Using a Zoom H4n in Ghost Recon: Future Soldier
Guest Contribution by Chris Groegler
Hi, my name is Chris Groegler and I am a Senior Sound Designer at Ubisoft-Red Storm Entertainment. Our latest project was Ghost Recon: Future Soldier where I was audio lead for Multiplayer. We have an audio team of five people and basically all of us have a Zoom H4n audio recorder. We have our Zooms with us all the time in case we are in a situation where we need to quickly record a sound and don’t have our Sound Devices 744 with us. Since the H4n is such a handy device to have around (it can fit in your pocket) I’ve always wanted to try and record the majority of environmental sounds with it and implement them into a shipping title. Well, that opportunity came about when I was working on a DLC pack for Ghost Recon: Future Soldier. Future Soldier shipped in May of 2012 and we started working on our first DLC pack a little before the ship date.
As our team was deciding what types of play spaces they were going to design, someone came up with a rooftops idea. Our art team made arrangements to do a scout mission and photograph session at a skyscraper downtown and when we heard about this we definitely had to join our art team so we could record the sounds. One of our other sound designers, Matte Wagner, joined me. Matte took our Sound Devices 744 recorder and a few of our shotgun mics, and I took along my Zoom H4n. My goal was to capture all possible sounds with my Zoom to create all environmental audio in this map. Matte’s goal was to capture high quality sounds for our studio sound team library, so combined we would have a really good collection of sounds from this trip.
Since our art team was taking pictures and such, we knew right away we needed to separate from them to capture clean audio. I started out recording some stereo ambiences of the cityscape from each corner of the building. This would later be blended together and used to create our 2D base ambience for our Skyline map. Our team tries to capture sounds from the exact locale that the map will take place in (as in Moscow, Pehsawar, etc?), but I figured I could fudge this a little and use our city ambience for our 2D base sound. I then went around and recorded AC units of different sizes. I recorded from all sides, top and bottom, especially on the smaller AC units. I would use about 2-4 sounds per small AC unit in the game, and I found this gave each small AC unit a subtle, but different characteristic. One small AC unit would have the fan sound along with a side motor. Another small AC unit would have a side motor and the bottom air sound. I could combine different sounds to make each unit have a different character to it as you walked by. For the bigger AC units I only used a few aspects, or only the “front” sound. I recorded at 24-bit, 96kHz stereo, while my implementation of the sounds in game was mono files. I would open my original stereo file and take a few seconds from the left side and create a loop out of that. I would then move down the timeline and select another couple seconds of audio from the right side and create a loop out of that. Depending on how many sounds I wanted per AC unit, I would just edit the amount and type of perspectives I needed. This gave me the flexibility to attach these sounds ‘around’ the object, giving it a nice stereo spread and making the object sound bigger in game. This sounds more natural than attaching one mono or stereo asset to that object where it tends to become a narrow point-source sound.
One thing I had to do with most, if not all my sounds, was use a good bit of EQ to shape the sound. If I were to put all these AC sounds in the game and you walked around, the whole map would sound like a bunch of white noise coming from sources all over the place. I used EQ to bring out the true characteristics of each sound and it gave a nice separation of sounds as you walked throughout the map.
Overall I am happy with how the map turned out. The assets were definitely usable, and it goes to show that having the most high-end and fancy equipment isn’t always necessary for good results. Equipment like portable recorders absolutely have their place, and I highly recommend any aspiring sound designer do research and purchase one for themselves. All it took was some editing and simple EQ for the sounds to be ready for implementation in a major Ubisoft release, so there’s no reason someone working with a smaller budget couldn’t use their Zoom for everything from dialogue to music recording. Just be creative and you’ll find a solution. Feel free to email me with additional question at firstname.lastname@example.org.