Freelance audio director and former BioWare sound man Simon Pressey explores what Wwise brought to the Mass Effect universe
The Audiokinetic Interactive Music System in Wwise has started a major mutation of how game music is developed, empowering the composer greatly.
As audio director at BioWare I led the adoption of Wwise for the continuation of the Mass Effect series.
Jack Wall, lead composer, set about designing how his musical vision would be represented. Joined by Brian DiDomenico, they implemented music and delivered Wwise Workgroup packages for integration directly in the game.
They both spoke to me about how Wwise empowered the music composition process on Mass Effect.
WORDS OF THE WWISE
“I loved using Wwise on Mass Effect 2,” explains Wall. “After the first game, knowing how my music would playback became a focus as a way to improve on the first score. A 16-year veteran writing music for games, my biggest pet peeve is bad musical transitions. Using Wwise was an amazing revelation and improvement on every musical transition in the game.
“I have new respect for every audio director, because what I didn’t count on is, that it’s an enormously time-consuming job to integrate music into such a large-format game. However, Wwise, gets the results as quickly as is currently possible. On balance it was worth every extra minute of time to get the implementation to work the way I intended.
“An interesting caveat about being a composer working with Wwise; it gives you so much control, it is easy to leave the other stakeholders out of the process, however unintentionally. I’ve revised my process over time to include everyone first in the compositional revision process before getting into Wwise. That way, everyone is first pleased with the music, then blown away when it’s finally in the game.”
TALKING MASS EFFECT
“For a complex game like Mass Effect 2, with branching cinematics and conversation trees, Wwise was a dream tool for music implementation,” adds DiDomenico. “The major benefit was ‘control’. The music structure for Mass Effect 2 was comprised of a three layered combat system, exploration, conversation and cinematic cues.
“We needed to transition seamlessly between cues so each level would contain 30-to-60 music transitions. That’s a lot, especially when you have to verify all possibilities to ensure they sound smooth. That control of how each cue transitioned was a massive advantage, making the final score sound polished and fluid, achieving our goal of seamless immersion in the experience, that was never interrupted by an abrupt, meaningless music transition. Once I started importing stems into Wwise, the interactive music hierarchy became very intuitive; setting up a level in Wwise was simple and fast. The hierarchy allowed us to affect changes across multiple areas of the game and those global settings saved time. In addition, being able to drag and drop over 700 music assets, copying transitions, and an easy to navigate hierarchy, were paramount in completing such a game.
“I believe the music implementation was a success, because we embraced the subtleties of scoring for games. We avoided the ‘light switch’ combat music system that turns on and off when the bad guys die, keeping the music tense in between battles. We ‘Frankenstein’ a myriad of cues to serve the hundreds of cinematic and conversation scenes that the budget would not allow for. We avoided fading cues when the action ended and instead utilised musical transitions and stingers to segue between cues, creating custom crossfades for each cue transition to ensure the listener would remain immersed as the story evolved.
“As an integrator I also recommend learning as much as you can about the possibilities of the scripting within your game engine and stay open to change and variation in how the music interacts. Wwise allows you that flexibility.
“Think of how you want your score to play out and then figure out how Wwise can get you there. Wwise is so flexible it seems everyone I speak to, from LucasArts, Ubisoft and Bioware to THQ, are using it differently, pushing the interactive music envelope.