The lights are on
Creating a soundtrack for a horror game is no easy task. The genre relies heavily on tension and mood, so every little bump and squeal counts. Great soundtracks go practically unnoticed to players, bleeding into the overall atmosphere becoming a part of the larger experience. If you found your heart racing while walking through the decaying industrial halls of the Ishimura in the original Dead Space, chances are it was because the soundtrack was covertly pulling your strings. How does one shape a facet of a game so integral to the core experience? We talked with Don Veca, the audio director for Visceral Games, about his approach to crafting the Dead Space series’ audio experience.
For the original Dead Space, the first thing Veca did was go to Safeway. “Our big thing was dismemberment, so I sent e-mails out to the team asking if I could get volunteers for recording those effects,” Veca jokes. “But nobody volunteered, and I had to go to the grocery store and get melons…we bought a whole bunch of fruit – tomatoes, celery, corn – anything we could break and make a mess with.” Veca took his shopping bags full of produce ($400 worth, by some dubious accounts) back to EA Redwood Shore’s in-house recording studio. Like many movies, game studios often employ Foley artists to help engineer the sounds for a game. Since Dead Space was such an alien setting, it required some extensive audio manufacturing. In the course of one eight-hour recording session Veca recorded the brutal destruction of dozens of plant species. “We tried really hard to clean it up at the end of our session,” laughs Veca. “But it reeked, and it reeked for three months. The Sims guys eventually got sick of it and hired a professional cleaner.” Other sessions helped captured moody instrumental effects from Saxophones, cymbals, and different string instruments. At one point a couple of EA interns even climb into a dumpster to record banging and clanging sounds that would be used for Dead Space’s environmental effects.
Only so much material can be captured from planned studio sessions, however. Sometimes the best audio comes from unexpected places. “I got this little portable recorder,” says Veca. “It’s just a small Sony recorder, it's no big deal, but I can carry it anywhere. You never know when you might be sitting in a bar or a restroom or something and hear this kind of bubbling on the pipes that you want to capture. Believe it or not, a lot of the sounds in Dead Space were just from when I was walking down the hall somewhere.” Interestingly, Veca used this portable recorder to capture sounds for one of the Ishimura’s machine rooms while he was riding San Francisco BART train across the bay at night.
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