Bethesda Softworks Inside the Vault Q&A: Scott Lawlor

Yet another "Inside the Vault" Q&A feature is up on Bethesda's official blog, and this time we're introduced to Fallout: New Vegas audio director Scott Lawlor. Your character's morality apparently affects the music you'll hear:
Can you give us a broad sense of what goes into the design of a New Vegas sound effect? How much original recording have you done?

We have done a ton of original recording for New Vegas. Some sounds end up being relatively easy to replicate. For example, the sounds of boxes and bottles bouncing on the ground are somewhat simple. We just search for an object that sounds like we want and throw it around in our recording studio for a while. Those recordings get edited into usable sound effects and pretty much go straight into the game.

On the other hand, some sounds are significantly more complex to recreate. Even something as simple as a footstep can be quite a process. We really wanted the footsteps on wood to have a very particular quality to them. They needed to be solid and strong, yet gritty and decayed at the same time. In order to achieve this we went to some pretty ridiculous lengths. We have brought in multiple types of wood and boards into the studio but it still felt like something was missing.

The final sound effect is actually a mix of a number of different wood footsteps. One is from a broken down wooden trailer from trip we all took to Paramount Ranch, an old movie set were they used to film westerns. Another layer of the sound comes from a ghost town called Panamint City on the edge of Death Valley National Park. After a six mile climb up waterfalls and rocky paths we came to the city and found a number of old cabins with decaying wood floors that had the perfect sound quality that we were looking for.

It may seem like a lot of work for a footstep but it all pays off when it is for a sound you hear thousands and thousands of times as you play the game.


How involved are you in the music of New Vegas?

We have made a number of changes and improvements to how we approach music in this game. We want the music to flow freely and guide the experience for the player. Music in this game is tied to locations and is reactive to how the people in the locations feel about you. For example, in the first town in the game, the exploration music has a gentile, rustic feel. As you enter and leave the town you can hear layers of instruments beings added or removed from the soundscape. It even morphs the instruments subtly as it turns from day to night. However, if you decide to start shooting all of the innocent townsfolk, the music changes and becomes dark and disturbing and also seamlessly morphs into battle variations of the music.

The goal of the music in Fallout New Vegas is to score the experience that the player is having. If you are playing as a morally corrupt character, the music should reflect that with a dark, menacing score. If you ally with certain factions over others, the music in their camps and locations will reflect their attitudes toward you. As I had said before, I am a fan of the small details in sound and these changes in music should deeply affect the experience for the players without them ever even realizing it.