We wanted to work with a post production sound team using a similar model to the way that movie sound is ‘post-produced’ at the end of a project. Typically in games the last month of a project is a real scramble to fix problems and to make sure everything is actually being heard; however, we wanted to bring the whole audio development environment off-site during this time so we could concentrate on quality without any of the panic and distractions that come with that crunch period at the end of the project.
Having visited several ‘Hollywood’ post production studios, the decision to work with Skywalker was pretty clear for what we needed. We knew they had done work on games before, but that isn’t what attracted us to them. They had the staff and experience we needed to really push the game in the direction of a movie. There were two things we needed to concentrate on in our post-production; the sound design and the final mix.
Post-Production Sound Design
We had an initial week of preparation work with Randy Thom in March where we sat down, reviewed the movie and went through the Scarface game running on disc, noting all the areas we felt we could improve the sounds we had in there. We came away with a lot of ambience, weapon sounds and a stack of vehicle sounds that we then spent two months implementing into the game back in Vancouver.
The second week we spent with Randy was for the real-time sound effects replacement in June, where Randy got to create sounds, have them built into the game, and then decided on what needed changing about those sounds in order for them to work how we wanted them to. We managed to iterate relatively quickly in terms of video games and both felt that this was the only way we could have worked, given that in the past, video games developers often get sound designers to create sounds without seeing the game, and certainly without being able to hear how those sounds work in context after implementation and down-sampling has occurred.
The sound effects in the game quickly began to take on the direction of the personality of Tony Montana, him being a larger than life character. A great example is Tony’s M16 in the opening mansion shootout. We worked hard on getting the enemy weapons sounding good, so good in fact that we eventually realized that Tony’s M16 now sounded less aggressive by comparison. We worked on Tony’s M16 sound for a whole day; we even gave it the largest sample rate of any sound in the game so it will cut through in that particular scene.
In terms of the final mix, this was something we felt had never been attempted successfully in the past in video games, both from a technology point of view and from the point of view of having the whole game be mixed by someone who specializes in film mixing.
Juan Peralta, our mixer, fit the bill perfectly as he is passionate about games and has mixed a ton of movies. Also doing the mix on a sound stage with a near-field monitor set-up that has been calibrated by THX was the perfect place to mix for a home theatre system. It would have made little sense for us to use some of the bigger rooms available at Skywalker, as they are specially designed for theatrical releases.
The sound stage we were on, The Elia Kazan, is used for theatrical mixing, but the near field Genelec set up we employed is how they do DVD mixing. This made it perfect for our needs on a video game. We were pretty clear that most people now have 5.1 theatre systems in their homes, primarily for watching movies, but those with consoles are of course plugging them into these systems and expecting the same quality of sound as they get from their movie experience.
The major difference with the mix on Scarface was that we were connecting the audio levels of all the sounds in the game to a software mixing console, and then connecting that to a hardware mixing console (the Mackie Control Universal and Extender). We route every sound to various busses; for example, all non-player character dialogue goes to the ‘dialogue bus’, all Tony’s dialogue goes to the ‘Tony bus’, all bullet impacts and squibs go to the ‘squib bus’, score goes to the ‘music bus’, tape player music to the ‘tape bus’, and so on. In all we had around 20 busses. All these were mapped out in our proprietary interactive audio system called “Audio builder” developed by our Advanced Technology Group at Radical in Vancouver.
This then connects via the PC it is running on, to both the game and via MIDI to a Mackie Control and a Mackie Extender console, so all these busses appeared on the mixing board as channels. We wouldn’t have been able to mix the game in such a way without that external MIDI controller functionality – all mixing prior to this was done on-screen with a mouse clumsily moving the fader levels. It was so difficult to move the faders in that way, it felt very counter intuitive, and certainly wouldn’t have made any sense to expect a professional film mixer to use on-screen mouse driven faders.