The Hills Are Alive With the Sounds of (Halo 4) Music


The Hills Are Alive With the Sounds of (Halo 4) Music

As borrowed from the Halo Bulletin on Waypoint
In designing a video game, its audio is, of course, one of the things that contribute to a memorable and emotional experience.

Halo has always had amazing audio design. With Halo 4, we are respecting the music philosophy of previous Halos while establishing a fresh, new direction for Halo 4's music, employing our own distinctive style that still feels like Halo. The goal is to make the music of the story fit not only the gameplay, but also the player's emotional circumstances.

When thinking about the player's emotional circumstances, we're using an interactive implementation. Sometimes, when fighting an enemy, it's simply a fight. Other times, even in the same level, you can be fighting but it may suddenly turn into a distressing encounter. Since circumstances within the story constantly change, we want our music to sync with those changes when it's appropriate to enhance the experience. How many enemies are tracking you? When do the enemies notice your presence? What kind of cinematic did you watch before the combat? Our goal when asking these questions is to make the music change dynamically with the gameplay to account for your personal gameplay experience.

Sometimes we'll suggest a change to the story to sync with the music more, and vice versa. Communication within the studio is an important part to achieve this synchronicity.

The vision for our audio is huge. Like a child, we started as a blank slate when trying to find our own unique musical language. Then we began making a few sounds here and there. Now we're at the point where those sounds collide, intertwine, and say things about the Halo 4 universe. This was a process that we had to learn as a team. Introducing a new composer, and learning how to work with that composer, was part of the process. We'll have more details about this currently unnamed individual in the future. But I'm guessing you already knew that....

So, how are we creating our own language based on realism in the world of Halo? Our concept focuses on the digital and the organic, and we share that vision across the entirety of our audio production.

What does that mean, exactly? I'll use a recent audio recording session as an example.

We've recorded source material for the arsenal of both new and returning weapons you'll have at your disposal in Halo 4. The gun recording was difficult because we needed to record close sounds, distant sounds, and everything in between. We had to figure out what microphone, what distance, and what range was appropriate while factoring in weather, wind, and anything and everything Mother Nature might randomly decide to throw our way.

To get the best audio quality possible, we worked with the military on one of their training grounds where the occasional dropped bomb is not an uncommon experience. During that session, we staged first-person encounters so that we could understand how the weapons should feel when playing the game, and then we used numerous 30-channel microphones to record the actual sounds.

We had to have the elements to connect the player to something familiar but still be able to offer something outlandish and alien. After this aural base is formed, we then have all the freedom in the world to mix and match different elements into a single weapon. Even a Forerunner weapon incorporates some of the elements from that gun session.

These real weapon recordings act as the glue for the rest of the sound ingredients for Halo 4's arsenal. There's a whole other process we go through to create epic sci-fi elements outside of the field recording sessions, though, as we gather a collection of source assets and then shape them to precision. The aforementioned gun session, as elaborate as it was, is just a small portion of the assets we require to make the sound effects in Halo 4.

This means we're always exploring and recording new sounds. Everything from the opening and closing of a pair of rusty scissors to a brushtail possum's scream pitched down an octave to a short snippet from a two-inch mortar explosion are all on file in our extensive audio library.

Within the sounds of Halo 4, there's a sense of fantasy based on reality, where otherworldly sounds have a feeling of familiarity...

To talk more about the audio aspect of our upcoming game, I asked Sotaro Tojima, the Audio Director for Halo 4, to write the fifth entry in our Office of Halo Intelligence series. Here are his thoughts on the music and sounds that will one day be gracing your earholes.

"I'm honored to have an opportunity to talk here! I just came back from a weekly music review, and especially this week, I was so excited about one piece of music. This emotional, digitized piece became the second favorite piece of Halo 4 music which we've made so far. I can't wait to share this with you!

Producing the Halo 4 music is very difficult, but such a fun job for me. I know many people, including me, love the previous Halos' music. Halo 4 will be a story for Master Chief and Cortana. Therefore, we are driving our music production respecting the previous music tone.

At the same time, we are working to establish some freshness in the music because this is a new trilogy and we are a new team.

I love creating game audio because it is a direct communication between fans and the team. I want to communicate with our "own" language of sound and music. Even if having a new language on Halo is very challenging...

My goal for making audio is always very simple. How much can we make people excited and immersed in the story and gameplay experience with our audio? There are three key ways I like to do that:
  • Provide a sense of reality with sophisticated sound design to bring you into a believable world.
  • Achieve a memorable, dramatic experience with great music and sounds well synced with the story beat and your gameplay.
  • Share a delightful memory with all fans providing an iconic melody.
Actually, my real goal is to make you cry!

When I hired the people that make up the Halo 4 audio team, one of the criteria I had was that if you want to work it had to be "for fans more than anything." And now I have a great team. Everyone is so happy to work hard to surprise you.

Again, it is very hard to achieve a great audio for the Halo universe, but I believe we can do this as long as we don't forget you are waiting patiently for us. Stay tuned for next update from me, and for more exciting topics in OHI!

-Sotaro Tojima

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