Bleeding Edge is the latest title from Ninja Theory. Featuring a robust roster of fighters, the 4v4 competitive multiplayer game packs style, substance, and is building out a unique experience not only through visuals but audio as well.
Video game audio has the ability to immerse us in very interesting, and sometimes subconscious ways. Ninja Theory is no stranger when it comes to complex soundscapes. Look at Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, for instance. Part of what made the game so powerful was the game’s ability to capture a feeling of dread and represent the hurdles of suffering from mental health. While Bleeding Edge is a more light-hearted and adrenaline-fueled title, the small, yet agile team of Ninja Theory developers are taking their professional background in creating enthralling audio designs and adapting it towards a catchy, multiplayer experience.
I sat down with Daniele Galante, the Senior Sound Designer on the game to discuss the numerous aspects of implementing everything coming through your speakers and headsets when playing the game. From voice acting to the game’s punchy soundtrack, Galante gave us a lowdown on the creation of Bleeding Edge’s sound.
Steve: You’ve got this catchy soundtrack throughout matches that naturally pulls you in and gets you excited. What was the process like to build-out the music for Bleeding Edge?
Daniele: Good question. Creating the soundtrack was a very important moment for us. We wanted to compose something that would represent the game at its best. We decided what we would do for the soundtrack, in the beginning, we thought we would do an electronic-based soundtrack. But, it was not enough to represent the characters.
If you look at the characters, they’re made by pieces of augmentation. They like to change and combine stuff so they’re all made by pieces of technology. We wanted to reflect that in the music. We started grabbing lots of pieces of different music and glue them together like a collage. There’s electronic, of course, which is old school and a bit modern. Old school because [Bleeding Edge] has a bit of a 90s vibe but is also futuristic. We wanted to look at trends from electronic artists like DJ Shadow, Kid Koala, and more modern artists like Noisia.
That was not enough, so we wanted some rock, some hard rock, some funk. Rahni is a huge fan of funk so she told us to put some funk into it. We even put some hip-hop, and a pinch of trap in there. We created this collage. The soundtrack is like a character. It’s just a collage of augmentation of all these genres.
Another key component of the soundtrack that I wanted to bring up is its positivity. The game isn’t about a war. These are fighters that are friends. They’re a group of friends and this is just a sport. They fight because they like it. We wanted to reflect this positive vibe in the music and tried to not be too dark. We’re not going to the battlefield, we don’t want to be dramatic. Let’s have fun!
Steve: Every fighter has a backstory and a voice that goes further to build out the fighter’s characteristics. Where did you source the voice acting for the game? Was it done internally, or did you hire a cast of voice actors?
Daniele: We direct them all internally. Voices are crucial. This is where you give personality to the character and it’s important to be respectful to the artist and animators who put themselves into the character. We take it very seriously.
How we do it is that Rahni will give us a backstory. She’ll tell us who the character is and we decide together how they should sound. For example, if he has a particular accent based on his region or is high-pitched or low-pitched. We decide two or three keywords to define the voice. For example, Cass, we say cold and a bit flat. We give this request and we received around eight auditions.
We don’t want to know where they are from, the name, age, how they look, we don’t care. The only thing that matters to us is the acting and the performance. Sometimes, some auditions are perfect. For example, Maeve was perfect, Kulev’s was fantastic. Sometimes you find one of that inspires you but you want to do an extra audition with you present and give a bit more direction. Once we decide who the character will be played by, we record together. We have a voice director who interacts with the actor. We sit in the back in the shadows and direct the voice director.
It’s very interesting because this game is very quirky. It’s a bit out of the box. We did the same with the voice acting. If you take Makuta, he is this big dude and you can imagine he would have this gravely, low voice. We decided to do the opposite and give him this very gentle heart and give him this very soft way to talk, he’s very friendly. We managed to give an extra layer of interest to the character. Kulev is another example, he’s a snake that controls a corpse. He has this British-posh Cambridge accent that really makes him more interesting.
Steve: Let’s talk about the audio cues involved in the game. Some players may not pick up on it, but there are ways audio impacts gameplay on a subconscious level whether it’s indicating a melee strike lands on an enemy or when a control point is being taken. What was the process of building out that soundscape?
Daniele: That was a very big challenge for us. At least for the audio team, we all come from single-player experiences. That may be the case for a lot of the Bleeding Edge team, but I can’t speak for them. It’s a completely different way to approach sound design. In a story-based game, the story is the focal point. You want to immerse the player into the game and forget that he is playing a game. In this case, we don’t want the player to forget they are playing a game. We want to emphasize that you’re playing the game.
We had to learn how to ignore some basic rules of acoustic perception. If you’re close to me, of course, you’re louder than people over there. *points across the room* We had to change the way everything works based on a gameplay perspective. The final goal is to make you a better player. If you are the same level as another player and you pick the same character and you play with headphones and the other plays without, you will play better
We created this extremely dynamic system that changes completely based on where you are. I’ll give you an example: if Gizmo is shooting you from afar. Because she is shooting you, she may still be louder than a nearby enemy that isn’t interacting with you because it isn’t much of a threat. It’s more important to know that she is attacking you. At the same time, an enemy that is close to you is still more important than an ally that is closer to you because an ally isn’t a threat. An ally that may be trying to heal you is more important than a non-threatening enemy because that could the difference between life or death. All these elements change the sounds, volume, and how you perceive them.
We like to call it controlled chaos. When you are in the middle of a battle, all the players are together in a confined space. There’s a lot of things going on, fighting in the middle of a lot of people. The sounds you are hearing are the sounds you need to listen to in order to play well.
Steve: It’s all prioritized.
Daniele: Yes, it’s all prioritized. Hopefully, we can give that sensation to the player.
Steve: Hellblade’s sound and music held a lot of importance to the overall immersion. Looking at the lessons the studio learned throughout the development of that game, how did it help craft the sound design of Bleeding Edge?
Daniele: Hellblade is a very different game. It’s a very dramatic game. It doesn’t want to be funny or fun. It wants to be entertaining because it’s still entertainment, but it’s dark. Emotion is the most important thing. Being able to express a story and feelings of Senua. The main sound designer for Hellblade was David Garcia, he basically did everything alone. He’s a monster.
He worked through the sound design process of Bleeding Edge with me. He kind of had to reinvent himself and relearn how to do it. It’s such a different game, but having to swap between the experiences makes you a much better sound designer. Clearly, what you learn from Hellblade can be used in part for Bleeding Edge. What you learn from Bleeding Edge can be used in a game like Hellblade.
The fact that we’re forced to change our approach to sound design and mix music is exactly what makes you much better than others. It’s about not being comfortable and makes us better.
Steve: Turning our attention towards Mekko, how did the team begin to sculpt her personality from an audio and voice perspective? Did that come naturally or was it by design?
Daniele: We had to think about how to make this dolphin talk. How is it going to interact? Mekko is a dolphin with an AI that automatically translates what it says. You will always hear the dolphin talk and then the translation from the AI. In the beginning, the idea was to use a text-to-speech. You’d have a monotone voice that translates.
Mekko was crazy compared to the other characters and it just wasn’t enough for us. We wanted to reflect on just how crazy he is. So, we decided to give him an extra push to his voice and decided that the Dolphin learned how to speak English from watching a Japanese show because he is Japanese. So, we hired a voice actor and instead of being monotone, we wanted to strike a balance from the robotic voice and match him with the accent. Now, he is much more fun, much more entertaining. Even the robot voice has personality. Sometimes that contrasts with the dolphin as he’s always pretty angry. The robot’s voice is almost relaxing with a Japanese accent.
It was definitely one of the hardest. We had to redo it a couple of times. At first, it was too expressive and it was too much so we toned it down a bit. It happens in any creative process. It wasn’t easy but we are super happy and became a really fun character. Our team loves him.
Bleeding Edge releases on Xbox One and PC on March 24th, 2020.