WildStar Wednesday: Audio Design at Carbine

Written by David "Scooter" Bass on November 28, 2012

A few weeks ago we spoke with Greg Meader about his background in sound design and the things he's working on here at Carbine. This week, as a follow-up, we asked Charley Lanusse, the Audio Director on WildStar, to talk a little about the tools we use here as well as how our process for building sounds works.

What would you say is different about how we handle sound design here at Carbine?

One of the most interesting things about sound design here at Carbine is how we fit individual sound elements together using our game engine to build more complex and organic soundscapes. For example, when our designers work on a creature sound they first create little sound pieces which get manipulated and arranged by the game engine to make the creature come to life.

What do you mean when you say "the game engine arranges it"? How does it do that?

For creatures in particular, we first make sound variations for all of the creature's animations and then we program all sorts of parameters and constraints in our engine that determine exactly how all the sounds are modified and play together. There are so many different ways to combine and re-arrange sound in our game that it's mind boggling. We can make sounds play in different orders or we can change the sound's tonal characteristics based on real-time things going on in the game. For example, we have flying ships that have several engine noises that dynamically change pitch and tone as they approach you, simulating the qualities of a real engine and the physics of a Doppler effect.

When we spoke with Greg, he mentioned having all these collections of sounds, where do you tend to get all these sounds?

Ultimately, we would love to gather it all through field recording, that is, to go out with a recorder and capture sounds in the world around us, for example by visiting an animal trainer to get real growls. Although we do some field recording, it's not possible to do for every single sound, especially given the scope of an MMO. It's safe to say that MMOs are one of the most demanding types of games for sound designers purely because of their size. Instead of recording everything in the field, we source many sounds from our collection of sound libraries and then spend a lot of time layering and tweaking to get the final result. Much of our sound library is commercial but some of the best sounds are brought in by our sound designers from their personal collections. Mike McDonough, another Senior Sound Designer here has been collecting sounds his entire life. One of his mentors is Ben Burtt, the guy who designed sound for Star Wars, and is one of the most famous sound designers on the planet. So Mike's got access to tons of interesting sounds that no one else has access to.

Does that mean that designers end up creating a portfolio or a demo reel of the sounds they have available to them when looking for work?

Some designers show us a demo reel when they apply for a job here, but we prefer that potential designers do a sound test. It's not just about what sounds you've collected, it's about what you can do with them. For example, when Greg applied for work here, we asked him to design sounds for the Xenobite Queen. His fantastic work in his test is what ultimately landed Greg the job here. A funny story: I played Greg's test for Mike. Mike immediately recognized some sounds that he previously created for a commercial sound library. Mike told me all about the history and background of each of the sounds Greg used and mentioned that he hears his sounds in movies all the time. Greg had no idea that Mike originally made the sounds of course; he was just using a library he's had over the years.

Would you say being a sound designer is an innate talent, or is it something you can learn and train for?

My personal take on it is that some people tend to have a musical ear. They may not start out with all of the professional sound designer chops, but they're attuned to listening to things in a certain way. It's like a photographer who has an eye for light and shadow and then develops a knack for capturing the emotional experience of the vision to share with other people.

We actually have a great example here at Carbine. Ian Conway was as an Associate Producer on WildStar, but we noticed that he had a really great ear for sound. We took him to one of the orchestra recordings in LA and watched his eyes light up during the session. So after about a year or so, we added him to our team as an audio implementer and we've been working to teach him the sound design skills to go along with his existing talents. He's already designed many sounds for the game.

Thanks so much to Greg and Charley for taking the time to talk with us!

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