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And those guys are in-house here?
DM: They're actually in Foster City, but they're traveling down to LA all the time. We're looking for strong people all the time, and that's not always easy. We want people who are going to fit with the team and bring something extraordinary to the table. What these facilities give us is the opportunity to do better work, and hopefully that translates in what we do for the game at the end of the day.
Once we have these different groups, the route is very flat. If we've got a project coming to the end and we need to dogpile it, we use our own proprietary tools and technologies that we use on all of our projects. If there's a project happening in Foster City and they need 20 ambiences for it, the development team is based in Seattle, so we're off-site already. What we then do is find out who's available and who's ready, and people will just start working on it. That goes for in-game assets as well. Wherever we need, we can dogpile, and once that crazy crush is over, everybody goes back to what they were doing.
There's a lot of communication. We want to make sure everybody's in sync with each other. There's a lot of sharing of knowledge that's been gained through the process.
What tools do you use?
DM: We're using Pro Tools in all of the rooms. We're using Sound Forge on the PC side for doing stereo editing. For our proprietary tools, we use a tool called Scream, which I know is available to PlayStation developers. What that does is it allows you to do random volume and pitching of sounds. The one thing that drives me mad is when you hear the same, repetitive thing over and over, so one of our goals on PS2 -- and it's getting easier on PS3 because we've got more memory -- is that we want to make sure that every time you hear something, it's evolving and changing.
Scream allows us to do that. It allows us to script things in many different ways. Plus we have tools for doing engines, crossfades, and music as well, and how the interactivity works between those. We've been pushing hard to make everything data-driven. For all of those, we just get events from the game. We're essentially trying to score the game -- not just the music, but also the sound effects and how all the interaction works.
Do you have any kind of dedicated audio QA?
DM: We have the QA department, but frankly, we tend to do it mostly ourselves. The reason is because the leads should be playing the game pretty consistently, so they know the game inside and out. But if you send it to test, they might go, "You know, that sounds okay. I'm not sure if I like it or not, but it's playing a sound." It could be the completely wrong piece of music or ambience. The only true way is if we were able to send them files and say, "OK, play that one, and let us know if it's in the game." In reality, that's more work [than is reasonable].
One of the things that we have considered is having people working in here as part of QA, so we can just say, "Hey, play through this level and make sure that you know the material as much as we do."
That's one of the things our audio columnist was recommending. It was the idea of creating an audio map for a QA person who could basically become your dedicated audio QA and figure out if the implementations are proper.
DM: I think there's a lot of value to that, especially with the PS3. These games are getting huge. PS2 games could be big, but you could stay on top of it and play through. But now you have these huge, unwieldy worlds. You don't know what's going on in that corner of the world unless you go over to it, and these guys don't necessarily have the time to play across it. So I think there is going to become more value to the implementers and the QA, because we can't stay on top of it, especially when they start shifting stuff to some obscure corner.
[For example, there could be] a windmill, and then suddenly they move that windmill 50 feet but the sound is still attached to the old space. Chances are, you could miss it, and you don't want that. Part of that we can avoid using tools that tell us what things have moved. Some of it we can catch that way, but the rest of it is just done by playing through.