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The Sound Architect’s Top Audio of 2016!

It’s been a long year for everyone this year, full of many ups and lots of downs. However, it’s at this point of the year we look back and reflect on what we’ve seen, done and (more importantly here), heard. Each member of the team has picked their own top audio moment of 2016 and here’s what they came up with….

Sam Hughes – Uncharted 4

Uncharted 4 is my audio pick for 2016. Although I miss Greg Edmonson’s writing for Nathan Drake’s adventures, I think Henry Jackman did a great job with the heavy responsibility he was given. The soundtrack really did accompany the game with a sense of epicness and finality, along with everything else in the game. The voice acting was fantastic by Nolan North, Troy Baker, Laura Bailey, Richard McGonagle and the supporting cast, with some really emotional and profound moments throughout. The sound design was phenomenal and one of my all time personal favourites. The sheer amount of detail is insane, along with really clever techniques they used with the reverb of the spaces, weapon tails, and the jeep was a fantastic audio feat. Top work by Naughty Dog, it was a fantastic end to the series. (I’m also VERY excited for The Last of Us 2!)

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Alyx Jones – Abzu, No Man’s Sky and INSIDE

It’s no secret I’m a fan of the “indies”, my top games for audio are Abzu, No Man’s Sky and INSIDE.

Abzu is such a visually stunning game, with an emotive narrative and soundtrack to match it. Austin Wintory is a total master of scoring with a game’s adaptivity in mind along the way. His work often influences the game, it’s always great to hear of teams where everyone is highly valued!

No Man’s Sky may have been hit hard in the ratings (ouch!), but that doesn’t diminish the really interesting collaboration between 65daysofstatic (writing an entire album for the game), that was then taken by Paul Weir, who designed the PULSE generative music system for the game. Not to mention the amazing work that went into modelling a synthesised vocal tract for the creatures in the game!

INSIDE is my mega top favourite though! It keeps me thinking a long time after I’ve put down the controller, and the blur between what’s “sound” and what’s “music” is a question I love to see explored. Martin Stig Andersen even routed audio through a human skull, to match the strange dystopian nature of the game.

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Andrew Overfield – Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice

My highlight has to go with Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. Biased? Yes. But I had anticipated its arrival since I watched Man of Steel and was not disappointed.

Hans and Junkie XL‘s score was moving, motivating and engaging. It captured the brilliant essence of what the first instalment gave me and added just enough musical nostalgia to be welcoming and a refreshing approach on the original themes.

The sound design was cleverly implemented and brought a new sonic life which does not copy Nolan‘s previous venture into the DC universe.

Overall I was impressed with how the entire audio spectrum was approached and created and aside from the blanket bashing this film received from critics it hasn’t deterred me from eagerly waiting for the next walk in the DC park.

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Doug Waters – Overwatch

It is without a single doubt in my mind that my game of the year 2016 is Blizzard’s Overwatch. Before I’d even watched Scott Lawlor and Tomas Neumann‘s talk at GDC2016 I knew I’d love this game. To me, Overwatch as an FPS presented something new and fresh, to what I felt of late had become an otherwise stale genre.

But where this game has really won me over is with it’s sound design. The team at Blizzard have poured so much time and love into developing their cast of characters to make each look and play so differently; this also extends into the sound design. With each character there’s such a great deal of characterisation through sound that it’s possible to tell which characters are nearby just by hearing their footsteps and whether that character is on your team or an enemy!

Although I’ve poured many, many hours into playing as Genji, my favourite characters for audio are Mercy and Zenyatta. When using their healing abilities you can hear a steadily rising sound as you restore maximum health to your allies; after a few games you don’t even need to look at their health bars to know they’re fully healed and you can begin to heal someone else. Spreading out your healing, and knowing when to do so, is going to be key for securing a victory. So if you’re playing a healer, learn to use your ears!

These are just a few of the ways audio is used to make you a better player, but Scott Lawlor and Tomas Neumann cover many more aspects of the sound in their GDC talk. So I implore you, go watch their video on the GDC vault, pick up this game and enjoy – oh and remember to play with headphones!

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Katie Tarrant – Stranger Things

Breaking the mould a little bit, my favourite audio moment for 2016 has to stem from the hit show Stranger Things. Set in the 80’s, I was intrigued to hear what approach would be taken with the audio, particularly the music, and was pleasantly surprised.

Written by electronic duo SURVIVE, the soundtrack took a different spin on a typical score. It was dynamic, encapsulated the era and emphasised the tension and emotion, but still held a bold identity and stands as strongly by itself as it does integrated with the show. I essentially had the soundtrack on repeat after I watched the show when it came out. What I find really cool is that even though there’s only been one series, the music already has an immense nostalgic effect on me and I think that’s down to strong ties between the quality of the score and the quality of the show as a whole.

When it came to sound effects and dialogue, I’ve listened to numerous podcasts on the show and have loved hearing about the intricate detail the audio team went in to, to target iconic scenes in the story. The sound of the Upside Down is a feat in itself but what I loved even more were the moments in which the Upside Down collided with the real world and how the audio reflected that. The sound of William communicating through the electricity, the hair-raising creature vocalisations and the eerie reverbs all resulted in the audio having a character of its own and that’s something I rarely encounter in media.

The audio developed through the series and soon became its own dimension, whilst still enhancing the dimensions that were already in place. The way the audio was placed and shaped crafted a realism that was integral to the fear that was built for the viewer. I wholeheartedly believe I could watch that series blind and still be just as affected by the audio as I was by the visuals. A huge credit to everyone involved.

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Joe Thom – Firewatch

2016 has undoubtedly been an incredible year for audio in games with games such as Abzu, Overwatch, No Mans Sky and Inside. My absolute favourite of this year however has to be Firewatch.

Campo Santo‘s first game is an immersive sensory experience like no other. The sound design is incredibly subtle, yet perfectly reactive. The sounds of nature throughout place the player within the world perfectly. Sound design is also used to great effect to influence the players emotions, such as when they enter a cave. Just by listening to the sound design at this point, where no music is present, the mood is immediately changed from being wistful and wondrous, to being sinister dangerous.

The sparse use of music throughout just makes it all the more special when the music does enter. It also maximises the desired purpose of the music, such as promoting a sense of urgency. Chris Remo‘s original soundtrack also suits the aesthetic of the game perfectly and serves its purpose with the utmost efficiency.

Last but most certainly not least, the performances of Rich Sommer and Cissy Jones as Delilah and Henry truly are second to none. All of the emotion conveyed in their voices is convincing and really resonated with me as the player. The performances also sound completely natural throughout. A truly commendable performance from both actors. I really can’t wait to see what Campo Santo come up with next!

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Matt Hellewell – Titanfall 2

My audio pick of 2016 is… (Drumroll)… Titanfall 2! Yes, with audio so nice, I reviewed it twice!

Titanfall 2 delivered above and beyond my expectations. The attention to detail, be it BT’s plethora of moving parts being brought to life through intricate audio, or the wonderful soundtrack by Stephen Barton carrying fans seamlessly from the original 2011 title into one that offers so much more, whilst retaining its heritage.

I still play this game regularly and after sampling all the weapons on offer I have to say my favourite has to be, the grenadier class, EPG-1. The weapon sounds like it was reverse-engineered from an Imperial Walker and because of its slow fire rate and cumbersomeness, every kill is so satisfying! Cue montage…

Willy McCarter – Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

2016 was indeed a great year for many new game releases with some top quality audio for both AAA and Indie games. With the overflow of choices, I find it hard to narrow down to a single choice for my pitch of the best game for audio.

However if there is a series for me that stood out for this year it will have to be Mirrors Edge Catalyst. After watching the release trailer I suddenly got the urge to play this game as soon as its release. Developed by EA DICE, this game is more into exploring the origins and back story to the main character ‘Faith Connors’. Originally portrayed by Jules de Jongh in the original release and now voiced by Faye Kingslee. One of the first points about this game was the very easy flowing and yet intensive use of cut scenes and VO within the very engaging storyline of finding out about the truth behind a protagonist we knew very little about.

The musical soundtrack again sticking to it’s original theme of upbeat and very synchronizing electronic synth wave. Musical score provided by Solar Fields and the theme provided by Chvrches, the music really captures the feel of free running through a ultramodern city with little or no weapons and always on the look out of where to move next. This still of game for a action adventure is very innovative in itself of free roaming first person parkour and the music was really on the ball of immersing the player in that think fast life of a free runner.

Overall I felt that the sound design consisted mainly of foley to cover the characters movements, environment ambiences and general weapon and combat scenarios, which was nearly minimal but perfect as the Music and VO again were the main drive for this game. DICE definalty in my books gets a solid 10/10 for this installment in to the series and I would happily say that “Faith has been restored” for me.

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Callum Tennick – INSIDE

There have been quite a few games this year that I have been really impressed with audio-wise (Battlefield 1/Uncharted 4 to name a couple), but the game that I felt the audio really helped to create such an incredible atmosphere is ‘Inside’.

Playing this game for the first time the audio really helps to create a sense of urgency, although you are told nothing about the situation that you have been placed in. The aggressive, distorted dogs were a highlight for me during the first encounter, as well as some of the horrible death sounds that can occur as you try to figure out some of the games clever puzzles – thuds, drowning sounds, and rips/tears as the dogs rag-doll you around.

If you haven’t played Inside yet, I would definitely recommend it! Stick some headphones on to really appreciate some of the more subtle ambiences and effects.

INSIDE

We hope you enjoyed our roundup of 2016, from all of us at The Sound Architect we just want to wish you a very Happy New Year! Hoping you’ve enjoyed our content this year and here’s to another year of great audio content!

What were your top moments of 2016? What are you looking forward to most about 2017?

We’d love to know!

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Sam Hughes
An experienced sound designer and voice actor who has worked on various media titles over the years. Always believing in audio, I try to share the wealth of knowledge from my colleagues and veterans of the industry to help audiophiles grow and evolve as a community.
http://www.thesoundarchitect.co.uk

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