John Broomhall talks to Backboneâ??s lead sound designer, Yannis Brownâ?¦
DEATH JR. 2: ROOT OF EVIL
DEVELOPER: Backbone Entertainment - Emeryville
THE AUDIO TEAM:
Audio Director: Robert Baffy
Lead Sound Designer: Yannis Brown
Additional Audio: Jared Emerson-Johnson, Anna Karney, Julian Kwasneski, Kurt Harland, Jeff Wessman
Original Music: Robert Baffy, Kurt Harland;
Audio programming: David Aldridge
Dialogue Direction Wii: James Stanley
Original Dialogue Direction PSP: James Stanley, Micah Russo, Ardry Englehart, Chris Odophal
Voice Talent: Amy Provenzano, Andrew Chaikin, Brett Pels, Brian Sommer, Casey Robertson, Daron Jennings, Melissa Hutchinson, Paige Perez
Casting & Recording & Post Production: WebTone
Audio intern: Kentaro Fischer
The migration of Death Jr: Root of Evil from PSP to Wii handed Backbone’s lead sound designer Yannis Brown a blank canvas.
A tongue-in-cheek hack’n’slash-come-FPS, the game is strong on humour, featuring an array of truly wacky environments as Brown explains: “Imagine a toy cemetery where dead toys come back to life and crawl from the graves – the game is an outsize funhouse complete with massive pinball machine, giant kitchen, sewers and subterranian caverns. It’s rich pickings for a sound designer. By the way, Death Jr. is the son of the Grim Reaper trying to rescue his father from the clutches of a dastardly fairy who has imbibed an elixir which makes her uber-fiendishly evil. So as you can imagine, there are some hilarious moments in the dialogue.
“What was exciting for me was the opportunity to completely revise the original sound design to exploit the capabilities of Wii. My first priority working with the technical team was to ensure we had the requisite audio engine features in place and designing ‘real-time’ implementation tools to produce an efficient, audio-friendly workflow.”
Taking time out for tools creation, even within a relatively short development window, was the master-stroke as far as Brown is concerned, enabling him to realise the full potential of the situation confronting him. “I enjoyed this amazing luxury of having the finished levels from the PSP version to work with. However, a lack of implementation control – say, having to work vicariously through programmers – would have been disastrous given a relatively tight schedule.
“Playing through the levels ‘silently’ was creatively inspiring and I instinctively knew the sounds I wanted to create and try in situ – what would make the environments feel alive. I was able to play every inch of the game whilst incremently adding sound and doing a rough balance en route – no re-booting – I could re-load a sound bank, tweak parameters and carry straight on auditioning the game. It was a brilliant process, which got my creative juices flowing (I even had the music to work with). Obviously, it’s not always possible to work this way but it’s certainly made me think carefully about how I want to approach future titles – perhaps leaving some aspects of the final sound design work until much later than I might have done previously. Whilst it’s useful to work with video of game footage or even screenshots, being able to explore every nook and cranny is tons better – it’s surprising what ideas come to you poking around the back of the giant refridgerator in the giant kitchen.”
According to Brown, enjoying the privileged exact opposite of ‘working blind’, as many sound FX creators still do, has direct consequences on quality. He says: “There’s a real sense of the sounds fitting with the visuals – really belonging to them – not surprising as I’d been able to experiment so freely. Another result is much better detailing of sound and there’s also much more variety.”
Brown’s personal commitment also clearly came into play too, as he explains: “You absolutely have to do your own audio QA. As well as a solid two weeks adjusting the mix, I hammered the game for 10 to 14 hours a day during ‘crunch’, picking up any changes/adds that had gone under my radar and addressing them swiftly. I listenened on a variety of speaker systems from small TV to full 5.1.
“I’ve learned a lot from the experience. It was great working on the Wii, a powerful platform, which also proved flexible – for instance being able to share memory intelligently with a ‘give and take’ approach where the ratio could be pushed in favour of audio for specific instances where it deserved precedence. But most of all it’s so important to have the sound people involved in the technical design of the tools, and getting those tools right will save literally months of development time. It will definitely yield better sound – so invest time for tools on your project.”