The Sound of Plague Inc.

A lot of people have expressed interest in how Plague Inc. was made – going from some scribbles on a notepad into a global success – becoming the number 1 paid app on the AppStore within 6 days! So - this is where you get your answers...

Here, I  interview Joshua about the sound of Plague Inc.


Who are you?

I'm Joshua Kaplan. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and do freelance music composition & sound design for games.

What did you do for Plague Inc.?

I made the music and sound effects. James already had a very specific idea in mind when he went looking for audio, and I was lucky enough to land the gig. Even though the game wasn't yet playable, he was a patient explainer and provided a lot of great examples for reference. He wanted game music that was suspenseful & ominous, without being traditionally spooky. He wanted to put the player on edge just a little bit, but didn't want a traditional orchestral score. We sent a lot of ideas and drafts back and forth for both the music and the effects, talking about how this or that instrument could represent the sound of the virus slowly creeping in, of the cure being delayed, etc. He was very involved in the writing process for just that one in-game loop, moreso than any other developer I've worked with. Film music was a great reference, with Cliff Martinez's Contagion soundtrack obviously being a very huge inspiration. I can't recall how many drafts we went through in order to get to the final piece, but it's safe to say that James cares more about the tiny little details of his game than most. I think Plague Inc as a finished product really shows that.

What was the easiest thing you did?

Though it took a little while to settle on a direction for the music, once we did figure it out, the song practically wrote itself. It was really enjoyable creating the music. I don't know if it was necessarily "easy," because as I mentioned, it took quite a while to write this relatively short piece of music. But it really was a lot of fun. To me, fun = easy. Even when it's hard.

What was the most challenging thing you did?

As is usually the case, making a handful of 2-second sound effects proved to be a lot more difficult than writing a long, evolving piece of music. It's easy enough to get samples of people coughing, airport announcers, and church bells. But trying to create/combine exactly the right mix of abstract noises to signify the pop-up & tapping of a little red DNA bubble is surprisingly annoying. Also, trying to get my daughter to sing the entire Ring Around the Roses song in a creepy voice without laughing was probably the most challenging thing of all.

What is your favourite thing about Plague Inc.?

Nano-virus mode on Brutal difficulty. You can't be timid. The only way I can win is by snagging the code fragment intercepts first, then continuing to grab the next-cheapest infectious symptoms and transmission boosters as soon as I can afford them. The cure reaches 50%, 60%, 70%, with less than half of the world infected, but if you play it right and grab the cure extending attributes at that point, you've got a shot.

What are your plans for the future? 

First and foremost, I'd love to put a bit more work into the audio for Plague Inc. A lot of people are surprised when I tell them that this is Ndemic Creations' very first game, and I'm more than satisfied with how it turned out, but one of the best things about iOS apps is the ability to continually keep upgrading and polishing your games post-release. I think there's a lot of room to get it sounding even better and I'd love to keep at it.

I've also got a really promising tower defense game about to come out, as well as a few indie games for the Xbox. Of course I hope to continue finding new and interesting games and apps of all types to work on. I had no idea that Plague Inc. would end up topping the charts on the app store but I greatly wanted to be involved because it seemed like an exceptionally intelligent and creative game. I really enjoy collaborating on high-quality projects like this one, and want to keep meeting new up & coming developers to work with. If you happen to be looking for an audio assist with your next game, please check out my site at OpenHeartSound.com or get in touch at joshua@openheartsound.com!

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