- View This Video

The Force Unleashed

This is a clip of DMM audio from the LucasArts title The Force Unleashed.

This game was a huge success for LucasArts and I am so glad I had the opportunity to work on it.  I was involved with this title for about a year, working on it in between other jobs, and I saw first hand what a very large undertaking it was for the entire team.

On this project, I worked closely with my friend and experienced audio lead, David Collins.  David had me working on background ambiences, creature/character voices, and cutscenes.  The bulk of my workload was centered around the audio for DMM (digital molecular matter) which is an awesome technology created by the folks at Pixelux Entertainment.  Detailing DMM and how it works is beyond the scope of this post, however I urge you to check out Pixelux for that information.

DMM, a brand new technology at the time,  had never been used in any video game. We had to figure out the best way to score sound effects to this non-linear animation.  It is a live and interactive reaction to users input, therefore, the DMM animation never reacts the same and is unpredictable.  Traditionally in video games when a player punches thru a glass wall, there will be an art swap from a solid unbroken wall to a pre-rendered animation of the wall breaking.  This animation would be scored by the sound team just like any other linear animation.  To add variety numerous animations might be scored.  With DMM however, nothing is pre-rendered.  If the player hits the wall in then center, the break would begin in the center and react accordingly.  If the player hits the wall from the top right, the wall begins to break from  there and so on.  Thus giving a much more realistic reaction to the gaming experience.

David, Damian Kastbauer (the brave and bold audio implementer) and I had to experiment for a month or so with ways to achieve the best results for numerous surfaces like wood, metal, plants and glass.

Our first attempts were on a very granular level with sound samples that were only a few frames in length.  This came out  uh . . .  too granular.  We then tried to combine those very short samples with longer samples.  We went back and forth until we finally came up with a system that we called “fractures” and “collisions”.  Within these categories were sub categories – small, medium and large.

Next up – time to create a library of glass breaks, rock crunches, wood crashes, metal hits and vibrations, organic plant movements, bone cracks,  and cable twangs.

I did most of the recording with a Zoom H4 recorder.  I used a combination of microphones including a Sennheiser 416, an Oktava Mk-12 and a Fishman contact mic for resonant reactions and an attempt at “larger than life” sounds.   The Zoom was extremely helpful in the process of recording alone.  Since  most of the recordings was done in close proximity to my studio,  I could record some crashes or movements, stop the recorder and then pull the SD card and run inside to plug it into my ProTools rig.  With this flexibility I was able to check my recordings in a quiet studio environment without altering my recording setup in any way.  Allowing me to jump right back to where I had left off.  All of the original recording were done at 96k/24bit and the Zoom worked flawlessly.

Lots of editing, layering, and pitch shifting was done in Protools for the finished files using a combination of great material from the Skywalker Sound library and my original recordings to provide a large variety of material for Damian for implementation into the game.

David and Damian gave a talk during GDC Austin in 2009 detailing some of their adventures working with the back end of DMM to get awesome sounds.  The video in this post is pulled from that talk and more can be found on Damian’s post about the conference.

A second round of DMM work was done for the TFU Hoth DLC levels.  This time around the focus was ICE!  For that work I did a lot of close up recording of ice chips in my hands and ice blocks and cubes.  I tracked the recording directly into Protools at 96k/24bit and played them back at 48k, while mixing in other elements, eq’ing, etc.  I was very happy with those results.

I’m currently beginning work on The Force Unleashed 2.  The DMM is looking and sounding better than ever.  If you are a fan of the first game, you’re in for a real treat this second time around!