Anthem, Bioware’s hot new multiplayer action role-playing game (published by EA) is a special treat for those who love fresh, creative, potent and responsive game audio.
The YouTube Community, for instance, was thrilled by the new level of excellency on display:
At BOOM Library, we contributed to the game’s sound design in the way the BOOM team tends to do things:
Spawn a brand-new SFX library!
The audio team at Bioware gave us useful insights concerning Anthem’s audio development, how MONSTERS & BEASTS was used in Anthem and what tricks & techniques will increase your mileage with the library and creature sound design in general:
Images courtesy of Bioware.
Who was involved in creating the sound for Anthem?
Michael Kent, Sound Supervisor:
“The audio for Anthem was created by a large team. It included 12 audio designers and two programmers. We also outsourced some of our larger scenes to Source Sound Inc. Of course, we also had great source recording help from BOOM.“
How would you describe the overall sound experience in Anthem? What was the main guideline or stylistic specification?
Michael Kent, Sound Supervisor:
“The vision for Anthem’s sound was to create a hybrid of sci-fi, fantasy and realism. Since this is a sci-fantasy game, there were fewer rules or constraints for the overall sound design. We wanted the weapons to feel ballistic, the magic to feel powerful and the world to be immersive. Using the Frostbite engine allowed us to take these fantastical sounds we created and implement them in a realistic way, rooted in the physical properties of the game.
The biggest thing for us was to give each faction or enemy class distinctive sonic representation on the battlefield. Also, because things can get really chaotic, we wanted to make sure the player’s actions—as well as any threat to the player—were front and center. We built signal-based mixers that activate on player actions and intensify the player’s experience while cleaning up the mix. With these mixers and Frostbite’s HDR audio priority system, we were able to build a mix that was clear and player-focused.
Everything explodes in this game. Everything goes boom. So, we chose to make a lot of the assets punchy, aggressive and transient. In terms of the music, we wanted it to be loud, proud and dynamic. The score shifts and evolves with the player’s actions.
Early in the project, we started building audio source libraries for Anthem. This includes the creature library with BOOM. Having a solid library to draw from that is unique to the project helps ensure sonic continuity throughout the game.“
How many different creatures did you have to design and what do you think is special about the creatures in Anthem?
Presley Hynes, Sound Designer:
“All in all, we shipped the game with 48 creatures, split between three main factions, plus wildlife and bosses. There are more coming down the pipeline for future live updates. I think what is particularly special about the creatures in Anthem is just how unique each faction sounds.
Thanks to the creature design team, we had some amazing assets to work with, and we were able to really flex our sound design muscles and ensure each faction had its own audio identity.”
Patrick Biason, Sound Designer:
“I really love how well the different creatures within each faction gel together and become easily recognizable as part of their respective factions.
We spent a lot of time choosing and creating—and sometimes re-creating—the source material so that it would react well to the processing chains that we’ve created for each faction.
It gets hectic really quickly on the battlefield, so our priority is to give the player the satisfaction of hearing creatures’ reactions and battle cries.”
“It was like you were reading our minds!”
– Michael Kent
Why did you choose BOOM Library as a partner for the creature source recordings?
“It’s funny, almost every time that we’ve started a project in the past, it seemed to coincide with BOOM releasing a library that had the assets that we needed at the time. It was like you were reading our minds!
Overall, BOOM brings quality and fidelity to the table. Working on this library with BOOM was a great experience, and we are already planning for the next ones. The source in this library is amazing. It provided us with unique assets that we could then manipulate further to create the sounds of the fantastic beasts in Anthem.”
How was the collaboration with the BOOM Library team?
“The collaboration felt natural and the BOOM team was extremely professional. It was a pleasure to work with people who bring that level of quality to their work.”
What is – in your opinion – the most important aspect of a good creature sound?
“I believe that having source that offers many performances and variations in length, intensity and flexibility is key to creating an iconic creature’s overall palette.
Nothing is more frustrating than having an animal source that sounds great and is recorded in high quality, but only has two or three variations of one type of vocalization. It really limits how much you can build off it, and you’ll probably end up with a creature that was “Frankensteined” together using source from all over the place.”
“The most important thing for me is having clean samples at 24-bit 192k—samples that can be pitched and manipulated and still preserve a lot of audio information. Also, unique sounding animals with a lot of character.”
“My most-used source from the BOOM creature library had to be the yogurt in plunger performance content.”
– Chris Burt
Which animal of the source sounds delivered by BOOM Library sounded most interesting and where did you use it?
“I remember looking for a very throaty and gargle-like layer to use with one of our larger creatures, and the camel that you guys recorded sounded unreal. I had to use it!”
“For me, it wasn’t an animal—it was actually the yogurt and plunger prop source I used all over the game. It became the signature audio for the element in the game that’s known as ember. We used it across the board, especially on creature abilities and in-world puzzles.”
Chris Burt, Sound Designer:
“My most-used source from the BOOM creature library had to be the yogurt in plunger performance content. It has a ton of character that’s so clean, evil and aggressive—I put that sh!t on everything. I used it as source in the spawn portals, environmental features, shaper tech and a creature.
It’s a great way to bring in organic guttural movement into your design. Actually, I was so impressed with that content that I’m planning my own little plunger in yogurt recording session here at the Bioware studio.”
(Without spoilers) Is there a creature / beast that was extremeley extraordinary and / or challenging in terms of the sound design?
“The Escari Elder was definitely an interesting beast to design. It was super mechanical in nature, but also had this element of organic life to it.
The challenge was to make the movement of the Elder sound as heavy as it looks, without resorting to just giant crashes of metal. I went for a rusty, hacked-together kind of sound for the servos and gears that were making the legs move. Lots of boat motors, steam engine / train audio and some huge metal groans recorded underwater to add weight to it.
I wanted to make the movement of it sound like it isn’t the most trustworthy of machines, but have the guns and missiles sound super clean and ready to go.”
“For me it was the end boss battle. The boss had over 93 animations to design sound for and each one was very distinct. For each animation, I separated the sound into three or four parts to ensure sync. Then, each of those parts had three different variations, as well as additions for different elemental abilities. It took me close to a month of implementation and iteration to get it sitting well in the mix. The BOOM source helped immensely with this task.”
“For me, the most challenging thing was coming up with the processing for each of the different Scar enemies. These enemies are basically colonies of insects that form one being. One of our writers wrote a language for them, and we hired actors to perform it. Each of the Scars have wildly varying personalities, so we took a few tries getting the right kind of performance from our actors.
Not only that, we also took a few tries creating processing chains for each Scar that would showcase each personality but also fit in the audio aesthetic that we had in mind for the Scars.
The result is a really foreign sounding speech that has a very distinct insect-like feel.”
“I tend to start with the literal and move forward from there.”
– Presley Hynes
Yes, we know, a magician never reveals his tricks, but do you have something like a recipe for success when you start creating a creature sound? A specific DAW setup, a specific layering technique or anything else that you can share without exposing your well kept secrets?
“I tend to start with the literal and move forward from there. I ask myself what the creature might sound like if it were on Earth, then take all of those ideas and mash them up with some fun processing chains or new plugins. It’s nice to start with something familiar, then start considering the new elements of the world or the design.”
“I use Ableton Live extensively for when I’m creating creatures. The layout completely depends on the creature, but one of my go-tos is an older version of Alchemy. We use PCs at Bioware, so I must use the version from before Apple bought the product. Basically, if you have clean source you can use the grain XY morphing and load samples into it.
It takes a little bit of playing around with different source, but once you find the sweet spot you can get it to sound incredible. I have been using this setup for years from Dragon Age dragons to the big reaper horn of Mass Effect 3.
On Anthem I was using a Euro Rack Module, Rossum Assimul8tor. What I love about hardware samplers is you can pitch things down forever with very little to no aliasing. So, you can get some interesting results running a lot of the high-quality source from BOOM through it.”
“In every game I work on, I try to make good use of all the different sounds that my kids make around the house. By layering those sounds with some great BOOM creature source, I can ensure that we have completely unique creatures in our games—and as a bonus, I give my kids an outlet in which to release their endless energy.”
Tough question to each one in the team: What is your personal most iconic game sound of all time?
Presley Hynes: “The ‘WOAH’ from Crash Bandicoot when he dies or gets hurt.”
Patrick Biason: “It would have to be the Rocket Launcher shot from GoldenEye 007 for the N64.”
Michael Kent: “That’s a great question! Mine is the Super Mario growing sound. It brings back memories of staying up all night playing Nintendo as a kid. Also, the music from Castlevania 4. I picked up a classic SNES last year and started replaying it, and I remembered every note of that score.”