[Written by Rodney Gates for Designing Sound]
Jason Bourne – One Skilled Fighter
Jason Bourne is one of my favorite characters brought to the silver screen in the early 2000’s. More realistic and practical than James Bond, he made for a great character to watch.
I loved the tightly-choreographed fight scenes in the films, so when we set out to begin development of a game version of this character and his story, I was totally excited. After all, I already had a “Bourne Supremacy” poster on the wall in my office. :)
PAF, BOOM, BAM!
We knew the hand-to-hand combat aspect of Bourne was going to be a large component of the game. The animators, designers and programmers created an extensive fighting system over the dev cycle to help bring this to life.
There were rapid light and heavy punches, kicks & blocks, combined with slowed-motion, quick-time event takedown moves for multiple assailants, as well as the seemingly-endless contextual takedowns moves you could perform on all manner of objects and structures around you. With the expert attention to detail and proper framing, these were highly-cinematic events that were cool to watch unfold onscreen.
Creating the sound for this part of the game was a playground for the Audio team, and I for one had a blast.
Eat Your Veggies – From My Fist!
Initially, I tried creating a lot of the impacts using the large, custom library of vegetable Foley and material destruction we had recorded after “Darkwatch” was done. There were hits, ruptures, snaps, and rips performed across a slew of veggies, fruit and meats that provided a lot of raw material for building up these sounds.
While some of these elements remained in the end, ultimately, it didn’t quite have the impact when we tested it. Early tests showed that we needed more.
We redesigned the impacts using elements from the SoundStorm library as well as other custom-recorded source, and quickly ended up with hit sounds that were ridiculously deep in layers. One punch impact would fire off 10 or more tracks of elements, comprised of all manner of frequencies, and they became quite the voice hogs when we tested them in-game, despite the random variability of playback we got from it.
Scaling back, I think we ultimately ended up with no more than 4, maybe 5 tracks of elements that would play their randomized variants for each of the impact types. Many of those elements were shared, cutting memory costs, with the goal of trying to make them sound as unique as possible.
Reactions & Exertions
What added a lot to the believability of the fighting were the extensive grunts, breath, exertions and reactions we recorded with Jeff Pierce, the voice actor who played Bourne, and the martial artists who performed the motion-capture choreography for the animation team.
Every attack and hit reaction animation had a corresponding vocal exertion that could play, and we could control how often that occurred. It was definitely a tricky balancing act.
To this day, some attacks stand out way beyond the others when I hear the game, usually due to the frequency those attack types played back with in the combat system. A little more tuning could have been done, with a few more vocal variants recorded with the actor, but we just can’t work on the games forever, can we? (Say it with me…mmllleeaaAHHH!) J
Inspired by “300”
A multi-opponent takedown move would fire off slow-motion quick-time events to allow the player time to initiate the move, rewarding them with a nicely-choreographed, cinematic takedown scene where Bourne kicks it into gear and lays everyone out flat, much like he does in the films.
It was difficult to set these up with sound, however. Using Unreal’s animation viewer tool, we would tag notifications on the timeline for not only the sounds of the impacts that would occur, but also the “slow-motion” mode’s stylized sound effects that brought you into and out of the transitions.
To enhance the slow-motion feel, whenever this state was initiated, delays and a larger reverb fired off, while most of the ambient and other background sound elements disappeared. The music was also put into a sweeping high-pass filter to open up the low end of the spectrum for the extra-heavy hits that would play for the quick-time event sequence.
One challenge was that the animation tool did not perform this drop in speed like the game did, so we had to experiment with leading most of the notifications for fight impacts, exertions, Foley movement and other sounds, in anticipation of the player hitting the correct quick-time event in time to play out the rest of the fight sequence. We could only do it through trial and error; so many hours were spent positioning these sounds so that they played correctly for the many multi-opponent takedowns. Frame rate glitches would cause misfires, or make them play early, or sometimes not at all; it wasn’t a perfect system, but pretty cool overall (check 5:26 for some overall hand-to-hand fighting: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GP2oAhwlaZ8 )
The Joy of Contextual Takedowns
A large part of Jason Bourne’s technique is using the environment as a weapon. Game Designers would set up areas around a fight space that would tell the combat system to utilize them while performing takedowns in that area. This could be anything from a mail cart sitting in the hallway while escaping the embassy in Zurich, to being laid out against a wall in the Paris apartment fight with the assassin Castel, busting picture frames and such.
It was great fun designing these additional impacts that added a lot of unexpected variety to the regular fight routines you get into (check 2:22 here for the mail cart, 3:46 for a desk, 6:02 for a window: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vsd6y1tJx7Y )
I still wish that we could have made a sequel to “The Bourne Conspiracy”. I was gearing up with all-new Foley recording for the character’s moves and getting excited about the proposed storyline, but ultimately the license was pulled back and the studio went another direction.
When I heard rumor that another developer was going to create a game based on the franchise, I had high hopes for another fun Bourne adventure, but that also disappeared. Maybe one day the character will resurface again in the game world, and hopefully the audio folks on that future title will have as much fun as I did.
Mike Niederquell says
charles maynes says
I remember that game…..
great piece Rodney!
Rodney Gates says
Mike – I put that in there for you!
Charles – indeed – summer of 2005 – our first weapons trip! Thanks!
Hi Rodney, I would have posted this in the ‘guide to becoming a sound designer’ post you made, but seeing as it was posted 11 days ago I figured I’d more likely get a reply here.
Anyway, would having a hearing impairment limit any chances of working as an audio designer? Specifically being totally deaf in the one ear, but the other one functioning 100% normally? Obviously this limits hearing stereo or surround sound in its entirety.
Thanks for the great articles!
Rodney Gates says
There is one person I know that has exactly that impairment, and he used to work at Rockstar. Despite that challenge, he still made a career of it! So many game assets are mono anyway, and things like ambient beds in stereo or quad would be relatively easy enough to approximate (you can use meters to help as well). All in all, there are always multiple people in an audio department listening to the game anyway – I’m sure that any issue that could crop up due to that impairment could be corrected quite easily.
Ah, thats good to know, thanks for answering my question!