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Posted by on Dec 13, 2012 | 0 comments

Rewind…Audio Implementation Greats #3: Crackdown – Realtime Worlds

In the run-up to this month’s reverb theme, former contributor Damian Kastbauer suggested we re-run this article he put together discussing the game Crackdown for XBOX. The article may be two years old, but the content remains undeniably relevant. Never one to ignore good suggestions, here we are…

Crackdown

One area that has been gaining ground since the early days of EAX on the PC platform, and more recently it’s omnipresence in audio middleware toolsets, is Reverb. With the ability to enhance the sounds playing back in the game with reverberant information from the surrounding space, you can effectively communicate to the player a truer approximation of “being there” and help to further immerse them in the game world. While we often take Reverb for granted in our everyday life as something that helps us position ourselves in a space (the cavernous echo of an airport, the openness of a forest), it is something that is continually giving us feedback on our surroundings, and thus a critical part of the way we experience the world.

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Posted by on Dec 8, 2010 | 9 comments

Exclusive Interview with the Audio Team of "Alan Wake"

Alan Wake is definitely one of my favorite games of 2010, both for the game itself and for the sound of it, which is really detailed and interesting from start to end. The game was just re-released via Xbox Live’s “Games On Demand”, complete with all eight episodes (6 from the boxed game plus 2 from DLC), so there’s no a better time to revisit the amazing audio experience of the game. Below is a long interview I had with the team behind the sound of the game:

  • Mark Yeend - Publishing Audio Director (Head of Audio, Microsoft Game Studios)
  • Peter Hajba – Sound Designer (Remedy Entertainment)
  • Michael Schwendler - Sound Designer (Dynamedion GbR)
  • Peter Comley - Sound Designer (Freelance, did Wake as a contract for Microsoft Game Studios)
  • Alan Rankin - Supervising Sound Designer (Associate Creative Director of Soundelux DMG)
  • Petri Alanko - Composer & Music Producer (Freelance, did Wake as a contract for Remedy)

DS: How early did you guys started to work in the game? How was your relationship with the rest of the development teams from the beginning?

Mark Yeend: I first met the Remedy guys in June of 2009, at the point when the project was turning a corner from a very long incubation to serious production. It was time to execute on the promise. Remedy had already done some audio work before I came on board, of course; especially making some very cool trailers and demos, developing the original score with composer Petri Alanko and developing the characters with voice director Navid Khonsari. It was great to work with Remedy because they knew what they wanted; they had established their creative vision for the game, they just needed my help filling in the details at a high level of quality. Remedy and MGS both work with great passion, so naturally we had some heated debates. But everyone is also very professional and we were all working toward the same end-goal, so there was a bedrock of trust under every argument.

DS: How did you approach the audio direction of the game, working with the different partners in sound design?

Mark Yeend: I looked at my role as the hub of a wheel of extremely talented contributors. With a strong guiding concept and an expert team, all I had to do was communicate clearly. I was simply interpreting and augmenting Remedy’s creative vision, so that it would really sing. Remedy had entrusted their VO direction to Navid and their original music to Petri – both incredible talents in their fields. I knew those parts were going to click, so I focused on Sound Design. I hired Soundelux DMG for enemies, big in-game moments and cinematics, and used Microsoft Game Studios’ Soundlab team for ambiences and a ton of other really important in-game moments. I also hired Michael Schwendler from Dynamedion in Germany for more on-site manpower and expertise with implementation, and he really exceeded my highest hopes. He put his life in Frankfurt on hold for seven months to live in freezing-ass Helsinki for this game! Together, we advocated a really wide dynamic range, to make it more like films and create enough headroom to really startle the player, and I think we achieved that.

From Helsinki to Hollywood to New York to Redmond, WA … this game was truly a global production. Honestly, making a game is hard even when everyone is in the same building! It took a ton of effort from everyone.

I spent a couple of days down in LA early-on (plus a lot of emails and phone calls later), with Alan Rankin at Soundelux DMG, describing the function of game elements – enemy types, light and dark iconography in sound, where the evil comes from, how the plot would dictate the vocal processing – things like that. Funny thing: two months later, Alan got an Oscar nomination for his work on Star Trek, and I felt suddenly ridiculous for “directing” him! He’s a real star, and a wonderful guy. I learned a lot from Alan.

Basically, I love to empower people and watch them succeed. I want their ideas, talent, and passion, and I want them to own the results and own their success. People are sometimes surprised by that – like “What? You’re not going to tell me what to do? You’re the audio director.” I say, “No. I will not micromanage you. I will guide you, advise you, keep you from stumbling, but I hired you because of what you can bring. Now bring it!” More often than not, that approach really works. It certainly did on Alan Wake.

The audio reviews have been simply incredible (IGN gave it a 9.0 and GamingTrend said it should win game audio of the year), which is really gratifying. In fact, I’m so proud of the Wake audio teams that I have asked them to contribute to this interview in their own words…

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Posted by on Nov 18, 2010 | 1 comment

Audio Director Mike Keogh on the sound of "The UnderGarden"

GameSpot has published a new post on their Sound Byte blog, this time an interview with Mike Keogh, audio director at Vitamin-G, developers of “The UnderGarden”.

The UnderGarden was initially described to me as a casual, Zen-like game that’s similar to something like Flower or Flow. Tom Mc Shea recently reviewed the game, which you can read here, and highlighted the dynamic musical score that can change on the fly. With the pleasant audio paired up with the beautiful visuals, The UnderGarden is a journey worth taking. Find out what the audio director of Vitamin-G had to say about creating the right sound for The UnderGarden and how he got his start in video games.

GameSpot: Could you tell us about yourself and how you got into sound design?

Mike Keogh: I think I fell in love with video games before music. As a kid, my Game Boy and I were inseparable. I did take piano lessons throughout my childhood and started to learn some basic theory in my early teens. Once I realized I knew enough to start goofing around and making up my own music instead of playing what I was supposed to, I spent a lot more time at the keyboard. I started writing this one song, and as it developed, I realized I was actually playing Kannon’s Klaim from Donkey Kong Country 2, and that was a little bit of an epiphany for me. My dad has always been a home-studio enthusiast, and he graciously let me mess with his computer and fancy gear and start doing MIDI arrangements, and that’s when I really started to get into music. A little bit into my university degree, I switched into music and learned a lot more about digital production. I played a lot of games throughout all of this too–I’m a gamer as much as a composer or sound designer.

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Posted by on Oct 4, 2010 | 0 comments

More About the Sound of "Crackdown 2"

The October’s issue of Developer Magazine is now available in the official website. This time, our beloved “Heard About” section includes an article about the sound of Crackdown 2, with Kristofor Mellroth, who we interviewed some days ago.

When Kristofor Mellroth enrolled at music recording school in 1995, he probably never dreamt that in just a few year’s time he’d be heading up as huge and complex video game audio production employing a plethora of US and UK talent.

Mellroth came to games via boom operating, film sound mixing, working as a temp tech repairing original Xbox devkits and going on the road with Seamus Blackley as demo guy. In fact, an eclectic combination of technical, creative and business experience set him up perfectly for his current audio directorial role at Microsoft within an audio team deadly serious about excellence. No surprise then that his last Crackdown project scooped a BAFTA.

Mellroth’s strong passion and high commitment are self-evident as he enthuses about Crackdown 2’s audio: “I felt we could improve over CD1 making something even more memorable. A special focus was the authoring environment – I wanted ‘best in class’ tools. Using Audiokinetic’s Wwise middleware turned out one of our best early decisions and we pushed it to the max using Soundseed Air and Whoosh a great deal. It’s a big part of why the game sounds the way it does. Competition in the middleware market works to all our benefit and we have no specific mandate about tech but as a concept, audio middleware makes a lot of sense to me – fully featured right out of the box with a solution that would take years to develop from scratch. New features come online as you make your game and your audio programmers can look at game features and not get bogged down in tech support.”

Mellroth’s team used straightforward logic in scripting extensively within the audio tools to achieve a vast amount of detail in replay, with the setting up of switches and real-time parameter controls enabling them to interpret sound triggers accompanied with additional game state/event/character information – all in complex ways using conditional audio choices – and all within the sound designer’s remit and technical control.

Develop 110 – October: Download | Read Online

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Posted by on Jun 29, 2010 | 3 comments

Alan Rankin on the Sound Design of "Alan Wake"

Alan Wake is one of my favorite games of this year. This dark story really intrigued me. The sound work is also fascinating, and for that, here are a couple of thoughts from Alan Rankin (Soundelux), sound design supervisor of the game.

Supervising Sound Designer and Academy Award-nominee Alan Rankin headed a team of sound designers who, under the direction of Microsoft Game Studios Audio Director Mark Yeend, helped create the spooky atmosphere of the game, widely hailed by critics as the year’s best new release. In its review, Video Gamer magazine called the game’s soundtrack, which also features a score by renowned Finnish composer Petri Alanko, “one of the best and most memorable I’ve ever heard in a video game.”

“Alan Wake” looks and feels more like a supernatural action film than a conventional video game, as players accompany the title character as he tries to locate his missing wife. Alice has mysteriously vanished during their trip to the idyllic small town of Bright Falls in the Pacific Northwest which is populated with authenticly strange and quirky locals.

The sound design created by Rankin, Sound Designer Brad Beaumont and the rest of the DMG crew helps the game attain a cinematic, richness and depth to help draw players through the innumerable plot twists. “The game offered a lot of chances to build creepy, otherworldly ambiences, environments, and in-game sound effects,” recalls Rankin. “There is a real story to be told and the sound design helps immerse the player in that narrative.”

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We are currently working on an interview with Audio Director Mark Yeend. You’ll find it here very soon!

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