FEATURE: GAME AUDIO
INTO THE WILD Colby Ramsey speaks to audio engineer Jera Cravo to discover how the sound and music for action-adventure video game epic Shadow of the Tomb Raider was created
ow do you come up with the most visceral, emotional and intense Tomb Raider experience to date? Well, it took a dedicated instrument hunting trip to Mexico and a deeper learning of Mayan and Aztec culture for lead composer Brian D’Oliveira to fully realise what was required when recording the score and sound effects for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, which hit shelves back in September 2018.On the creative side, it took a total of three years to turn a lot of heavy R&D into hundreds and hundreds of minutes of music for the game. During his own South American adventure, D’Oliveira filled up eight bags with curious prehispanic instruments including the death whistle, so a lot of what is heard in-game are authentic sounds plucked straight from the Amazonian jungle. The technical side of this extensive project was equally as intriguing however, and this is where Jera Cravo, technical director and lead audio engineer at Montreal-based La Hacienda Creative, comes in. Cravo was mostly responsible for mixing and recording the music, and his team was contacted by the game’s audio director Rob Bridgett to discuss how they could deliver a truly immersive audio mix. Despite being a three-year project, sometimes 26
deadlines for specific pieces of music were very tight, and therefore the teams had to streamline their workflows as much as possible. “Time was usually the main concern because of the scale of the project and because most video games change a lot though their development,” says Cravo. “When there is such a high track count you need to have your workflow totally figured out. Usually, Brian and an engineer will record in the live room on a workstation, and I will be in the control room mixing the previous song he just finished. By the time I’ve mixed the previous track, he’s got another one ready for me. It’s the best way to deliver high-quality stuff quickly, and this way we were able to deliver almost the same amount of music we had two and a half years to work on, in about five months. “We initially recorded at 96kHz-24bit so we kept working at that resolution but of course, files would get compressed afterwards right before they get “burned” into the game build,” Cravo adds. The audio and music is then implemented into the game using a software called Wwise – developed by another Canadian company called Audiokinetic – which serves as the link between the game engine that creates all the graphics, mechanics, AI, etc. and the sound teams.
In their efforts, Cravo and co experimented with a lot of different mic techniques and equipment: “We used a B Format microphone made by an American company called Josephson,” he says. “The C700S has three capsules in it, including an omni capsule, and lets you record sound in 360 degrees, so Brian was always moving around the mic to place instruments in different positions of the stereo field during the tracking session.” A lot of times this positioning wasn’t “sharp” enough, so Cravo could focus that specific placement even more, or change it completely if he felt it didn’t blend well with the other instruments in the mix. “Because we were tracking at 96kHz24bit and each of those tracks contained three audio streams (a B Format file is just like a stereo interleaved file but with three audio streams instead of two), sessions got insanely heavy – some containing over 200 audio tracks, which meant 600 streams of 96kHz-24bit audio,” he explains. “When this technique started slowing us down too much, we decided to just use the C700S in M/S mode (recording just the omni and the 90 degrees figure 8 capsules) to try to save a bit in disk space and CPU processing (since we didn’t need to use the B Format decoding plug-in anymore).”