Sound for video games is an often overlooked aspect of the audio engineering world. With the first video games, there wasn’t a whole lot of sound involved. Maybe a beep here, a squeak there to support what was happening on the screen, but it wasn’t a whole lot more than a last minute add-on. Eventually games started incorporating more audio, and I would bet that almost any gamer can recall the 8 bit Super Mario Bros theme song by heart.
Every day, gaming culture expands more and more into the mainstream markets. For a long time video games were considered children’s toys, or hobbies for geeks. While some of that may ring true, we have an entire generation of people who have grown up being raised by the controller. While controversial in some areas, video games can improve critical thinking, as well and hand-eye coordination. As the technology of the video game and computer realms is constantly improving, where drawing the line between reality and a game is blurring, more and more people are converting to being “gamers”.
One of the biggest selling points of a game, aside from pleasing graphical delivery and solid gameplay, is the sound. Especially when we are evolving into a realm where video games make entire worlds, with their own unique cultures, events and timelines, great sound design is a must to provide a truly immersive and unique experience. So that means someone has to make and record the audio, right? The game industry is booming, and proof of that happened in this last week – PS3 exclusive game The Last Of Us outperformed the newest Superman movie Man of Steel in overall sales on opening weekend. A UK-based source MCV claims that The Last Of US grossed nearly $20 million on it’s first two days out, while Man of Steel brought in closer to $5 million. Worldwide charts aren’t so black and white, with Man of Steel reportedly bringing in $121 million in its opening week, while The Last Of Us sold 1.3 million copies worldwide. With an average PS3 game costing around $60, that brings total sales for the first week of the game to over $78 million, which is no paltry offering.
Granted, these are just numbers, and obviously a $60 game can more quickly bring in revenue than a $10 movie ticket, but we can clearly see a demand for high quality gaming. More and more people are getting into gaming, and having a high quality sound track, as well as a well polished game, will convince many non-gamers that dropping $60 on a game for a lot of replayability is actually quite reasonable.
The Last Of Us is quite a standout game. Cashing in on the ever growing popularity of zombies and survival horror, a la The Walking Dead, this game puts you in the near distant future, where a fungal infection has terrorized society. Based on the Cordyceps genus of parasitic mushroom that take over the host’s body that they infect, this game is certainly terrifying in many aspects. Lack of ammunition, no safe places, and a constant two sided battle between the infected and the police force trying to eradicate the plague all present a tough but enthralling experience.
The game boasts beautiful graphics, and has received numerous high ratings from every game reviewer. This is based on the gameplay, the story line, the graphics, and certainly not the least important – the audio. Since this game is a very cinematic piece, with a ton of character acting, where they recorded every detail with a motion capture setup, they needed to have a great score, sound effects and voiceovers. There really isn’t a whole lot different in the production workflow of a game like this in comparison to how movies are made – lots of green screens, motion capture, ADR [Actor Dialogue Replacement], the works. And to make a game believable, you have to make sure that it sounds believable.
The sound team for The Last Of Us is headed up by Phil Kovats, who has had many accolades doing sound design for other works such as Uncharted 2 and God of War. In this article, Kyle Lemmon of KillScreenDaily.com speaks with Phil about what it took to make this game incredible from the sound design aspect of it. He goes into great depth on how they did a ton of field recording to get true to life foley sounds, covers how important it is to have a balance between silence and intensity in the audio production, and outlines how modern technology has afforded them a lot of creativity in this modern work.
I also found a great video on what it looks like behind the board of an ADR session. We can see Pro Tools running, with two voice actors in the studio. They are also using an Avid C|24 control surface, which the Conservatory has two of, and provides in depth usage and testing of throughout its curriculum. Just like movie post production, foley and ADR work, the artists have a screen and are watching the game as it progresses and they record their lines that way. By separating the motion capture recording from the voice over recording, you can get much more powerful performances in both of those areas.
Scheduled to be released in 2014 for PC, as well as current and next-gen consoles, Bethesda’s new game “The Evil Within” looks like one of the most frightening games ever to be released. While there currently isn’t a whole lot of information available, the game will be produced by Shinji Mikami, who has done work in the Resident Evil line of games in the past.
My team and I are committed to creating an exciting new franchise, providing fans the perfect blend of horror and action. – Shinji Mikami
Bethesda’s recent history includes critically acclaimed Skyrim, as well as the futurific Dishonored. We should have more information next week on the details of this new game, however they have released a two minute trailer to spark some interest. What I found particularly interesting about this new trailer, aside from the raw terror that it produces with the visuals, is how well the sound was designed. You’ll want to slap on a good pair of headphones, or have a nice set of speakers to truly enjoy it atmosphere they created. Rumbling bass that fills but doesn’t take over the mood, as well as excellent use of panning and disintegrating delays make this a very exciting listen, and hopefully the game will stay true to this introductory design.
1991 saw Mazda’s win at the 24 Hours of LeMans using their 787B group C racing car. This is one of the DLC cars available in the XBox 360 game Forza 4, which is arguably one of the best racing video games in existence currently. One thing that makes the Forza series stand apart from other racing games is the developer’s attention to detail. Every track was recreated by using GPS measurements and going on and actually walking the track. Every car has upgrade options, and stay true to the real-life versions of their respected cars.
What is even more incredible is the audio. This is a game that I can play without any music, and just listen to the engines roar. The Turn 10 team responsible for typically records engine sounds at Dyno Authority in Seattle, but for this particular car they needed to go on a field trip. With 700 horsepower and no mufflers, this could be one of the loudest cars produced.
Special care was taken into consideration when recording the audio for this car. Even while using high SPL handling mics, they had to add sometimes multiple PADs, or pre-attenuation devices, to ensure a good recording quality without distorting or overloading the signal chain. Watch this behind the scene footage and see how they did it all!