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…