Written by Gary Miranda & Rodney Gates (edited by George Hufnagl)
PlanetSide 2 was a fun, creative, and challenging game to make. In a very short amount of time (~18 months), it went from pretty much scratch to what it is now, with a lot of new technology created for the project and our ever-growing, proprietary game engine.
Below we’ll list out some of the highlights along the way.
1) THE BEGINNING
PlanetSide 2 almost wasn’t the game it is today. It was supposed to be a slightly-revised, graphics-upscaled version of regular old PlanetSide, simply called PlanetSide “Next.” However, once a new production team and creative leads were added to the title, it quickly went an entirely new direction, pushing the technology and boundaries of our capability beyond what we thought we could accomplish.
Rodney had started working on the older version, PlanetSide “Next,” towards the tail end of the development of our previous title, Clone Wars Adventures. He had been replacing weapon and vehicle sounds here and there, so when this engine changeover occurred, he had quite a bit of material to start with. The sounds all changed over time of course, but for a little while, the big focus on changing game engines was going to be all about the technology.
Gary got in around November 2011. From there until about April 2012 it was full force design and integration while at the same time figuring out exactly what we wanted for the tech side. From April up until launch we were able to get a couple more hands in (Chris and Adam) to help bring everything to life.
2) THE TECHNOLOGY
When PlanetSide 2 started up on our new engine, we didn’t have a lot of things. There was zero code written for vehicles, for example. We had no way to integrate even some of the temporary assets that were created for PlanetSide “Next,” as the functionality simply didn’t exist.
There were some main things we knew we wanted to accomplish.
Distance treatment using separate assets – Initially, this was a way to work with the tech we had in place early on, but ended up working to our advantage. For any 3rd person weapon (anyone else’s character that you see), there is a close shot that plays within a certain meter range. Eventually, that close shot crossfades into a completely different asset that sounds more distant. The distant assets are treated and set up differently from the close ones and allowed us to become very creative when designing them. Explosions also work the same way.
Here is an example of the Proximity Mine. The first sound is the close blast, the second being the distant version and the third being a set of air reflections that get layered on top of either in quad:
Another major piece of sound functionality we wanted was the ability to have separate sounds from the player’s character (2D) versus the others around you (3D positional). All of the 2D weapons are in stereo (some are in Quad) with an added, discrete LFE element to help feel like that weapon is right up in your face being fired, for players playing the game in 5.1. The same goes for the vehicle weapons. It was all about making the player feel the most important and powerful using sound.
Vehicles were a huge beast to tackle as we didn’t have enough of our tech in early enough while “the beast” continued to grow. We did know, however, that we wanted separate sound and feel for the 2D view inside the vehicle vs the 3D camera view (external). Eventually, that concept grew into adding a “remote client” sound which is how another player hears your vehicle. This allowed us to dial in a more extreme doppler factor and the addition of some unique flyby oneshots within a certain proximity to the character and speed while in the air, as well as the ability to add a more aggressive engine sound that you, as the player, didn’t have to endure on long flights.
NC Reaver Interior/Exterior Flight
NC Reaver Remote Client and Flyby Oneshot
3) THE REVISIONS
PlanetSide 2 being a sequel, there is definitely nostalgia involved with the veteran players of PS1. There is also direction coming from different sources within the development team and then there are the concepts which we have in our heads as we design. The Vanu Sovereignty weapons, for example, went through several stages of evolution from classic “pew-pew” lasers to hybrid laser / machine guns to what they are now, all stemming from these three areas of feedback (they are currently sort of a cool, hybrid blend of alien weaponry heard in the films Battle LA and District 9, composed of almost entirely synthetic elements).
VS Assault Rifle V.1
VS Assault Rifle V.2
VS Assault Rifle Current Version
Once Beta was under way, community feedback was essential. When we started getting hundreds of outside players involved in the game, we quickly realized some choices we needed to make in the overall mix and balance of the game, compared to our small-ish internal playtests. Some of these decisions were nearly impossible to make without this mass amount of players, so that was extremely helpful.
Our main challenge with mixing was not really having an exact idea of how the game would sound until we had a huge player population. Our internal tests could get a fair amount of people running around and blowing things up, but PS2 is really about the massive scale of combat. It wasn’t until the closed and open Betas where we got a sense of what people would or would not be doing. This gave us areas to focus on sonically. The combat feedback closest to you is the obvious priority because of who might be killing you. So how do we try to control that?
All of our sounds are categorized into VCA Groups. Ambience, Weapons, Vehicle Weapons and we even get down to specifics on certain things like Weapon TR or Weapon VS, as well as Player vs. NPC (other player) weapons. We have the ability to kick on “dynamic mixer” states during gameplay, so a firing weapon can trigger a Dynamic Mixer. These mix states can change almost any one of our sound parameters (volume, rolloff, High and Low pass filters, etc.)
For example, if you are a Terran Republic soldier and you fire your weapon, the volume ducks your friendly players’ weapons fire, vehicle engines, and ambience. It is quick and subtle and almost goes unnoticed, but what it does is create a nice hole for your primary weapon to stick out while firing and not get masked by a ton of other unpredictable sounds playing around you.
In this you can hear the engines of the Prowler tanks nearby dropping in volume as the player’s weapon is fired. As soon as the mouse is released the volume immediately comes back up.
What we leave up during this event are important feedback sounds like projectile flybys, material-based bullet impacts on the world near you, enemy gun fire, and damage indicators. When your character is hit by weapons fire or even when a projectile flies by, we duck a lot of things altogether, wanting to be sure that you know you are taking damage or are in danger and should find some cover! It’s about focus for you, the main player.
Another example of our dynamic mixers is used when flying around in an aircraft. We realized early on that the engagement distance while flying is typically much further away than fighting on the ground as a soldier on foot or in a tank, so we needed to bring the enemy’s sounds closer to you with rolloff scaling while you are targeting them in the 2D cockpit view. This gave us greater control over amplifying the things we needed to hear from within the vehicle versus the rest of the game, which helps with the feedback immensely.
In the next video, Gary is just cruising around in a Reaver. When he enters the enemy territory he starts getting shot at. There are some explosions and tank fire going off. If we didn’t have that mixer state while in the cockpit, we wouldn’t even hear those sounds. The vehicle is just too far away for the standard distance attenuation. If we were to adjust all the sounds accordingly (without using mixers), general combat would be way too messy and loud.
Although we don’t have actual obstruction / occlusion in the game (yet), we were able to treat the interiors of buildings in a similar fashion, using the dynamic mixer states that add a Lowpass filter and volume reduction on certain sounds and change up the environmental reverb, to better simulate the feel of being inside versus out.
5) LOOKING FORWARD
Unlike console game development, one cool thing about working on live titles is just that – they’re live! We get the opportunity to continue to improve and enhance the game’s sound on a weekly / monthly basis with various game updates and hotfixes for bug control. In fact, since our November 20th launch, we have already improved the game in a couple of big ways. Gary transitioned our weapons fire playback to utilize a new granular loop stitching method, and they sound far better than they did before. Much more “machine”-like.
NC LMG Before Stitching
NC LMG After Stitching
Our audio programmer also integrated a proprietary brickwall limiter that behaves very much like (Waves) L2, and is more efficient on the CPU than other commercial options out there.
As we prepare to move onto our next title’s development and continue support for PlanetSide 2, we will be looking at adding convolution reverb for more realistic-sounding environments, as well as obstruction / occlusion integration to better simulate the effect of interiors / exteriors and distance attenuation.
We have a lot of work ahead of us, and a lot of cool plans to make SOE’s games sound better than they ever have.