Silicon Knights adopts Wwise for Too Human and beyond with the goal of transforming games into art
Silicon Knights, in the unassuming town of St. Catharines, Ontario, is in the process of changing how the world thinks about video games. Working under the belief that games can be the eighth art—just after film—the team has developed a philosophy that guides everything they do. They call this philosophy the Engagement Theory Equation, and it is the secret to creating this new art form.
The theory works like this: by focusing equally on all five elements of game development—technology, art, game play, story, and audio—and raising these elements to new heights, they can create something that not only goes beyond traditional games, but is its own unique art form. With this philosophy, games aren’t simply cinema-like; instead, they are a unique form of collaborative expression all on their own.
From an audio perspective, this is especially great news. In an industry where audio often gets pushed to the end of production, Silicon Knights has it up front and in their schedules from day one. In fact, they have an entire department dedicated to it headed by their Audio Director, Steve Henifin. According to Henifin, “Great audio is critical in any project. It makes all the difference in the world in terms of immersion, and it’s very important for us.”
The importance that Silicon Knights places on audio is abundantly clear in their newly released ‘Too Human’ game for the Xbox 360. The ‘Too Human’ story is based, in part, on Norse mythology and is the first in a trilogy that chronicles the ongoing struggle between Cybernetic gods, machine giants, and mortal men.
The action-packed third-person epic game features over 3 hours of music, including a spectacular original score composed by Henifin. To manage and develop the in-game audio and to get this original score into the game, Henifin and his department turned to Audiokinetic’s audio pipeline solution Wwise®.
Switching to Wwise
Silicon Knights switched to Wwise late in the ‘Too Human’ project. Says Henifin, “We were midway into Too Human and already had produced a lot of content and music, but right away we could tell that Wwise would allow us to do everything we had in mind and we were very excited.” Prior to the switch, the team had been working on developing in-house technology, but realized that going with Audiokinetic’s solution was the right choice. Says Henifin, “The system was so integrated that it meshed right away with our tools and technology. And getting our sounds off Wwise into the game was pretty much instantaneous.”
“Wwise is regarded as the one of the best pieces of middleware we have ever used.”
—Denis Dyack, President of Silicon Knights
During the evaluation process, Henifin observed that “Wwise is a fantastic front-end tool for audio people because it is designed by audio people. We knew we could get fantastic results taking it from content to production in a really short development time.” Specifically, Henifin cites usability, range of features, and source control as being three of the key factors that influenced Silicon Knights’ decision to go with Wwise.
Says Henifin, “As far as the usability of Wwise, because it is so sound design-centric and the tools are laid out the way any typical audio front-end is laid out, it is extremely intuitive and instantly understandable. And the range of features means that you can do all sorts of amazing things using sound events and containers and actor mixers. They all work together in object-oriented ways. On a basic level, using a profiler, you can see something right in the game build and then save it or change it.”
Henifin also appreciates the idea of having independent work units “that anyone can be working with on their own and not interfere with the rest of the workflow. For a pipeline solution, it works well integrating with our source material. And that’s a first.”
“As far as the usability of Wwise, because it is so sound design-centric and the tools are laid out the way any typical audio front-end is laid out, it is extremely intuitive and instantly understandable.”
—Steve Henifin, Audio Director, Silicon Knights
The decision to switch to Wwise was clearly the right one. According to Denis Dyack, Founder and President of Silicon Knights, “Wwise is regarded as one of the best pieces of middleware that Silicon Knights has ever used.”
Wwise At Silicon Knights
Once Silicon Knights made the switch to Wwise, the pipeline solution had a significant impact on the development team. Says Paul Rogozinski, a Programmer at Silicon Knights, “Using Wwise has changed the way our company approaches audio. Working with it means that the work is spread among more people, which, in turn, means that different people try different things that may not even have been attempted in the past. This, in turn, means that we get more—and varied—answers to our questions. Wwise really allows us to go beyond where we used to go.”
For Henifin, working with Wwise has changed not only how his department approaches audio, but the way he himself works as well. He says, “It’s a Zen thing. I usually have Wwise running on one machine and my sound design software running on another. It has changed the way I think about sound design in general.”
“Using Wwise has changed the way our company approaches audio.”
—Paul Rogozinski, Programmer, Silicon Knights
As an example, he cites his use of the random generators in Wwise (Randomizer) to ensure that sounds in the game don’t get too repetitive. Says Henifin, “I port the sounds into Wwise and it builds a profile of the Sound Objects. Once I have them, I can create all sorts of intricate and crazy things and then test them in Wwise. I can demo and emulate everything in the Soundcaster and know that, when I plug it in and get that call to play a particular event, it’s going to do exactly what I asked it to do. It eliminates a lot of guess work.” With so much at stake on ‘Too Human’, eliminating guesswork on audio is a real bonus.
“We love them to death and recommend them to everybody.”
—Denis Dyack, President of Silicon Knights
Truly Sophisticated Audio on Too Human
On every project, Dyack and Henifin try to challenge themselves, and the score was definitely a big one for ‘Too Human’. The music for this game features a 42-piece FILMharmonic Orchestra and 32-member Prague Choir. Says Dyack, “Working with an orchestra and choir is something that Steve and I have been wanting to do for over 10 years. We were thrilled when Microsoft said yes.” Henifin agrees: “It was a huge honour working with these people who do such great work.”
Henifin began writing the score shortly after Silicon Knights began development. In total, the recording took between 6 and 8 months. Henifin went to Prague to record the orchestra and choir, as well as to other locations for other elements in order to get the acoustics just right. Dyack describes Henifin’s musical score as a hybrid of electronic and classical Norse chanting and feels that it was completely worth all the effort: “Steve consistently outdoes himself, and what he has done for ‘Too Human’ is amazing. When I listen to it now, I’m still in awe.”
Working with Wwise on Too Human
When asked which of the features in Wwise the team used most on ‘Too Human’, Henifin says, “The overall Sound Management and Actor-Mixer hierarchy were extremely helpful. Being able to set up our own environments and test them in the Soundcaster and being able to arrange the projects the way we want—without software constraints—means that we can make it look and be organized exactly the way we want.”
In addition, Henifin praised the localization features in Wwise. “Usually localization is something no one likes to think about, but the set-up and the way that Wwise handles localization really helped us out a lot. Also, the way that the 3D positioning is handled in Wwise means that we can easily create curves; in fact, to go in and do that without Wwise would be a different story.”
Henifin also adds that he wants to get further into the Interactive Music feature in Wwise, saying “I’d like to use it more and more. The next title will have a lot more robust interactive music.”
The Quality of Support from Audiokinetic
In addition to all the advantages that Wwise offers, the team at Silicon Knights also appreciates the quality of support they receive from Audiokinetic. From Rogozinski to Henifin and Dyack, everyone involved is very impressed with the support they receive from Audiokinetic. According to Rogozinski, “The support is phenomenal. Audiokinetic really listens to how their customers are using the product. They’re very open to people using Wwise in their own ways. We feel like we are contributing, making Wwise even better as we go.”
Says Henifin, “The support has been just fantastic. We call directly, and they’re very quick to respond and have always been helpful in providing us with materials.
I think they’re great and reliable to work with.” Dyack agrees, saying that “They can turn solutions around in a couple of hours, where we expected it would take days. We love them to death and recommend them to everybody.”
Based on their experiences on ‘Too Human’, Silicon Knights will definitely be using Wwise on their future titles, including the other two installments in the trilogy. Says Henifin, “We just got the new version, and we’re already making plans for the future.”
Silicon Knight’s newest artistic offering ‘Too Human’ can be experienced on the Xbox 360.
“We just got the new version, and we’re already making plans for the future.”
—Steve Henifin, Audio Director, Silicon Knights