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Roughly a month ago, Amazon Game Studios introduced PvP Arenas to their MMORPG New World. Which now leads us to this developer diary where we can learn a thing or two about audio design and Amazon's approach to making their Arenas sound properly gladiatorial.
Check it out:
Just one line from the Announcer reminds players of triumphs or struggles in the Arena, while a single crowd cheer can bring a smile to your face for reasons you’ll never forget. Each sound tells a different story depending on who you ask. We joined New World Audio Director Jean-Edouard Miclot, Composers Brandon Campbell and Ramin Djawadi, and the Announcer himself, Michael Willette, for more insight into theirs. Let’s explore the instrument, crowd, and voice-over techniques that vastly improve the satisfaction behind every action in Arenas.
The team’s vision for Arenas was to capture the atmosphere of a blood sport through strong audio reinforcement. Their unlikely inspiration — live sporting events.
They laid microphones on the field to capture the ohhhs, noooos, and other reactions of about 20,000 people. These sounds became one of the main audio feedback mechanics when someone dies in the Arena. After cleaning up all of the sounds from the music, PA announcements, and occasional swear words, a second trip to the stadium featuring nearly 50,000 fans laid the groundwork for every Arena crowd celebration.
Design choices like the position of the announcer also influenced their creative direction.
"We didn’t want to recreate a stereotype from fighting or FPS games because that voice was never diegetic and wouldn’t fit our soundscape," Jean-Edouard said. "We needed the announcer to physically be in the Arena with the players, which meant we also needed to have the music feel like it was part of the space too."
Each track had to sound like the music could be played in the Arena itself. The mode subsequently features percussion, a lot of brass, including trumpets, and some unusual options like war horns and custom plucked string instruments.
Once the team nailed their foundation, their action fanfare approach was easy. They composed one basic idea piece, then changed the speed or percussion to derive individual tracks.
"We wanted the music to be exciting and dramatic but also authentic to what and where the music is being played in the game," the composers said. "We even experimented with some shouts and male vocals that ultimately didn’t work."
After two months of trial and error, the following audio made it into Arenas:
Workflows, pipelines, and tools became more efficient throughout development, but the creative process always takes the most time.
- 85 crowd samples
- 86 Announcer samples per language across 8 languages
- 7 minutes of Arena music
When asked how do you know when you’ve struck the perfect balance between intended audio and player impact, Jean-Edouard said, “I really wish we knew how to reproduce that process but we don’t really have any recipe yet. We often stop working on a task because we’re out of time. We’ve had a few sounds that some players loved, while others hated. This is a process we still need to learn with our players. We’ll make more informed decisions in the future as we continue to try new sounds in the PTR."
According to Jean-Edouard, the best audio design comes from finding the most familiar and least predictable sound. That rule should apply to all of your favorite sound moments in any game or movie. For Arenas, the team was lucky to have recorded the interior crowd of a live sporting event. It gave them a different perspective when the player dies, then goes in the spectator box. Familiar sounds like weapons, screams, and the music become unexpectedly distant. It also gives players a breath of fresh air until they’re thrown back in the pit for a shot at revenge.
Creative constraints and simplicity help the Audio Team compose audio that feels fresh, yet faithful to New World’s original motifs.
"We’re working on a very large game so we like to limit our choices to one simple idea," Jean-Edouard said. "If a sound gets too complicated, its function isn’t clear enough, it gets blurred in the wash of the soundscape, and it cannot lead to a strong emotional response. The best sounds are also the simplest ones. It takes courage to only choose the one that you found instead of layering it over mediocre ideas that will attempt to cover the weaknesses of your other choices."
This simplicity starts with initial design documents that barely have any notes about sound. The Audio Team tries to leave as many options available as possible by listening to sounds randomly, then asking themselves, what if we used this one in a certain way in the game?
"We found that it generally leads to more interesting results than if we tried to start with a blank page of paper and writing down our own ideas," Jean-Edouard said. "We sometimes use sound that has nothing to do with what we see on screen. My favorite fire sound is from a water recording. There’s often no logic to sound design. It’s all digested by your gut and emotions. By the time you start thinking about it, it’s already long gone."
Jean-Edouard wanted someone with a superhuman kind of voice who could shout louder than anybody else to voice the Announcer. Michael was an easy choice because of their work together on Killer Instinct.
There was some back and forth on the Announcer’s personality, until Michael did an Immortan Joe impression. They described the Mad Max inspired character as primal energy and cynical with a caustic sense of humor. He’s delighted by the deaths of players and loves to energize the crowd’s bloodlust.
About 85 to 90% of the Announcer’s dialogue is scripted. "As you read things out loud sometimes they don’t sound as cool or "hit" like they were intended when written," Michael said. The dozen improvised lines that make up the rest of his dialogue felt natural so the team kept them as random variations for when someone dies. There are also a couple of Easter eggs waiting for the community to discover.
Thanks for your support! We’ll see you in Aeternum!