Jim Croft

XBox: The Official Magazine - - FEATURE | ELITE : DANGEROUS -

Head of Au­dio

Noth­ing is more im­por­tant for cre­at­ing con­vinc­ing im­mer­sion than sound – and Elite’s is spec­tac­u­larly con­vinc­ing Space is, fa­mously, si­lent. Yet you have four coders work­ing on sound. What are they do­ing? When we first made this game, we thought, ‘Let’s give play­ers the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in a sub­ma­rine, stay true to the science.’ That’s ac­tu­ally a re­ally bor­ing idea. So we came up with the idea of an au­dio HUD. The ship’s com­puter builds a sonic pic­ture of the out­side en­vi­ron­ment. There are at least eight dif­fer­ent lay­ers of sound ef­fects in there to de­scribe ac­cel­er­a­tion, de­cel­er­a­tion, mass shift. Be­neath that, there’s an­other set; so if you fid­dle with your power op­tions, or you’re car­ry­ing cargo, that’ll have an ef­fect on your mass, which will also af­fect sound. Ba­si­cally, we’re get­ting a lot of teleme­try from the game, and we’re con­vert­ing that into au­dio. There’s also over an hour of in­ci­den­tal mu­sic in the game. So the com­puter sim­u­lates what sounds a hu­man would ex­pect to ex­ist out­side a space­ship, if there wasn’t a vac­uum? Yes. In space, noth­ing has weight, so it’s the sound that gives it the weight. That gives us the li­cence to have re­ally cool stuff, like ship flyby sounds – giv­ing all other ships their own spe­cific sounds just makes the ex­pe­ri­ence more ex­cit­ing. Stay­ing true to the fic­tion, if the canopy breaks, you lose that sound. You’ve got head­phones, so you’re hear­ing your breath­ing in­side your mask, and you’re hear­ing the ship’s voice through your head­phones, but ev­ery­thing else – if you shoot your guns, for ex­am­ple – is very muted. If you try to dock, you’ll go back in­side an at­mos­phere and the sounds will re­turn. How do you choose what sounds en­gines make in the fu­ture? Ev­ery­one knows how a space­ship’s sup­posed to sound, but we’ve al­ways steered away from that. We re­alised quickly that rock­ets are just noise, which gets very fa­tigu­ing, so we re­serve that for things like boost. The ac­tual en­gines, well, we looked at Ben Burtt’s work – the holy grail of sound de­sign­ers. He worked on Star Wars and Wall-E. In the aw­ful first Star Wars movie, he made the pod-rac­ing so that each ve­hi­cle had a real char­ac­ter about it.

So we’ve got a whole dif­fer­ent gamut of ships by dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ers, with a sound designer work­ing on each one. We started with the Sidewinder, when it was the only ship in the game. We spent a long time get­ting it right, feel­ing fun. You wanted to in­ter­act with it. We used lots of gui­tar ef­fects – tremolo, for ex­am­ple – to give the sense of mo­tion, mod­u­lat­ing the vol­ume as you go faster. We did lots of ex­per­i­ment­ing and found a for­mula, this set of eight sounds, then copied that onto an­other empty ship, re­moved all the sounds and gave it to a new per­son. That meant that each ship ended up with the same sys­tem but com­pletely dif­fer­ent sounds. So the Viper sounds like a sports car, re­ally throaty and gas-guz­zling.

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