Sound Byte: Meet the Audio Director of Battlefield 3

We talk to Stefan Strandberg about what it takes to create the perfect battlefield sounds.

by

Like many editors in the office, I've spent a lot of late nights playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2, aborbed in the intense multiplayer action. Whether you're lacing helicopters with C4 and flying them into the enemy or taking down entire structures with a tank, there are so many ways to create gigantic explosions that leave your ears ringing (like when a smoke grenade somehow winds up at your feet.) Part of what makes the game so fun and immersive is not only the gameplay, environments, and weapons, but also the sounds that depicts the cacaphony of war around you.

Meet audio director Stefan Strandberg.

Battlefield: Bad Company 2 won GameSpot's Best Sound Design award for 2010, and there's a good reason for it. From switching weapons to trudging along the harsh desert sands, every move you make on the battlefield is so clear that you truly feel like you're there. We had the opportunity to conduct an e-mail interview with audio director Stefan Strandberg who worked on Bad Company 2 and is currently in charge of the hotly anticipated Battlefield 3 to find out how he comes up with the perfect sounds.

GameSpot: Could you please introduce yourself and tell us a bit about what you do?

Stefan Strandberg: I've been working as one of the audio directors here at EA/DICE in Stockholm for eight years, and I'm trying to make our games sound as immersive as I possibly can, I guess. I'm a gamer like the rest of us, and as much as any other gamer, I want the audio to be everything that it can be.

GS: How did you start working in sound design?

SS: Like so many other sound designers, I'm a musician, although I don't make music for games, which is a common misconception. I actually started modding the sounds for the games I played myself because I could not stand to play them as they were. The quality and the style of sounds were in many of my favorite games [as] just sample CD library sounds, and I hated the fact that no love was spent there. So 10 years ago, that was basically what I was doing and I sold some sounds online as packages. And then, I got hired here at DICE for a racing game way back.

GS: What do you do as a sound designer?

SS: This title means different things in different companies, I would argue. But the basic concept of this labor is to create audio concepts and solutions for the title you are working on. It includes the craft of making noises, but that's only a small part of it if you work inside a studio that is making games. The list of tasks can be long, but it includes a wide variety of recording, editing, mixing, talking, getting the thing to work, banging your head against a wall, and not giving up.

GS: What are some of the craziest things you've had to do to get the sound that you want?

SS: Here at DICE, we take pride in recording a lot of things outdoors, and if we really want something--a specific sound--there is nothing that can stop us. This means that for a game like Battlefield, we have to put ourselves in situations that soldiers are put in but with some sort of recording device attached to us, just to see what it actually sounds like. That doesn't mean we will use it, but it gives us an idea of how it is. Sometimes we just need something really quick and we have no time to do a "proper" recording session. We just need it as soon as possible. So, one example would be when we ran around with weapon replicas in a public park to get snow footsteps and equipment sounds. Let me remind you that there are civilians in almost all parks in Stockholm. Not only does it look extremely silly when two guys [are] running in sync with a lot of recording equipment attached to them, but it would probably make me want to go call the police immediately and report two lunatics with weapons running around, crunching and proning in a park.

GS: What kind of research needs to be done before approaching a big project like Battlefield?

SS: I believe we, as in the sound team at DICE, are quite scientific in the initial stages of the production of a game. We listen and we analyze, and I have said this before, but I really believe in keeping identities from the real world. And we are very careful and aware when breaking those rules. The rules of real-world sounds. Especially in the case of a game that portrays something real. Real hardware, real worlds, real people. Personally, I like to exaggerate things, but it is not always needed since the real world provides so many layers of legibility and recognizable sounds. Once you start manipulating what we as humans know to be true in sounds, you cater to a second layer that only exists within your "made-up universe." And it is much trickier to stay true to that "new reality" once you've established it. We always try [to] create a consistent audio world when we go about making a Battlefield game.

GS: Battlefield: Bad Company 2 received GameSpot's Best Sound Design award of 2010. The sound design was exceptional and made the experience in Bad Company 2 unlike any other. What did you guys do to make this game stand out among so many other shooters out there?

SS: I want to reconnect to the previous statement about consistency. I think one of our key approaches was that we did not construct any sound without matching it to the rest of the sounds. Many people might think that we are trying to create the ultimate weapon sound in every single case, but it is the other way around. We create sounds that match the palette that we have decided upon. So it is not about creating an awesome gun sound; it's about creating a war. This might sound trivial, but it is still a key aspect of the whole sound experience.

GS: What do you have to do to get the right sound, from footsteps to weapon changes?

SS: Out the door. And then we get as intimate as we can with every single aspect of the experience rather than the recording. The recording is only one-third of the task. Or less actually. Getting the right source is key, but getting it to work in the game as we intended is a completely different thing. And then, getting it to sound convincing on a cheap TV and a home cinema system is another challenge. Getting the right sound is actually quite easy, but getting it to play back within the game as intended might throw everything with the recording that you thought were awesome overboard. Getting the right sound? Easy, if you know what you want. Getting it to work in the game? Hard. And that can send you back out the door again.

GS: Does the sound design team work closely with the music team?

SS: There is no music team. We hire external composers early on in the sketching phase to work with early art concepts and themes for the game. But as an audio director, I was working really close to the composers and joined the recording sessions in New York that we did for Battlefield: Bad Company 2. I had the opportunity to get really intimate with the stems and the inner parts of the recording, which helped me in getting it to work with the cutscenes and musical framing of the game later on. So yes, as sound designers, we are really attached to the music that goes into the game and how it is implemented and used is in our hands.

GS: What steps are you taking to make sure the sound is just as good, if not better in Battlefield 3?

SS: It blows my mind to look back at Battlefield: Bad Company 2, which still sounds amazing, and compare it to what Battlefield 3 sounds like. We have done incredible things with the new Frostbite 2 engine, and my fellow sound designer Bence Pajor has done so much polish and expanded on the previous designs of war that I lack words to describe the authenticity and detail that make up the sounds of Battlefield 3. You have got to hear it to believe it. It's real and it works.

GS: What kind of advice do you have for aspiring sound designers?

SS: I think I might have said this before in another interview, and these are my personal preferences when it comes to skill sets and what I value in a sound designer. First, imagination; without it, it's not going to work. Second, passion; without it, you don't want it that much. Third, analytical skills; without it, you don't know why.

GS: Thanks for your time!

Sound Byte is GameSpot's game music blog, which covers every aspect of music in games, including interviews with top game music composers and discussions of new or classic game soundtracks. Have a question or suggestion? Leave us a comment below or e-mail us at soundbyte@gamespot.com. For a list of previous Sound Byte features, click here. Follow us on Twitter! @gs_soundbyte

Discussion

84 comments
bluebird08
bluebird08

@Devils-DIVISION that scene in black hawk down is awesome, and that part of episode 3 does remind me of that scene in black hawk down,

jasonzilla11
jasonzilla11

man, i love the battlefield series, and the sound is amazing. bfbc 2 was my favorite game last year (I went crazy when i got it in the mailbox), and still is my fav game this year. but i know that will change when bf 3 comes!

calum1984
calum1984

@earlmccormick88 he missed out codename eagle anyway :P.....but i kind of agree with him (not sure what you said for him to reply to so based on his comment), with bf3 being the proper sequel to bf2 it will prob have some big differences to the console oriented bad company series (which were just a testbed for technolgies for bf3). Bf2 for example had a commander for both sides who controlled the squads, artillery, sattelite scans, UAV scans etc (yea i know DICE have said commander not likely im giving examples of the major differences). Thing is the bad company series is a seriously stripped down bf series they took out most (if not all) of the tactical stuff and gave us strip maps forcing us players down bottlenecks or wide open spaces with no cover, chances are bf3 is going back to the wide open but with plenty of cover style of maps allowing for more tactical games with multiple routes to take (fingers crossed)

earlmccormick88
earlmccormick88

[This message was deleted at the request of a moderator or administrator]

Devils-DIVISION
Devils-DIVISION

@linebacker2 I agree, very playable. It essentially didn't have anything wrong with it, it was good while it lasted. People so easily discredit a game as soon as another game comes out which look to blow it out of the water. Well of course it's going to be better! It's aim is to be better, because if it wasn't... You would not be interested.

Devils-DIVISION
Devils-DIVISION

@TheTrainer1980 How & where in my comments with admund, did you get any incentive to talk about that... We were talking about sound... I just fail to see why you came up talking about that... (Maybe wrong person?) However to answer your question, yes I am well aware of all of that.. I've been with the series since '42 But as for the mechanics, we'll just have to wait and see. Because, BC1&2 was an entirely different game and virtually had nothing to compare with the original BF's from the PC. Which might be due to the fact that they weren't a solely PC minded game.

linebacker2
linebacker2

The game looks better than the overrated but still very playable Black Ops**==

TheTrainer1980
TheTrainer1980

@Devils-DIVISION You do know Battlefield 1942 came before Battlefield 2. There was no Battlefield 1. Bad Company 1 & 2 are not a sequel to Battlefield 2. Well, it still uses the same game mechanics as Battlefield 2. All the Battlefield games will play (feel) the same. But yes, Battlfield 3 does not have anything to do with Bad Company 1 or 2. Battlefield 1942 was the first Battlefield. Here's how it goes; 2002 - Battlefield 1942 2004 - Battlefield Vietnam 2005 - Battlefield 2 2006 - Battlefield 2142 2008 - Battlefield Bad Company 2009 - Battlefield Heros 2009 - Battlefield 1943 2010 - Battlefield Bad Company 2 2010 - Battlefield Bad Company 2 Vietnam 2010 - Battlefield Online 2011 - Battlefield Play4Free 2011 - Battlefield 3

TheTrainer1980
TheTrainer1980

@earlmccormick88 Go back to Call of Duty. This is BATTLEFIELD 3, not BAD COMPANY 3. I wish people would see there's a difference. It just shows me they have no clue about the series.

TonnFool23
TonnFool23

In my opinion, the photograph of the audio director is very artistic.

TonnFool23
TonnFool23

@earlmccormick88 You mean BF3 not BC3? :D

LoveSack
LoveSack

beautiful turtle-neck he's got there

earlmccormick88
earlmccormick88

COD is a great game in its on Arcady way. Battlefields realism and gun sounds won me over. BC2 is an amazing game. Cant wait for BC3

PSdual_wielder
PSdual_wielder

Awesome stuff. Sounds do deserve more respect in the industry, and BC2 is a perfect example of why.

admund
admund

@Devils-DIVISION Omg, u nailed it right there. The sound of hot shells, imagine that! Stefan even thought about putting in the sounds of the heli's chaingun, the amount of detail is amazing. I imagine there will be the sound of sand, and rubble whenever an explosion happens..

pal_080
pal_080

More praise for BF:BC2 sound here (not to mention epic gameplay as well). I've got a pair of Turtle Beach headphones and the game sounds incredible. What I really like is how much you can actually hear your own movements, It makes it much harder to hear people coming up behind you, very realistic. It seems in other games people move silently other than loud clomping footsteps. In this game you hear everything from a convincing jingle of equipment to the rustle of your clothing, and subtle noises as you raise your rifle to look down sight, it's all great in adding to the atmosphere

hmidou11
hmidou11

In BFBC 2 the sound is so well made that you can close your eyes, shoot a gun, then recognize it (impossible in COD). Can you imagine what the result will be in Battlefield 3? I can't wait!!

sniperwol_basic
sniperwol_basic

wow no negative comments. Because the bfbc 2 sound is awesome.

supervergil1
supervergil1

seems too complex in the making of it. @,@

k_oldsoul
k_oldsoul

Wow...for an interview he pick his words very carefully.No doubt that the sounds will be great!

Stonecutters908
Stonecutters908

I wish this game were coming out sooner. So much hype already and it has worked on me anyway. I'm a big fan of the series though. It just seems like tons of information is being thrown out there and the game isn't even going to hit for more than 6 months. Ugh. I am sure it will be worth the wait. A few extra months is worth perfecting level design, sound and deepening the gameplay.

inaka_rob
inaka_rob

@Metronome1982 the video games over took Hollywood in terms of revenue as of 3 or 4 years ago!!!

Nexttime45
Nexttime45

the sound of bbc2 is more realistic than in any other game. the shooting, the tanks, the explosions, buildings that collapse. it's almost like it's happening in your living room :p

Devils-DIVISION
Devils-DIVISION

@admund Yea, even though I was sold by ep.1... Ep.3 was just the next best thing to actually the game. But that helicopter scene, reminded me of one of the scenes in Black Hawk Down where a soldier had those smoking hot bullet casings raining down on him from the helicopter above him... Just awesome!!

Metronome1982
Metronome1982

@ inaka_rob I totally agree somes games dont get enough credit for sound design,but if you think about,video games do not get enough credit as a genre full stop,i think they have overtaken movies as an entertainment outlet,dont get me wrong i'm a big movie fan,but the art and attention that goes in to making games these days deserves much more attention,gaming is no longer a genre for sweaty geeky loners,i wish the world would wake up to that now.

Sprungli
Sprungli

I love how pleasing the sounds are in BF2. What I mean by that is that regardless of the realism, they made sure the sounds were really pleasant/satisfying to listen to. One thing that I think they could tone down is the degree of volume ducking that happens when loud sounds like explosions trigger. I feel like sometimes the ducking was too noticeable, but maybe that's just because I was listening for it.

inaka_rob
inaka_rob

The 2010 Game Spot Award for best game desing is one of the FEW gamespot awards I 100% agree with. and rhysthepriest is right! "Games like this and Dead Space don't get enough credit for their sound design." AND if you dont have a pair of Astro or Turtle Beach headphones you are missing out on a huge part of the game. Not haveing a good set of surround sound headphones or (HIGH end and expesnive) home theartre system is like these games on a SD (standered definetion) TV. games are all about the immersion. and IMO sound is 50% of that. TV speakers give you maybe 10% the experience intended. My gaming neighbor spent twice as much as I did on a HUGE TV, but he still only uses and has the tv speakers. might as well play the game on mute if you ask me.

DFBHDTS
DFBHDTS

When I first played BC1 I was blown away by the sound. Then even more with BC2. IMO it's the best sounding FPS out there, by far. That guy is amazing. I love whacking the audio type to "war Tapes" and blasting my speakers right up xD

rhysthepriest
rhysthepriest

Games like this and Dead Space don't get enough credit for their sound design. Glad to see that a lot of users here respect this.

Adema83
Adema83

Good interview, i can't wait to hear what the game sounds like if it's better than BC2.

admund
admund

@Devils-DIVISION yeah, can't wait to be fully immersed into BF3. Just by the trailer it sounds amazing, especially epi3 when the heli hovers above the MG soldier.

Killingspree303
Killingspree303

The sound design of Bad Company 2 was amazing. If Battlefield 3 is going to sound better, it'll blow my ears off (in a good way).

Pete5506
Pete5506

Great interview, this game will be great

Mehdi-Y
Mehdi-Y

Awesome. Can't wait to blow some stuff up :D

salvucci91
salvucci91

@Gamma_Fit seriously. I am absolutely pumped.

progamemania
progamemania

in my opinion, Battlefield has the most realistic sound effects. I really love them.

shutp
shutp

We once turned the tv and surround sound as loud as possible and sniped from a high point on a deserty map in multiplayer. If you want to get as close to hearing remarkable sound design as possible. Do this. We were enamoured.

Gamma_Fit
Gamma_Fit

This game will keep me happy for about 2+ years

matok1
matok1

Great interview..! I'm looking forward to it on BF3 as well. :)

DriftEJ20
DriftEJ20

I would love to see Stefan Strandberg do a racing game. Bad Company 2 is pretty much all the proof you need to know that this guy is way more than competent. He definitely looks like a sound/music guy too haha

ahpuck
ahpuck

The sound fx in BF: BS2 was most definitely a highlight, the servers where not.

MrHarris88
MrHarris88

Great article. BF:BC2 has the best sound by far. If BF3 will even match that I would be more than pleased.

spindrift11b
spindrift11b

Coming from an infantry guy who has been in ample combat in both Afghanistan and Iraq, I can attest that I was very impressed and even surprised at the authenticity and quality of the sound effects in Bad Company 2. Nothing in a game can ever model the real world "sound" (read "feel") of a close explosion or machine gun fire, but this game sure does a great job of portraying the chaotic sounds of combat.

Laveidem
Laveidem

Bad Company 2 had absolutely amazing sound. The gunshots and how it was different if you shot indoors and outdoors, how the explosions would hit you with a deafening wave, all was just incredible. It has a huge advantage in the the sound department compared to other fps's and in my opinion still hasn't been bested. And after reading this looks like Battlefield 3 will not disappoint.

Devils-DIVISION
Devils-DIVISION

Off topic... But Hans Zimmer and Laurence Krauss, really look alike.

Devils-DIVISION
Devils-DIVISION

@admund Absolutely agree... Though I liked Black Ops for the time it lasted - Their marketing campaign was indeed pretentious. However my favourite FPS thus far is still Modern Warfare 2: Hans Zimmer was just exceptional. Though that will definitely change with Battlefield 3. You can almost feel it...

Devils-DIVISION
Devils-DIVISION

[This message was deleted at the request of the original poster]