From N64 to Wii, Re-imagining "GoldenEye 007" – Exclusive Interview with Graeme Norgate and Steve Duckworth
First of all, I’d like to thank Cormac Donnelly, who kindly offered to contribute to Designing Sound by doing this great interview for the GoldenEye 007 games. Let’s read!
On November 2 Activision released their re-imagining of GoldenEye 007 on the Nintendo Wii. To mark the event we thought we’d not only have a chat with Steve Duckworth, Head of Audio at Eurocom working on the new game, but also take a trip down memory lane with Graeme Norgate who worked on the sound and music for the N64 title. First up Graeme gives us some insight into game sound circa 1997.
DS: How did you get involved with GoldenEye 007 and what was your role on the game?
GN: At the time the project started – early 95 – I had been at Rare for just under a year. I was
excited by all the projects they were working on and wanted to be involved in everything, I think at one point I was working on 5 games at once, one of which was Goldeneye.
I’d been to talk to the project lead Martin Hollis to look at what the team had produced and knew I’d do whatever I could to get onto the project. I’d worked with him previously on an arcade coin op fighting game “Killer Instinct” so we had already built a good working relationship.
DS: What was your involvement with the games pre-production?
GN: Audio wise, I was in the dark for a good while as to what the N64 console would be capable of. We had two projects at Rare for the new console and I was – at the time – solely working on both of them. I’d have meetings and talks with the audio coders at Silicon Graphics (who were designing the console) and reports varied enormously about it’s audio power. As time was getting tight, I decided to write the score using hardware synths and samplers with a view to converting them to whatever format we’d end up using for the system.
DS: At what stage of the dev process was audio given consideration?
GN: It’s easy to forget how far technology has come in the last 15 years, and back then, memory was tight and processing was laughable by todays standards. Being a first generation project on a new system, we were just dipping our toes in to see what we could get away with.
In the end, I had 700k for music data and instrument samples, and about the same for sound effects… basically, all the data could have fit onto a 3.5inch floppy disk….so it was a, let’s say, a creative challenge cramming everything in.
DS: The game is full of weapons, vehicles and a vast number of locations. What was your approach to gathering the sounds for the game?
GN: I did a lot of research. By that of course, I mean, I watched a lot of action movies, but if you’re being paid to watch films then I’d say we should call it research or people start getting upset.
As I’ve said previously, it was a learning process for all of us, and for audio, it was more a case of what I could get away with to fit the sounds into the cartridge. Sample Rates suffered, Sounds were edited down as much as possible… a far cry from what I have to play with today.
I would love to have had the opportunity to revisit those sound effects and give them the experience I’ve gained and polish they deserve… Eurocom
better bloody do a good job!
DS: Music has always played an important role in the Bond films and it’s equally as important to the game. Can you give us some insight into the scoring process?
GN: We (that’s myself and Grant Kirkhope) were told we had licensed the Bond Theme and could use that, so we went to town with the themes and went for as many variations as we could think of. It’s a great piece of music to get your hands on, so many fantastic hooks, from the beginning guitar theme, to the string progression, to the huge 60s brass arrangement, right up to the ending stabs and electric guitar chord…. I certainly wish I’d written it.
Being in house composers, we had the luxury of having the game as it was being made available in our rooms. So we could load up a level and get a real feel for the location and game play.
DS: Were you involved in the implementation of the games sound? How was this achieved?
GN: It was a case of me making the sounds and then talking to whichever programmer had the time to implement the work. Goldeneye was a huge project and had a very small rookie team. It had 4 programmers in total. That’s crazy compared to the projects of today… I believe the game I’m currently working on has a team of over 400 people not including outsourcing companies involved in many parts of the games development. We had about 10 core people on the team so, going back to the start of the answer, I had to bother the coders politely until they put in the sound and music.
DS: GoldenEye is often cited as one of the great FPS’s, what are your thoughts on it’s legacy?
GN: I’m very proud to have worked on it, it’s opened a lot of doors and, without it, Free Radical Design would never have existed, nor Timesplitters, and I really did enjoy working with that company and those games.
I’m amazed it’s still talked about. For any game to be remembered, let alone played even a year after it’s finished is rare. Games don’t have a shelf life like most other mediums.
I will watch a movie made 50 years ago, listen to an album from 30 years ago, but play a game from an older generation? It never happens. You spend 3 years working on a project, it gets a production run, if it doesn’t sell out they get pulped and that’s it… there’s no dvd release, no collectors edition or directors cut. So, to be in a position where I can say I worked on Goldeneye and people actually remember it is incredible. Even though EA tried to kill the legacy by releasing a dreadful game of the same name about 5 years ago.
As I said before, Eurocom better not fuck this up.
So, no pressure then. Steve Duckworth gives us the word from the audio team at Eurocom.
DS: Can you give us some insight into the audio teams involvement in the games pre-production/development?
SD: We started working on a demo level last summer. After that was approved, we moved into full production about a year ago. The demo level was later adapted and used in game as the Outpost multiplayer map.
DS: Did you re-visit the GoldenEye N64 when prepping for the game? Does the Wii game reference the original game in terms of it’s sound?
SD: There are nods toward the original N64 game, E.g. the alarm on the dam, some of the doors on the facility will sound familiar, the armour pickup has the same kind of feel as the original and the sound that plays on the player’s death. Players will also hear the over-the-top bullet impact sound that play as you sink fire into the enemy. But we aren’t using the original samples; all the sounds are newly created and freshened up for this version.
DS: The game ties in pretty closely with the Bond franchise using original actors for dialogue. How was it recording and integrating the various actors into the game?
SD: The actors were all recorded separately, even in different studios (and on different continents!), so the studios had to liaise to ensure they were using similar mics to get the same sound between sessions. Some sessions were even simultaneously motion captured to give us facial animation data for accurate lip sync. We then put the voices in the right ‘spaces’ for the game using offline processing and baking reverbs into the wavs.
DS: Bond composer David Arnold is also writing the music. How does his cinematic score fit with the game? How does it enhance the game play experience?
SD: The music adapts to combat situations, heightening the action. Once the enemies have been dispatched, it returns to a more stealthy feel. This is not the case on all levels though. At some points in the game there is no opportunity for stealth (e.g. Archives), so the music becomes all-out action. Additionally, there are certain cutscenes that have been specially scored.
Stylistically, as you’d expect, the music has a very Bond-esque feel to it. It’s a combination of powerful orchestral cues with electronica, a style that David Arnold is excels in.
DS: Given the close ties to cinematic Bond how did you set about sourcing FX for the game’s many locations, vehicles and weapons? Did you have access to any FX elements from previous films or games?
SD: Sadly, we didn’t get the budget to fly out to exotic locations like Dubai. We rely a lot on libraries, but don’t use them ‘straight from the tin’. We do a lot of manipulation and combining of sounds from all sorts of places to come up with the finished article, including recording our own foley and sweeteners onsite in our purpose built recording studio. The only sounds from the Bond films we were allowed to use were the vocal sounds that Daniel Craig recorded in his ADR sessions. We were also given permission to use Baron Samedi’s laugh from Live And Let Die.
DS: What was it like implementing sound for the Wii? Can you give us some examples where your sound implementation enhances the gameplay experience?
SD: There are a few examples. If you break stealth by alerting a guard, the sound becomes tense, even a little eerie. We’ve done this by cutting low frequencies from the mix, changing the music and ducking ambience, leaving the player in a limbo state that can go either way. They then have a few moments to neutralize the enemy and if successful we go back to stealth and the mix returns to normal. If the player doesn’t manage to silence the threat, then the enemy calls for backup, which is signaled by a big you’ve blown it stinger, and Action music kicks off to accompany the sudden influx of reinforcements. It’s all dynamic, so the player can choose how they want to play. This creates a lot of tension-and-release moments in the game where the soundstage is changing from moment to moment. The sound of the environments also helps with this ever-changing mix. We use a combination of in game reverbs, offline processing, and dynamic filtering to recreate the effect of moving between these places and reflect how sound behaves over distance. If you check out the Zukovsky’s Club level (a new location in this version), you’ll hear some pretty nifty occlusion based simulation going on with the main Dance Floor music – when you open the dance floor doors and hear the club track hit you with full fidelity and environment processing, it makes for a very immersive moment.
In a shooter, gun sounds are extremely important and we spent a great deal of time getting these sounding right. Each gun has a basic set of shot samples which are processed to sound close, medium and distant perspective – the shot then switches between these sample sets based on distance from the player. Added to this, we mix in different reverb samples depending on whether the gun is fired in an enclosed space or out in the open – when indoors, the reverb layer is made up of close early reflections, to give it a ‘boxy’ sound, but when the same gun is fired out on top of the Dam for example, it has a long rich echo to give it more space. Also, the player might be using the same weapon as the enemy, so to help differentiate the two in the mix, when the player fires, the samples play in stereo (whereas enemy shots collapse to mono), and an additional layer of sweeteners play such as mechanism and LF punch.
Generally, on the Wii, you are limited in terms of memory. We negated this limitation, somewhat, by using dynamic loading of sounds throughout the game. For instance, if the player reaches a point of no return on a level, this is a good opportunity to ditch the sounds that were only used at the start of the level, and load in the ones used later on. We also load in weapon sounds on the fly as Bond picks up new guns. This enables us to maximise the quality of the samples.
DS: The Wii supports Dolby Pro Logic II surround, did you test the game with this in mind?
SD: Yes, we always work in surround, and check back to stereo for compatibility from time to time. Surround systems are very affordable nowadays, so there really is no other way to work. The cutscenes were also mixed in surround and where appropriate, ambient sounds are also encoded with surround elements. All the sounds in the game are positioned in 3D, so you hear bullets whizz by, helicopters flying overhead, and debris smashing all around you - it all helps to put the player in the thick of the action.
DS: Can you sum up the Goldeneye sound experience for us?
SD: Like Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond, it’s edgy and gritty.
Many thanks to Graeme and Steve for taking the time to answer our questions.