Unlike high school and college sports,
target="_blank">professional athletics is all
about business. Owners and general managers vie for the best players
for their teams, giving them various incentives to come and play for
the team, which typically revolves around money, but might have a
variety of different options included in the final contract. Success
for the entire team is dependent on gathering the best players
possible, and once the group is in place, bringing them together in the
most cohesive possible atmosphere.
Hodges, Audio Director for 38 Studios
In many regards, massively multiplayer online game development
companies are similar to these professional sports teams. The best
designers, engineers, writers and artists in the industry are always
vied for, being offered positions at the companies with the most
promise, greatest concepts and most money to toss around.
However, championship sports teams aren't created through excessive
spending alone - just take a look at the href="http://newyork.yankees.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=nyy"
target="_blank">New York Yankees as a fine example
- and again the same goes for massively multiplayer online game
development. Perhaps the man with the most experience to this regard in
the game development industry is 38 Studios founder Curt Schilling, and
he has been working for months at putting together the best line-up of
all-star developers he can find.
One of his most recent hires is 38 Studios' latest Audio Director
appointee, Aubrey Hodges. One look at Aubrey's resume shows an href="http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,3717/"
target="_blank">incredible list of gaming achievements and
products - including DOOM,
the Madden titles - that he's worked on including credit as one of the
first to use MIDI in a video game and the first to use sound effects in
an online game. With so many credits to Aubrey's name, Ten Ton Hammer's
staff was incredibly interested in why the former EA Tiburon Audio
Director left his position to go work at 38 Studios.
"Well, it came down to several things," Aubrey said. "The most
important factor was that one of the keys to happiness and success in
any career is when your own personal interests and talents can
intersect your chosen profession. So, for me the opportunity at 38
Studios was a chance to make that happen. I’ve always been
fascinated with the fantasy genre--it’s at the core of many
of my interests and hobbies. So the combination of my favorite genre
with the professional freedom of having a huge world to score in terms
of music and sound was very compelling. This was a chance for me to get
back to what I really enjoy doing--making games come alive with audio!
In a large company with many projects to juggle, it became increasingly
difficult to get involved with the actual creation of content."
"Another key draw to the studio was the product itself, particularly in
light of the talent involved," explained Aubrey. "Here was a world
being created by a master storyteller and visually conceptualized by
one of the most celebrated artists alive. I was honored that they
selected me as the director of audio. They have given me their trust in
my artistry and leadership for the studio, and I take that very
As a network focused on gamers, we wondered exactly how many MMOGs
Aubrey had played in the past, and we were quite surprised with his
answer. Although we didn't expect to find someone bereft of MMO
experience, it was evident that Aubrey had been much more involved with
MMOGs than we first realized, including audio work on one of the very
earliest MMOs, The
Shadow of Yserbius.
"I began playing MMOG’s during the development of music and
audio for href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Shadow_of_Yserbius"
Shadow Of Yserbius in 1991," Aubrey stated.
"This was the fantasy-based game that was part of The Sierra Network
(later renamed Imagination Network or INN ). This game can still be
played today thanks to http://innrevival.googlepages.com/."
"Since that time I have played href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/38"
target="_blank">Dark Age of Camelot,
2, target="_blank">World of Warcraft, href="http://www.tentonhammer.com/taxonomy/term/39"
target="_blank">Guild Wars, href="http://vanguard.tentonhammer.com/" target="_blank">Vanguard,
of the Rings
Online, and most recently href="http://warhammer.tentonhammer.com/" target="_blank">Warhammer
(which I also got the chance to
work on a little bit while at EA)," he continued. "I have more
high-level characters than I would like to admit in most of these
games. In terms of a favorite . . . that is a hard question for me as
all of them (even Vanguard *winks* had their high points. I love tons
things in EQ2: the music, the combat (heroic opportunities), the
collections! But, I love what Blizzard did with WoW, too. 60fps is a
huge win especially when they were still able to deliver a beautiful
world and exciting gameplay. If I had to pick just one, though, it
would be WoW. I’m sure that to some
“hardcore” folks out there that makes me some sort
of Blizzard fanboy, but I find that sort of thing laughable really."
to bring his extensive experience to 38 Studios to improve
Unfortunately a vast number of individuals that are part of the MMO
industry are relatively inexperienced "rookies"; they've either played
very few massively multiplayer online games or are just getting their
start. Aubrey - on the other hand - is obviously a well-rounded veteran
who has been in the video game audio industry for years. Experience
always has a way of improving the way someone creates a product - take
the target="_blank">first Harry Potter book compared to Harry
Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - and we asked Aubrey how he
plans on using his experience to improve upon Copernicus' audio.
"Yeah, I guess I have worked on my fair share of stuff, although in
many respects solid audio design transcends genre," Aubrey said. "That
being said, there are certain lessons learned from aspects of each
title in the past that’ll come in handy while designing the
audio for Copernicus. For example the attention to detail in the href="http://www.gamezone.com/news/03_24_08_03_06PM.htm"
target="_blank">Madden audio design is surely
applicable in the design for many of the core element in Copernicus. In
my opinion this is the one issue that kills many audio features in tons
of games. The ambient music design techniques I used on the Doom and
Quake series will lend themselves perfectly in a world with many creepy
places to explore. And of course the old Sierra Online games helped me
to develop a deep understanding on what works well in terms of the best
instrumentation and approach to music in fantasy settings. (Although,
at the time the MIDI technology was terribly limiting.)"
"Now, as far as doing things that haven’t been done before,
the truth is that I wasn’t seeking to be groundbreaking when
all those things were done," he continued. "But, at the time I saw a
need and did whatever it took to make the features happen. In the case
of Doom, for example, I decided to create an ambient soundtrack because
I wanted the experience to be enjoyable even while playing the game for
extended time periods. I didn’t believe that I could meet
that goal with the technology at the time in the rock genre. So I
improvised. It’s not something I can predict because I am not
even sure what challenges I will find in front of me. What I can
promise is that I will make every attempt to craft a believable and
extraordinary audio design that will immerse the player in the world we
are creating. If that means I have to push the boundaries of current
methods or technology then so be it, as long as the end result is a
Although the audio in MMOGs has progressed quite a bit since its very
start, the experience many gamers receive is far less than what they
might find in the more popular single player games. The fact that
Aubrey was hired by 38 Studios showed Ten Ton Hammer that the studio
was eager to innovate in the MMOG marketplace, and we wondered how
Aubrey could push the audio into Copernicus to generally improve on
what the MMO tradition has given us in the past.
"I’d agree with you that some of the older stuff
wasn’t all that impressive, but I do feel like the genre has
dramatically improved over the last few years," Aubrey argued.
"Certainly there are some areas for improvement in games like WoW and
EQ2 and so on, but let’s also give credit where
it’s due. Any MMOG is a huge undertaking, and the sheer
amount of assets needed is a challenge in and of itself. The fact
is, in the case of quite a few of the current major players,
the audio is quite pleasing more often than it is lacking. For example,
I thoroughly enjoy the music in WoW, LotRO, and Warhammer. All three of
those titles have moments where the audio really shines. This is also
true for Guild Wars and quite a few others. It’s so easy to
cast judgment on other products, but given the amount of work it takes
to make games of this scale I don’t think I would refer to
them as sub-standard for the most part."
"The problem is that usually a comparison is being made between very
different types of products with very divergent game play experiences,"
he stated. "For example, there is a dramatic difference between the
experiences in playing a single level of any popular first person
shooter versus playing an MMOG in the same amount of time. Yet, because
there is not always that pulse-pounding adrenaline rush audio design in
the MMOG then it gets branded as being somehow less sophisticated. The
reality is that if any MMOG tried the “wall of
sound” approach of most console games in terms of audio
design, most players would be turning off the sound in their games. In
terms of what the challenges are, well, they are the usual suspects:
Development time, storage space, RAM, and CPU usage. Increase any of
these for audio, and everything usually sounds better."
audio experience has continued to improve, but Aubrey hopes to enhance
it even further.
On a more detailed note, we asked Aubrey a number of questions about
the Copernicus project specifically. First, we wondered if Aubrey was
going to put a lot of emphasis in a particular theme, much like what
many of us fell in adored in games like Legend of Zelda, Super Mario
Bros., and EverQuest. Would we be trilling the tune in our head for
hours upon hours every day?
"First, you write a theme with a prominent and simple melody in a style
that matches the genre," Aubrey said. "Second, you beat people over the
head with it so often that it sinks in. And finally, you revise it
slightly from time to time and commence the beating all over again!"
"In all seriousness I think for the most part that writing catchy,
hook-based melodies isn’t a primary goal for me on the
project," he explained "I prefer simply trying to make you feel the
emotions of the scene while playing. It will likely be the case that at
times players will find the melodies memorable and prominent. But, in
many parts of the world some of the music may not even contain
traditional recognizable melody. Quite frankly, some of the most
effective music in my career has been more mood than melody. My goal is
to evoke the correct emotion as the players experience the story and
Though a fundamental, repetitive theme may not necessarily be a focus,
Ten Ton Hammer is happy to report that Aubrey did give us one little
hint about the upcoming audio in Copernicus, concerning voice overs and
that sort of content in the title.
"Yes, there will be dialog in the game," Aubrey answered. "As far as
the specifics I really can’t comment. One thing I can say is
that I will try my hardest to ensure that whatever approach we take is
done to the highest standards out there."
As his final word, Aubrey wanted to show his eager enthusiasm for his
new project at 38 Studios. His excitement was almost palpable in his
"Designing the audio for Copernicus is a rush like none
other--honestly, more fun than I’ve had in years," Aubrey
concluded. "I believe that this project will be the hallmark of my
career. Given a few of the titles on my resume that should say
To read the latest guides, news, and features you can visit our Copernicus Game Page.