Darth Hater: LucasArts made high quality sound design a hallmark of their games; could you briefly go into some of the titles each of you worked on prior to The Old Republic?
Darragh O'Farrell: Sure. Ill start with a brief introduction, I'm Darragh O'Farrell and I head up audio for all LucasArts titles. With me I have Will Beckman our Voice Director and Jesse Harlin our Music Supervisor, and Julian Kwasneski our Lead Sound Designer on the LucasArts side.
Ive been at LucasArts since 1995 and have been fortunate to be involved in many great titles. There are six titles that really stand out for me. In no particular order Knights of the Old Republic I & II, Grim Fandango, The Curse of Monkey Island, Outlaws, and most recently The Force Unleashed.
Will Beckman: Obviously KOTOR I & II stand out but also Mercenaries, Gladius, and Star Wars: Empire at War were fun to work on.
Jesse Harlin: For me Republic Commando, the Star Wars & Indiana Jones Lego titles, The Force Unleashed, and most recently Lucidity have been highlights of my time here.
DOF: You know its great to be back working with BioWare and I don't know what it is but whenever we get together we always seem to be trying to do something unprecedented. On KOTOR I the original design for voiceover was to have the game be primarily text with a level of voiceover similar to Baldurs Gate. At LucasArts we were so used to voicing our classic adventure games that KOTOR seemed like the logical next step. At that time 14,000 lines seemed immense. And here we are back together on The Old Republic with an astounding 240,000 lines of dialogue. Give or take a few. Its a real challenge for both LucasArts and BioWare but it'll be great when we are done.
DH: As you know from working on Knights of the Old Republic, Star Wars is nearly as well known for its music as it is for its story. Will we see any musical themes from the movies or previous games making a return?
JH: Absolutely. The Old Republic is a massive expansion of the Star Wars universe as we saw it in KOTOR I and II. As such, were approaching the score for the game with the same mindset, a massive expansion of the existing musical language of Star Wars by using both the films and the first two games as the foundation from which were building. Expect to hear Jeremy Soule's and Mark Griskey's music from the original KOTOR games. Also expect to hear John Williams music from the six Star Wars films. Were taking pains to make sure that were faithful to the films in that themes which are associated with particular planets, characters, and concepts are respected. For instance, were writing a new theme for Jedi Order itself, but were basing it off of a variation of Yoda's theme from The Empire Strikes Back. The intention is that players who spend time with The Old Republic can then go back and watch Empire and immediately get a sense that Yoda is the last in the ancient lineage of Jedi Knights that represents the Old Republic.
DH: The original score by John Williams became an integral part of Star Wars culture. How did the audio team approach creating new pieces with such iconic shoes to fill?
JH: We've assembled a team of composers for The Old Republic who are all well-versed in the language of John Williams. Mark Griskey, whose previous Star Wars work includes both KOTOR II and The Force Unleashed, is returning as our lead composer on the project. Joining him are composers Lennie Moore, Gordy Haab, and Wilbert Roget, II. Lennie comes to us with a diverse background in games, TV, and film. Gordy recently worked with us on Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings and Wilbert wrote new music for the recent DLC levels for The Force Unleashed. In addition, we've also hired composer Peter McConnell (Grim Fandango, Brutal Legend) to compose 90 minutes of original cantina music for us. Were deep in the heart of writing material for the game right now and things are sounding fantastic.
DH: When will we find out about a Star Wars: The Old Republic Official Soundtrack and how can I preorder it?
JH: All of the details are still to be determined but well have more info on that soon
DH: The musical scores are not the only iconic sounds to be heard in Star Wars; the sound of a lightsaber igniting or a blaster firing evokes nearly the same response from fans. Are you creating entirely new sounds for The Old Republic or dipping into the vault?
Julian Kwasneski: Definitely both We will absolutely be dipping into the vault and trying to exploit some of the lesser-known source sounds and alternate takes of sounds that never made it into the films. There is also a wealth of audio source that was created for the first two games as well as other recent LucasArts titles that will be built upon. Beyond that we are in the process of creating entirely new weapons sounds with all-new custom source audio. Additionally, we are utilizing the power of Audiokinetics W'wise engine to extend the variety and depth of the sounds you will hear. There is a vast list of weapons that can be used in this game and we intend to make sure they're all fun to swing, shoot, and blow up
DH: Can you describe some of the ways you coupled environmental audio with the visual landscape to create a sense of immersion for some of the revealed planets? Are there any noticeable environmental sound differences that you can speak to?
JK: We are working on many different levels when it comes to ambient immersion. This game features multichannel audio as well as numerous ways to play ambient sound that will constantly react to changing game conditions. So when you add the technology with all the different ambiances and the lush visual world BioWare are creating you can expect this to be one of the most immersive and realistic-sounding games around.
DH: Anyone who viewed a making of documentary on sound design knows that the sounds of lasers and explosions can come from mundane, everyday items. What is the strangest or most unorthodox source you used for TOR?
JK: While this list is sure to get longer, consider this: A vibrating electric shaver, an antique 16mm camera, a WWII bayonet, a vacuum tube, a broken water pump and a giant old shot-put ball as some of our trusty source tools we have used so far.
DOF: That and sound guys don't like to give away all their tricks ;-)
DH: It was previously mentioned to us that audio can be used to make players feel more powerful. Will we be seeing sounds change as players progress through the game? Possibly hearing a few more bones break when a high level Sith Warrior chokes an enemy or more crackles from high level lightning?
JK: Because of the power of W'wise, we will be taking a layered approach to audio that will tie audio events to many states of a players maturity in the game. So the short answer is, yes. As you grow as a player, so shall the sounds associated with your character class. Blasters will get beefier, sabers will clash more brightly and force powers will become more powerful sonically.
DH: The voiceover project you undertook for The Old Republic is unprecedented with hundreds of actors from across the globe. Would you briefly go into some of the unexpected challenges associated with such a project?
WB: Casting male and female voices for all the player classes is really a big undertaking. You have to find voices that fulfill expectations of both the players and the character archetype. For instance the Sith Warrior is essentially a villain in the Star Wars universe but as a character voice it needs to also be heroic and charismatic as the player themselves will be assuming that role in the game.
Casting the right talent for the thousands of characters in the game can be complicated. You don't want an actor playing multiple characters in the same location so spreading them out over the various class stories, factions and worlds is always tricky.
Finding someone to play a major character is usually easier than trying to get one person to play various parts. The voice-over style is mostly realistic so we don't want to stretch anyone too far in terms of what they are appropriate for.
Just the sheer volume of recording is challenging. Usually you get a project and there's a build up to the recording and a post production phase and then its over but with this project the amount of casting and recording is unprecedented really. Darragh and I have worked on the voice-over for the series since its inception and I'm really just a fan as well. I try and bring that passion into the studio every day.
DH: We know that every player character will be fully voiced. What can you tell us about the selection of voices available to players?
WB: All the player classes, both male and female will be fully voiced. Both genders will have voices that fulfill the Star Wars archetype for that class. With eight classes and a total of sixteen, male and female player character voices to choose from, there will be something for everyone.
DH: We have been told that players have the option of making their characters a non-human species. Will all players be voiced in galactic basic, be it English, French, or German, or will some be able to speak in an alien language, similar to Jory in the Bounty Hunter demo?
WB: The players will have the option of creating non-human player characters. However all of the player characters will speak basic as much of the entertainment in the conversations comes from the player character responses.
DH: Speaking of alien languages, some species in Knight of the Old Republic had a limited number of voiceover clips that tended to repeat for different lines of dialogue. Will we see something similar to this in The Old Republic, or is unique voiceover work being done for each species?
WB: The Non player character alien dialog will get a complete overhaul with lots more alien languages and variety. Along with Huttese we are creating scripts for many other languages with more variation. The alien language effort alone is bigger than the voice-over for any LucasArts game we've ever done, and we've done some big voice-over games.
DH: We unfortunately learned that none of the voices are being supplied by BioWare and LucasArts employees, and although I still think that should be reconsidered, are there any popular actors, voice or otherwise, that we will recognize in TOR?
WB: Really were trying to create an immersive world that players can feel like they are stepping into for the first time so were not looking for voices people will necessarily recognize. If we do have any notable voices I think they will be presented in a way that no one has ever heard them before.
DH: Having every character voiced, in addition to all of the more traditional sound files, means a lot of storage. Will any of the sound files be streaming or should players be anticipating a larger installation requirement then what is seen in other MMOs?
WB: As with any MMO it will be a decent sized install but I'm sure however large it is the epic Star Wars stories and the voice-over that brings them to life will be well worth every gigabyte.
DH: Finally, five minutes of spin for the audio department. Is there anything else you would like to say to all of the audiophiles out there eagerly waiting to listen to Star Wars: The Old Republic?
DOF: Just that it is great to be working with BioWare again. I would like to thank BioWares Audio team of Todd Davies and Scott Morton, LucasArts Audio Producer Orion Kellogg, as well as everyone else working on the game. There are a number of us on the team who are big MMO players and are incredibly excited about this game and are looking forward to a little PVP action
Some of the more interesting facts learned in the interview include: the use of Audiokinetics W'wise engine, sound fx change with skill increases, only two voice options per class, and no alien voices for PCs. We would like to throw a quick Thank You back to the team at Lucas for the interview. Everyone here at Darth Hater is looking forward to spending countless hours listening to the sounds of Star Wars: The Old Republic.