John Broomhall talks with Simon Pressey about developing sound, dialogue and music for the flagship VR title from Crytek
When space colony ship Esmerelda experiences a catastrophic disaster, 12-year-old Robin finds himself the survivor of a crash landing and sets about exploring a new planet, discovering a remarkable environment populated with incredible flora and dinosaurs.
As director of audio, Simon Pressey had ultimate responsibility for the overall audio output of a team dynamically assigned to the project in various configurations as it passed through various production stages. It included seven audio designers, two narrative designers and an audio production manager, all in Frankfurt, plus composer Jesper Kyd in LA.
According to Pressey, the bar for Robinson’s production values was set high across the board, meaning a ‘fanatical’ attention to detail for audio: “We’ve created a totally complete and coherent new virtual world. Every creature – from the brontosaur to a cockroach – all make sound.
This huge vibrant interactive world is alive with dynamic binaural 3D sound. VR visually takes immersion to a new level and for that immersion to be complete, believable and engaging, the audio has to complement and reinforce it. The Robinson team is very aware of how much audio brings to a successful VR experience. The collaboration and feedback from every discipline has been a sure indication that audio counts and delivers.”
We think it will be a game changer - not just for VR but for all games.
Simon Pressey, Crytek
Pressey cites ‘narrative presentation’ as a key audio-related challenge, resulting in a new approach: “We created a system we call ‘Dynamic Response’ – we’re dealing with an open world game and we needed to deliver the story in a non-linear way.
Doing this in a conventionally scripted and essentially linear fashion was just not going to allow the immersive, explorative discovery and interaction that’s so unique to Robinson’s VR experience. The DRS (Dynamic Response System) keeps track of which aspects of the story you’ve learned, the gameplay you’ve encountered, the current situation and more, in turn making the best choice of available dialogue to present to the player at any given moment. It was a seriously ambitious departure from traditional scripted dialogue. We think it will be a game changer - not just for VR but for all games.”
Meanwhile, Robinson features a score by composer Jesper Kyd. Figuring out the right music design approach was not without its challenges either: “We found music had to be totally coherent with the entire world and narrative,? the key design pillars being Robin’s story and perspective and the world and mission of Esmerelda. The music continually makes reference to them. We intentionally kept it simple with the Satie-esque compositional minimalism.
“There’s also a cinematic approach, with music used to help direct the player’s experience. For example when you first see a vista of the world you’ve landed on, one music cue expresses all the emotion connected to that – wonder, potential, loss, resolution – all implied in a way that words can’t. Subsequently, elements of that music cue echo throughout the rest of the story and score.”