Spending hour after hour playing Halo 3, Oblivion, and Assassin’s Creed, can really pay off. Just ask Magnus Laggar, the latest rockstar to join the Pole team.
Magnus, what is your role at Pole?
I’m a sound designer! In addition to recording and designing the actual audio, I also implement and design its behavior within the game engines.
But you’re still at university, right?
Yes, I am!
I’m in my last term pursuing a master's in music production at the Royal College of Music here in Stockholm. I’m currently neck-deep into my master’s thesis, “To Ground the Otherworldly Sound,” a project where I deep dive into sound design. So far I’ve spent a surprising amount of time recording myself ripping apart cardboard and then bending them beyond recognition in Phase Plant to make organic sci-fi explosions!
And yes, “dual wielding” university and work can be a bit of a scheduling dilemma at times, not going to lie, haha, but Pole has been super lovely, being very keen on checking in with me and adjusting my bandwidth when university requires extra focus.
Have you always had an interest in sound and music?
I think I was around thirteen years old when I joined my first band back in Rättvik, and from that point, music and sound have always been a big part of me. When I was eighteen, I was studying science, but my best friends and I formed the band RÅNDA, which turned out to basically be my whole life during my early twenties. Together, we moved to Uppsala, where we built our own studio, spending hours upon hours writing and producing music. We had shows all over Sweden and abroad. Although sometimes intense, I still view those years as one of the best times in my life.
We don’t spend that amount of time on the band these days, but RÅNDA is still going strong, and we are now in our 11th year as a band. New music is in the making!
Why did you switch from music production to sound design?
Well, I began my higher education (also in music production) at Ingesund, Arvika, where I got some time to hone down on what I enjoyed the most. Coming there I was very focused on music production and mixing, but as time went on, I found myself spending more and more time building and creating the soundscapes and tweaking the synth patches for the music I was making. I went out into the forests around Arvika, recorded nature, and created my own sample packs, both for ambiences and percussive elements. What chords were playing grew less and less important to me; I was more focused on creating a sonic world where the listener would get carried away.
Although music production still is a big part of me, I realized that what I truly enjoy, and maybe the core of it all, is creating something that resonates with other people and that steered me towards exploring more non-linear sonic experiences and the world of sound design.
Is your background as a musician and a producer an advantage in your current role?
Very much! Music production and songwriting really teach you to tell a story, how to engage the listener, and how to present the feeling you’re trying to convey in a comprehensive way. And to do all that just within the sonic space, it can be very handy to know how a compressor or an EQ works, so to speak. Sound design is all about that as well I think, to tell a compelling and believable story, to create something that others can relate to. And to be honest, I’m not really sure where to draw the line between music and sound design. Why not call a kickass laser rocket launcher a composition, haha!
In your opinion, in what ways does sound contribute to the experience of a game?
Apart from immersion, sound can give us so much information, both on a conscious and subconscious level. “Where am I?”, “Are there any creatures nearby?”, “What time of day is it?”, “How far away is the enemy?”, “Am I low on health?”, “Is there an EMP missile tracking my spaceship!?!”, etc. There’s so much game design that can be made only with sound, and that’s why I love it!
How did you get in touch with Pole?
In my bachelor's, I took a course in music production for video games (along with Amina here at Pole!), and we had a field trip visiting Mats at Pole’s former studio. Mats showed us his awesome work for Mad Max. I was quite blown away and stayed in touch with Mats. The following spring, I put together my sound design showreel and sent it to Mats, and he replied that I would fit into one of Pole’s ongoing projects. I think that's probably the best email I’ve ever received!
You’ve already been involved in several projects since you joined Pole. Tell us a bit about them.
Yeah, wow, it’s been one truly amazing ride! There have been projects where I’ve had to pinch my arm to make sure I wasn’t dreaming of being a part of them. It’s been everything from single-player horror games to large-scale space battles. For one project, I’ve also (previously mostly working in Wwise) taken a dive into MetaSounds, an Unreal Engines audio system that was released with Unreal Engine 5.0.
For me, this year has been unbelievable, and I can’t stress enough how lucky I feel to be part of this awesome team.
When you start up a new project, what’s your creative process like?
When joining a new game project, it’s mainly trying to really grasp the core idea and vision for the game. That includes visuals, animations, game design, type of style, etc. The audio should be an extension and an enhancement of the vision and the story that the studio is trying to make.
Do you have a particular genre of games you prefer to work with?
So far I’ve enjoyed all the genres I’ve worked with. There are always new design concepts that come with every project, and you always keep on learning new stuff. Beautiful story-driven single-player games are close to my heart, but having the Halo game series as my by far most played game, I have a weak spot for first-person shooters as well.
What are the biggest challenges you encounter in your work?
The biggest challenge would be having a new design concept in your head and getting it to materialize. That struggle can be real sometimes. But boy, after many hours of work and then finally having it behave and sound as you meant it to, that is pure bliss.
I think that is why I love sound design so much. It’s creative work on so many levels. First and foremost, it’s very artistic, but a big part of sound design is also logic and problem-solving. And when those two worlds are combined, you get something that is rewarding on so many levels. On top of that, when you get to see (hear) your work in-game, combined with the visuals and the gameplay mechanics, it’s fulfilling, to say the very least.
Do you have any favorite work tools?
Phase Plant by Kilohearts has been my go-to tool this year; from designing loops for incoming missiles to super attack charge-ups, its intuitive workflow has kept me very inspired.
Apart from that, the various Reaper scripts from NVK have sped up my workflow tremendously, giving me more time to focus on the creative process.
If you got to choose, what dream project would you like to be part of?
At Pole, we always talk about that big project that all of us could work on together; that would be so amazing. Apart from that, having played Halo for half of my life, I would love to be a part of that universe and world-building.
On a side note, when now working as a sound designer for games, it’s very fun to be able to tell your mother that all those hours playing Halo 3, Oblivion, and Assassin’s Creed as a fifteen-year-old actually did pay off! (at least that’s how I like to view it, haha!)