GameSided Interview With Rocket League’s Mike Ault
Note: This interview was conducted prior to the release of Rocket League’s Supersonic Fury DLC & August Update.
GameSided: First things first, how did you originally get involved with Psyonix?
Mike Ault: Wow, this feels like so long ago. But before Psyonix, I worked as a contractor at inXile Entertainment with my old mentor, Jamey Scott. We were brought in to work on the game, Hunted: The Demons Forge.
There was no audio department at inXile, so when Jamey was hired to be the Audio Lead and Sound Designer on the project, he hired me to be the technical sound designer and liaison with the company; which basically meant that I would commute down to Newport Beach and be onsite with the company to field requests. I split half my time between Jamey’s studio in Burbank and half in Newport Beach.
It was at inXile where I met Game Director, Maxx Kaufmann. We hit it off and had a great working dynamic. At the end of Hunted, I was on the “hunt” for a job again and Maxx put me in touch with Psyonix to help me out (he got me an interview with them). Psyonix also didn’t have an audio department, and when I went in to interview here, I basically convinced them they needed to start one. The rest is history!
GS: What projects have you been involved with in the past?
MA: Oh boy…this is such a hard question for me to answer because, in the audio world, I have tried to be a Jack of All Trades. Throughout the years, I have tried to associate myself with as many projects as humanly possible!
In terms of video games: My first title was Blur. At the time, I was working at DaneTracks (GameTracks) with Dane Davis and Caron Weidner. I was an intern at the studio and got my lucky break designing a few UI sounds, which was the start of my path in video games! After that, I was able to do dialog localization with Jamey on a ton of titles like SOCOM 4, Gears of War 3, and InFamous 2, and I also had the chance to work on a slew of smaller iPhone and mobile games. At Psyonix, we shipped Arc Squadron a couple years back, in which I did all the sound and music for.
Prior to my game audio career, I worked as an audio engineer in music. The majority of that time was at Westlake Recording Studios in Hollywood, working with people like John Legend, Placido Domingo (one of the three tenors), King Kanobby, Michael Bolton, Ne-Yo, Busta Rhymes, etc. That list is actually a pretty long one. I still continue to do music mixing even today: a couple months ago, I mixed the new Belmont Lights record, and their single, Warrior, is doing really well. In fact, it was the Golden State Warriors’ theme last year!
In the time I have off, I’ve worked on movies off and on. Previously, I had a short internship which led to working on the Warner Bros lot, where I was an intern on the films, Cabin in the Woods and Losers. I have also worked on a TON of shorts (like Atropa and Nether, which was based on the game of the same name), commercials (Infiniti, Hewlett Packard, San Diego State), and promotional videos for companies (Qualcomm Ventures).
GS: Am I right in thinking that you weren’t just involved in producing the soundtrack, but the entire sound design for Rocket League as well? Are there any elements in there that you’re particularly proud of, or found challenging to implement?
MA: You are correct! I did all the music and sound design on Rocket League. I also cut all the trailers we have done on the game. I guess you could consider me the A/V department, like in High School (haha)! All in all, I am first and foremost a sound designer and I have spent the majority of my time crafting the game’s overall sonic experience.
I did all the music and sound design on Rocket League. I also cut all the trailers we have done on the game. I guess you could consider me the A/V department, like in High School (haha)!
As for the elements that I’m not particularly proud of… that’s a dangerous question to ask a creative type. Basically, every time I play the game, or watch someone play it, I notice something I want to make better, or I feel comes up short of our original vision. So, it’s both a blessing and a curse that the game is live and that we can push changes, as I find myself constantly tweaking and trying new things.
One of the most challenging things to date was getting the crowd right. For the longest time it just wasn’t exciting. We would play-test and then talk about what our expectations were sonically, what things weren’t fun, and whether or not we were communicating excitement. We really wanted to sell the idea of a believable crowd and after a ridiculous number of iterations (and about 1000 new assets for the crowd alone), we finally hit something that was satisfying and felt dynamic.
GS: Who are your musical inspirations?
MA: There are many. Coming from a musical engineering background, I have fallen in love with many genres through time. When I was in high school, I was in a metal band (Augmentum) and was heavily influenced by progressive metal genres. Later, working in LA, I was influenced by lots of pop, hip hop, and adult contemporary, since those were the three genres I worked on the most.
That being said, I’ve always had a passion for electronic Music. Artists like ATB in the early 2000s, Deadmau5 and Kaskade in the mid 2000s, and as of late, Lido and Said the Sky were big influencers. I think I had a passion for these artists because they were all one-man shows. They could produce great music, mix it, master it… basically package the whole thing themselves. I’ve always loved that and found myself drawn towards those types of artists.
GS: The Rocket League theme is the tune that we’re greeted with when we boot up the game. What was the creative process for coming up with this, and did you feel any additional pressure in creating something that would be heard by the entire player base?
MA: You know, the funny thing about the theme is that it’s the only song that wasn’t written as a personal song first. So in that, it was almost methodical. A standard workflow for music in a game (at least for me) is to discover what fits. We went through a ridiculous number of iterations and ideas for what the music should sound like. Here is our original direction for the music, for example.
Once we found a specific vibe, I began to craft the music from a more technical standpoint rather than a creative one. I wanted it to feel familiar quickly and, quite honestly, to sound like other big music. To me, the theme’s main goal was to feel “big budget.” I wanted the vibe you get when you start a big sports game from EA, where they are licensing tracks from huge artists, but since we’re a tiny developer by comparison, we couldn’t license things like that — but it had to sound like we did.
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Next: Mike Ault On Collaborations, Community, And The Future