If there are vast legions of people playing your game, it means that every single part of it should be polished and refined. Developers who make the very best titles in the industry are well aware that sounds and music are equally important to their opus, hence they focus on delivering high quality audio.
Well aware that sounds and music are equally important to their opus.
It’s a great experience to be able to have a sneak peek and ask about the challenges that appear behind the curtain. That’s why I interviewed Artur Tohtash, the lead sound designer and composer of World of Warships.
gamemusic.net: Do you think that music still matters in an MMO game that’s focused on competitive play and mostly devoid of plot?
Artur Tohtash: I’m absolutely positive that using dramatic, high-quality music that suits in-game events deepens the player’s experience of successful or unsuccessful actions. Also, it adds a new layer of depth to the game, creating a more immersive experience; it inspires and encourages players. Players create their own game story through their personal contribution and team actions. Music helps them perceive what is happening more clearly, feel the joy of victory. It motivates them to grow and improve their skill and even inspires them to never give up, no matter how frustrating a loss might be.
Music also tells its own story, bringing a unique atmosphere to gameplay. If you consider the way battles unfold in any MMO game, you’ll see that they all have something in common. We make every battle experience unique by using tracks that are different in terms of style and melody. However, taking into account the competitive component of gameplay, we try to avoid the excessive melodiousness and complexity of the musical texture when working on the World of Warships soundtrack. Instead, we stress rhythm, harmony and repetitive structures. This allows music to follow what’s happening in-game more quickly and easily, switching between tunes and slipping into a contrasting mood—all in a smooth and seamless way.
In World of Warships, music is also an intrinsic part of the game. Some in-game notifications are associated with music directly (for example, storm or weather change notifications, notifications informing the player that the battle is over in few seconds or their ship has been detected). In this case, music plays an informative role. The fact that some players tend to turn off music in-game shouldn’t prevent us from using it to provide additional information or “adorn” battles by boosting players’ feelings and emotions. Plus, according to stats, only a small segment prefers play without music; the rest find it equal parts pleasant and informative. It proves that we have chosen the right direction and the right approach to the musical component of the game.
gamemusic.net: What were the main assumptions during the production of the soundtrack? Did you have a lot of creative freedom or even strict guidelines?
Artur Tohtash: The creation of the World of Warships soundtrack began with large-scale research. First, we defined the project’s overall musical style and certain compositional techniques we’d like to use. Then, we outlined musical forms and structures that would fit interactive musical structures, allowing for a dynamic change of in-game states and smooth transitions from one state to another. The game’s soundtrack went through numerous iterations and we’ll continue to evolve it, moving forward. Future updates will add several music systems (that the player will be able to choose from), each with its own way of responding to in-game events and its own unique content.
Let me explain how we built the soundtrack in more detail. Here are its key components and guidelines that we singled out at the very beginning:
1) Each specific game state (login, ports, loading, enemy search in battle, combat, game results, etc.) should have its own distinctive sound.
2) Port-specific tracks should be calm and positive and motivate the player to continue the game and develop their skills (even if they’ve been defeated). These tracks have a looped, several layer structure, each layer responsible for a certain tab in the port menu; the tune’s orchestration changes depending on which tab a player has selected.
3) Each battle track should contain introduction, development and culmination phases, with various unexpected moments, pauses and transitions. For each battle track, we composed additional themes, which activate upon various in-game events (a ship’s destruction, critical damage, etc.).
4) The general melody of the soundtrack should feature a broad palette of instrumentation, from orchestral to electronic and ethnic instruments, used as sound design tools, and employ various cinematic techniques and patterns.
5) Repetitive structures should be used both in the overall musical form, and in separate instrumental sections, while ostinatos and rhythmic pulses are used to maintain suspense and keep players engaged.
6) Music can be both reactive and active. It encourages players to act. It also changes depending on their actions.
gamemusic.net: What were your main sources of inspiration here?
Artur Tohtash: First and foremost, it was cinema music. We all have favorite, iconic action films distinguished by fantastic music that conjures certain images and states of mind. When the game was at its early stage of development, it was works by Alan Silvestri, John Williams, Hans Zimmer and other well-known film composers that we chose as references for our soundtrack in terms of musical style. In our game, we borrowed many of the signature techniques that most movie composers used in their works. For example, certain musical modes were drawn from Silvestri, a variety of simple chord progressions, complementary ostinatos and the general simplicity—from Zimmer; and so on.
At the moment, we are developing the soundtrack toward multilayered music design based on the symbiosis of orchestral instruments. – Artur Tohtash
Classical composers influenced the soundtrack as well: including impressionists Maurice Ravel, Claude Debussy, minimalists Steve Reich, John Adams, Philip Glass and many others. One of the sources of inspiration for the World of Warships soundtrack was (and is) improvisation as a streaming technique for creating music, when the composer and their hands act as mediators and the music enters the sequencer. At the moment, we are developing the soundtrack toward multilayered music design based on the symbiosis of orchestral instruments and electronics combined with heavy guitars. In time, you’ll hear World of Warships the way we want it to sound. I’m sure it will be an impressive experience!
gamemusic.net: How did you manage to combine working on sound design with composing the music?
Artur Tohtash: When World of Warships was at its initial stage of development, the entire sound department in our studio consisted of me alone. I was an audio director, a composer and a sound designer rolled into one. Actually, it was a challenging time—the huge amount of work that needed to be done, technologies that were new to me and the studio. But they were indispensable for such a huge game like World of Warships.
Faced with multitasking, I had to develop a special working technique that consisted of prioritizing workload into urgent tasks, tasks for the future, and improvements. At times, I indulged in some deviations from my scheme—when a necessity of doing something else arose or when I got inspiration to create a new track or tackle some sound design tasks—in a short time and without any stress. It was an incredible, breathtaking experience!
When you get down to it, sound design and composition are quite similar processes, intertwined and interrelated with each other very tightly. Any tiny sound can be treated like a piece of music, and vice versa; any new music track can be regarded in terms of sound design. Over time, the Audio Team in our studio has grown to 4 people, and at the moment we share the workload.
gamemusic.net: Does it take a lot of effort to create a full sound design of a single warship?
Artur Tohtash: The key principle we adhered to while creating sound is making each ship unique. Sometimes we even step away from historical accuracy to accomplish this, creating shots of different ships with historically identical guns that sound differently. This helps the player remember each ship and the way it feels in-game differently. We have unique sound settings for each ship and/or class: its movement (multi-layered sound of the engine, waves being split, additional post-effects of movement and the creaking of a ship’s hull), turret rotation, guns reloading, sounds of shots for all types of weapons, telegraph.
Many of these sounds need to be tuned to fit different types of game cameras, as well as different game situations (for example, when shooting from the main caliber, all other sounds produced by the ship are decreased a little, to highlight the moment and convey the impression of how huge the caliber and the power of the shot are). To simplify the work with the “ship’s audio passport”, we implemented standard sounds used as foundation to create unique audio for each of them.
It goes like this. First, we introduce a ship into the development version. Then, using a special Wwise tool we build a base of audio files and events for it, as well as establish logical links between the game logic and audio. The next step is testing audio tuning for each ship. Then, we accurately mix sound for each, and finally, mix the game and check how it all sound.
gamemusic.net: Is the structure of the mix adjusted in Wwise depending on whether one uses headphones, stereo speakers, or a 5.1 system?
Artur Tohtash: Yes, in our game, different sound reproduction systems are supported automatically. Wwise has special structures for multichannel systems (2.1, 5.1, 7.1). They orient sound channels properly and add LFE if the player uses a similar system. When it comes to headphones, we change attenuation schemes for the sound slightly, depending on its position in 3D space.
As for small speakers or earphones, the game options allow for a “narrow dynamic range” whereupon the entire game’s mix is “compacted”. Thus the balance between loud and soft sounds gets smoother and the game’s sound mix can be better understood via small speakers or earphones. What we strive for is to adapt our sound to player equipment or audio preferences, while providing more opportunities for fine-tuning sound within the game options.
gamemusic.net: What are your plans for developing your technology further?
Artur Tohtash: In the upcoming updates, you can expect:
1) A new dynamic music system that will respond to in-game events in a more sensitive, quite different way. We also plan to provide the option to choose the game’s musical scheme (old vs. new).
2) Systems making objects on maps sound (moving elements in ports, various events in combat, etc.).
3) An absolutely new ultra-high quality sound preset. And it’s not just about adjusting the audio conversion—we’ll implement new sound design for various in-game events, shots, hits, environment, and various additional events. We will focus on subtle details, which will create a completely new and expanded sound impression.
4) Integration of new versions of Wwise.
5) Refinement of the overall sound design—sounds will be more sensitive to the smallest changes on the battlefield.
6) And of course, tons of new sound and music content!