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Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Unit 73: Sound for Computer Games Assignment

Level 3 BTEC Extended Diploma in Games Development
Unit 73: Sound for Computer Games
Assignment 1 - Understanding the use of music within games and the methodology of recording and production. 

Task 1: Compare and contrast the music from two video games, The Last of Us and Halo 2.
Task 2: Discuss the methods which could have been used to record and produce the music and why.

Sound effects and music in games is very important as it helps to create a fitting atmosphere for the game and to also lead the player throughout. Some of the sound FX which are used in a game help the player understand whether they are on track. For example, in the outlast, a sound effect is played when the player has achieved their objective and is ready to move on to the next one. Other sound FX are used to create atmosphere. In Amnesia: The Dark Descent, there are sound FX which are used to create tension. Such as the heavy breathing of your character or the hyperventilating when your character is scared.  Music is very effective when it comes to creating an atmosphere too. For example; Animal Crossing New Leaf is a calm, easy-going game. They have different music for different times of the day and each piece of music reflects the time of day really well. They use calm and happy music. For other games, music is used for different circumstances. For example, when you are battle, the music changes to something tense and then when you have won the battle, a sound effect will play which symbolise achievement. These are just a few examples of the theory that goes into creating sounds for games, and some of the thought processes that will go into creating this sound FX and soundtracks. 

The Last of Us

When creating the music for The Last of Us, the producer Gustavo Santaolalla would have put a lot of thought into the setting of the game, which is based in a world that is in ruin, and the focus of the game, which is based on the relationship between the two main characters of Joel and Ellie. The main theme is a good representation of that, as the low pitch of the background of the theme contrasts with the higher pitch of the guitar strumming, and I feel like that represents the despair of the world that the characters are now living in, against the relationship that the characters have found with each other and the more positive outlook that they gain throughout the game. I believe that the main theme of The Last of Us has been created to make the player feel nostalgic about the times before the world turned to ruin, and that there are some positives of moving on with what has happened, which fits with the narratives of the game. At the end of the theme, the amplitude of the theme begins to increase, which helps to ramp up the intensity by increasing the decibel level, and also adding a few more instruments to create a diverse and interesting theme with a lot going on ( The sound of the main theme is also of a western genre, which is symbolised within the game through the use of horses to travel around within the game, which is in tune with the producers inspiration that comes from spaghetti westerns.

Another piece of music within the game that I really enjoy for it's emotional impact comes from a scene within the game where the main characters come across a city in which the animals from a zoo have escaped and made their home in the ruined city. The music really puts across the feeling of happiness and excitement that Ellie feels when she sees a giraffe for the first time. It is very calm and contrasts greatly from the world around them which is ruined. It allows the player to see that even though Ellie has been through so much throughout the game, it shows the player that she is still young and naive to the rest of the world, and has lost out on so much of the world because of the infection that has ruined it. It gives off an atmosphere of wonderment for both the player as they get to experience a magical experience with Ellie. (

It is not just the music in The Last of Us that can evoke an emotional response in the player. In The Last of Us the game signifies that there are enemies present as you can hear the sounds that they make. For example, the clickers make clicking sounds, and that lets you know that the enemies are around. Furthermore, when the enemy has noticed you, they begin to make a lot more noise, which helps to create an atmosphere of fear and panic. Also, the frequency of the sounds goes up, telling the player that it is time that they started running away fast else they are going to get caught and killed by the enemy. Finally, when all the enemies have been eliminated, the main characters in the game will either have a conversation, or say something that will signify that all the enemies have been defeated, which is done so the player can begin to relax and explore the area in safety without worrying about the threat of dying.

In general, a lot of the music created in The Last of Us would have been created using a group of musicians, such as an orchestra etc, and some form of multi-track recording. This would allow the producers of the music to record each section of instrument separately, whilst they were all playing at the same time. This would likely have been done in order to isolate some of the sounds that may have sounded slightly out of place or out of tune, or if they wanted in increase the volume of a certain instrument, and then edit them using software such as Adobe Audition or some other professional editing software. Furthermore, the majority of the music would have been recorded on a digital audio tape (DAT), which is the standard professional medium that is used when recording music and sounds as it is compact and reasonably cheap, and also allows the creator of the music to transfer the audio over to a digital workstation, where they can precisely edit the audio to make it sound exactly how they wish it to sound. However, it is worth noting that the composer and producer Gustavo Santaolalla is a very traditional artist, and would record where he felt would create the best audio and sound for the game, such as recording some sounds in his bathroom, due to the acoustics within that room. Chances are he would also use analogue recording for some of the sounds within the game, as it has a more real sound quality than digital as it hasn't been converted and lost data from changing form the analogue to digital. However, is more likely to have noise and interference when recording. It is also more expensive to use that digital.

When the team involved in creating the music for The Last of Us began recording and editing, they would have known that the game was going to end up on a Blu Ray disc, which would mean that they could recording their music with a sample rate of 96 kHz, which would create a higher quality of sound as the music is being sampled at 96,000 Hz per second using Pulse Control Modulation, thus picking up more information, although the samples are very dependent on time, meaning that you need a very accurate clock on hand in order to create the best sound. Furthermore, between the samples nothing else is taken, meaning that it might miss some information and therefore lower the quality of the sound, as you can see in the image above. This level of sampling can only be done on Blu Ray discs as they are the only discs that can handle the additional file sizes created by sampling at this high a level. On the subject of file sizes, due to the technical superiority of Blu Ray discs, it would mean that the audio files of the can would be able to be uncompressed, such as WAV files, which would mean that the audio would be a much higher quality as it would not have lost any information from being compressed. Furthermore, the audio would probably have been recorded with the ability to be played on a surround system. Finally, bit depth is the number of bits of information in each sample, and it directly corresponds to the resolution of each sample. By raising the bit depth of the file, the resolution will also rise, and thus you will have a higher quality of sound. However, this comes at the cost of increasing the file size to compensate for the increased bit depth and resolution. This means that by having a higher bit depth you will have a higher resolution and quality of your sound, but the file size will be much larger, meaning that you have to be careful where you use sounds with higher bit depth. For example, a Blu-ray disc can support up to 24 bits per sample, which means it can have a higher sound resolution and quality, and can also handle the higher file size.

When creating the music for the game, Santaolalla created all of the music as original pieces, thus eliminating any issues regarding getting the rights for a soundtrack and music that already had been created. However, because Sony hired Gustavo Santaolalla there were some legal considerations that they had to look out for as they got someone from outside their company to create the music for the game. Chances are that Sony would have got Santaolalla to sign a Talent Release Contract, which would allow Sony to sell and distribute their game with the permission of Santaolalla. This was probably done in the unlikely circumstance that Santaolalla got cold feet over the release of the game. Furthermore, they would have also had to consider copyright laws, and although it is very unlikely that Santaolalla would have pushed too hard to own the copyright to the music in the game when they were in negotiations over his creation of the game music, it is worth noting that if Sony do not own the rights to the music, Santaolalla could take that music and do whatever he wants with it, but this is very unlikely.Composers can also sell their music to a game company. When composers do this, they still have property rights and they receive "royalties" for their music within the game. However, game company royalties are different to the music industry royalties. Music industry royalties often give the composers money in quarterly instalments whereas game companies they work out a percentage which is a payment that have been calculated from net profits and they pay the composer.

Halo 2

When listening to the main theme, you can clearly hear that it was designed for stereo sound, which becomes especially prevalent when wearing headphones as it allows you to clearly hear different sections of the theme coming through the left and right channels. The theme creates the atmosphere of an epic battle that is about to occur, which can be represented in the image above of the gameplay in the game, with the increasing number of instruments and the decibel level of the theme increasing, as if you're the one who is about to take part in an important battle. The music also helps to create tension with the increasing tone of the guitar, as if replicating the players feelings about entering the battle. Furthermore, the increased speed and the number of instruments, such as the addition of the Violin, helps to add an out of control feeling to the music, making it feel slightly chaotic which helps to reflect the genre of game, and the way the game is played, which is generally fast paced and out of control. When the song reaches it's end, the guitar fades away, as if signifying both the end of the song, and also the end of the battle.

I believe that to create this theme, the producers most likely used multi-track recording. The reason I think this is because it sounds like they have recorded the orchestra at a separate time as the guitar. It also sounds like they have recorded the violin at a different time, away from the guitar and orchestra, then used multi-track recording to line up the tracks and edit to volume levels in order to create a theme that worked well. Due to the fact that they real instruments, this make me believe that it is unlikely that they would have used many software plug-ins to help create the theme, instead relying on the use of real musicians and instruments to create a more traditional theme. Due to the fact that this game was developed for the original Xbox, they only had access to dual layer DVD's, which compared to the Blu Ray discs that The Last of Us was stored on, have a lot less space to store all the files and data needed for the game. This would mean that the audio files for Halo would most likely have been compressed in order to keep file sizes down so that they wouldn't take up too much space on the disc. The issue with compressing files is that when you compress the file, you lose some of the data of the file, which decreases the sound quality of the music so it would not sound as good to listen to, compared to the raw file before the compression. In order to save space on the disc, there is a good chance that the music was recorded as an MP3 due to the fact that they are compatible with the majority of platforms, and can also be compressed to smaller size, which is perfect for older games that had a very limited amount of space on their discs.

When comparing the two themes, they both contrast vastly in terms of both the way they sound, and also the atmosphere they create. With The Last of Us, the theme is very calming, with a slow tempo, where as the Halo 2 theme has a much faster pace, with both doing a great job on representing the theme of their game, and also the style in which the game is played. They both seemed to have used, in general, the same techniques to create their music for the games, with both recording using multi track systems, then transferring them through to a digital systems in order to edit them and create the specific sound that they want. However, there biggest difference is due to the times that they were released, and what platforms they were released on. Halo 2 was released on the Original Xbox, compared to The Last of Us being released on the PlayStation 3, and then the PlayStation 4. The difference in technology is dramatic between these two console generations, with the PlayStation consoles having the ability to use the much better Blu Ray disc, where as the Xbox only had access to standard DVD's that do not have as much storage space as Blu Ray discs, along with the obvious fact that the PlayStation 3 and 4 both obviously have much better specifications and technology than the Xbox, allowing them to use surround sound over stereo sound for a better listening experience.

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