was it to provide audio for licensed properties such as Total Recall and Real Steel.

Dillen: To be honest, those were two of the smoother projects we’ve worked on till date. All the soundtracks had to be approved by Dreamworks for Real Steel and Sony for Total Recall, and surprisingly enough, both projects were approved 80% of the time in the first submission. The most crucial part was communication. The guys at Jump Games, especially Prabodh (Pallu) and Himanshu (Sharma), knew what they wanted in terms of musical style and communicated that to us very well. They definitely understood the importance of music and its psychological role in a game environment and got that out from us really well.

Singh: The moment we learnt we were on board for Real Steel, we were super excited. We knew it would be challenging and the fact that Jump Games and Dreamworks both would be involved in the approval process gave us a high. This was our chance to reinstate our belief that we can deliver content these gaming heavyweights would appreciate. It was a breeze working with Jump Games, Dreamworks and Sony Pictures. We were happy to know that our clients immediately felt the connect between their game and the music we delivered. The musical style required for the two projects was a combination of Big Beat, Rock, Orchestral, Dubstep and Electronica – musical styles that have no relevance in the mainstream/commercial Indian music industry.

MCV: Are you working with any other developers – Indian or international – at the moment?

Dillen: We are working with a few India developers, such as This Way Up, Mango Games, Black Cobra Studios and Wings Intellect. As far as international developers are concerned, I think they feel that all composers make Bollywood music here and shy away from sending any music related work to this side of the world. We are definitely going to change that viewpoint and gain their confidence, and let them know that besides art and code, you can now get great music here.

As far as project names go, I am not sure I am allowed to disclose any as we’re under NDA. But there are a couple of interesting ones we are currently working on. We have just wrapped up an interesting project with the guys at This Way Up; you should keep a close eye on that one.

Singh: We are really excited about the number of enquiries and the projects that are pouring in. Apart from the above, we’ve also worked with EC Interactive, Indusgeeks, Gamiana and Ironjaw Studios, and we’re currently starting work on a social media game.

Orange Byte Studios

MCV: Do you work with the developers while the game is in development or do you come in after the game is done?

Dillen: It differs based on the requirement of the game and our client. A lot of games that require integration of audio to video prefer getting us on-board at the end of the project when every other aspect of the game is locked so that there are not many changes or iterations in audio. We prefer being involved in the game at an earlier stage though so as to conceptualise the audio needs and functioning, especially in games where audio has a huge role to play and games in which sonic experimentation is the way to go.

MCV: What advantages do you offer to a developer over hiring dedicated in-house sound staff?

Dillen: A dedicated in-house composer is always an asset to have from the developer’s point of view, and I say this because I used to be an in-house sound guy. But what tends to happen is the poor composer or sound designer is resigned to a tiny storage room, where he/she has to work with a pair of headphones to avoid sound leakage, noisy backgrounds, etc. This is if they get a separate room in the first place.

Now, this is where we come in and here lies the biggest difference as I see it. Firstly, we have invested a lot to set up a professional sound production studio environment. We know why sound is recorded, mixed and mastered in well designed and acoustically calibrated studio rooms – the end product sounds finished and ready to be bought rather than sounding like a college band’s demo CD. We are equipped with all the right recording and mixing tools to fulfil any audio requirement, however crazy. This is a huge money saver, as the client doesn’t have to invest in setting up a professional recording environment, but can avail of these services at a fraction of the cost by outsourcing the sound to qualified music professionals. If you do plan to set up your own in-house studio, do let me know; I’ll be happy to consult.

Singh: As Eric mentioned, in-house audio staff is definitely a great asset to have, but there are challenges the company has to face, like identifying the correct talent that possesses the right skills, or the additional salaries it has to pay for an audio team.

It is unlikely that you can come across someone who could excel in all the skill sets required for putting out great game audio. Music/sound is highly subjective and one needs multiple perspectives in order to latch onto that one mutually agreed direction that the audio needs to take in the game, and to do it single-handedly is a difficult task. Also, the cost of setting up the audio infrastructure is high. Everything (audio gear, software, musical instruments, etc) required to deliver pro-audio content has to be studio-grade and along with that comes the additional cost of a professionally calibrated sound-proof room, which is essential.

Another benefit of outsourcing the audio requirement is that you are paying your audio vendor for the number of business days required to complete the task compared to a monthly salary the company pays to in-house staff.

MCV: What direction do you see Orange Byte heading into in the future? Do you have plans to expand the scope of the studio outside gaming or to go deeper within the gaming field?

Dillen: We are definitely committed to quality. We focus on recording and creating all original material and strive to keep no room for middle-of-the road material. Besides offering a multitude of sound services, we also plan to create our own audio middleware engine. This will provide you with in-game audio management tools, playback system and DSP for real-time location-based effects.

Game technology is just going to keep getting better, with better platforms and audio playback systems. Our goal is to understand these newer technologies, work with them, and offer the best audio solution that the platform has to offer. Also, as an educative measure, we will be holding game audio workshops in our studio, designed for game designers and producers. These workshops will help developers communicate their musical and sound ideas better with their audio teams and audio contractors. Knowing basic musical and sound terms is another powerful tool a developer can possess.

Lambert Shadap: Our immediate goal is to create a global presence. We would like to position OBS as a one-stop game audio company for gaming companies across the globe. We are interested in helping gaming companies focus on their core competence of making games and leaving their audio worries to us, no matter the size of the company.

We are also looking to work on some in-house audio mobile apps and get deeper into the gaming field, maybe have our own audio-centric games.

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