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March 2018

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Page 33 of 43 32 POST MARCH 2018 AUDIO FOR GAMES CALL OF DUTY: WWII "World War II changed the lives of millions, but it changed their lives individually and in unique ways. This philosophy was very important as we considered our music direction for Call of Duty: WWII," says audio director Dave Swenson at Sledgehammer Games. He and his sound team recently won a 2018 MPSE Award for Outstanding Sound Editing on Call of Duty: WWII. Swenson wanted the score to focus on the characters as opposed to being a broad, far-reach- ing narrative about the war as a whole. The score needed to put the player on the front lines. "Grit, darkness, realism and honesty in the musical story- telling were crucial," says composer Wilbert Roget ( "I applied that approach to all aspects of the composition and production, with the mentality of 'scoring in the first person' and por- traying the characters' emotional states, rather than having the music simply comment on the scenarios from a distance." One way they achieved this was by making an unexpected 'war score,' one which didn't rely on the typical trumpets and snares. Also, Roget wanted to steer clear of elaborate orchestration and complex melodies, to portray the stories with realism and hon- esty through simple, earnest melodies. On the tech- nical side, to get the score to feel close and gritty, Roget asked the recording engineer at Ocean Way scoring stage in Nashville to mic the instruments closer than usual, and to use less reverb in the mix. For this contemporary orchestral score, Roget relied heavily on a string quartet. His compositions feature extended and aleatoric playing techniques (meaning parts of the score were left to chance or interpretation by the performer). He also employed a musique concrète approach by processing re- cordings of authentic World War II weapons and vehicles and using those as textural and percussive elements in the score. How the score would interact with the sound de- sign was an important factor in determining instru- mentation. In a first-person shooter game, like Call of Duty: WWII, a player's weapon is one of the most important parts of the audio mix. Swenson and Roget talked about limiting the use of percussion since those sounds would compete with the percus- sive nature of the sound design. "Machine guns can sound a lot like snare drums. Explosions can sound a lot like low bass drums. Having all that percussion going on at the same time as the machine guns and explosions would undermine our goal of having a clean and focused mix," explains Swenson. Roget had another daunting task on Call of Duty: WWII — to create the perfect main theme. In fact, it's the very first thing that Swenson wanted Roget to tackle. "This is something that we have always longed for as a studio and an audio team. Of course, we knew this was an incredibly difficult thing we were asking him to do. We went through countless revisions on this one single piece of music," ad- mits Swenson. It needed to have a memorable and impactful melodic hook. It needed to set the tone for the game, the story, the overall score and for the project as a whole. After weeks of collaboration and revision, they achieved a main theme that felt "right." Swenson says, "It was everything we had hoped it would be and it helped define the direction we would take for the rest of the music in the game." In total, Roget wrote two hours of score for Call of Duty: WWII, which he delivered as stems to the music team at Sony Interactive Entertainment, who were involved in all aspects of the music production process including recording, mixing, editing and implementing. Each music cue had around 20 to 30 stems, and Sony was able to use those to create additional in-game music content. For example, Roget notes that most cinematic sequences weren't custom-composed but instead were scored via edits of the music stems. Swenson concludes, "Having the team at Sony handle all of the mixing, editing and implementation made for a very streamlined process when it came to feed- back and iteration. Rarely did we feel like we were locked into any particular music edit or mix. As an audio director, having that level of flexibility was very powerful and allowed for a very deliberate and nuanced music implementation." DAUNTLESS It's not often that an audio director and a com- poser get to play through the game together while working on it, but that's exactly what audio director Rob Blake at Phoenix Labs and compos- er Cris Velasco ( did on Dauntless. "This was immensely helpful. We could, in real time, discuss why something worked or not. This made my job so much easier and more fun too!" declares Velasco. Dauntless is set in an ambiguous world in regards to time and place, says Blake. It should feel recog- nizably human but not tangibly related to existing human culture, so there are no obvious references to styles or genres that come with "cultural or his- torical baggage." In terms of score, the music need- ed to feel unique without being too alien or odd. "Also, the world is somewhat technologically less advanced than our own, so any instruments or tone that felt contemporary or futuristic would be out of place," says Blake. He and Velasco explored instru- mentation that would fit the game's emotive and thematic needs — sounds that were earthy, metallic, airy and which also felt acoustic or real. They chose a few key instruments as the score's main palette — a hand pan/hang drum, gamelan and cimbalom. Blake's music direction focused on emotional rather than technical aspects. It's an approach that extended to the artists and designers, too. For Swenson Velasco

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