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Audio Content for Diablo and Diablo 2: Tools, Teams and Products


May 15, 2001 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3
 

Diablo 2

Tools

The success of Diablo made a few things quite clear - the public would want a sequel, and this would be an opportunity to polish and enlarge the world of Diablo which we had originally presented. The low-budget guerilla production tactics of the original game were effective and appropriate for a debut game which hoped to sell 200,000 units at best, but with the title smashing charts worldwide and a sequel positioned for similar numbers there was a need to upgrade our production resources to do justice to our suddenly gigantic and global audience. What was the heart of my Diablo tools, the ASR-10, remained and many of its characteristic sounds, especially the choral and string patches, figured largely in Diablo 2. I knew that just as making the leap from sequencing "blind" on an external box to getting a real visual interface from the PC had helped my composition a few years earlier, so I also had to take the leap from cramming samples into one machine to a real multitrack environment which provided me with visual feedback. My first attempt at this was with a Pro Tools 882 interface running on a hand-me-down Macintosh. Perhaps we should have invested in a newer Macintosh system, as I became much too well acquainted with the cute "bomb" logo in my time attempting to get it consistently working. Regardless, the instability and slowness of the system proved disappointing, and the Macintosh lasted barely a month in my office. Although the Macintosh is something of a standard in the music and video world, I personally have found that the PC standard has been infinitely easier to work with in this environment, largely due to the relative ease of sharing content and technical support when one standard is uniformly used. The two pieces of software that ended up successfully hosting the majority of my soundtrack work were Vegas, the multitrack companion to Sound Forge by Sonic Foundry and Gigasampler by Nemesys. Keeping things completely digital meant keeping things fast, which becomes very addictive. It allows you to concentrate on the fun stuff. Unfortunately, I was too lazy to concentrate on playing with compression on the way in.

During this time, I indulged myself in a nice collection of toys ranging from pedal steel guitar to bass flute, and was consistently happy with the colors they would give me. The game ended up with roughly 80 minutes of music, and I gleefully helped myself to some libraries if the content was good, notably the Spectrasonics' libraries. The asian dulcimers are wonderful, as are the log drums on the Africa library. The tracks where things went most successfully were almost totally based on live source, constructing 8 bar loops out of the work of percussionist Mustafa Waiz, with live Electric Bass and Fender Rhodes piano on top. I listened to a few old Cuban records near the beginning of this period, and definitely cultivated a strange love for the maraca. Most tracks in Diablo 2 were built around a blend of maracas and the human voice whispering or shouting. Favorite sources for this sound were live, using the 808/909 rack emulator, the Ensoniq percussion library, and Spectrasonics' Heart of Africa. My favorite choral voices were from the ASR-10 libraries and the ubiquitous Symphony of Voices. In the sound department, some Lucas source was also used, with the trademark fireball being found in the portal-generation sound. The Diablo 2 skill tree was a nicely sized task for everyone directly involved, and it meant significant thinking through almost one hundred miniature operas. This was some of the toughest stuff in the game to get right, as skills can be used constantly and repeatedly. If something is especially annoying, it can kill the game experience.

Team
Scott Petersen and Jon Stone were as important in the creation of the sound for Diablo 2 as myself, if not much more so, and respectively put in the best performances from a programmer and sound designer that I have ever witnessed while working on an interactive product. Jason Hayes also gave the game his touch with direction of Voice Acting, with help from Tammi Donner. Jason, Glenn Stafford and Tracey Bush also did great work on the cinematics, which were excellent as always. It was really hard to look bad with this particular team, and the anticipation of the title made it more comfortable of a development environment than most groups might experience. The unseen team was important as well - we dug deep into the libraries, and got some additional help from Joseph Lawrence for the 100 or so object sounds in the game. My favorite moments of teamwork in this project were recording the destruction of produce with Scott Petersen and getting our few interactive tunes working with Jon Stone at the end of the project.

Product
Bigger, better, more lush, deeper - those were the orders in creating Diablo 2 and it demanded a systematic approach to content. When staring down a 120 box skill tree and 108 individual levels, the appetite for content is a fierce one, and filling those spaces put a heavy load on many different people, myself included. The breakthroughs which made the game happen were in the organization of content, rather than inspired bursts of the content itself. Matching up sound content to the new "component" based character art system did not always seem glamorous, but it was truly satisfying to listen to some of the final battles. Having the time to record a variety of potential source for "swishies" is exactly the kind of luxury so many products need but never get. Thought Diablo 2 was often more an exercise in perspiration than inspiration, the final product was something I didn't mind putting my name on.

Making a surefire hit with a talented crew should only be a pleasure. When the going got tough I would usually light a little candle under my shrine to Don Simpson, recently departed Hollywood great. If I get frustrated, bored, or simply angry that someone is displeasing the muses, I simply ask myself "what would Don do?" Even though the answer does not always consist of behavior which might be considered healthy in a predictable sense, it generally gets me to the next sound effect and the next tune.


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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