[In this detailed postmortem, Bridgett discusses what went right and wrong during the creation of audio for the Swordfish-developed, hyper-stylized hip hop action game 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand.]
50 Cent: Blood on the Sand is a third-person action sequel to the commercially successful 50 Cent: Bulletproof. It was developed with the Unreal engine using a combination of third-party and proprietary audio technology.
Blood on the Sand features voice-overs from Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson himself as well as G-Unit members Tony Yayo, Lloyd Banks, and DJ Whookid, as well as a host of exclusive music tracks and hits, an original in-game hip-hop score written by producer Swizz Beatz. It also required a huge amount of over-the-top cinematic SFX work and a two-week off-site post production mix.
Joining the Team
My work as sound director on the project began in June 2006 when I relocated from Radical in Vancouver to Birmingham in the UK for six months to work with developer Swordfish Studios (then a Vivendi Games Studio).
A vertical slice featuring 50 Cent as the central character, with Tony Yayo as his AI-driven sidekick, had already been produced at Swordfish and greenlit by Vivendi executives, and so development got underway -- at which point I joined the project.
I was joining an already existing audio team, consisting of an audio coder, Justin Caldicott, and Audio Lead and sound designer, Mark Willott. One of the advantages of joining a team immediately after pre-production was that they had already proven a great deal of the technology for the sound of weapons and ambience in the game.
There was also an advanced physics sound system as well as extensive systems for placing sounds in animations (such as Foley and footsteps) using a variety of Unreal engine visual scripting techniques via Matinee and Kismet. All this made it very easy to hit the ground running after quickly learning the tools and pipelines.
Justin had built his own user interface application on top of the basic FMOD audio engine, called Noisemaker, which was our primary pipeline to get sound into the game. With this tech and pipeline in place, the team were in an ideal situation in which to begin discussing and designing two big-ticket areas that had not yet been considered -- namely, music and dialogue.
These were, in terms of content and implementation, to be the touchstones of a 50 Cent IP game. It was clear that the division of labor between sound designer Mark and myself needed to focus on our areas of expertise and experience, Mark continuing the responsibility and ownership of the in-game sound effects and myself taking on the as yet undefined areas of dialogue, music and post-production.
A breakdown of the areas of responsibility for the game's audio. Green sections show areas of responsibility already established and under the implementation of the audio lead. Blue sections show areas that had as yet been undefined at the time I joined the Swordfish audio team in early production.
Given the amount of content that was already in production at the time I joined, there was a huge amount of sound effects, ambience implementation and design work that Mark Willott could continue while I concentrated on prototyping ideas for music and dialogue.
It became very clear that the production needed a narrative direction as soon as possible, as production was already underway on in-game assets prior to the existence of any written story. We brought in a local writer, Adam Hamdy, to begin to flesh out some very high-level story ideas and get an idea of characters in the absence of an official writer.
These initial ideas and characters were subsequently handed over to the chief writer who was hired in LA, Kamran Pasha, who worked closely with the core IP group (myself, art director, exec producer and lead designer) in Birmingham via several weeks of conference calls.
Together we sketched out the story and characters that were to populate the final game, while all the time working within the constraints of our in-game locations (which were fixed due to the amount of art and level design that had been already produced).
The grand-concept and art direction for the game established by executive producer Julian Widdows and art director Michel Bowes was that of an over-the-top "music video" and arcade-driven in style.
It is always great, as a sound director, to have such a clear brief and this bold visual statement had distinctive inspiration for much of the sound design, especially of the HUD (points accumulation and call-outs), as well as the weapons and explosion sounds being greatly exaggerated and over-the-top.
The game's overall direction was also not to take the subject matter too seriously, and to have more fun with the license in order to get away from hip-hop -- which is all too often is unable to make fun of itself. The dialogue, particularly the inclusion of a taunt button, was designed to fit this brief, and to create a feeling of an over-the-top hip-hop arcade experience. It also introduced a lot of fun and humor into the gameplay -- an ingredient often sorely missing from other hip-hop licenses.