Heard About: Swordfish Studios
Tuesday, 21st July 2009 at 5:14 pm
Rob Bridgett talks Swordfish’s curious collaboration…
Platforms: PS3 and 360
The Audio Team:
Sound director – Rob Bridgett
Audio lead – Mark Willott
Senior audio coder – Justin Caldicott
Audio coder – Andrew Green
Voice director – Eric Weiss
Music licensing and supervision – Steve Goldman
Recording engineer – Mike Patterson
Post-production sound design – Cory Hawthorne
Music & dialogue mastering and editing – Lin Gardiner
Sound director Rob Bridgett sums up can sum up the artistic direction for 50 Cent: Blood on the Sand pretty succinctly: “A hip-hop music video on PCP.”
The player takes the role of 50 Cent, shooting anything that moves, whilst tracking down a diamond-encrusted skull received in payment on completion of a world tour – sadly, subsequently stolen during an ambush. Of course.
“Curtis Jackson himself wanted something different – no New York ghettos, but something more like an adventure comic book, so preposterous it belongs in one of his music videos,” says the game’s sound director Rob Bridgett.
“It’s a frankly insane romp through an unbelievable story giving us plenty of latitude for craziness. In the opening moments of gameplay you run through bombed out buildings with enemies bursting from doors; an entire street is ripped up from a mortar attack as you stand in it and everything’s on fire. The scale of the destruction is mad, but the real OTT factor comes from the fact this is 50 Cent… in a warzone.
“The game never takes itself too seriously – there’s a lot of humour in the story and the tongue-in-cheek scenario. We even employ a taunt button feature so you can hear 50 Cent scream something obscene at any point. Taunts are upgradable by unlocking new taunt packs and can be worked into combos, so if you hit the taunt button when killing you score a multiplier. As well as being gratifying and hilarious, taunts also feed into the gameplay mechanics and reinforce the overall direction.”
With sound design for vehicles, helicopters and tanks needing to be amped-up to a ‘Hollywood on steroids’ perspective, there were significant demands on the mixing technology in order to provide the correct audio focus. “If you’re running and finding cover without shooting, music is pushed to the foreground,” Bridgett explains.
“When you start shooting or being shot at, we very subtly push forward the sound effects by reducing the music level. For more tightly choreographed close-in interactive one-on-one combat moments, we really put the music upfront to create larger-than-life drama.
“All our mixing is dynamic, occurring at run-time based entirely on the events that are triggered in the game. One unique feature in 50 Cent is the ‘low health’ sound, which has a dedicated mixer snapshot with most sound effects turned down slightly, low pass filtered, and with a little down-pitching of the ambience. As the player’s health gets lower, we gradually blend towards the low health snapshot, rather
than just switch – it’s a much more non-linear approach.”
Having experienced the ravages of audio crunch, Bridgett is now careful to promote an intelligent post-production model.
“We carried out one week of sound effects replacement in the mix studio at Radical – playing through the game, reviewing the audio and substituting any sounds that could be improved whilst maintaining the exact same memory footprint,” he says.
“We then spent a week mixing the game – getting the overall volume in line with an acceptable level at reference listening 79dB – the recommended level for home entertainment media – plus matching and testing against relevant competitors’ games. Then it was a case of tuning our various mixer snapshots. Some are generic and populate the entire game, like dialogue ducking, and some are specific to unique events and/or missions, making it important to play through the entire title to find all these moments and ensure they worked as planned. “
The post production model Bridgett has adopted in recent years relies on good communication for its success, involving himself from day one on the project to liase with project managers and producers.
“Everyone agrees that audio is always last and can be a last-minute scramble, so it’s at this point that I roll out my ‘sound alpha’ and ‘sound beta’ dates, which are essentially three week extensions for the audio team to do its final quality control and polishing work. The sound alpha date allows us to get all the content in and still react to eleventh-hour level design-driven changes, whilst the sound beta dates allow us to carry out our week of sound replacement and fortnight of dedicated, no-distraction mixing in a calibrated environment.
“This doesn’t mean we don’t hit production alpha or beta – we make sure we have the relevant content in to achieve both goals – we just know that we’ll work beyond these dates. Making it official is sensible for everyone. Throughout the project I over-communicate all this to project management and the team. I’ve found this model to be successful in improving quality, and greatly reducing the stress of finishing a game.”
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