Interview with David Farmer
Nowadays, sound effects are as important as visuals in a computer game. This isn't any different with Torment, so Charles Deenen, the Big Sound Man of Torment, decided to hire David Farmer to do the spell sounds. We asked him a few questions about his work on Torment:
- Can you give us a short description of your work on Torment?
There were so many spell effects in the game, Charles Deenen decided it would be best if I concentrated on that area. So I did most of the spells, and the spell movies.
- Can you give us a few other things you worked on?
- Why do you think Charles Deenen hired you to do the spell effects?
Well, Charles and I started working together after the first Mortal Kombat movie, which he saw, and apparently like the sound. I'm not going to toot my own horn here. Everyone has a particular style to the type of sounds they do. It's as individual as fingerprints. It's mostly that my style coincides with the types of things Charles is looking for.
- How's doing sound effects for games different from doing them for movies?
I'd say format and use. "Format" being the venue where the playback happens. With a film, there are a bit more standards, like THX, which attempt to make each room you might see the movie in sound the same as the mix stage where the film was mixed. There are still a lot of variables there, and not all theaters are THX approved, but there is a bit less variance than with games. Games are played back on everything from monitor speakers to full blown 5.1 home theaters! We strive to make the game sound great on any size speaker, and that's not easy!
"Use" refers to how the sounds get played. In a film, you have a picture that operates linearly, so you know what's coming. There's no random orc that's going to pop out at you. :) What you see is what you get, so you can anticipate moods & events, and design/edit the sounds to carry you through the scene. With games, it's interactive, and events can happen at random. So while you have to make a spell sound good when it's by itself, you also have to plan that there might be a melee going on with a dozen or so other things happening, and it's got to work with the other events too, so it doesn't all turn to mush.
- What equipment did you use to make the spell effects?
Pro Tools, SampleCell, and a host of outboard gear ranging from top of the line Sony boxes, all the way to guitar processors.
(And a few hundred thousand DAT recordings. :)
- How do you usually go about making an effect? How do you come up with ideas, and what criteria do you base decisions on?
Well its mostly intuitive, and a bit hard to put into words. First I watch the spell several times, and imagine what I'd like to be hearing. (This is something a sound designer has to develop a knack for) Does the look of it warrant an impacty sound? Or does it move around? Should it have animalistic qualities? How long does it need to be? Does it need to build up, or should the apex be at the beginning? etc.,etc.. Then I look through my database for broad categories of sounds, like whooshes, growls, etc.. I audition those sounds & try to pick out pieces that were similar to what I have in my head, or pieces I think might process in an interesting way.
Creativity often comes in spurts. Often when I'm processing sounds, even if they don't match what I'm trying to accomplish at the moment, I'll just keep working on them, and name them in my database in such a way I can recall them later.
During Torment, I was processing some sword hits, and they were coming up very interesting. While they didn't work for the spell I was working on, I gave them a description like "processed sword hits, reverberant metal tones, good spell source". Later, I was looking for something of that quality, but had forgotten I made those sounds. When I searched my database for "metal tones", I found them, and they were exactly what I needed!
- Are you a computer gamer yourself?
I am, though my free time doesn't allow very much of it anymore.
- Did you play Torment yet? Did you like it?
I haven't had the chance to see it in it's completed form yet, but can't wait!
- What's your all-time favorite computer game?
Now you're going to laugh, but here goes. There was this game for the Commodore 64, called "Legacy of the Ancients". I must've played that thing through a dozen times! I was crazy about those C64 games like "Questron", "The Pawn", "Balderdash", and "Impossible Mission". Don't get me wrong, I love the modern game platforms, and the games, but those old games I still remember fondly. I'm still looking for Mac emulated versions of those! (Or PC)
I still like the older games like "Secret of the Silver Blades", and "Pools of Darkness". Like a good film, there is much that takes place in one's imagination.
OK, OK, I'll give you a more recent one. "Heart of Darkness".
I guess you can tell, I like strategic puzzles, rather than "run & shoot".
- What's the best sound you've ever heard in a computer game?
I can't pick one. Game sounds are so diverse, I really have too hard a time saying that one is better than another. The same is true with films, though I'm willing to say "Raiders of the Lost Ark", and "The Empire Strikes Back", are amongst my all time faves.
- How glamourous is your kind of work? (Big Movies, Games...)
While there are the occasional shin-digs of what might be called "glamorous", they are fewer than one might think. Most of what we do is what I'd call "In the Trench". Working in movies & games is hard work, the hours can be very long, deadlines can be very short, and expectations high.
One of the misconceptions about people that work in the entertainment business is that it's a lot of limo's, booze, and supermodel parties. :) While that exists for some, 99% of us are working 12-14 hours a day, which doesn't leave much room for that kind of thing (even if it were an option, or a preference :)
- Do you have any advice for someone looking to get into the sound effects business, or the movies / game business in general?
As a matter of fact I do, at least for sound.
Look at "Full Sail Center for the Recording Arts", in Orlando (actually Winter Park, I think) Florida. In my opinion, it's the best place to get the tools & education you need to do this. Nobody can teach you intuition, that's up to you, but without technical ability/understanding, it'll be even more difficult. Full Sail provides you with the tools, and opportunity to learn TONS of stuff. It's up to you whether you make good use of it or not.
Don't get into the entertainment business for the glamour of it, as you'll likely be disappointed. Do it because you have a passion for whatever area it is you do. (my 2 cents anyway - whatever you do is really up to you)