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How High Dynamic Range Audio Makes Battlefield: Bad Company Go BOOM

This document discusses how the video game Battlefield: Bad Company utilized high dynamic range (HDR) audio to create a more realistic soundscape. Some key points: 1) HDR audio uses an automatic mixer and prioritization method to determine which sounds should be loudest at any given time based on their distance and other factors, rather than having all sounds at a fixed volume level. 2) This allows the game to have a wider dynamic range of sound without manual work, and helps ensure the most important sounds are audible while quieter ones can still be heard. 3) The developers were able to mix the audio throughout development rather than in a final phase, improving the overall audio experience in the game

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How High Dynamic Range Audio Makes Battlefield: Bad Company Go BOOM
How
High Dynamic Range Audio
            Makes
 Battlefield: Bad Company
         Go ”BOOM”
      Anders Clerwall
         EA/DICE
Overview

    Retrospective
»
    High Dynamic Range Audio
»
    Implications and Benefits
»
    Culling and Prioritizing
»
    Mixing & Mastering
»
    Conclusions
»
    Future
»

» Q&A
Retrospective

» Dynamic range traditionally faked
       Duck and snapshot-mixing
     
      Suits games with predictable sound scape
              Still, a lot of manual labor
          

» ..Even for multiplayer
         Highly unpredictabale sound scape
     

» Everything was turned to 11
         ”Every sound is important!”
     
              But not at the same time!
          

         Amplitude 1.0 has no meaning
     
Retrospective

» Battlefield: Bad Company
       DICE’s first ”Next-Gen” (360/PS3) game
     
      More of everything
      The sky’s the limit!

» Frostbite
       A new beginning
     
      We decided to use HDR audio from the
       start!
              Even the name sounded ”Next-Gen”
          

         It’s all about the dynamic range!
     
What is HDR Audio?

» It is..
        An automatic mixer
      
       An automatic prioritization method
       An effective culling method
       A way of mapping one part of a large
        dynamic range to a smaller one
        (amplitude)
                Basically like HDR lighting (Tone Mapping)
            

» It is not..
          Compression
      
                Although sometimes similar
            

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How High Dynamic Range Audio Makes Battlefield: Bad Company Go BOOM

  • 2. How High Dynamic Range Audio Makes Battlefield: Bad Company Go ”BOOM” Anders Clerwall EA/DICE
  • 3. Overview Retrospective » High Dynamic Range Audio » Implications and Benefits » Culling and Prioritizing » Mixing & Mastering » Conclusions » Future » » Q&A
  • 4. Retrospective » Dynamic range traditionally faked Duck and snapshot-mixing   Suits games with predictable sound scape Still, a lot of manual labor  » ..Even for multiplayer Highly unpredictabale sound scape  » Everything was turned to 11 ”Every sound is important!”  But not at the same time!  Amplitude 1.0 has no meaning 
  • 5. Retrospective » Battlefield: Bad Company DICE’s first ”Next-Gen” (360/PS3) game   More of everything  The sky’s the limit! » Frostbite A new beginning   We decided to use HDR audio from the start! Even the name sounded ”Next-Gen”  It’s all about the dynamic range! 
  • 6. What is HDR Audio? » It is.. An automatic mixer   An automatic prioritization method  An effective culling method  A way of mapping one part of a large dynamic range to a smaller one (amplitude) Basically like HDR lighting (Tone Mapping)  » It is not.. Compression  Although sometimes similar 
  • 7. What is HDR audio?
  • 8. Great, but why? » Sadly we can’t play at 128dB in peoples’ homes Neighbors, hearing loss, broken windows   Technical issues with audio equipment » Need a way to make sounds feel really loud But still hear quiet sounds   Without all that traditional manual labor » Spend our time more wisely
  • 9. Great, but why? » Lots of loud sounds make for a crowded upper part of the amplitude range Difficult to make quiet sounds temporarily  loud » ”Every sound is important!” But not at the same time!   So we need a way to tell which ones are
  • 10. How did we do it? » Specify loudness (dBSPL) instead of amplitude The key to HDR audio   Use real-life measurements as guideline  One value-range for all sounds » Measure each sound at the listener position Perceived loudness   3D calculations Angle and distance attenuation/filter  coefficients, etc. There’s no static ”MaxDistance” (gasp!) 
  • 11. How did we do it? » Every sound contributes to the current loudness » Position the HDR ”window” This is the most important part of the  dynamic range  Defined by MinTop, Size, ReleaseTime  Loudest sound can move the window 
  • 12. How did we do it? » Calculate amplitudes Apply headroom if needed   Amplitude 1.0 has actual meaning again! » Let’s listen to it!
  • 14. Implications » Less control No guarantee that a particular sound can  always be heard  No way of predicting how loud a sound will be, in absolute volume » Somewhat of a paradigm-shift for sound designers No longer controlling absolute volume, but  rather the relative volume between sounds  Do they actually need control over that? I’m not a sound designer   They haven’t complained (at least not about that) 
  • 15. Benefits » More control Loudness actually means something!  Preserves the relationship between sounds  in a clear way It’s always obvious which sounds should  play » Based on reality But actually not reality   We’re making a game!  Creative control very important
  • 16. Benefits » Easier to make exceptions to the rule than adding lots of rules For example; give first-person sounds and  VO some headroom » Less/cleaner code Means less bugs. Promise!  » Mixing the game » Enables some pretty nice culling schemes Harsh, but fair 
  • 17. Pre-culling » Before a sound gets activated and starts rendering Start with the sound’s specified loudness  Apply distance/angle attenuation  Remember, this is as loud as the sound  could theoretically get! Previous update’s HDR window bottom is  cutoff » Helps clean up the sound scape » Low overhead These calculations would be done anyway 
  • 18. Pre-culling » One-shots can be completely ignored » Loops are considered infinite and become pending Until they’re explicitly stopped  » Shifts load-balancing to where most knowledge is More reliable   Distance is inferred by loudness It’s about what you hear, not how far away  you are
  • 19. Culling of active sounds » Every sound is either ”Audible” or ”Inaudible” Basically above or below some threshold of  hearing  Assume HDR window bottom May end up being the nth sound’s  perceived loudness due to load-balancing » Once a sound becomes inaudible, suspend it One-shots may never return   Looping sounds most likely will  Resume once audible again
  • 20. Culling of active sounds » Worst-case: Lots of similarly loud sounds They’re all inside the current HDR window   Limit on number of active sounds affects threshold of hearing » Best-case: Your weapon vs. bullet impacts nearby Weapon will raise HDR window and bullet  impacts can be completely ignored  Very common scenario in Bad Company
  • 21. Better measurements » Measure each sound’s RMS Apply to perceived loudness  » Compensate for maximum sine RMS when pre-culling Subtract 3dB from ”attenuated” loudness   Due to peak-normalization in pipeline » Improves culling and prioritization Need to guard against premature culling  before first RMS value is available  Same for priorities
  • 22. Prioritizing » Sound designer specifies base priority None, Low, Medium, High, Permanent   Combines with loudness into final priority at run-time » Priority determines rendering order When max. rendering time is reached,  expel quiet sounds  Ensures we should always hear the loudest sounds Use Permanent priority carefully! 
  • 23. Mixing » Traditional scenario Mixed at the end of the project   Spent at least a few weeks  Did nothing else » Fundamentally different approach with HDR audio A lot of the complexity ends up being  handled by the sound system automatically  Sound designer ”only” tweaks loudness and attenuation values
  • 24. Mixing » Battlefield: Bad Company Mixed throughout the project   Spent at least an equivalent of 6 months  In fact, the game was always mixed Ship it!  Only a couple of days spent finalizing the  mix at the end Including tweaking the listening settings 
  • 25. Mastering » How do you listen to your game?
  • 26. Mastering » How do you listen to your game?
  • 27. Mastering » How do you listen to your game?
  • 28. Mastering » How do you listen to your game? We can’t predict all setups 
  • 29. Mastering » How do you listen to your game? We can’t predict all setups  » Realtime mastering of the 4.0 mix Equalizer and Compressor   Sounds can bypass  LFE and dialog always bypass » Most common setups TV 
  • 30. Mastering » How do you listen to your game? We can’t predict all setups  » Realtime mastering of the 4.0 mix Equalizer and Compressor   Sounds can bypass  LFE and dialog always bypass » Most common setups TV   Hi-fi
  • 31. Mastering » How do you listen to your game? We can’t predict all setups  » Realtime mastering of the 4.0 mix Equalizer and Compressor   Sounds can bypass  LFE and dialog always bypass » Most common setups TV   Hi-fi  Home Cinema
  • 32. Let’s listen to the result!
  • 33. Conclusions » Suits first/third-person games Most likely other types of games as well  » Battlefield: Bad Company audio on average 92 rated Awesome sound design may have  contributed   A case of great tech enabling awesome design » High Dynamic Range audio works! Our gamble definitely paid off   The future for HDR audio looks ”loud”!
  • 34. In the year 2000 » More accurate perceived loudness Tweak distance model   Take frequencies into consideration  More fitting normalization of source data  Improves culling, prioritization and thus the whole sound scape » Better workflows and debug info Live-tweaking was crucial, but could be  improved  Fix things that didn’t get a lot of attention due to focus on shipping Bad Company » Optimize, Optimize, Optimize!