What are Resident Evil 5's Chris and Sheva Doing With that Goat?
Capcom's sound team shares insights into sound creation for recent blockbuster.
A goat and two members of BSAA walk into an African village. The start of some lame joke? No, just a way to introduce a tough technical hurdle for Capcom's sound team that was brought on by Resident Evil 5's split screen multiplayer play.
The problem is actually simple. Here it is, as introduced by Capcom sound creators Shinya Okada and Yoshiki Sando at yesterday's Capcom's Sound Creation Method 2009 event at the Apple Store in Ginza.
Let's say you have a scene with Chris Redfield and Sehva Alomar. Between them, there's a goat. A zombie goat? No, just a goat.
When playing from Chris's perspective, the goat is to the right, so any goat sounds will come from your right speaker. From Sheva's perspective, the goat is to the left, so any goat sound will come form the left speaker.
Now what happens when you allow two players to play split screen, one controlling Chris and one controlling Sheva?
Separating the game's visuals for two players is easy. But how can you separate the sound experience? Also, RE5 has full surround sound support, so you also have to figure out what to do when Chris, Sheva, and the goat are lined up like this:
The solution? Alas, Okada and Sando suggested that we attend their sound lecture at Tuesday's CEDEC event in Yokohama to find out. Unlike the free Apple store event, the CEDEC lecture costs $200 a head.
This little goat example was one of many interesting perspectives on Resident Evil 5's sound creation that Okada and Shinya shared during their one hour presentation. The two offered a general introduction to all areas of sound production for Capcom's biggest hit of the year.
The lecture started off with a video clip that I hope Capcom will share with the rest of the world. There's a scene in RE5 where Chris and Sheva confront Wesker. It's a pretty dramatic scene (as dramatic as a Resident Evil game can get, at least), but to show the importance of sound, Okada and Shinya replaced the soundtrack with cartoon noises. The scene proves to have a bit less impact with boing sounds.
Following this illustration, the two detailed the many steps in creating RE5's sound, starting first with "foley" sound recording. Foley sounds are sounds that are meant to synchronize with objects on the screen -- for instance, the tapping of a footstep against a metal floor, or the swaying of curtains in the wind.
In addition to these environmental effects, the game's sound staff went through an "OM Foley" recording session. OM standing for "object model." For attendees of the lecture, this meant a five minute video of Capcom sound staff dropping boxes to the ground, banging pots and pans and rubbing bricks together -- and apparently having a good time at it!
To show these sound effects in the game, Okada opened a special debug mode in RE5 which allowed him to fill the screen with boxes, pots, and even small enemies like snakes and rats. He then took control of Chris and blasted away, allowing us to hear how the sounds all mixed together.
Outside of the foley recording, a good amount of RE5's sound work was done in America. Gun shot sound effects were recorded in San Diego. Creature sound effects were produced by a Hollywood studio called Sound Flux, whose sound producers made use of some unexpected things, like peanuts and celery sticks, to produce their desired sounds. Creature voices were also recorded in LA. It's a bit surprising to see a voice actor produce those creepy RE5 zombie shouts directly through a mic.
The main area of the lecture was on the more game-specific areas of sound creation -- in particular the effect of player position and the environment on sound. We were given a chance to see the tools Capcom uses to precisely specify how the environment blocks sounds or allows sounds to pass through.
You can recreate some of the environmental demonstrations on your own as you play RE5, assuming there aren't any zombies on your tail. When moving about in a room, you might note how quiet it is. Try blowing out the window to see the outside sound suddenly come flooding in. If you have some grenades, try tossing them in various directions and noting how the surrounding walls cause changes to the explosion sound.
To highlight the in-game surround effects, the Apple Store event hall was set up with a special surround speaker system. Sequences showing gun shots, rocket launchers, grenades and even the more subtle approach of enemies had great impact thanks to the setup. I now know what i've been missing by playing RE5 outside a proper home theater.
You might recall reading about the Ginza Apple Store at this site last month as Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima packed the place for a lecture detailing his inspiration as a game creator. Surprisingly, Okada and Sando managed to draw an even larger crowd. The place was so packed that it was nearly impossible to move in the standing-only rear area.
Why so much interest in RE5 sound? Actually, rather than RE5, the questions asked during the open Q&A session that followed the speech gave me the feeling that many of the attendees were either sound specialists or those with aspirations for sound creation.
But Okada and Sando's speech was low on technical details, and high on sample game footage, making it perfect for a more general audience. I doubt this will ever happen, but should Capcom decide to have a similar session in the English speaking world with Okada and Sando speaking through a translator, don't hesitate to attend!
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