An exciting new era has begun for Radical Entertainment, a videogame developer in Vancouver, British Columbia that’s affiliated with Vivendi Games, and whose titles include Scarface: The World Is Yours, The Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction and The Simpsons: Hit and Run. The company recently opened a dedicated 7.1 surround post-production suite on its premises, which is said to be the first of its kind in Canada. The new room was designed and constructed from the ground up in a large, unused open space by John Vrtacic of Vancouver-based Vrtacic Design.
Radical Entertainment’s senior audio engineer, Lin Gardiner, in the company's new post-production suite
Photo by Iain Ross
Radical Entertainment’s senior audio engineer, Lin Gardiner (pictured), had previously worked in rooms designed by Vrtacic and recommended Vrtacic for this project. In addition, Radical has been working closely with THX to achieve full THX certification under the THX Certified Games Program. “They calibrated all of our sound suites as well as the main mix room,” Gardiner says. “They positioned the speakers in their optimum position, and the subwoofers.” Radical’s new surround configuration comprises seven Genelec 1032A monitors and two Mackie HRS120 subwoofers.
According to Gardiner, the company’s new dedicated post room was inspired by senior sound director Rob Bridgett’s 2006 visit to George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch in Marin County, Calif., where Bridgett worked with Skywalker’s Randy Thom on creating the finishing touches for Scarface’s game audio. (For more information about this project, read Blair Jackson’s feature story “From Scarface to Simlish” from the October 2006 issue.) Gardiner says that prior to building this new room, Radical’s engineers mixed in the facility’s existing studios, which were not optimized for high-level post, and she calls the new room “a better facility for next-gen [game] consoles.”
“When Rob Bridgett went down to Skywalker to work on Scarface, there was the realization at that point [about] how polished games could sound if they were mixed in properly designed-and-built studios,” Gardiner says. “I guess because I’ve come from the music industry, the comparison is mixing a record in a little home studio, which may be fairly well-equipped, but obviously you’re not always sure if what you’re listening to is accurate, because the room and the monitors may not be working most efficiently. The Skywalker trip was definitely the inspiration for building a much higher-spec room at Radical.” She adds that Iain Ross, the director of Radical’s sound department, was instrumental in spurring the new room’s construction.
“We will still continue to work with Skywalker, but the new mix suite enables us to provide a world-class mix for projects that don't have a large budget,” Ross says.
The new post-production suite has double walls that are spaced six inches apart, a floating floor whose surface comprises a mixture of hardwood and carpet, and acoustical baffles that are six inches thick. Gardiner says that the room offers clean sight lines and features what she calls a “Vrtacic ceiling.” “It’s got a dropped ceiling. Because we’ve got another floor above us, we had the ceiling kind of dropped, and he used these big, square perforated panels, and above them, he has these very thick acoustical pillows.
“At the back of the room there’s a window, which is at an angle, just to help with some of those reflections,” Gardiner continues. “[On] the other side of that window is a small programmer room, because when we’re mixing the games, tweaks to the actual in-game tools [are often needed], so we actually have a little room there so that the audio programmer for that [particular] game can sit down and be working away and just be really close at reach to the mixer on the game, if anything needs last-minute changing. And then off to the side of the programmer room is a machine room, which houses all the computers and all the [game] test kits.”
In the control room are computer workstations for controlling what Gardiner terms as two separate “signal paths”: one for sound design and music (“Path A”), and a separate “game console” side for mixing game audio (“Path B”). Path A comprises both PC and Mac-based Steinberg Nuendo workstations connected to a MOTU 896HD audio interface. Gardiner adds, “Neural Audio provided us with a stand-alone Upmix unit, which we have placed on the Path A workstation path. This basically takes a stereo or 5.1 mix and encodes it to 7.1 to make full use of the extra two speakers. This way, we can use it to check our 5.1 in-game movie mixes in 7.1. It sounds awesome! THX have been working closely with Neural to implement Neural Upmix functions in videogames.”
For Path B, Gardiner says, “we have a PC that’s basically dedicated to running the game builds; that also has its own MOTU 896. And in addition, we have test kits and consumer units of the [Sony] PS3, the [Microsoft] Xbox 360 and the [Nintendo] Wii. All of those consoles meet at an Integra DTC-9.8 receiver. That Integra receiver is kind of the hub of the game console path. And the Integra has two HDMI outputs, so one of these is routed to the Sony television and the other is routed to our Sony projector, which projects onto our very large, perforated screen, which is what we tend to work from most of the time. So, it’s much more like a film-mixing stage.”
A Mackie Control Universal Pro along with two 8-channel Mackie Control Extender Pro units provide a tactile worksurface for both the Path A and Path B workstations. Engineers monitor both audio paths using a Studio Technologies Model 78 Central Controller with integrated bass management, two 7.1 inputs (Surround A and Surround B) and two outputs, one of which feeds the Genelec 1032A monitors, while the other feeds an RTW peak program meter.
Gardiner emphasizes that the control room houses the minimal amount of necessary equipment to maximize the quality of the room’s sound. “The control room itself is very clear, very clean looking without too much clutter; there’s just a large Argosy console,” she says. “We’ve literally just got the computer monitors, the Mackie controllers, the Integra and the patchbay. So the room itself is really nice because it feels uncluttered, and you can just focus on how the game sounds without being distracted too much, if you know what I mean. It just sounds great in there. We’re really pleased with it. And THX were also suitably impressed, as well. It fell well within their criteria of ambient noise and any major reflections.”
Current and upcoming projects in Radical Entertainment’s new post suite include a children’s game from Sierra Entertainment called Crash Bandicoot: Mind Over Mutant, scheduled for release in fall 2008, and an action-oriented game slated for release in early 2009 titled Prototype.
“Having the room at our fingertips is just great,” Gardiner concludes. “I mean, working at Skywalker is great—it’s a luxury—but it’s also quite an expensive experience, if you like. So for for about one and a half times the cost of a month-long trip to Skywalker, we were able to build our own room. And it’s achieved the same polish here in town.”
Matt Gallagher is an assistant editor at Mix.