GDC audio keynote tackles the sounds of war

EALA Senior Audio Director Erik Kraber reveals some of the strategies and processes used in developing compelling audio for Medal of Honor Rising Sun.

SAN JOSE--The Medal of Honor franchise has always enjoyed an elevated level of audio production, and the newest iteration, "Rising Sun" continues that legacy. At this year’s GDC audio keynote, award-winning sound designer and EALA Senior Audio Director, Erik Kraber, addressed some of the challenges he and his team faced during game production.

Kraber first outlined their approach to the overall audio tone and feel of Rising Sun, which was to "start with realism, but make it dramatic." From there, he moved on to pre-production. Kraber insisted for the best results, "audio must be involved in the early design discussions." By including the audio team during this initial stage, resources can be better allocated and expectation more clearly defined.

His team started by designing several audio mock-ups, experimental linear audio tracks which tested the effectiveness of their new ideas. The team then compared these new sounds to similar sequences in previous iterations. This comparison helped them better understand how the new ideas improved the game’s audio, and exposed other sounds that could be improved.

As a war game, sounds for each weapon must be somewhat realistic and very unique from one another. The sound designers went to great lengths to ensure each weapon not only sounded differently, but also indicated its level of power; for example, pistols must sound smaller than machine guns. In addition, weapon sounds had to convey a sense of physical distance. To accomplish this, guns were recorded at 10, 50, and 300 yards--then mixed together and enhanced with processing to make a more effective overall sound.

Equally important was the game’s ambient audio. Kraber highlighted the Omaha Beach sequence to show how ambience compensated for the game’s graphic-related technical limitations. Since the game could only show a limited number of characters on the screen at once, the feeling of grand-scale chaos was established through the ambient audio. Another key point was how Kraber approached the game’s environment. His team thought beyond the geometric borders of the interactive surroundings, and extended the audio world to items positioned outside game. Players may hear a church bell in the distance and never see the church. The result is a more immersive experience and the sense of a larger game environment.

With voice recording, Kraber revealed that his team used a documentary style approach to directing talent. In order to get the most genuine sound for his dialog, Kraber employed traditional stage and film actors instead of the more commonly used voice-only talent. He stressed that these actors were allowed to improvise, and sometimes recorded them together for group dialog scenes. Actors feed off each other’s performance, which allows for a more natural exchange and a wider range of responses.

Kraber concluded with a brief rundown of Rising Sun’s orchestrated soundtrack. The audio team worked closely with composer Christopher Lennertz throughout the game’s development. Consequently, Lennertz provided a thematic score that dynamically evolves with the changing gameplay.

While the audio component of a game may not immediately come to mind as one worth scrutinizing, with professionals like Kraber applying their talents to games, audio is becoming one more factor that seperates triple A product from the merely average.

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