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

May 15, 2001 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Diablo and its sequel have established themselves as two of the most commercially successful and influential PC games of the past decade. This presentation will discuss some of the nuts and bolts of one particular aspect of the development of this series: music and sound effects. Relationships in the development world have three facets - business, creative and personal. Despite the obvious fact that none of these three aspects exists in a vacuum, I will attempt to focus on the creative elements of my experience in working on these two titles. Aside from some work as an itinerant musician in my teenage years, my time at Blizzard has been my only real experience in the working world, so I lack the experience to offer much comparison between the environment we have created here against other workplaces. Still, I hope that by focusing on some basic elements of the production of these titles I can help shed some light on whatever "magic formula" it is that has given us our string of #1 titles. I will focus specifically on the tools I used in creating these hits; the individuals who played a great part in helping me get my material in the game, and, most importantly, my relationship with the final product while in the muddy trenches of content creation.



The core of my production arsenal was three tools which I still use today, for better or worse. An Ensoniq ASR-10 keyboard/sampler with 16 megs of RAM was by far the most important tool, and its default library of 3 CDs of samples provided the backbone of my musical pieces as well as a surprising amount of sound effects. I was familiar with the earlier generation of this keyboard, the EPS 16+, which I had spent a great deal of time with in my college days. Though this unit did not necessarily have the best interface or stability of the keyboard/samplers available at the time, the high quality of the default library and resident effects, my familiarity with the model and the wholesale developer discount offered by Ensoniq at the time made this an easy choice. This keyboard was then controlled by a Windows machine running an ancient version of Cakewalk. I have stubbornly continued to use this sequencer despite it being made for Windows 3.0 and have found it to be consistently reliable and containing every bell and whistle I could possibly want. With very few exceptions, the music for Diablo was made by packing up the eight tracks on the ASR-10 with as much as I could get into the 16 megs of memory and then controlling them using the Cakewalk sequencer. Even when doing live material through my $150 AKG microphone, I would generally record it as a sample in the ASR-10 first, and often liberally apply the onboard effects, especially the delay. After making an archival pass through my Sony 59ES DAT machine, the tracks would then go to the third of these tools, also resident on my Windows machine - Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge, an editing program which I have spent a great deal of time staring at in my adult life. This piece of software has proved useful for almost every task I have faced in the editing process, and has frequently proven itself as a great tool for the most basic elements of sound effect and musical sample creation.

The live instrumentation used in the creation of Diablo also deserves a special mention, and I believe it made a great deal of difference in the quality and distinctiveness of the final game. The star of the show was a finger-picked 1994 Seagull acoustic twelve-string, which supplied the main theme for the Tristram shopping experience. The town theme also featured a nasty old Artley flute with a lower foot which would constantly fall off, and a turtle-shaped ocarina which my folks bought for me on one of their trips to Latin America. Also featured was a nice old Slingerland snare drum which was multitracked and panned for the march effect used in the opening theme of the game. A Jackson/Charvel electric six-string was recorded directly into the sampler in almost every tune in the dungeons, with crybaby, mesa/boogie distortion and the onboard effects of the Ensoniq often drenching the signal into something new and strange. This handful of toys was important in my production process, but was more important was what I did not have - no sample libraries, no recording booth, no expensive microphones, no Pro Tools setup, and, most importantly, no preconceptions or rules to cramp the creative decisions the team as a whole often had to make on the spur of the moment. Having less resources can be frustrating, but it can also force you to create something more original than might be found with the latest-and-greatest tools everyone else is using.

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