EA DICE section meeting report

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2017-03-19 23:19

The February 2017 section meeting was hosted by Ben Minto of EA DICE in Stockholm. DICE is a company under the umbrella of EA and is one of the leading multiplatform video game developers and is perhaps best known for the Battlefield series.

Sound designers Bence Pajor and Andreas Almstad presented a talk that they went on to deliver at the Game Developers Conference, that recently took place in San Francisco. DICE Stockholm has a team of 20 audio staff who are divided up into teams dedicated to each game. Bence and Andreas have worked together on the Battlefield series since the release of Battlefield 3.

When this game was first developed, in 2002, there were no existing sound libraries of appropriate sounds of warfare. This lead the team to start recording their own. One of the team had a friend who was an ex-military officer who happened to have a private collection of weapons. He agreed to the assist the team to record the sound of those weapons.

In the beginning, the team had very little education and experience of audio recording. It could be argued that this gave them a degree of creative freedom that a trained sound recordist might not have brought to the exercise.

The earliest recordings were made in real world locations using a relatively low cost camcorder. With hindsight, the team understand that the results were not what they themselves would strive for today. However, the distorted and compressed recordings were very useable with respect to the target playback hardware, namely TVs. Further processing allowed them to make the sounds similar to other source material from internet videos uploaded by soldiers in real combat. The team’s philosophy was to deconstruct those recordings and try to emulate this type of sound quality as it was what the public were accustomed to and was appropriate for the TV hardware available at that time.

For the early Battlefield games sounds were triggered by a relatively unsophisticated slot based audio engine. Triggers consisted of certain video and control based events, firing a weapon, entering a room and so on. Later games in the series became more complex with sound being triggered by events as well as taking into consideration environmental cues such as distance and physical materials in the area – a cityscape having a unique sound character compared to a woodland scene, for example.

The focus in more recent releases has switched to the making the game audio more realistic, both with respect to the quality of recordings and the delivery of sound in response to the activities of artificial intelligence features such as enemy combatants and vehicles. Stereo is still an important part of gameplay with many gamers wearing headsets to be able to communicate with other online players.

Battlefield Bad Company introduced a new engine which allowed dynamic mixing of several sounds such as environmental background noise, echoes and reverberation as well as close and distant recordings. These sound fields provide subtle audio cues which make the game play flow without having to constantly check a visual indicator for enemy positions and similar.

Battlefield 4 continued the development of more realistic sound environments. Bass filtering was implemented to reduce the masking of other dynamic signals. New code was written to mimic the realistic cadence of firing patterns for the Artificial Intelligence combatants. The new sound quality was validated by replacing an audio track for a video sequence obtained from YouTube. The game sounds completely replaced the firing of weapons as well as the shouted instructions from the group leaders and soldiers. It was difficult to tell the difference.

Battlefield 1 presented new challenges for the sound designers. There is no reference material to compare with. No recordings exist that the team could listen to. The only source material was written by soldiers in the field sending messages home to their loved ones. They described the sounds of the First World War but those descriptions were charged with emotion and used vocabulary that was not necessarily useful to a sound designer.

The team decided once again to record their own sounds and were able to gain access to original WW1 vehicles, notably a Fokker bi-plane, as well as motorcycles with side cars, firearms and hobnail boots.

Questions from the audience included aspects such as binaural recording, the psychology of gamers exposure to realistic environments, what feedback the team had had from war veterans.

The evening concluded with a visit to one of the 7.1.4 ATMOS sound design rooms where audio is mixed and games tested.

Left to right - Andreas Almstad, Bence Pajor, EA DICE. Steven Liddle, Section secretary. Lars-Olof Janflod, Section Chairperson.

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