John Broomhall speaks to Splash Damage's audio director Chris Sweetman
For game audio veteran Chris Sweetman, Splash Damage’s Brink has been a three year labour of love.
Collaborating with in-house audio programmer Simon Price, he has procured the outsourcing talents of Bob & Barn, Charles Maynes, Shepperton Studios and Malin Arvidsson in a production team approach that reflects the film industry method. Certainly though, he has been ever conscious that the buck has to stop at his mixing desk.
Brink builds on previous releases Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Enemy Territory: Quake Wars. However, the newly created IP boasts what Sweetman coins ‘mingle-player’ where singleplayer, co-op and multiplayer modes all co-exist in one seamless experience. Your friends can drop in and out at will to either oppose you or to play alongside you.
A SENSE OF ID
The starting point for the audio was technology, as Sweetman explains: “We were using id tech from id software which has its own sound engine but we rebuilt a lot of it to create an HDR-style mixing system. Having automated mixing behaviours takes away a lot of the heartache and work but we also have a snapshot system so we can say, ‘Okay, this isn’t realistic, but at this moment I’m going override the HDR to prioritise these particular sound groups for dramatic effect’.”
As for weapons, Sweetman brought useful experience of a trusted granular approach to the project: “Instead of using single-shot or loop-based models, we break every individual shot into a grain with playback comprised of starts, middles and ends. The middles play randomly in any order, and not being locked to frame rate means no problem with retaining the mistimings inherent in gun recordings – automatic weapons simply just don’t fire at exactly the same rate every clip and the mistimings provide character.”
Unsurprisingly, weapons represented a serious time and money commitment with Charles Maynes hired to conduct a bespoke field recording session in the desert just outside Las Vegas.
“The lead writer and I concocted a list of hardware to play with. My criteria was distinctiveness of sound – Brink’s weapons aren’t based in reality so as long as the gun proposed had some unique audio quality, it could make my list – I was collecting sonic building blocks.”
The shooting sounds were captured on linked 744ts at three distances – close-up for all the mechanical detail, mid-range approximately ten feet away, and also at an undisclosed more distant point. Later, Sweetman imported the recordings to ProTools for many hours’ editing and organising into logical groups - automatics, single shot weapons, shotguns and pistols (plus many ‘silenced’ versions).
He then navigated the some 70GB of material, constructing and compositing to make the actual in-game material, also creating sounds for the various gun customisations available to the player – muzzle breaks, iron sights and so on. Of the total 8,500 sounds in the game, approximately 4,700 are for weapons.
“For iron sights we did a ‘zero perspective’ effect,” says Sweetman. “In many titles, guns sound identical whether staring down a sight or shooting from the hip. In Brink, when you’re sniping and zoomed in, we bring down the volume and EQ the usual sound slightly – then add an extra mechanical layer. The visual perspective is changed so why not the audio? We’re not aiming for realism – more a case of aural excitement.”
Additionally, the same guns will sound different dependent on whether you’re playing as the security forces or the resistance. In the case of the former, weapons sound slick compared with the impression given of a more ill-maintained resistance armoury. Add distance clues provided by subtle use of the three mic placements and 5.1, and Sweetman feels the audio serves the gameplay, helping the player identify the spatial position of other players, whether they’re hostile or friendly and their weapon type.
This demarcation extends to the music experience, each group having their own themes and musical motifs recorded by Bob & Barn with the Prague Philharmonia.
The audio recognition factor is further enhanced by an extremely detailed approach to foley.
“We really went to town on this stuff,” Sweetman says.
“For instance, each character has 270 footsteps and there are three weight classifications – so you have your light guy who can do all the smart movements, almost parkour-style. If you’re wearing less clothes you sound different. Again it’s a granular approach, so add a gun belt and you’ll can hear the change.”
The recordings were made with Glen Gathard at Shepperton over three days. Sweetman believes this audio detail firmly grounds the player in the world. Along with bespoke ambient sounds, foley vividly brings the game world to life.
“On the one hand I’m a perfectionist so I’m never happy,” Sweetman concludes. “On the other, I am proud of Brink – it was a great team. And I’m really looking forward to what we’re doing in future at Splash Damage.”