Interactive Music Player. With access to many unreleased 50 Cent and G-Unit tracks, there were many ways in which we could integrate 50 Cent's music into the game. However, many of the ideas and suggestions we explored in early-mid-production turned out to be overly complicated. Some of the ideas explored rhythm-based game play centering on the BPM of tracks that were playing, scoring extra points etc if kills were performed to the beat.
The simplest solution, and the one which offered the most choice and ease of use for the player, was to offer a music player interface in which tracks could be unlocked, and organized into a custom playlist. The actual music player design was copied over directly from the Scarface game (in which I had implemented a similar music player concept), and given an updated art direction and streamlined implementation.
Original Score. It was decided from the outset that we not only have a music playlist of licensed music, but also an original hip-hop score for the game. The setting and style of the fictional Baltic war zone implied quite a few different directions that could be taken, and we began to explore original orchestral action-movie style scores to hear how they would sound in the game.
Although the style felt great for the setting, it did not really lend itself to conveying 50 Cent's personality or enough of a hip-hop feel, which absolutely needed to be stamped all over this game if it was to succeed with the 50 Cent fan base. 50 Cent's record company and management agency, Violator, came to the rescue in this regard with a roster of great producers, the hottest of which was Swizz Beatz, on whom we settled to provide the whole of the original underscore for the game.
Direction overview and documentation was drawn up and work began in the early summer of 2008. After around three months Swizz passed over mixes of the finished 24 tracks (one track per level of the game) along with individual instrument stems including exact BPM information.
These stems made it very easy to re-appropriate sections and prepare the tracks for implementation in the game. Each of the tracks had to be cut and re-arranged so that they represented musically different sections of gameplay, such as "gangsta fire" modes, and side-mission modes, as well as beginning, ending and conventional gameplay sections.
The choice between score and playlist in the game was resolved by having licensed music play whenever there were items in the player's playlist, and original score play when the playlist was empty, in this way players could choose which version of the soundtrack they wanted to hear at any time.
One of the key objectives for the soundtrack was to get the player's blood pumping right from the start of gameplay, so a variety of the best tracks that matched the action were chosen to be auto-unlocked and already populating the playlist by default, this way giving players the best of the "50 Cent" feel right out of the box. Then, as the player worked through the missions, they would discover a further depth of music player features and then access the hip hop score.
There is a striking richness and hi-resolution detail to the art direction of the game that initially surprised me when I first saw it. Finely detailed, high-definition particle effects gave clues to the appropriate audio direction for the sound effects in the game. There needed to be a lot of corresponding detail and richness in the sounds that were created for the game, namely in the destruction, bullet ricochets and key explosions.
Adding many layers of rubble and fine debris to the tails of the effects to reflect and underpin the visual density of the game was one of the key directions established for the sound effects design. Another key direction was for the sounds of the weapons that 50 Cent uses in the game. These needed to follow not a realistic weapon model, but one of over-the-top cinematic power.
One of the things learned from the weapons work on the Scarface game was that it is not about having a wholly authentic weapon sound or weapon recordings, but that the feeling of shooting a weapon (something we did at a shooting range in the Nevada Desert for Scarface) that was the key to giving the players the fun and impression of overwhelming power that comes from holding and firing an automatic weapon.
In this sense we chose to concentrate very hard on getting all the various weapons in the game scaled correctly and feeling lethal and fun, which meant that no original recordings needed to be made. We instead concentrated on layer upon layer of creative sound design using only content from Vivendi's sound effects library.
This over-the-top direction in turn creates an important point-of-view effect for the player, in that they are hearing the weapon from 50 Cent's perspective and getting his larger than life bulletproof personality communicated through those sounds.
To achieve this, sound designer Mark Willott and I worked very closely on these particular aspects of the sound design, focusing on and fetishizing many of the reload, shell-casing, and bolt-action sounds to augment the firing sounds. In the end we achieved fairly quick cyclical iteration on the explosions, weapons and ricochet sounds, reviewing weekly during production, and these sounds turned out to be crucial to the overall action of the game.
We often found ourselves laughing out loud at some of the gunplay in Blood on the Sand due to its sheer over-the-top nature, which to me is always a great indicator of a solid, fun action game.
With the sound direction firmly established on-site at Swordfish in Birmingham and the focus of production moving onto assets generated in LA, in November 2007 I returned to Vancouver, continuing sound direction duties on 50 Cent remotely via regular conference calls. As I was now responsible for the dialogue and music content in the game, it made sense that I was closer to the center of operations at Vivendi LA in order to work on the same time zone with the executive producers and our LA-based voice-over studio.
It also transpired that the cinematic cut-scenes for the game, on which I was responsible for cutting sound and mixing, were being outsourced to FX-house Rainmaker in Vancouver, and again being on site in Vancouver allowed me a close working relationship with the cinematics team.