Knock on the Sky

Posted: August 6, 2011 in Wait...What?

In the latest round of blog posts from ArenaNet we were introduced to the rich world of sound that will fill every corner of Tyria, from croaking frogs to creaking windmills.

The first post was a gentle introduction to the almost unbelievable amount of time, work and effort that goes into populating a game world with sound. The accompanying video introduces several of the ArenaNet audio team and demonstrates how they capture sounds both in the field and in the studio. Plus we get to see an old TV being smashed with a sledgehammer. Who wouldn’t love a job where you get to do that?

Post number two is a video which, besides featuring a snazzy little bluegrass soundtrack, delves a little deeper into the intricacies of designing sound for a game. The audio team explain and demonstrate sound randomisation, audio focus (stuff in front of you is louder than stuff off to the side), sound scripting and layering (armour types and terrain dictate which sounds to play for particular events) and tying sounds to animations.

The third post goes into much greater detail about voice processing, mastering and parallel processing. As with all “behind the scenes” blog posts to date, the passion of the staff is obvious and shines through in the information they provide about their work. This post is a little more in depth and, while still a great read for anyone, is a must for those particularly interested in sound design.

Having said that, post four takes the inside look to a whole new level. Again, still a very interesting read for any fan but the level of technical information and jargon can make it a little overwhelming if you’re not familiar with sound and audio work. James Boer discusses the custom built software used by the team, reverb and occlusion (echos and how sounds change when heard through a wall respectively), voice and music. The real gem of the post is this:

We’re giving players the option of choosing external music playlists that the game’s audio engine will use as a replacement for the default in-game music. Players can choose different playlists for background ambience and battle music, for instance. Additionally, when appropriate, such as during cinematics, the game can revert back to in-game music temporarily to give the best possible cinematic experience, then resume the custom playlist when it’s done.

Not only can the audio engine play your music, but it will play it appropriately according to playlists – so no Enya during battles, unless you happen to like mellow Celtic tones accompanying your fireball as it sizzles towards an enemy. Not a feature I can envision using at this stage (Jeremy Soule’s compositions are sublime) but an extremely cool feature nonetheless.

Once again ArenaNet have stepped up to the plate and smashed the MMO genre out of the park. Just when I think I couldn’t be more in awe of the passion and dedication they are devoting to this game they prove me wrong.

Sound and music are a huge part of my life. My job requires excellent hearing and I’ve always been a listener. I love just standing quietly somewhere, be it a busy city street or a quiet country road and just listening. Birds. The wind. Insects. Music fascinates me also. I can’t sing (flat and off key doesn’t count) and I don’t play any instruments but there’s just something profound about hearing through the layers of a song, alternately focussing on all the voices, human and instrumental, that make up the whole.

When I can finally set foot in Tyria I plan to go exploring. I am going to find a place that I know has to exist. A secluded glen with a waterfall, quietly tucked away somewhere in a forest. I am going to /sit, close my eyes, knock on the sky.

And listen to the sound.

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