For the latest instalment in their DASH series Glu Mobile collaborated with Gordon Ramsay to create Gordon Ramsay DASH. We talk to sound designer and composer Dren McDonald (Gathering Sky, nerdtracks.com) about his approach to the audio for the game and the impact FMOD Studio had on development.
How did you approach the sound and music for Gordon Ramsay DASH, and what goals did you have?
I think my biggest goal was to streamline the audio pipeline that we'd been using up to that point. As a contractor on many of their previous games, we had basically set up the typical old, "asset cannon" routine, with asset tracking sheets and dropbox deliveries. I hadn't done any audio integration on those previous games, just asset deliveries. Every time I'd play those earlier games we'd worked on I would always think "If I could only tweak that volume just a bit, or delay that sound slightly" etc but we didn't have a pipeline in place that allowed for that. Each game was getting more and more detailed (and humorous) from the game designers, with more specific requests. With each new game we'd chat about "wouldn't it be cool if we could..." in regards to the audio. Tom Hall, the Creative Director and game designer had worked with FMOD on previous games many years ago and knew what we could achieve with it, so everyone was on board with squeezing FMOD into our pipeline.
With the DASH games, the biggest challenge is the mix. Lots of UI sounds, lots of kitchen sounds, customers, music...chaos! But that's the nature of the game...Dash games are designed to encourage the player to stay organized while the gameplay gets crazy. So it's important to gain some control over that chaos: how do you retain a chaotic audio feel, without sounding like white noise? You want to keep the player engaged but you don't want to subject them to the same grill sound, fry sound, UI sounds all hitting at the same times...it can get pretty annoying if you aren't careful! And with Gordon Ramsay DASH we had the added layer of Gordon's VO, and there was a LOT of it. So the last thing that we wanted was a mix that drowned out his voice, or that was so annoying that the player turned off the sound, only to miss hearing his voice (a big part of the fun in this game.) So I had to approach all of the audio components as puzzle pieces that would 'play well' together in a cramped space!
Why did you choose FMOD Studio? Can you talk about its impact on the development of Gordon Ramsay DASH?
Last year I had just used FMOD Studio on Gathering Sky, an indie game, where I made extensive use of the music system in FMOD. That game had wall to wall music that provided the only narrative to the player (no words, no voice...just the music and art). Needless to say, this was a bit of a challenge, but I got pretty familiar with Studio during that project and knew that our lives would be easier if were able to use it on Gordon Ramsay Dash.
Using FMOD Studio changed our entire audio pipeline for the better. We set up a system so that I could be on version control remotely, test out my Fmod session in a local build, and simply commit my Studio changes (not just banks). This allowed other in-house members to jump into the session, if need be, and add blank sound events, or VO (when things got really busy) and even to change compression settings or troubleshoot etc. So instead of posting WAV files and letting an engineer hook them up, i was able to test/iterate/commit...all of that good stuff, but stuff that wouldn't have come up if we hadn't decided to integrate FMOD Studio into the pipeline. The engineers liked this, because then they didn't have to add any code for audio functionality. The producer liked this, because he could be in control of getting sounds in since he was also editing the text in the config files to connect sound events to game events. I liked this because I could iterate a lot before audio made it in-game, and because of that, we had almost no revisions. There wasn't a lot of time for revisions, so that was an added bonus! We realized that in the same amount of time that we worked on audio before launch on Cooking Dash 2016, we had the same amount of time for Gordon Dash but with 2-3 times the amount of audio to deal with!
We all appreciated the flexibility in audio compression. With our old system, whenever there were new venues, new sounds were needed and I'd send over totally new files for every sound, created for each of those game events. So if someone had played Cooking Dash 2016 and received all of the updates, then the game would end up being very large (in file size) from all of the added content (audio and otherwise). But with Studio, I made a habit of re-using/recycling the files in the audio bin. In fact, I'd only add a sound to the audio bin if I knew that I could find multiple uses for it. This also forced me to always consider the timbre/emotion/function of every sound so that everything sounded like it belonged together. Additionally, we could compress sound events according to their priority at any point in the game. We could create sound banks designed for DLC downloads (this was especially important for the venue specific music events that each contained about 5 minutes of music per venue), and ultimately, the engineers were extremely pleased with our audio footprint, largely due to the file compression flexibility that Studio offered.
What aspect of the audio in Gordon Ramsay DASH are you most proud of?
2 things: The first thing is the overall mix and that we were able to set up the mix groups so that Gordon's VO was always front and center to the game experience. Players are already saying in the game reviews how much they love hearing Gordon yell at them in the kitchen! The second thing I'm proud of is the dynamic music in the game. There aren't a lot of "casual games" with totally dynamic music systems, but we really wanted the music to change throughout a play round. If you watch Hell's Kitchen or Master Chef and pay attention to the score, it is constantly changing based on the emotional center of each scene. So we wanted to try to emulate that as best we could. Each venue level has 4 music levels of intensity: rounds 1-9 start out with the lowest intensity with a transition stinger and a 2nd (doubletime feel) music cue, and every level 10 has a 3rd intensity music cue, with a new stinger and new 'really intense' doubletime feel cue. Every venue has distinct music based on the style of restaurant, including a pizza restaurant that features jazz and even includes a few randomized clarinet and trumpet solos to help keep things interesting (all live players too!) The player will notice that even the map has dynamic music that changes depending on which part of the globe the player is looking at as they scroll/turn the globe, and I think it's great that the player can discover little audio details like that (or tapping on Gordon during a round...try it) as they get deeper into the game. It's just one more aspect of the game that the players end up appreciating.