Star Wars: Battlefront was released this week, and, although I haven’t played the full game yet, I spent so-many-hours playing it’s open beta. Not only because it’s really fun, and the graphics are great, but mainly because I felt I was taking part in the movie series. What make me fell that way? A big part was due it’s sound design and soundtrack, for sure!
The sound of the lasers guns, the planes and Walkers, all that combined, made me fell inside the film. Add to that the original Star Wars soundtracks combined with songs composed exclusively for the title. It’s really amazing, specially for fans of the film.
So today, I come to share two good articles about this.
The first one, called Star Wars Battlefront and the art of retro sound design, by The Verge, discuss the sound design of the game. Has a lot of cool inside info about the process of creating the sound effects, and how to maintain the game inside the “Star Wars feeling”.
“The audio direction for the project was ‘Don’t go and create anything new,’” Minto (DICE audio director) tells me over the phone from DICE’s headquarters in Sweden. “All these ideas are already there, so if anybody was adding anything to the game, it was always challenged. Where did you get this from? How have you broken this down? And if it didn’t stick to the Star Wars way of doing it, it was ‘no.’” To make that happen, DICE first went back to where it all began: the sound library at Lucasfilm and Skywalker Sound.
“Initially we were given about 10 hours’ worth of sound effects,” Minto says. “A lot of these were the original recordings. They have what’s called the ‘slate’ at the beginning, where somebody talks into a microphone and says, ‘Doing Jawa recordings by shouting in a canyon,’ or something along those lines.” Those recordings, along with the broken-down sound effects track from the movies themselves, gave Minto and his team the raw ingredients to start with. But movies and games are obviously very different mediums, and a sound effects sequence tailored to a specific action scene in a film isn’t going to have everything a first-person shooter will need.
“Say, for example, the blasters. In the film pretty much every blaster you hear is third person,” Minto explains. While that can serve as a definitive example of what the weapon should sound like, the various conditions of the game require permutation upon permutation — what the blaster will sound like up close, far away, or 100 yards off to the right inside a hanger on Hoth. “We already have that learning from taking a gun and putting it into the Battlefield world. So then we also knew what techniques we had to apply to take a blaster and put it into the Battlefront world.”
The thing is, sometimes, even all of the original sound effects library wasn’t enough. So, they would have to record new things, but trying to maintain the original techniques.
Balanced with that was the fact that Battlefront has a much wider array of space-age weaponry compared to the original films. “There’s maybe about four different blaster sounds in the movies,” Jegutidse says, “but we have 12 or something infantry blasters, plus additional abilities. So it’s important that we build those new blasters from elements that are familiar to the Star Wars soundscape and make it seem seamless when next to a familiar blaster.”
That meant going back to the same techniques Star Wars sound designer Ben Burtt used to create some of the sound effects in 1977. “We started off with the slinky spring, which is probably the common one, where you just throw that up and stick it to the roof, and twang it,” Minto says. “I spent a couple of days recording wire fences in Iceland. And I also went to the largest free-standing antenna in Western Europe, which is about 1.5 kilometers high, because that had the longest guide wires, which is the way Ben Burtt originally did the blasters. I sort of snuck up and tried to twang it, and it didn’t make any sound at all. So that was an 8-hour round trip to get nothing,” he laughs.
Jegutidse also incorporated things like mechanical movements, ice pings recorded underwater, and metal slides to create the many blasters of Battlefront. “Just using organic sources, not really synthetic; nothing digital,” he says. “That’s usually avoided, because that’s not part of how these sounds were originally created.”
We have access to so many tools these days,” Minto says. “And you think, ‘Right Star Wars! I’m going to do this, this, this, and this!’ And you’ve got all those [software] plug-ins… and it didn’t sound like Star Warswhen you did it. And if you go back and look at the old documentaries or the making-of [specials], you pretty much had a reel-to-reel tape machine. You could record a sound and play it at half speed or twice as fast, as those were your options.”
The screech of the original TIE Fighter, for example, was the sound of an elephant, slowed down, and mixed with the sound of car rolling on wet pavement as recorded through a long tube. “Actually getting a good recording and taking the pitch up or down gave you that Star Wars feel instantly, without going over the top. So it was almost like keep it simple stupid, and trying to stick to the old processes would actually be a better way.”
It’s an example of using the right tools to create the most authentic-sounding result, even if the technology is outdated by modern standards. Well-designed films have their own visual and aural vocabulary; a specific way their worlds look and sound that makes them recognizable in an instant, and for Battlefront to feel like Star Wars it needed to pick up on all of those nuances — including the in-jokes.
Remember in the original Star Wars when Luke shoots a Stormtrooper, who then falls into a vast chasm with a ludicrous, nearly comical cry? That’s called a Wilhelm scream, and shows up in every Star Wars movie, Indiana Jones movie, and pretty much anything Ben Burtt has ever touched. And while it wasn’t present in the public beta of Battlefront, Minto and Jegutidse assure me it’s definitely in the shipping version of the game.
Cool, right? This is just a part of the article. You should read it all.
The other one I wanna share is an interview with Gordy Haab, music composer for the game. Called Richmond native composed music for new ‘Star Wars: Battlefront’ game, it has some good info, although it’s not a technical one (it’s a talk for a TV channel, so it’s not very technical).
So, I have separated the “best” questions of the interview, to share here with you:
Whether someone has seen Star Wars or not, almost everyone recognizes the Imperial March. Will there be familiar musical cues in the video game?
Yes, the iconic themes from the original scores will definitely make appearances in the game. And because Battlefront uses music from the original scores as well, I was given the task of creating new music that transitions to and from the original recordings before jumping into something brand new. Sort of the best of both worlds in that the player gets to hear completely original music and new themes associated specifically with Battlefront – but they’ll also hear occasional anchor points of familiarity.
Did the music of John Williams influence you in some way? Either as a kid, or as a composer, or both? Have you ever met John Williams?
Most definitely! I can recall seeing E.T. as a kid, and although I probably couldn’t have told you the names of the main characters, I could’ve sang the musical themes for you.
So his music is probably one of my earliest influences. When I was probably no more than 5 or 6 years old I used to play The Empire Strikes Back soundtrack record while acting out all the scenes from the movie, so that music became a part of me at an early age.
I can recall exactly how I felt the first time I saw Darth Vader and heard the big gong crash, before I even knew what a gong was. But I knew that there was a “sound” that I associated with Darth Vader that was scarier than his physical presence. So I’d go further than saying Williams is an influence – I’d say his music shaped who I am as a composer and a person…long before I even began to compose.
And yes, I have met him! I met John just briefly, years ago while buying toilet paper at Costco. Turns out he was there to do a CD signing with Yo Yo Ma so I introduced myself.
What can we expect from the “Star Wars: Battlefront” compositions? Are they all original?
All of the music I composed is completely original. Since the game also features some music from the original recordings, I felt it would be redundant to quote John’s music in any way. So I composed and orchestrated all new themes for each of the planets, factions and characters in Battlefront.
So you can expect to hear brand new themes, and quite a bit of high energy action/battle music, brilliantly performed by the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios.
Talk some about the process of working on the songs. How many are there? How many musicians did you work with on this project?
There is about two hours of new music in Battlefront, give or take. My process was tricky because any given piece of music had to function in many different ways.
I’d start by composing a 10 to 12-minute “suite” of music associated with a specific planet, made up of 5 parts. Typically, an intro, two battle cues, one background cue, and one in-between, “exploratory” cue.
Each full suite needed to start with a short, 30-second piece from John Williams’ original soundtrack recording and then transition to two minutes of something completely new – and then alternate back and forth like this seamlessly throughout the suite. But the music I was composing also had to function as standalone, 2-minute pieces of music, serving their specific purposes – each crafted to loop back on itself in order to extend as needed to fit the scene.
And even further, these pieces also had to work together as a shorter eight-minute suite when played back to back without the John Williams bits.
All while remaining musical and sounding purposeful. Once I’d write a complete suite, I’d demonstrate all of its various versions with a synthesized “mockup” to be approved by DICE, EA and Lucasfilm. Once it was approved, I’d orchestrate it to be recorded by the 100-member London Symphony.
Well, that’s it! Hope you enjoyed 🙂
Mauricio Ruiz – www.mauricioruiz.me