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Everything you've ever wanted to know about sound in SWG!

Lead sound designer/engineer Todd Davies was kind enough to take a breather from his hectic SWG work schedule to answer our questions.

Are you using Miles Sound System (premier computer sound system featuring 2D and 3D digital audio available for Windows and MacOS) for SWG, or are you using a proprietary system, or a combination of both?

Yes, we are using the Miles Sound System in Star Wars Galaxies. We have also developed proprietary tools to streamline the process of getting audio files and related audio parameters into the game. These tools also allow us to fine-tune 3D positional audio volume and effects; balance groups of sounds; and specify how sounds are played in the Star Wars Galaxies game

How are you matching character movements with sound? Are you using video at all for this?

Yes, we do use video clips as a timing reference for animations. It is a huge advantage. We can then create individual sound effects based on specific character moves from the video clip rather than using verbal descriptions. It is similar to scoring sound for a movie, but on a smaller scale. The in-game animation files have trigger points embedded in them that can call the individual sound effect files on the fly.

Does Galaxies feature 3D audio? How about occlusion?

Star Wars Galaxies utilizes 3D positional audio. The system is not only left/right directional; but front/back filtered as well. When a player is facing a sound-emitting source in-game, such as an ore mining facility, the player hears that sound with full frequency range. When a player turns away from the ore mining facility, a low pass filter is applied to the sound making it slightly more muffled. This filtering effect is even more apparent in quad or 5.1 speaker setups.

The Galaxies audio engine does make use of occlusion as well through software volume reduction and filtering. This creates the impression that the sound source is being heard through a wall. This effect is quite apparent when a player is indoors and there is blaster battle happening outside.

Galaxies also supports environmental reverb. This effect is most apparent when a player transitions from an outdoor to an indoor environment, such as player houses, spaceports and government buildings.

Approximately what percent of the game sound comes from the Star Wars movies?

A small percentage, actually. There are, of course, some classic sound effects which players will expect to match the movies. In this regard we make sure that they do.

If you only use a small number of sounds from the movies, where do you go to get the original and/or ambient sounds? Are they synthetically generated or do you go to a source and get natural sounds?

There are currently over 1800 Sound effects that have been created for Galaxies and a high percentage of these have not been heard before.

Ambient sound effects for Galaxies come from all over the place; some are common, some unusual. The source of these sounds depends on the environment we are trying to create in the game. For example, the sound of a broken air conditioner may go through some off-world processing; get mixed with some complex computer generated waveforms; and end up as a blaster factory ambience. Stranger things have happened!

Another example: I have a small espresso machine in my office that I fire up every morning for some concentrated brew. One day I noticed that over the course of the water being heated to the steaming point, the machine produced an amazing low volume, low pitched rumble that built over time into a loud, higher pitched steamy type sound. The espresso machine mixed with other audio sources made an excellent transport ship sound! This low rumble was especially apparent when the ship takes off. I won't say which ship it is, you will have to tune into it. I will say good luck finding it!

We utilize natural and computer generated sounds as well as combinations of other sources to achieve a desired ambient effect.

Is John Williams' score the only music that will be used in the game?

John Williams' Star Wars music is heard throughout Galaxies, and is effective in highlighting and enhancing important events for a player. Players can also acquire musician skills in the game. Musician players can form a group that can learn and play different styles of music depending on their skill level.

Are any or all members of the Sound Team music composers, and/or musicians?

Most of the Sound Team here at LucasArts are composers/musicians of varying degrees.

What compression techniques are you using for the sound?

Audio file compression for Galaxies is fairly standard. We are using MP3 format for music. Sound effects ultimately end up in a bulk binary data file.

Can you tell us a bit about how EAX sound technology (sound effects creation product) will be used in the game? Why did you folks decide to use EAX for the game?

EAX adds immersion to Star Wars Galaxies. We are using reverberation models inside buildings and obstruction/occlusion for simulating walls and other obstacles the player encounters. The actual implementation is completely transparent to the player, but the result is a much more realistic-sounding environment. We are supporting EAX 2, as well, for even better environmental control and sound definition. The decision to incorporate EAX support was made for two reasons: it's relatively easy to weave into the game code and..... it sounds cool!

How was the music created for the Musician characters? Is it original music created in-house?

Heh heh, this is a fun aspect of Star Wars Galaxies if you choose to play as an Entertainer. The music for the player-profession was created as many small individual parts designed to be played together as a group, or (played) individually. The player-created groups can each sound different based on the instruments the players have in their inventory and the number (of sound parts) in the group. The particular piece of music that a player performs depends on the instrument (selected); which song the bandleader decides to play; and ultimately your skill in the musician-profession, because a player needs to learn the music before playing it. There are currently over 500 song-pieces that make up player-performed music and, yes, it is all completely original.

Todd, how did you wind up at LucasArts? Have you always been a gamer? Are you a musician?

Well, I started life in the game industry at a company called Nintendo in 1988. Prior to that, I was an Audio Engineer for a Seattle-based Recording Studio. In those dark times, most people I knew didn't know what a Nintendo was and I found myself explaining it a lot.

It wasn't until I started testing out Super Mario Brothers in earnest that I really decided I liked to play games. In fact, the first time through the third stage in Super Mario Brothers is when I became a full-fledged gamer. Currently, when I'm not previewing or dropping-in sound for Galaxies (which has become a rare occurrence), I load up a game and play whenever I can. My wife is a gamer too and we usually play together as a team. I also built a game PC for my daughter who is 1 year old and she should be playing any minute now.

I might call myself a musician, but in a loose and non-traditional sense. My main instrument is a computer; though, I haven't had much time to compose in the last year or so. This makes me enjoy listening to music even more.

Star Wars Galaxies is the most awesome game project I have worked on to date. It is also the most sound work I have seen put into a game so far. Being such, the audio programming team has been awesome in supporting the massive influx of sound assets and audio code control into Star Wars Galaxies, and it's coming together nicely.

Are you working in your dream job, or does your dream even go beyond SWG?

It sounds like you are implying that there is life beyond Galaxies? Ha ha, I will be supporting Galaxies beyond initial launch and into the space expansion, and I'm really looking forward to it. Beyond that? It's hard to see what the future will bring....

Are you a longtime Star Wars movie fanatic?

I have always loved the Star Wars films, but I didn't really fall into the "fanatic" category. However, that may be changing. Maybe now that I know about Merr-Sonn Munitions Inc, Borstel Galactic Defense and Kuat Drive Yards, the fan-meter is approaching the red zone. Seriously though, the Star Wars universe is incredibly rich and detailed, and fascinates me often, particularly while doing background research for Galaxies.

What exciting developments do you see coming up the road as far as game sound technology, and gaming in general?

Well, on my wish list I would like to see hardware-based acoustic modeling, convincing computer-generated speech, a killer commercially available sound processing unit, and more sound RAM for consoles. It seems that cutting-edge graphics cards take the limelight most of the time and rightly so, but it would be cool to see that kind of competition in sound cards sometime. Oh, and (I would like to see) overclocking utilities for sound cards.

Games are just going to get cooler as technology advances to the point of Holodeck-level simulations (I hope). The game industry is already rivaling the movie industry, so it would be very cool if the two merged into a big Holo Sim. After that happens it's anybody's guess. : -)

What are the most interesting sounds that you put together for Star Wars Galaxies? Is it possible to send us some example sound files to place in this article?

Sure, I had fun working on the Krayt Dragon because of its immense size and galactic significance. Check out a few of the sounds associated with it. It's a good thing (that) you don't have to hear these sounds within the Galaxies game; because, if you did, it would mean (that) you were about to die a horrible death. Don't forget to turn your speaker system way up.
: -)

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