Assassins Creed Mirage game audio Asbjoern Andersen


In Ubisoft's Assassin's Creed Mirage, the player takes on the role of a Baghdad street thief named Basim (who was introduced in Assassin's Creed Valhalla). Here, the game audio team at Ubisoft Bordeaux Studio – led by Audio Director Étienne Marque – talk about the differences in their approaches to Valhalla and Mirage, how they created the sound of ninth-century Baghdad (including building believable crowds), what went into designing their ambience and foley systems, how they created the sound of the new ability 'Assassin Focus,' what went into their UI sounds, and so much more!
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Ubisoft
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Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Mirage transports players to ninth-century Baghdad, immersing them in multi-lingual markets, and allowing them to experience the city in different ways based on their vertical distance from street-level. Where Valhalla covered a broad map area, Mirage covers a tall map area. The renewed emphasis on parkour encourages upward exploration.

Here, Ubisoft Bordeaux-based audio team members Étienne Marque (Audio Director), Romuald Testier (Senior Sound Designer), Yannick Bertelli (Senior Sound Designer), Luc Clavel (Sound Designer), Adrien Sese (Junior Sound Designer), Isaline Marquaire (Voice Designer), Valentin Sezeur (Voice Designer), Matthieu Henot (Lead Tech Audio), and Raphael Marchetti (Tech Sound Designer) talks about creating a rich world that varies vertically, with dense, bustling crowds on the ground and bird-filled ambiences at the highest points. They talk about how they created foley systems to support stealth and parkour-style movements, how they designed the sound for the new ability ‘Assassin Focus,’ how they used musical elements to create the UI sounds, and much more!



Assassin's Creed Mirage: Cinematic World Premiere | #UbiForward


Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Cinematic World Premiere

How does the sound of Assassin’s Creed Mirage compare to Assassin’s Creed Valhalla? What were some new technical and creative aspects of the sound you wanted to explore/change/improve for this new release?

Étienne Marque (EM): While both games are part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, they offer different experiences to the players. Assassin’s Creed Mirage (ACM) returns to the series’ roots with a focus on parkour and assassination. The game takes place in ancient Baghdad, where you will spend most of your time in the city streets and on the rooftops to complete missions. This smaller scope allowed us to improve the overall sound quality (better conversion settings, for example).

‘Assassin’s Creed Mirage’ returns to the series’ roots with a focus on parkour and assassination.

In Assassin’s Creed Valhalla (AVC), you play as Eivor, a ruthless Viking raider, whereas in ACM you play as Basim, an agile street thief from Baghdad. We crafted the sounds of this project around 3 main pillars: Stealth (Basim is quiet and deadly), Immersive City (a dense and complex city full of life), and Progression (our main character is evolving and progressing through the game).

 

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Ubisoft Bordeaux Audio Team

When did you get started on the game? What were the first sounds you created when you came on board? Did those sounds end up evolving as the project progressed? If so, can you talk about the evolution of those sounds (how and why did they change)?

Matthieu Henot (MH): ACM was developed with the same tools as ACV. The project initially started as a DLC, and very quickly became a standalone game. As we initially shared a big common Wwise project, we had to branch and overhaul it to fit our needs.

Raphael Marchetti (RM): Then, the first sounds we worked on were Fight and Foley, as they were the most challenging changes from ACV.

Fight went through a lot of iterations to find the right balance between swiftness and power (Basim is a glass cannon: a character with strong offensive power but weak defensive capabilities). We worked with Foley artist Guillaume Boissot in July 2022 and re-did all the foley of the game (~6000 assets) to fit our new main character and new gameplay.

 

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This game is set in ninth-century Baghdad during the Abbasid Caliphate. Can you talk about the ambiences you created for different areas/locations in the game? How did you make the game sound historically accurate? Also, how did you want each area/location to feel, and how were you able to help achieve that feeling through sound?

EM: We were clear at the beginning that we wanted to have a lot of contrast between the dense city and the open wilderness. We were focusing on the very lively side of the city, with a lot of verticality, whereas in the wilderness, we wanted to really feel the open space, and focus more on the wind, for example.

Romuald Testier (RT): Bringing diversity in ambiences came naturally, as there is a good number of different interiors, from natural caves to palaces, beautiful biomes, some Isu tech and even what we call “mental space” with nightmares and the Jinni. We wanted to let the ambiences have a big part, and not have music everywhere, so we could use it to emphasize the narration when needed and put extra quality over quantity.

Concerning the emphasis on verticality, we wanted to have some clear distinction between the street levels, the roofs, and the highest points.

To add some life (it’s kind of cliché but it works so well) we have birds all around; we ended up putting more than 100 different bird species in the game.

Concerning the emphasis on verticality, we wanted to have some clear distinction between the street levels, the roofs, and the highest points. As an Assassin, it is important to feel immersed into the crowd at ground level, but to hear some distance as we master the parkour on rooftops, so there is less crowd and more birds.

When you reach the highest point, we wanted it to feel like you are where nobody else can be, so you only perceive the distant murmur of the city and the far perspective of the desert.

Isaline Marquaire (IM): Baghdad was an important city at that time, a place of commerce for people coming from all over the world. It was important for us to represent this diversity of nationality in the people we cross in the street. To represent this variety of nationalities, we decided to record voices in 6 languages: English (of course), Arabic, Persian, Hebrew, Chinese, and Greek, to represent Europe. During the casting, we focused particularly on the talents’ accents to this end.

Valentin Sezeur (VS): The wallas (voice ambiences) emulate crowd voices, support true lines, and change depending on where and when you are in the streets of Baghdad and how many NPCs are around.

We also have street musicians who play at different places in the game. They play in different moods depending on their location…

We recorded a group of actors to achieve that, and created specific wallas for the Bazar, for the market, for Anbar, etc. It plays a huge part in immersing the player in different crowd densities and accents while crossing the city.

EM: Some specific sounds are broadcasted from certain buildings not accessible to the player (examples: musicians practicing, craftsmen, people who do their cleaning or cooking, babies, etc). These small scenes depend on the part of the city you’re in, and the time of day. This adds life to the city and helps make it bigger.

We also have street musicians who play at different places in the game. They play in different moods depending on their location (festive near the market, and melancholic in the wild, for example).

As for the rest of the diegetic sounds, we make sure that they fit into our sonic world.

More info on this and the music can be found in this video Assassin’s Creed Mirage: Behind the Soundtrack.

 

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On the technical side, can you talk about your ambience systems, and how you make the locations feel immersive and reactive?

MH: We studied the sound behavior in the city’s main streets here at Bordeaux, focusing on filtering, reverbs, and dynamics, and tried to translate that into our systems.

We managed to translate verticality simply with orthogonal distance and elevation parameters in Wwise.

We knew voices would be our base reference for mixing, so we took a lot of time to make it sound right, considering different projection levels and elevations. According to that, everything else took its place more easily, naturally.

We managed to translate verticality simply with orthogonal distance and elevation parameters in Wwise. We spent a lot of time tweaking the volume values, roll-off, reverb sends, etc. to get smooth transitions depending on the height.

In terms of assets, it has been a constant back and forth to get a good balance for airy/density in the pads. We put some extra effort into reverbs, integrating good IRs to be able to mix through it. It was crucial for us; it changes the color of the final render, but it’s not necessarily in your face. It blends everything in a natural way. It also means having a good strategy for shared attenuations in Wwise.


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For the wind… we used synthesis to build a gust system that would be triggered at a pace and intensity that depended on the weather conditions.

For the wind, it’s complicated to get a predictable parameter from the engine, so instead of driving wind assets directly this way, we used synthesis to build a gust system that would be triggered at a pace and intensity that depended on the weather conditions. It allowed more control over the rendering. These guts also drive visual effects such as sand floating in the air which achieve a more credible effect overall.

Adrien Sese (AS): We tried to avoid 2D sounds as much as possible. We have all kinds of random emitters, mostly related to real props, and often sensitive to the wind system – for example, spatializing insects directly onto a bush, preventing sound from happening in the middle of nowhere, and also triggering leaf’s details, even crackling branches when the wind is high.

We have all kinds of random emitters, mostly related to real props, and often sensitive to the wind system…

We allow random animal emitters to play from afar with a big amount of reverb, so you can hear life way beyond in the city, boosting the liveness beyond on what you’re seeing. These animals’ emitters are tied to districts so it’s not totally random. You’ll be more likely to hear a rooster near a place where you can actually see a rooster.

It’s also small things. Yannick Bertelli (senior sound designer) came up with a clever LFO setting for random birds, to get the impression of flying pass-bys and circling (it’s sort of a doppler effect). It feels more alive and natural than static sounds and gives extra perspective.

 

ACM_sound-05

Mirage focuses more on stealth, parkour, and assassinations than the role-playing elements of previous releases like Valhalla. What did this mean for you in terms of sound? (Was there more emphasis put on recording foley? Can you talk about your foley system?)

EM: As Stealth is an important aspect of the game, we spent quite some time designing specific assets and systems for it. We worked with a foley artist and recorded a bunch of sounds, to match the agility and lightness of our main character.

Luc Clavel (LC): We reworked the way foley sounds were managed in previous opuses. Our goal was to simplify the integration and the use of sounds in animations to give us more control over the mix, and again, to put quality over quantity.

Our goal was to simplify the integration and the use of sounds in animations to give us more control over the mix…

For the outfits, we recorded 5 textures/categories (long cloth, short cloth, light armor, heavy armor, and leather). And for each category, we had two types of action/movement: specific and generic.

Specific ones are used for the main movements, such as walking, crouching, and rolling. Generic ones are used for other movements, such as climbing, landing, etc.

Each action has three intensity levels and four durations (i.e., light and long, or heavy and medium). We also have sounds for the hand movement and impacts (with three intensity levels).

For the run/walk/crouch cycles’ animations, the outfit sound peaks when the legs are crossing.

In total, we have a bank of around 20 actions that cover all our needs in terms of navigation animations and dialogues. Particular attention was paid to the parkour animations.

For the run/walk/crouch cycles’ animations, the outfit sound peaks when the legs are crossing. This way, it doesn’t mask the step sound, but instead, completes it. It’s clearer and it gives more coherence to the animation loop.

For the footsteps, we recorded the 7 most used surfaces in the world (sand, sand deep, dirt, gravel, grass, grass long, and stone dirty). When running in the game, your steps can alternate very frequently between the surfaces, and it was important for us to have super-fluid and nice transitions.

 

ACM_sound-06

Can you talk about your approach to the sound of the new ability called “Assassin Focus”? (This causes time to stop, allowing the player to mark up to five enemies who will then be automatically killed by protagonist Basim in quick succession)

MH: First thing was to set up a proper slow-mo system, which is quite common in AC games. In Mirage, it’s used for different purposes, with the main one being the Assassin Focus. Some sounds are actually slowed-down, ambient sounds and the music is muted, but the mix state is quite more complex. Lots of mutes/pauses/effects are affecting very specific parts of the structure, like voices. It’s the kind of design that makes us rethink and reorder our Wwise project.

Lots of mutes/pauses/effects are affecting very specific parts of the structure, like voices.

EM: For the targeting phase, we used a Shepard tone instead of a long rise, because depending on the player, it can go up from a few seconds or last a minute, so I needed to keep some kind of tension in it.

The design was an iterative approach, and we spent quite some time on it. The design of the feature also evolved following viewer feedback, after the first reveal, into a more glitchy version to highlight the link with the Animus.

LC: For the execution phase, we have all these big stylized and detailed SFXs, with a lot of dynamics. The sounds themselves are rich, with some slapback. It feels like thunder resonating. We wanted the player to have this “wow” moment. Effects contribute to this feeling of a very fast, impactful action that’s confusing for the enemies. Finally, the glitch SFX is short, with high frequencies and a lot of fast little sounds that add contrast and use the full spectrum of frequencies and dynamics.

 

ACM_sound-07

What was your approach to the UI sounds in the game?

Yannick Bertelli (YB): Étienne wanted to have something clear and readable, a vocabulary. Feedback needed to be clear for the player.

Since the first Assassin’s Creed, there is a heritage of awesome tailored interface sound, so there was a bit of pressure to get it right.

The first sounds I made were the celebrations when you discover a place or finish a mission. I found inspiration in the concept art and the creative briefs. Once I got this right, I expanded everything based on it. I had template sessions with sand textures, winds, delays, and reverbs.

The dirtiness of some analog outboard gear fits perfectly with the type of noisy-esque sand setting of the game.

We also had the chance to get music samples from the CGI trailer. It was orchestral stems and a lot of textures, hits, etc. from composer Brendan Angelides. It happened early in production, so I used it quite a lot. It was a real goldmine.

An important asset to produce was the detection system. The approach was more functional (rather than aesthetic), to best meet the gameplay needs and provide good feedback for the player to interact at the right time. Sound-wise, it’s a dissonant tonal-drone loop with just pitch, filter, and volume set in Wwise.

Interface sounds, such as buttons in menus, are layers of samples from traditional Arabic musical instruments processed with analog gears like OTO machinesBAM and BOUM. The dirtiness of some analog outboard gear fits perfectly with the type of noisy-esque sand setting of the game. And we implemented a system that switches between different versions when music is played (to avoid dissonance).

 

ACM_sound-08

What were your biggest creative challenges in terms of sound for Mirage?

EM: One of the topics that came up often during reviews was the importance of creating a coherent world. It doesn’t have to be realistic, but if a sound behaves in a certain way, the other sounds must do the same (i.e., propagation, perspectives, attenuations).

It’s quite basic but for me, one of the challenges was creating a sonic world that the player would accept and be completely immersed in. It’s a key element to best support the gameplay and the story.

It doesn’t have to be realistic, but if a sound behaves in a certain way, the other sounds must do the same…

RT: The city of Baghdad was the main focus and our biggest challenge. We wanted to fake the least possible stuff so nearly every sound is tied to a visual or real-time system.

IM: The script includes lots of Arabic words in the English sentences. And since there are a lot of Arabic dialects and accents, one of the challenges was to decide which one to use, create a catalog of words with the chosen pronunciation, and make all the talents record them following that guide.

We worked closely with the Diversity and Inclusion committee of Ubisoft, especially with a college in Dubai that helped us a lot with the casting and the pronunciations.

 

What were your biggest technical challenges in terms of sound?

EM: Being relatively new to the AC brand (we worked a bit on ACV and made the first DLC Wrath of the Druids), we had to learn a lot, in a short amount of time. Even if lots of tools were already there, not all were suitable for the project. But we’ve worked on other massive open worlds before, and from experience, we knew what kind of strategy we needed so that we’d have as few bugs as possible and the most polished experience.

One challenge was trying to push quality as much as possible while keeping in mind the oldest platform limitations on CPU and memory management…

MH: One challenge was trying to push quality as much as possible while keeping in mind the oldest platform limitations on CPU and memory management; that’s something that can become quite tricky. We spent quite some time on conversion settings and tried to improve them significantly, meanwhile managing bank loading more in detail.

We were willing to focus on dynamics and immersion, so we had to take it in our hands and push a lot of existing systems, often coding some small modifications to fully fit our designs. Of course, we didn’t manage to do everything we wanted, but prioritizing things for such a short production duration is the key and I hope we did that properly.

 

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How has your experience of working on Mirage changed your approach to game sound? What have you learned that you’ll carry forward into your next project?

EM: We all learned a lot during this project at different levels (methodology, techniques, tools, etc.). It was a challenging, rich, and enriching experience for all of us. Making a game is collective work, and learning to work together is one of the most important things.

This audio team was formed during this project, and this is the first game that we are making together. I’m particularly proud of the result and very lucky to be part of this team. I can’t wait to see what we do next.

 

A big thanks to Étienne Marque, Romuald Testier, Yannick Bertelli, Luc Clavel, Adrien Sese, Raphael Marchetti, Matthieu Henot, Isaline Marquaire, and Valentin Sezeur for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Assassin’s Creed Mirage and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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