Weapon sound effects recording Asbjoern Andersen


Ever wonder what goes into recording weapons for a game? In this exclusive Q&A, weapons sound recording supervisor Watson Wu and audio director Mark Muraski share what it took to record a huge range of weapons for ‘Rising Storm 2: Vietnam’, an upcoming title by Tripwire Interactive.


Interview by Anne-Sophie Mongeau, photos courtesy of Watson Wu



 

How many different types of weapons did you record for Rising Storm 2: Vietnam? What was the scale of the task and how long did it take to successfully sample everything?

Watson Wu (WW): For RS2 we field recorded over 15 weapons. These included submachine guns, machine guns, belt fed machine guns, sniper rifles, shotguns, grenade launchers, simulated RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade), and simulated explosives. My role was the logistics of getting everyone to meet on the same days, exclusively rent the entire shooting range, organizing gear, van rental, food/water/snacks, setup, recording, cleanup, etc. I guess that means everything! Rather than speeding through each of the weapons through a one day shoot, I decided to divide the recordings into two full days.

To properly record a weapon, I would like to capture at least 5-10 good takes. For games, I often record close, medium, far, and incoming perspectives. Single shot weapons like sniper rifles are usually quick for me to record. A more complicated weapon like the M16 takes a much longer time to go through. This rifle has a selector switch that will allow the armorer to do single shots in the Semi-Automatic mode or Burst shots in the Full-Automatic mode. A session that involves full automatics vs simple single shot weapons will take a lot longer to record.
 

How important is it to record the exact weapon you see on screen? Can you fake it? Are the weapons you see in RS2 the exact weapons that were recorded?

WW: Awhile ago I was very strict on recording the exact weapon. Because I’ve recorded and have shot most of the available weapons through countless sessions, I now would rather record better (beefier) sounding weapons vs the real thing. For example, an MP5 submachine gun is chambered in 9mm (a small pistol round). It doesn’t sound very interesting until an armorer shoots it in the full-automatic mode. In my own opinion, large rifle calibers make some of the best and most interesting sounds. We can fake certain weapons, but an AK47 will always sound distinctly as an AK47.

Tripwire Interactive is known to produce very complex busy games so making gunshots cut through the entire mix is crucial

In RS2, most of the weapons we recorded were accurate to what was used during that war. It was difficult but we found experts who owned actual full-automatic M60 belt fed machine gun as well as the M3 Grease Gun. Those weapons do have distinctive sounds. In the editing process, we often do heavy layering, processing, and often change how and when the gun tails should occur. Tripwire Interactive is known to produce very complex busy games so making gunshots cut through the entire mix is crucial.

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Footage from the actual recording sessions

After a recording session, can you talk us through the steps of having a final asset ready to deliver? And do you have any tips on going through this process efficiently?

WW: During the session, I update my files according to the weapon names. They often look like this: AK47_A_T001 for Recorder A Take 001 and AK47_B_T006 for Recorder B Take 006. Taking the extra time to properly name files makes sorting a whole lot easier. Onsite we write on my print outs of weapon names, calibers, shooting modes, mic names, mic perspectives, and mic distances.

Taking the extra time to properly name files makes sorting a whole lot easier

These later are typed into a spreadsheet for more details. My 7 series Sound Devices recorders write to both internal drives and Compact Flash cards. I use high speed memory cards and plug them into my USB 3.0 card reader for copy and paste functions to an external drive. All files are recorded into single poly-wave files. I find this easier to look at and sort through vs separate mono tracks. Passport from Western Digital are very reliable drives I often budget in for large sessions. To separate poly-wave into mono files, I use Wave Agent freeware from Sound Devices. For most sessions, I use Reaper DAW for fast editing and mixing. Reaper works Very Well! You can start a new Reaper file, drag and drop files of all types and just work. It flies like Google Chrome! Sometimes I use Pro Tools when I need to collaborate with others. To see examples of how I sometimes name my files, read my Weapons Recording Guide.

 

Can you tell us who was part of your team on the RS2 firearms recording session and their roles?

WW: Mark Muraski is Tripwire Interactive’s Audio Director. He was responsible for the list of weapons as well as sound quality assurance. When he felt that we’ve captured enough sounds of a weapon, he made the decision for us to move on or do more if necessary.

The best use of time is to split the work with another expert

I brought in Jesse James Allen (with over 50 AAA game credits) to help me setup and record. While I can record more channels, the best use of time is to split the work with another expert. I allocated 10 channels for myself and tasked Jesse with 4.
The weapon recording team
Jason Shortuse was my assistant who helped with setup and cleanup. He is a very good/safe shooter and can maintain weapons when they malfunction. His enthusiastic attitude and work ethics are outstanding. When Jason is onsite, it’s like having Michael Jordan on my basketball Dream Team!

Chris Rickwood, a composer and a sound designer was also present. He helped with the setup and cleanup.
John Gibson, President of Tripwire helped us by performing a lot of shooting so that we were able to concentrate on recordings.

One more thing that was vital was the armorer guys I hired. You just can’t shoot off an RPG at a range. Things would explode, create fire, and harm properties and people. These former military guys have the experience with RPG live firing so they know what it sounds like. They safely rigged a system that sounded like the real thing. We then separately recorded simulation explosion sounds. Thank you, Thermo Arms!

Remember, great sounds come from great recordings.
 

Did the RS2 game setting affect your decision on location or recording strategies? If yes, how so and what were you trying to achieve?

WW: There are times when I only need to record regular gunshots. For RS2, I placed microphones a lot closer to the weapons to capture punchier sounds. The shooting range was the other factor as gunshots sound incredible at that location. I’ve been to a lot of shooting locations. This is one of my top three favorites.
 


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For RS2, what did the workflow look like between a field recording supervisor and game sound designers/integrators? Do the field recordists get involved with the implementation and in game mixing?

Mark Muraski (MM): In this case I was all of the above. I also supervised the field recordings, edited the recordings, designed the weapons, and implemented them in game. In general at Tripwire we wear all hats of our discipline.
 

Can you share some tips on firearms dynamic mixing for games?

MM:A good mastering limiter! I personally prefer Ozone 7 these days. I also like the Oxford Inflator by Sonnox for adding punch without adding distortion.

The trick for me with firearms is to avoid big midrange buildup

The trick for me with firearms is to avoid big midrange buildup. That will clutter the mix quickly. Getting the snap on top, and a big bottom is generally pretty easy, the hard part is finding the oomph of the gun without stomping everything else (also crappy speakers don’t handle large amounts of midrange well). Don’t be afraid to cut with a master EQ in the trouble spots (NEVER BOOST).
 

Can you talk us through the process and steps of organizing and planning the RS2 firearms recording sessions?

MM:Watson really handled most of this for us. We delivered a list of difficult to find weapons and he delivered! The main thing to consider afterwards is organization. You have many files, none of which makes sense or works on its own, you have to create usable sessions where you can quickly access all the different microphone placements.

You have to create usable sessions where you can quickly access all the different microphone placements

During the recording you have 3 main obstacles: people talking over echoes, birds, and airplanes. If you can find a place that sounds great and is free of noise you are golden!
Weapon recording session

Would you use different recording techniques depending on whether the sound is meant to be realistic or if it was going to be processed for Sci-Fi sound effects?

WW: It depends on the project. I have used unconventional microphones to achieve different sounds later processed as Sci-Fi weapons. A ribbon as well as a Lavalier mics will capture sounds differently vs using shotgun and pencil mics. I find recording at high sample rates will help with this process.
 

Is there one specific type of microphone (or a few) that have provided you with the best tracks for RS2? Do you have any favorites?

WW: To name a few, my favorite mics to record weapons are: Sennheiser MKH-418s, Rode NTG3, Neumann KMR-82i (for distance), Crown Audio Sass-P mkii, Heil PR-40, etc. These mics are great for close proximity, for tight isolation, wide patterns, and for great distances. There are more but there isn’t enough time to write them all down.
 

Similarly, which recorders and mixers did you use and which ones provided you with the best sounding weapons?

WW: The Sound Devices 744T is one of the best field recorders for capturing weapon sounds. It is built like a tank. My other favorite is the 788T-SSD. MixPre-D, USBPre2, and 442 are fantastic mixers that help control overwhelming loud gunshot sounds. The direct outputs then go into the recorders. Without these, gun recordings would sound “cheap” or literally like “popcorn”. As the elderly woman from the old Wendy’s TV commercials would say “Where the beef?”.
 
 

Did RS2 bring any special challenges regarding location? What made you chose the location you chose, and did you chose it because of RS2’s specific game setting?

WW: I do most of my weapons recordings in either the desert in Nevada or here in Florida. Vietnam has a lot of grassy areas which is also the same here in Florida. This way gunshots would sound similar as to how they reflect vs over reflections from a desert terrain (super long gun tails).

 

Apart from capturing a lot more variety for game sounds than film sounds, is there anything else you would plan/execute differently depending on if it is meant for an interactive or linear media?

WW: The only things I would do differently is to have the armorer shoot at different degrees. More to the left and more to the right vs just shooting at one direction. Having heavier and lighter loads of ammunition also helps. One time we used a Winchester brand of ammunition and it sounded far better than an inferior brand. It was so LOUD that I thought I heard a double-tap. :-D
 

A big thanks to Watson Wu and Mark Muraski for their insights on firearms recording for Rising Storm 2: Vietnam!

 

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