John Broomhall talks with Naughty Dog’s audio lead Phil Kovats about the newest Uncharted game and the difference in creating audio from The Last of Us to now
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy continues Naughty Dog’s tradition of cinematic storytelling through gameplay consisting of combat, puzzle-solving and large set-piece adventures. Originally a DLC project, it somewhat unexpectedly took on a full life, resulting in some time pressures, but also a super-keen focus. Phil Kovats: “We decided our fundamental approach was no new significant audio systems/features, just necessary evolutions - building on existing successes so we could achieve the right level of polish.
“We deployed a dozen or so staff and contractors plus an outsourcer, Formosa Interactive, identifying recording requirements and specific game tech needs early, scheduling them with just enough time to iterate. With time tight, good communication and collaboration between departments and production staff were vital.”
The team’s desire to differentiate Legacy’s sound from Uncharted 4 prompted some quality field recording time, capturing material crucial in defining the game’s voice. Kovats: “Legacy is FILLED with rocks and moving water so we zoomed into recording these more mundane sounds, seeking greater variety and nuance. There are over 500 unique waterfall sound IDs alone.
"In the temple Shiva area, there’s more RAM for waterfalls than the whole shipping budget of The Last of Us! Meanwhile, the Western Ghats area involves numerous rocks of all sizes. Making them sound unique and size-relative was a huge task. We also recorded a real UAZ 4x4 for exploration areas. By the way the train sounds in the final level are a nod back to those in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves!”
Kovats’ team used storytelling audio throughout to deeply immerse players in the experience. For instance, the elephant scene when entering Shiva – a mysterious set-up and sense of possible danger – ambience and treated elephant sounds creating unease. Later when you encounter the trapped female elephant, sounds are adjusted to induce feelings of distress and fear FOR the animal. The ride is serene, trust is gained, so when the female reunites with her herd and young, the elephantine soundscape becomes joyous and euphoric. Kovats: “We wanted the player emotionally connected.
“And we discovered Indian elephants have a wide vocal range! A happy recording accident was an elephant grabbing a lav mic with it’s trunk, neatly removing it from the tether and crunching it to death (laughs). When you give the elephant fruit during the ride, that’s the sound you hear!”
As you traverse India in Legacy, the world, a ‘character’ itself, breathes. “There’s a lot of real-time DSP. Each sound asset (voice) has 4 local eq filters and distortion settings. Reverbs are multichannel convolutions - up to 18 concurrently realtime, really aiding blending of natural environments. Plus we have real-time IRs for our gun tails and in-line real-time compression and limiting on the mix buss to respond to players’ chosen output formats and dynamic range settings.”
The mix approach is ‘do it as you add a sound’ meaning, at the final stages, the mix has iteratively become approximately 85% complete throughout development: “At that point we’re adding detailed snapshots, fine tuning bias mixes, hitting details in the environments and reverb mixes The overall mix is basically there.
“Doing large projects in a short timescale is tough but if the team stays focused and collaborates well, you can accomplish a highly detailed level of work. I’m proud of how our great sound team co-operated to create a unique voice, showcasing individuals’ talents while working together towards a clear vision. We’re fortunate to get to tell these stories with the latitude we’re given – it’s an honor.”
John Broomhall is a game audio specialist creating and directing music, sound and dialogue. To find out more, visit: www.johnbroomhall.co.uk.
Photo Credit - Photos by Iki