After the incredibly hot weather (minus working air con) and the refurbishment of The Hilton last year, thousands again descended on Brighton for Develop Conference. The Audio Track takes place on Thursday as usual with a range of topics from recording super cars to the epic sound of God of War Ragnarok. The talks were curated by John Broomhall, but this year hosted by Adele Cutting (Soundcuts).
Finding the Signal in the Noise: Prioritizing Sound in EVE Online’s Vast Universe
After being welcomed to the day by Adele Cutting, the first presentation was from Eric Nielson, the senior audio programmer at CCP Games. EVE Online is an incredibly massive game, set in space, that hosts huge multiplayer battles, but this creates a challenge for the audio. With potentially hundreds of spaceships on the screen at one, each with its own audio, it quickly caused CPU overloads for the players, so much so that the community recommendation was to turn the audio OFF entirely to avoid the resulting crackling. Nielson’s solution involved layers of prioritisation based on proximity, what was visible on screen, as well as what sounds were key or important to the action, meaning the players could once again experience the sound of space combat.
I know what you did last Somerville
Next up was Matteo Cerquone, the Audio Director at Jumpship, and Jay Steen, an Audio Programmer, here to give a talk about the challenges of creating sound design and mixing for a more cinematic experience. Somerville is set in the aftermath of an alien invasion, but features no dialogue, relying heavily on sound design and character expressions for the storytelling. The game also uses cinematic camera angles to cut between parts of the scene as the player moves through, but this makes mixing tricky. They couldn’t base the audio mix on the current cinematic camera as the perceived distance of objects could be inaccurate due to focal length and position, and mixing to the player character also didn’t work as the sounds didn’t make logical sense to the listener. After some experimentation they decided to do something not dissimilar to Eric in choosing which sounds were important to be prioritised and attempt to blend the mix more seamlessly between the two options.
Mixing AAA Games – Process, collaboration & systems
The last talk before lunch was given by Alex Previty, Jodie Kupsco and Sonia Coronado, all from Playstation Studios. Their talk was also focused on mixing but from a much larger company, with multiple games and big teams working on them. Between the disciplines of music, sound design and dialogue it was important to have some kind of standardisation across the board, and they did this by having lead team members known as “Pillars” who were responsible for specific aspects of the game audio eg. Creature sounds, cinematics, dialogue efforts, who managed small teams per category. They also generally used the dialogue as the main benchmark to mix other sounds around (given the importance of clarity to undertstand what is being said) but understood the importance of giving certain sounds their own moment to shine.
Presenting an Authentic F1 Experience: Insight into an Asset Heavy Cross Disciplinary Pipeline
Following a busy lunch break was Will Augar, Tim Bartlett and Andy Hair to share some insights into creating audio for F1 Manager 2022. Naturally with this kind of game, authenticity is important and this resulted in the team gathering a large amount of audio from broadcast footage of F1 races. Rather than going out and re-recording the cars, the decision was made to use the audio from the archive footage to cut down, clean up and implement into the game to create something that sounded parallel to watching Formula 1 on TV. The team also used a fascinating technique to create the effect of a pass-by (when a car drives by a camera). Rather than taking a static engine sound and treating it, they took real recordings of pass-bys and used track tagging to predict when a car would hit the camera at any given time, thus triggering the start of the pass-by sound. Really cool!
Sound Effects Recording: Inspire your sound design workflow
Robert Krekel and Byron Bullock followed, with a really helpful overview of their sound recording process. It was presented in a really accessible way, that would inspire anyone to want to get up and immediately start experimenting with any objects to hand! They recommended creating a treasure trove of objects for recordings, by gathering household items, going to thrift shops or borrowing from friends. It was stressed that it doesn’t matter your budget or where you are in your journey, that technique and experimentation is most important. Always have a portable/handheld recorder (such as a Zoom) on you; Robert said even on his trip to Brighton he’d made sound recordings of some interesting doors!
AAA Car Sound Masterclass
More cars, but this time instead of F1, it was onto supercars! Ed Walker and Simon Barford gave us a masterclass in how they went about recordings cars for AAA racing games. There’s two options when it comes to recording cars: On track (essentially outside on a road or race track), or on an indoor rig in a studio. It was very interesting to see how they had broken down the key elements to each sound after recording, to know what characteristics to pick out and focus on when implementing into the game (for example some cars had more “burbles” or a limiter when accelerating hard). They made the point that even the same engine in a different car model can sound completely different so it’s important to break down and analyse the specific models as fans feel very strongly about how certain cars should sound.
Creating the Epic Audio for God of War Ragnarok
In the penultimate session, Michael Kent took the podium to give a deep dive into the audio of God of War Ragnarok. Any game sequels always have the challenge of maintaining the audio world of pre-existing titles while trying to push them to the next level. They used techniques such as creating identities for each of the shields from words or short phrases (such as “switchblade”), and built new sonic prints based on this. The title has won numerous awards for its audio, including the Develop Star Award for Best Audio the night before. A huge congratulations to the audio team!
As is tradition for the final session of the day, drinks sponsored by Audio Kinetic are brought out and some speakers from throughout the day, plus extra audio professionals take the stage to have an open discussion, with audience questions and give an overview of the days themes. The over-arching themes were around managing bigger game projects as scope increases year on year, with players expecting more hours of gameplay, alongside the fact that the bar for quality is consistently maintained to such a high standard, as evidenced by the days talks. There was some discussion around the fear of AI, especially in the voice acting community, with the consensus that it isn’t technology or automation that should be feared, but the policies and laws around it, that need to be updated far quicker to protect people.
And that’s it for another year at Develop. As always it’s been an insightful day full of the knowledgable and kind game audio professionals. Truly a wonderful community, see you all next year!