What does virtual reality sound like?
It is impossible to count the number of video games released recently, and their total soundtrack playtime would be enough for a trip round the world. Not many people pay attention to sound design, because when the music blends in perfectly, we think of the picture and the sound as one whole. A reporter for То4ка-Treff (Tochka-Treff) shows us how sound design teams work.
An engineer or an artist: who creates the atmosphere
A sound producer should clearly understand what kind of sounds a player wants to hear: the swish of a sword, a roar of an orc being killed. Should the player hear their character's footsteps during the whole game or only when landing after a jump?
Sounds that contain information usually get special attention. For example, angsty music when a certain character appears, or background music for combat.
A tank symphony, or how to record WWII engines
A lot of attention-worthy games get released all the time, but for now we will focus on a notably popular game - War Thunder. The game was created by Strategic Music and Gaijin Entertainment featuring the participation of the Baltic Symphony orchestra, and Russian and foreign composers. The main theme was written by American composer Jeremy Soule, with 33 orchestra compositions by Russian composers. Several classical pieces were also included in the soundtrack. It was all recorded over three days and more than one hundred people were involved in the process.
Professionals from all over the world worked together to record WWII plane sounds, searching for rare models with working engines all over the world.
We had the chance to talk with Strategic Music’s General Director Dmitry Kuzmenko, and find out how a sound design team works.
How many projects can you work on simultaneously? There are 14 more people in your team, if I'm not mistaken.
We can work on 15–20 projects simultaneously. We have a fairly large team indeed, larger than many other developer teams.
How difficult was the sound design process for War Thunder?
Actually, military is one of my favorite topics. I used to have some relation to the armed forces as I grew up in the family of a member of the armed forces. The War Thunder project was difficult in every aspect: we had to write the music, gather the orchestra, perform the recording and mix the material we got. Nobody in Russia had the chance to work on such a big project before us, so we had no one to take advice from. We had three orchestra recording sessions in total — for planes, tanks and ships (in the game you can fight battles on the ground, in the air and on the water).
Up to 120 people were involved in every session: our team, the musicians, the choir and the studio staff. We had to take every possible risk into account – if anything went wrong we would never get to work on such a big project again. The reputation of the whole Russian sound design industry was at stake as well. But we coped, and, in my opinion, everything went perfect. The game has a beautiful, high quality soundtrack.
War Thunder: recording music
What other problems have you had while working on the project?
There are a lot of professional musicians in Saint-Petersburg, but they're usually touring or busy at contests and concerts. We needed to find time for a recording session when we could have as many cool musicians as possible in the studio. We also had to plan how to transport the instruments. Some of them couldn’t fit through the door, so we needed to figure something out on the go. As if that wasn’t enough, Radio House's 1st studio, where the recording took place, was constantly occupied. We had to book it months in advance before a session. When we were recording the Japanese pilots' speech, a notorious earthquake happened in Japan. When we were recording the Turkish pilots' speech, there were street riots in Turkey. So we had quite a stressful time, and we had to change and remake some things on the fly.
How did you receive your first order from a foreign company? Was in any different from working with Russian developers?
It was long time ago, sometime in 2006, and it was an old-boy job – we had a partnership with Belarusian studio Floodlight Games, who, in turn, were addressed by an American company representing Agatha Christie's descendants who were interested in creating a game about Hercule Poirot. The Floodlight staff asked the American company to let them work with us, Strategic Music, their approved partners.
The American company gave it a bit of thought and asked us to provide some demo versions for several tracks. We made the demo, it was approved, and that's how we became responsible for the music and sound in the project. The game is called Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile.
One of the compositions from the game:
Since then we've gained a lot of clients from all over the world: we work with American, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Polish and Indian partners.
Do you always create original music for every game or do you sometimes use something from your resource pool?
Every composer has a “resource pool”: some harmonic or melodic ideas, some setting methods, instruments, and orchestrations that they use in their work. That’s why we can distinguish different composers’ styles.
Mobile games are all the rage now. Do you think it’s possible that someday we’ll stop playing PC games?
I think that PC games will always have their own niche. It’s hard for me to imagine War Thunder or DOTA 2, for example, on an iPad. I think that the number of PC games might go down but they won’t disappear completely.
What projects are you working on now?
Our primary project is Russian voiceover for DOTA 2. We are also working on sounds for a Warhammer 40000 universe game and a Marvel game. We continue working on military games: War Thunder, Ground War: Tanks and World of Tanks.
DOTA 2: Russian voiceover – Phantom Assassin
There are also other interesting projects that we can’t talk about due to a non-disclosure agreement.
By the way, I would also like to thank Gaijin Entertainment’s general producer, Pavel Stebakov, for his trust, support and professionalism. It’s a real pleasure to work with this company.
Anastasiya Ivanova, 24, Moscow