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23 February 2012
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The Halo Bulletin: 2.23.12

23. February 2012 20:00

The Mysteries of the Inner Sanctum

If you could parse the constant roar that engulfs our studio on a daily basis, you would discover it's comprised of several commingling sounds. Constant mouse clicks punctuate the nonstop sound of typing, Skyrim conversations surrender to sandbox and strategy discussions, and the steady stream of trash talking is periodically interrupted by both triumphant shouts of victory and the near silent sighs of defeat.

Tucked away in a corner, isolated from that ambient noise, is a row of sound booths. On shutting yourself up in one of these sanctums, the rest of the studio ceases to exist as the haunting melodies and foreboding intonations of an unknown, mysterious world slowly infiltrate every fiber of your being. This is the current iteration of what will eventually be the sweeping sci-fi score of Halo 4, and within those padded walls, our audio team is fine-tuning every single note into a polished state of perfection.

We'll talk more about the audio experience we're crafting for Halo 4 later in this Bulletin. For now, though, let's touch on a few Reach-related topics.

Halo: Reach Screenshot

Halo: Reach Team Slayer Voting

Over the past two weeks, there have only been two choices instead of the standard three in the Team Slayer playlist. One of those options used the traditional Reach settings, while the other one featured the Title Update changes. This was done so we could get additional information about the community's gameplay preferences in an effort to continue shaping the best possible Halo: Reach experience.

Now that the two-week voting period has officially concluded, we'll be pulling, examining, and analyzing the data in several different ways. While we have started that process, we haven't finished the scrutinizing part of things. I can tell you this much right now, though: it's clear to us that people are passionate about both flavors, and we remain dedicated to making sure both regular and TU Reach are readily available in Multiplayer matchmaking. More on that, and the rest of March's playlist update details, in next week's Bulletin.

Halo: Reach Custom Challenge

Halo: Reach Custom Challenge of the Week

The previous Custom Challenge of the Week focused on Banshees (congratulations to those of you that got 10,000cR for completing it!), so this week we're going to change things up a bit and go after one enemy species in particular: the Unggoy. Why, you ask? Because the last time I played, one of them told me to enjoy his bright blue balls, and it didn't feel right keeping such a pleasurable activity all to myself. Therefore, I'm sharing it with the rest of you for the next seven days.

So, from now until next Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. Pacific Time, setting up a Custom Challenge with Grunts as the type of kill will result in five times the usual multiplier. Please note turning on the Grunt Birthday skull won't get you additional credits. It will, however, bring you an inexplicable amount of joy and happiness. Hooray!

Halo 4 Field Audio Recording

The Hills Are Alive With the Sounds of (Halo 4) Music

In designing a video game, its audio is, of course, one of the things that contribute to a memorable and emotional experience.

Halo has always had amazing audio design. With Halo 4, we are respecting the music philosophy of previous Halos while establishing a fresh, new direction for Halo 4's music, employing our own distinctive style that still feels like Halo. The goal is to make the music of the story fit not only the gameplay, but also the player's emotional circumstances.

When thinking about the player's emotional circumstances, we're using an interactive implementation. Sometimes, when fighting an enemy, it's simply a fight. Other times, even in the same level, you can be fighting but it may suddenly turn into a distressing encounter. Since circumstances within the story constantly change, we want our music to sync with those changes when it's appropriate to enhance the experience. How many enemies are tracking you? When do the enemies notice your presence? What kind of cinematic did you watch before the combat? Our goal when asking these questions is to make the music change dynamically with the gameplay to account for your personal gameplay experience.

Sometimes we'll suggest a change to the story to sync with the music more, and vice versa. Communication within the studio is an important part to achieve this synchronicity.

The vision for our audio is huge. Like a child, we started as a blank slate when trying to find our own unique musical language. Then we began making a few sounds here and there. Now we're at the point where those sounds collide, intertwine, and say things about the Halo 4 universe. This was a process that we had to learn as a team. Introducing a new composer, and learning how to work with that composer, was part of the process. We'll have more details about this currently unnamed individual in the future. But I'm guessing you already knew that....

So, how are we creating our own language based on realism in the world of Halo? Our concept focuses on the digital and the organic, and we share that vision across the entirety of our audio production.

What does that mean, exactly? I'll use a recent audio recording session as an example.

We've recorded source material for the arsenal of both new and returning weapons you'll have at your disposal in Halo 4. The gun recording was difficult because we needed to record close sounds, distant sounds, and everything in between. We had to figure out what microphone, what distance, and what range was appropriate while factoring in weather, wind, and anything and everything Mother Nature might randomly decide to throw our way.

To get the best audio quality possible, we worked with the military on one of their training grounds where the occasional dropped bomb is not an uncommon experience. During that session, we staged first-person encounters so that we could understand how the weapons should feel when playing the game, and then we used numerous 30-channel microphones to record the actual sounds.

We had to have the elements to connect the player to something familiar but still be able to offer something outlandish and alien. After this aural base is formed, we then have all the freedom in the world to mix and match different elements into a single weapon. Even a Forerunner weapon incorporates some of the elements from that gun session.

These real weapon recordings act as the glue for the rest of the sound ingredients for Halo 4's arsenal. There's a whole other process we go through to create epic sci-fi elements outside of the field recording sessions, though, as we gather a collection of source assets and then shape them to precision. The aforementioned gun session, as elaborate as it was, is just a small portion of the assets we require to make the sound effects in Halo 4.

This means we're always exploring and recording new sounds. Everything from the opening and closing of a pair of rusty scissors to a brushtail possum's scream pitched down an octave to a short snippet from a two-inch mortar explosion are all on file in our extensive audio library.

Within the sounds of Halo 4, there's a sense of fantasy based on reality, where otherworldly sounds have a feeling of familiarity...

Office of Halo Intelligence

Office of Halo Intelligence: Part 5

To talk more about the audio aspect of our upcoming game, I asked Sotaro Tojima, the Audio Director for Halo 4, to write the fifth entry in our Office of Halo Intelligence series. Here are his thoughts on the music and sounds that will one day be gracing your earholes.

I'm honored to have an opportunity to talk here! I just came back from a weekly music review, and especially this week, I was so excited about one piece of music. This emotional, digitized piece became the second favorite piece of Halo 4 music which we've made so far. I can't wait to share this with you!

Producing the Halo 4 music is very difficult, but such a fun job for me. I know many people, including me, love the previous Halos' music. Halo 4 will be a story for Master Chief and Cortana. Therefore, we are driving our music production respecting the previous music tone.

At the same time, we are working to establish some freshness in the music because this is a new trilogy and we are a new team.

I love creating game audio because it is a direct communication between fans and the team. I want to communicate with our "own" language of sound and music. Even if having a new language on Halo is very challenging...

My goal for making audio is always very simple. How much can we make people excited and immersed in the story and gameplay experience with our audio? There are three key ways I like to do that:

  • Provide a sense of reality with sophisticated sound design to bring you into a believable world.
  • Achieve a memorable, dramatic experience with great music and sounds well synced with the story beat and your gameplay.
  • Share a delightful memory with all fans providing an iconic melody.

Actually, my real goal is to make you cry!

When I hired the people that make up the Halo 4 audio team, one of the criteria I had was that if you want to work it had to be "for fans more than anything." And now I have a great team. Everyone is so happy to work hard to surprise you.

Again, it is very hard to achieve a great audio for the Halo universe, but I believe we can do this as long as we don't forget you are waiting patiently for us. Stay tuned for next update from me, and for more exciting topics in OHI!

-Sotaro Tojima

Sotaro, or Tajeen as we call him around the studio, neglected to mention his original idea of going to space to record realistic out-of-this-world sounds (17:30). From what I've heard, though, that idea has changed a bit and he now wants to send me in his place. I strongly suspect it's a trap.

Until next week... that is, unless I get launched into orbit. I heard the internet is pretty spotty up there.

bs angel

P.S. Embiggen, snag, and display the latest Friday Caption Fun image on your embarrassingly unadorned desktop. Then, contribute your witty quip to the latest round of caption festivities. Off you go!

Friday Caption Fun