Batman: Arkham Origins Music
Above: Strings session with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra
I headed up audio on the unique and awesome Batman: Arkham Origins Multiplayer while at Splash Damage, working with Warner Brothers and Rocksteady. The multiplayer component of Arkham Origins had different requirements to single player, the music needed to be bespoke so we worked with Mark Rutherford who composed and produced the score. Mark likes to record parts in layers so you can get larger than normal sections playing each layer, so once you’ve put it all together you end up with a richer texture. Here’s a video of the front end main theme –
In a competitive multiplayer game you generally allow plenty of space in the mix for critical tell-tale sounds, which usually means keeping music to a minimum, but we wanted AO Multiplayer to be a more cinematic experience not too dissimilar from the previous game’s Predator challenges. Not a simple task considering the 3 vs 3 vs 2 setup, where teams of Joker and Bane thugs fight for control of a map, while Batman and Robin try and prevent either team from winning. It can get very hectic so managing what music you hear and when was very important. We created a list of gameplay events that we felt needed reinforcing with music, some longer pieces and some shorter stings. The longer pieces providing driving excitement as you get to the last minutes of a close game, or stealthy tension for the last man standing on your team. The stings providing an extra layer of feedback to the player on what’s happening, a form of musical UI, many games do this but it’s rare to have so many in a multiplayer game.
Mark nailed the stings, all 57 of them needed to reflect different events from different faction’s perspectives. Here’s an example of a single event that needed multiple cues, this is what happens when a thug kills a hero –
Thug perspective – your thug team kills a Hero.
Hero perspective – you died, killed by a thug.
Hero perspective but from the hero that didn’t die – your ally died.
other permutations of the same event could also be –
Hero perspective – killed by Bane.
Hero perspective – killed by Joker.
Hero perspective but from the hero that didn’t die – your ally died and the thug team has come back from near death (this one you don’t want to hear!)
Mark made each of them distinctive and recognisable, everything was themed per faction unless it needed to be heard globally, and even if you had never played before you should understand just from the sting if something good or bad had happened, in relation to the other faction.
In order for the stings to convey the feedback needed we found the timing was really important too, and was generally –
Gameplay event occurs (e.g. control point captured) – real world sound effect heard with UI sounds.
Quickly followed by –
Music sting bespoke for the event.
Quickly followed by –
Your faction’s boss (Joker/Bane/Alfred) updating you over the radio.
Here’s an example where a player does this, from 59 seconds in –
Then at 1:27 the player is far away from the action but you learn you’ve killed Robin, the sting is bespoke for a Hero kill as mentioned above, and starts with a quick 2 note brass stab, and includes elements associated with Batman and Robin like the powerful strings, the soaring voices, playing a sombre yet rewarding chord.
From the perspective of Robin this is the sting you would have heard instead, from 8:15 –
A more grave and solemn sting.
The order of feedback is important too, obviously it’s critical to have to have the speech here, but it’s the music sting that most efficiently does the job of informing the player what’s happened, once the player has learnt to associate the sting with the event. If it was the other way around and you had the speech before the music then the player might miss the content of the speech so then you are delaying the delivery of critical feedback to the player.
Multiplayer rule #1 – feedback first, filler later.
Huge thanks to rest of the team at Splash Damage particularly the awesome work from Andrew Quinn, Simon Price, Ed Stern, and everyone else who contributed to this unique project!
The very talented strings section of the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra at Rozhlas, a wonderful sounding space –
Brass, percussion and voices were recorded separately –
Mark Rutherford with Orchestral Producer Sandy McLelland following scores in the control room –
Graham Preskett (Twister, The DaVinci Code) is a very talented arranger and conductor having worked on many films and games –
While at the session my job of directing the music is pretty much done as i’ve handed over to Mark and his team, except to answer the occasional question. So i spend most of my time capturing interesting perspectives of the Orchestra on my Sound Devices recorder with some DPA mics, from the stalls, occluded through the stage doors etc. Here’s me geeking out getting lots of room tones from the other studios and corridors –
Batman music team wrap photo!