Mass Effect 3: BioWare on art, sound and sharing with DICE

Part 2: Sound designer and environment artists reveal their secrets

In the first part of Xbox World 360's BioWare interview series, Mass Effect 3 exec producer Casey Hudson and art director Derek Watts discussed their surprises, inspirations and the tough decisions behind creating the eagerly anticipated sequel.

In part two of the unabridged interviews with the men and women in charge of production, sound, art, design, and combat, XBW talks to lead sound designer Rob Blake, and senior environment artists Don Arceta and Noel Lukasewich.


What's all new for the sound of Mass Effect 3?

Rob Blake: We're focusing on enhancing a lot of the combat sounds. We've been chatting to the guys over at DICE who did the Battlefield and the Medal of Honor stuff and we've been doing a lot of knowledge sharing and asset sharing with those guys.

We're taking on board some of their environmental changes that they've done really well. The new Assault Rifle has different layers that change depending on what type of environment you're in, for example. There are lots of interactions between sounds - you can hear the different decay as shots echo off walls.

What came up between your team and the guys at DICE?

We're doing a lot of knowledge sharing which has been really useful, and we love the Battlefield games. We're big fans of the audio so we're definitely trying to build on the work that they've done, but at the same time they're very different games.

Their focus is just the guns but we have spaceships, biotics and tech powers and all this extra stuff that we have to deal with. But one of the things I wanted from them was their environmental interactions, so that when you go into different areas things change quite drastically. They also have a sophisticated ducking system - when you fire your gun it will lower the volume of other people's guns.

When a gun's sound differs between indoor and outdoor locations, do you build all-new sounds or simply tweak one existing gunshot effect in-engine?

Both, actually. We do a lot of real-time reverberation effects with convolution reverb - that's samples of interior and exterior spaces and lay that on top of our sounds. But we're actually changing out some of the sounds too, so for example, with the new Assault Rifle effect, you can hear the bullet still disappearing off into the distance. When you're inside a room, you don't hear that because the bullet doesn't go as far. Again, this is something Battlefield did well so we're doing a lot of work like that.


How do you think the music will change with the arrival of your new composer? (Clint Mansell, who worked on Black Swan and movies like Requiem for a Dream)

We work with a lot of composers. Over the whole Mass Effect franchise we've worked with about eight different composers. It's always outsourced but we work very closely with them and they're always following our original vision - that retro futurism style we've built for Mass Effect.

Mass Effect is this mix of old and new in a lot of ways so we spend a lot of time with new, cutting edge synthesis mixed with old, modular analogue synthesis, trying to create really unusual and interesting sounds. Our big thing has always been an orchestral sort of feel but with some elements replaced with 70s and 80s synths.

So there are those two very specific technical things but composers often think more emotively so we work very closely with the writers to find out what the feel for each level and each narrative moment is; and how the player is supposed to be feeling when experiencing things.

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