What does an average day at work look like for you?
As Audio Lead I am supposed to be very sensible, so ukulele duels with my (equally sensible) boss Jim (Croft, Head of Audio) are an essential part of the routine. As is pulling silly faces and collaborating closely with the bonkers but brilliant bunch of audio folks that we have here. The audio team are legends.
My role involves a lot of sound design, mixing the game, bug-fixing, and optimization. I also manage the Elite: Dangerous audio team day to day, assigning tasks, feeding back on work (and receiving feedback), eating carrots, and defining/enforcing a consistent style across the audio.
I do my best to sniff around in other departments, to ensure we know what features everyone is working on, and that anything that needs audio support gets it.
What aspects of the game have you worked on that you are most proud of?
The first thing I did when joining the project was prototyping the ship engines. At the time, flying in open space felt very disembodied because you couldn’t tell how fast you were moving.
So we needed the sounds to provide feedback on every ship movement. That sidewinder prototype ended up being a template for all ship engines, although it has evolved quite a lot since then! I ended up making sounds for the Faulcon DeLacy ships (Sidewinder, Cobra, Anaconda, Viper, Python) and the new Condor (Federation Fighter).
The cockpit breach sequence with the windows cracking and then blowing out entirely. It’s only a little detail, but I am quite proud of it! And Duncan (Mackinnon) made the awesome Remlok breathing sounds and the final suffocation bit.
Also, the FSD sounds (hyperspace, supercruise, capital ship jumps). I’m quite proud of these features as they were a technical challenge and a huge cross-discipline collaboration - Art, Visual Effects, Code, Design, GUI and Audio. (The hyperspace sequence is actually nominated for "The Best Gaming Moment" Golden Joystick award this year!)
What's your favourite thing about Elite Dangerous?
The scale. This game has a to-scale version of the Milky Way! That makes it a great educational tool/toy.
Space travel in sci-fi films etc gives the impression that the galaxy is small and easy to traverse. Elite: Dangerous brings back a bit of that majesty, and mind boggling massiveness.
What challenges did you come up against during game development?
Keeping our work constantly presentable when we have regular builds going out to the public is a huge challenge. We can never leave the bonnet open for long!
Keeping the audio optimal was not enough to stop the audio engine buckling under the weight of all the cool stuff we needed. So audio programmer wizards Steve (Hollis), Yogi (Klatt), Dan (Murray) and Dani (Varela), have been gradually adding more and more layers of voice management systems that make decisions about what sounds are the most important to the player at any moment, and use available resources accordingly. This is an ongoing endeavor.
Supercruise is another. Making the audio make sense when flying round a solar system was a massive challenge and a lot more complicated than regular ship sounds. When measuring speeds in multiples of the speed of light and distances in light seconds, audio just doesn't make sense any more. It all scales up beyond exponentially, so making things sound responsive at both fast and slow speeds becomes impossible. We ended up using tricks like measuring everything according to the human perception of what is happening rather than actual science. For example, the distance to a planet is measured in multiples-of-planet-radius (how big it looks) rather than meters in order to make the planet flyby sound right, and we measure the relative-speed of objects using time-to-arrival (in seconds), rather than meters per second.
Also keeping a consistent style in the sounds is a lot harder than you might think when you have a team of energetic, creative souls producing diverse but wonderful work. We can’t live in our own bubble, everything must work together coherently.
Mixing this game has been surprisingly complicated too!
What have you learned from working on Elite: Dangerous?
I have learned that audio programmers are worth their weight in gold.
Federation, Empire, or Alliance? And why?
At heart I am too much of a hippy to align with any of these outdated self-destructive dogmas. So I would be Anarchy … but in practice I probably wouldn’t last very long in an Anarchy system, as I’m not mean enough.
Tell the community a fun fact about yourself
When recording surface grit sounds for the upcoming SRV, the dust made me sneeze. Jim (Croft) and James (Stant) ended up using the "fsshhh" part of my sneeze in the vehicle suspension noise!
If you could ask the community one question, what would it be?
What audio detail or features do you want to hear added to the game? (no promises!)
Answer Joe's question below.