You’d think audio would be the most straightforward element to a music game. The licensing team secures a song, the record label supplies the stems for each instrument, and the markup team makes it playable. That’s not been the case in Guitar Hero Live, where the decision to turn the camera around and put the player on a real stage in front of a live audience has meant that lead audio designer Andy Grier has had an awful lot to do. “Every other rhythm-action music game has always been presented from a passive, audience perspective,” he tells us. “The music you hear is dry, it’s very clean. It might have a bit of reverb on it to fit the basketball court you’re playing in or something, but that’s it. My [idea] was, ‘You’re onstage; let’s make it sound like you’re onstage.’”
So, yes, there’s reverb, but that’s just the start of it. A detailed surround mix means that, if the drummer’s currently over your left shoulder, then that’s where the drum sounds come from. If a tambourine player dances across the stage, then the sound will pan across accordingly. Elements get louder as you get closer to them, and quieter as you move away, the treble fading as you go, since high frequencies are directional and lose impact at a distance. And since the music’s being pumped out to the crowd and the world around them, you’ll hear reflections bouncing back off trees, buildings and other scenery. Grier calls the process ‘Livify’. “There’s no proper term for it, and I started calling it that and I cringed a bit. It’s just one of those wanky terms, but it’s stuck.” The effect – which wasn’t in place at the game’s London unveiling, but is playable when we visit the development studio – is remarkable.
Grier has been equally thorough with crowd singalongs, assembling a group of trained vocalists at Pinewood Studios and spending a week making them sound, well, rather less well-trained than they are. “They were putting on vibrato and harmonising and stuff,” he says. “I went, ‘Look, this is lovely, but it’s way too good.’ I had to mentally get them drunk.” Grier had them jump up and down while they sang; back in the studio, he’s time-shifting individual takes – some a little early, others slightly late – to more accurately replicate the sound of a boozy, boisterous crowd.
01 Other instruments will grow louder as you draw near to them.
02 The studio where Grier does the live sound mix. 03 The audio team had to practically become tour managers, sourcing instruments from manufacturers like Fender. 04 Andy Grier, lead audio designer