Womenize! – Inspiring Stories is our weekly series featuring inspirational women from games and tech. For this edition we talked to Marie Havemann, Audio-Designer at Sandbox Interactive. She speaks about the emotional impact of composing for games and tells us about her recent projects, offering insights into her creative process. Read more about Marie in this interview:
Hi Marie! Could you share a bit about your background and what got you into composing music for video games?

Listening to music always created an intense emotional reaction within me that I wanted to understand better. I wanted to learn how the sounds and melodies are made that can spark such strong emotions – from a compositional perspective but also on a technical level. So I was trained as an Audio Engineer and then studied Sound Design and Music.
During that time Zelda Skyward Sword was released together with the Anniversary Soundtrack. I remember putting on that CD and being so overwhelmed with all the feelings and this intense sense of belonging that I could not stop crying. (It came out in 2011 but I played it in 2013). In that moment I realized I needed to write music and do sound design for games and that I was actually not happy as an Audio Engineer. So I started pursuing a career in games the next day and never looked back. I focussed my Bachelor’s and Master’s thesis on Game Audio but since I was freelancing besides my studies anyways, I was already working full time in games when I was finishing my Master’s degree.

How do you approach creating music that enhances the gaming experience and fits the game’s narrative and atmosphere?

It starts with a conversation with the team where I ask them about the vision and what aspects of the game are most important to them. These aspects are mostly design choices that are not about Audio, but they affect the choices that we need to make for music and sound. We also talk about what the main mechanics and story are (if there is a story) and how that affects the music.
Music and sound influence our perception and that is quite powerful so I want to make sure the team feels understood. And since the perception of emotions in music is very personal, I also like to sit together with the team and listen to music together and talk about how we perceive it, to establish a shared musical language and an „emotional range“ we want to work within.Then I finally sit down to start composing! I usually start by „exploring“ how I can capture the specific mood or feeling we want to create with melodies and chord progressions or riffs. I create a pool of ideas for different nuances of moods – and then I take a break. After the break, I choose the idea that resonates with me the most and start building on that. I shape the sonic soundscape and the instruments I choose on the way, but sometimes I also have a specific sonic palette in mind and start with that. Once I polished the idea to a decent quality, I implement it in the game or send it over to the team to get feedback from them and properly test it in the game.

Can you provide examples of video game projects you’ve worked on in the past? What challenges did you face while working on Albion Online and how did you overcome them?

Some of the projects I am very excited about are still under NDA. But the two most recent projects I did besides Albion, are „Geo Gods“ and „Sticky Business“. For most of my projects, I am hired as an Audio Designer who does music, Sound, and implementation – and that’s what happened for Geo Gods as well.

Geo Gods is a relaxing solo card game by Arnold Rauers for iOS/Android. The goal for the music was to be relaxing, mystical, and meditative and I took some influences from meditation and yoga music to achieve that, which was quite fun! And for the sounds, the goal was to be satisfying and enjoyable. I love how the Audio came together with the gorgeous Art and the smooth mechanics!

For Sticky Business I joined last minute just to create the music. It’s a cozy sticker shop and the music changes depending on what you are doing, whether you are creating your stickers, packing them, or reading about your customers. I really enjoyed working with Spellgarden Games and writing Lofi music is one of my activities to unwind, so that was a great fit. The Game looks and feels amazing as well. I love that games can also be a place to just feel comfortable and safe, so these two projects that are helping people to relax were fun to work on.

Albion Online is a vast game with lots of things to do for the players. I joined the team in early 2017 and the game has come a long way since then. We have added so many cool features and also reworked lots of existing ones. The biggest challenge of working on a live game is that the timelines are always very short: when one Update is released we are already working on the next. And since Audio is the last department in the pipeline before QA starts taking over, there is a lot of pressure, especially towards the end of the update cycle. So most of my work has to be a fit on the first try. I had to learn to be very confident with my choices to be able to deliver like that.

On the other hand, it is super satisfying to rework older features or elements of the game world and see the players’ reactions when something got an overhaul – for example when we extended the soundtrack, or when we reworked the look and sound of all the natural environments.

Thanks for this interview, Marie!

Marie’s links: LinkedIn, website, Spotify

Womenize! – Inspiring Stories Feature by Madeleine Egger