God of War III

Mar 1, 2010 12:00 PM, By Blair Jackson

SOUND TITANS CREATE EPIC ADVENTURE SOUNDTRACK

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It's been five years since the first God of War videogame came out on the Sony PlayStation 2 platform and became an instant sensation among serious gamers worldwide. Combining a richly detailed story using numerous characters and settings from Greek mythology with fast-paced and gory action and sophisticated gameplay, the title won a slew of awards and, not surprisingly, has spawned a franchise that includes God of War II (2007), God of War: Betrayal (2007; a spinoff for mobile devices), God of War: Chains of Olympus (2008; a prequel to the series developed for the PlayStation Portable) and now, on a wave of anticipation and hype, God of War III (GOW3) for the PlayStation 3.

More than two years in the making, GOW3 ratchets up the action to new extremes as we follow the further adventures of Kratos, a mighty Spartan warrior who battles various gods and titans, and is, as we learned in GOW2, the son of Zeus, who has tried to kill him and vice versa over the course of the GOW adventures. Along the way, he encounters a plethora of mythological characters and creatures, including Athena, Gaia, Kronos, Pegasus, Perseus, Atlas, Ares, the hydra, the harpies and all sorts of bad dudes and beasties who make life rather challenging for our tormented hero. The range of characters and plot points in GOW3 was a still closely guarded secret when I was preparing this story in early February, but from looking at the previews and an online demo of the game, it appears there is plenty of bloody mayhem involving everything from skeleton warriors to a fire-hurling god to frightening flying creatures, centaurs and you-name-it. In what director Stig Asmussen claims will be the last adventure in the series, Kratos' goal is no less than the destruction of the home of the gods, Mount Olympus!

As you might expect, the sound team on GOW3 really had their hands full. Between the staggering array of battle weaponry (much of it with enhanced, nearly supernatural qualities, like the Blades of Athena that Kratos wields against his foes and, new for this game, the giant over-fist battering gauntlets known as the Cestus), the fires, explosions, creatures/monsters and ambiences required, there was an amazingly detailed sonic world to create. As was the case with the first two PlayStation 2 GOW games, the bulk of GOW3's sound and visuals were done at Sony Computer Entertainment of America's Santa Monica Studios (Santa Monica, Calif.) game-production facility. And because the game was developed for PS3, the sound team was able to create an even more sophisticated and highly detailed soundtrack.

“The fact that God of War III is on the PS3 as opposed to the PS2 is huge for sound,” comments lead sound designer Paul Fox. “We don't have the 2-megabyte limit we used to have on PS2, which definitely affected overall audio fidelity. On any PS2 game, you had to make some sacrifices to get things to fit into memory. It still sounded good, but these days we're able to set higher standards with the PS3. Now with the PS3, we're at what I would consider modern-quality sound — we can pretty much always do stuff at the highest quality. But the other thing about moving to the PS3 is that the actual amount of work to get the sound job done is exponentially larger now. The games have more content in them and more detail that we cover with sound than we were able to do before.” Indeed, GOW3 contains an estimated 10,000 sound IDs (encompassing FX, music and dialog), “an order of magnitude more than the previous PS2 GOW game,” Fox says.

According to sound designer Steve Johnson, the expanded sonic capabilities of the PS3 allows the designers and implementers to integrate different sorts of sound sources in a way that is nearly seamless for the player — in the same way that animation of the game play is now almost on a par with the cinematics. For instance, he notes, “Because we know Kratos does this, then this and then this in a scene, we're exploring the opportunities of more linear-style sound at key points, sending whole premixed sections of sound directly to chosen speakers in a single file. I think one of the real technical achievements of this game is that we have up to as many as 20 pre-buffered streams at any one time — sound that's streaming off of Blu-ray, not in RAM. Traditionally. that's reserved for music, ambience, cinematics. Now, let's say there's a mini-game in a scene that might have four onscreen prompts in which you have to time your button-presses perfectly to make sure you actually kill, etc. We're doing things where we might have, say, a 5.1 stream prebuffered up to the first button-press; we know there are two button-presses that follow in succession that might last two or three seconds each — we can cover those sections in stereo and RAM — and then, say, have the fourth button-press cause a second surround stream to come in for the final kill animation. We're able to script it so that playing the first stream triggers the pre-buffering of the second stream. And we know that once the second happens, there's no turning back, so we tell it to drop the first. So we're juggling traditional game sound with a lot of more linear post work.”






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