The Importance of Atmosphere

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Pr0nogo
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The Importance of Atmosphere

Postby Pr0nogo » Tue Jul 12, 2011 1:21 pm

From terrain to sound (music and voices included), I've always sought to make my projects appeal to those who crave atmosphere. For those of us who feel their atmosphere could use a bit of work, or for anyone who's just looking to improve (myself included) on creating a dramatic and interesting backdrop, I'd like to open up the discussion of how important atmosphere really is.

For starters I'm going to use the word "atmosphere" a lot.

Let's begin by defining what atmosphere actually is.

Atmosphere - n. a layer of gases that may surround a material body of sufficient mass, and that is held in place by the gravity of the body.

Ha, just kidding.

Atmosphere is the "silence" present in the space between dialogue or sound effects. Basically, the in-between, or "white noise" that's always embodied behind whatever sound effect is playing at the time. This is similar to ambiance, which is the broader version of atmosphere and stretches to across all forms of entertainment, from sound effects to visual ones.

Woah, slow your role there, sparky.

In layman's terms, when you DON'T hear or see anything that you'd deem "important", you're seeing the ambiance or atmosphere of the project.

Every project has atmosphere. Every film, every song, every voice recording has atmosphere. What matters is whether or not it's good atmosphere. If you're strolling along a jungle that's supposed to be infested with Zerg, for instance, good atmosphere would be Scourges flying about willy-nilly, screeching at you as you explore the planet, whereas bad atmosphere would be a total lack of background Zerg presence, with the aliens only appearing when you were supposed to be challenged.

Good atmosphere, then, clearly takes more work to implement, but the results are quite rewarding. To use Blizzard's in-house campaign as an example, the Zerg are everywhere in the first mission of Brood War's Protoss campaign. They come out of tunnels, they come out of Nydus Canals, they unburrow from here and there, and they create this atmosphere where you subconsciously jive with the backdrop.

Image
In the first mission of Brood War's Protoss campaign, Zerg run amok on Auir and seem to permeate every facet of the planet. This is the mark of decent atmosphere, but more could definitely be done.


Very few people will consciously realise that good atmosphere is at work. The mark of good atmosphere is a tangible presence, but rather than sticking out, it blends with the overall feel of the project. If too many players notice your atmosphere, you're trying a little too hard. Sure, the occasional "wow, what an attention to detail!" is great if that's the case, but if the player thinks that there's "a tonne of damn Zerg on this planet" more than a few times, you might want to make the atmosphere stick out a little less. In summary, don't force it.

So we've covered what atmosphere means, as well as examples of proper implementation. Moving on to the question insinuated by the title of the thread, why is it important?

Think back to your favourite film, or even the best film you've seen recently. Maybe it had a dynamic aerial view of a big city, like New York or Chicago. There was probably a focus in that scene, such as a large structure or maybe a plane, so you'll naturally focus on whatever the subject of the view is. All the rest - the buildings scattered around, the cars that look like little dots scurrying around on the streets, the sun setting ever so slowly - is atmosphere. I personally doubt you noticed all of those background pieces, because the human mind only recognises small things if they're not present. It's background, but without that attention to detail, the scene wouldn't look quite the same - and would probably look poorer as far as quality goes.

While I'm not a fan of the series, Transformers is atmospheric gold. The pieces of scrap flying everywhere, the debris, the special effects, the weather and visual storytelling all set this film series above the rest in terms of atmosphere (whereas it's rather weak in terms of actual story or character depth, and riddled with plot holes). It's the minute, diminutive details that really work to craft the atmosphere of any piece, be it audio or video, and the way that sort of ambiance contributes towards the final project is paramount to making a truly great creation.

What I want to know is this: what is your view on atmosphere and ambiance, how much effort do you put into crafting such ambiance in your own projects, and how do you craft it? Is it custom sound effects, music, and graphics, or is it merely a very attentive effort on the in-house details such as terrain and doodads?

If your project isn't StarCraft or related to it, or you have another example of good/bad atmosphere, feel free to share how it's built and why you view it the way you do.

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Re: The Importance of Atmosphere

Postby Falchion » Tue Jul 12, 2011 1:42 pm

If I remember correctly, there was this mission in Antioch Chronicles (Episode II), that Mox and his band wander through a cityscape (Spaceport), where you can see flyers everywhere, people walking, catching trains to wander sections of the port, which brought me to a remembering of São Paulo's Tietê Bus Station.

At the time, I thought it was a great idea and I dared to copy it (Forgive me, Mea Culpa), for that cancelled State of War project.
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Re: The Importance of Atmosphere

Postby IskatuMesk » Tue Jul 12, 2011 4:21 pm

My game design is built around the concept of immersion, which can basically translate to atmosphere or involves atmosphere.

Two chapters from a large article I posted on TL a while ago that may be of interest.

Chapter3: show
Before we begin I'd like to establish some of my concepts for you.

Energy - A conscious and subconscious emotional attachment given by powerful sounds, imagery, and other forms of sensation, or a combination. Energy is related to Interest and helps define Mood.
Mood - Mood is what you are attempting to achieve through the conduction of sensation. Fear, excitement, suspense, ect.
Action - Fast-paced movement. Usually related to the "release" of energy.
Flow - The way a sensation travels and how this translates to the motion of Energy.

In all things modding, movie, and media related in general, the key to establishing interest is through immersion. A good speech will set the foundation for a critical topic, instill its listeners with an intended emotion, and ultimately direct their thoughts towards specific subjects or, in more extreme cases, even elevate actions from its audience.

Many games have powerful ambiance but weak elements elsewhere, such as Dead Space with its strong sound design and ambient effects, Avatar with its graphical battering ram, and 300 with energy of intensity. To understand what it is that makes these elements what they and, most importantly, how to forge and wield them, we must first step back and understand the beast that we are trying to harness.

Take pause for a moment and remember the old days, when you were but a child playing your favorite Classic. For me, that's Starcraft. Your memories are fond, but why? You were too young to be a competitive gamer, too young to understand the finer elements of the story, and too naive to know the painful future that awaited you. But still, this title drew you in. Perhaps it wasn't a game. Perhaps it was a movie, or it was a TV show.

The point is, is that whatever this fantasy world was, it drew you in and captivated you. The elements were so powerful, so inspiring, they immersed you. Engulfed you.

Immersion, The Concept
Making or breaking the foundation for your world, your story, your words and wisdom

Immersion is the most powerful element of any kind of media. To captivate the user and, much more challenging, to draw him in and hold him.

Immersion is generated by the overall effectiveness of media elements. Sound, visual, and with games, interaction (to a degree). When I was young, Starcraft and Diablo were the most immersive environments. Shooters felt too linear, but the art and sound direction of these games drew me in very well.

In Starcraft, it was the fog of war and the unknown nature of the Zerg. You were the Terrans, fighting for survival against an unknown alien enemy that, at the time, was fairly unique for me. But when the Dominion zerg experimentation projects came along, it "detoothed" the threat of the zerg for me, and the immersion was broken. This illustrates to me a very careful balance I have tried to achieve in all of my writing and productions to date.

Immersion. Immersion is to captivate the audience and keep their attention.

Modern movies fail to immerse you because their elements are mismatched. For example, most modern movies are now using Hans Zimmer-ripoff soundtracks bastardized with metal elements where they don't fit. Sound is so incredibly important for a movie or a game to immerse the audience, but in the last few years it has been abandoned by all but a few companies.

Lair, a PS3 launch title, has one of the greatest soundtracks ever created. The composer, John Debney, was unleashed by the game crew to make a massive soundtrack spanning several hours. The result is what I would personally describe as the best soundtrack of any kind of game ever produced. Close rivals include the infinity-engine games.

The infinity-engine games. Produced by Black Isle before it was destroyed forever and the good name of "RPG" tarnished in the later future with total garbage like NWN2, this engine contains a series of games widely considered to be the best of the best, a legacy whose shoes can never be filled. But what made these games for me, out of the little bit I've been able to play, other than the incredibly well-done graphics is the amazing soundtracks.

What makes these soundtracks so unique is not just their compositions themselves, but how they sound. They are strong, but soft. They surround you, and fill you, while soundtracks like that for 300 just kind of blasts at you with cliche metal forced into an orchestra.

Where 300 is bold, it is also forceful. It forces its sound upon you, instead of drawing you into it. It is a difficult concept to describe, but the soundtrack really broke the immersion of 300 for me. 300 aimed to establish a sense of constant energy by continually unleashing action scenes in heavily stylized post-processing. I felt the effect would have been far more pronounced if the soundtrack had been different. For example, near the end of the movie there is a Hungarian folk song that is played. If the entire soundtrack had been composed in such a style it would have had far greater impact in my mind. But metal has been forced into too many soundtracks for the majority of 300's music to be at all unique. Composers seem to be under the impression that having electric guitars automatically makes their composition "cool" and "hip". Instead they are missing the entire point of music.

The concept of immersion is that the combination of elements provided in either a movie, a story, a game, or any kind of media trying to deliver a story of some kind, draw in the audience and grant them a believable, tangible world. Any kind of element can break this immersion. The bad placement of a piece of music, bad-looking graphics, out of character actions. Ect...

I will make my point all at once.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QQYrR4Stos4
I am certain that it was someone on TL who linked this video in the first place, and that is how I discovered it. I spent a great deal of time hunting down the soundtrack until I was finally able to locate it.

The two most difficult forms of mood to create are as I see them;

- Believability of Intensity - a formation of energy that gives the user tension and distills belief that what is happening is real enough that they are detached from the world around them and are consumed by what they currently see. This is a most powerful form of action that capitalizes upon existing energy and establishes imagery, sound, and emotion that leaves them in a state of excitement for some time.
- Silence - a mood of stillness and peace yet still emotional, often sad or in a state of "dull nerves". An immense sensation that overcomes the audience's overarching thought processes (thoughts about work, their friends, what they're going to eat today, ect.) and completely and totally consumes them in a single emotion of "silence". That is what this above video is capable of doing.

Although I have just posted a video example, what I'll be talking about largely in this particular article is music itself, and how it relates to productions. In my GEC documentary I will cover every angle of the subject, but it would be far too much to try to visualize in writing and would take me much too long to write it out. I apologize for this, but the subject is amongst the largest in all of my mod production and design processes, for I consider immersion the greatest thing any production can achieve.

By watching my trailers, you probably wouldn't expect me to be a major fan of death and gothic metal. I enjoy bands like Sirenia, Battlelore, Farmer Boys, Machinae Supremacy and Sabaton. But I very rarely, if ever, use any of these tracks in my videos. Why? Copyright? Pah.

No, I don't use these tracks in the videos because my trailers aren't about my taste in music. They're about my worlds. My dreams. My creations. Indeed, I am a fan of orchestral, folk and classical, but I always choose what suits my world best. For the Lour Saga, this is choral, hungarian and oriental-styled music. Hard to find, and harder to make video adhere to, but that's what theme is that fits it. Every one of my worlds has a unique sound, and everyone of them is represented by that sound. I have searched for all my years on the internets to find this kind of music. It is a grand quest that never ends.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IEd_3RCYngo

This is not my best of video editing. That's why I released it unfinished when the mod died. But I'm going to use it for another example I have.

Here we have some deep, sad music. Influenced by hungarian folk music, Joseph LoDuca composed a fantastic soundtrack for Xena and Hercules, where this track comes from.

But why am I showing this track against the backdrop of a fleet battle? Doesn't this go against everything I've just said about keeping the flow of the environment stable?

Nay. In fact, this fits better than an action piece. Why?

This is a play upon the mood and emotion the trailer was supposed to set in place. The Lour Saga is a very sad universe, and Throne of Armageddon is ultimately a very dark and terrible world with no sanctuary untouched by war and bloodshed. Both the races shown in the first part of this cinematic are well-known instruments of death and destruction - the Anahn and the Xy`Kranasha. These names alone, if you are familiar with the universe, will make you nod your head in acknowledgment of what I'm trying to say. Locked in blood feuds, the darker souls of the world vie for supremacy in an unending cycle of carnage.

There's more at work than just backstory, though. The voice is that of Xul`Amon, the current central mind of the Xy`Kranasha. He looks upon the world and its creatures as you might look at a passing fly while you drive down the highway in your unmarked white van. You have other destinations in mind, and this fly is just an insignificant distraction in your journey. Xul`Amon has no regard for life, or even for existence as a whole. To him, existence is merely a fleeting moment in the flow of energy that he has become part of, known as the Eternal Dream. A state where all things become one, where all flows become pure and singular. It's not unlike how the Vyru see the world, but Xul`Amon is not content to stand by and simply watch the fly permeate the loli in the back of his van with aids.

The battle depicted in the video is overlaid by the music and Xul`Amon's voice, intended to give the perspective of Xul`Amon himself. While the music sets the mood of a depressing world and the battle tells the audience what's going on, Xul`Amon's voice itself is truly setting the stage here. As the video reachings its end, you get a glimpse of the Undead, and suddenly the mood changes.

Xul`Amon's section and the section that was intended before it was quite simply a buildup of energy. In order for events in your production to really deliver impact and thought to the audience, they must have energy. The objective of immersion is to build this energy. The energy in turn sparks interest and, thus, hype. A very well done video will be much more effective than this half-assed clip I showed you, but surely enough to get the idea.

The segment with the Undead is supposed to release this energy. Suddenly we're not looking from Xul`Amon's perspective anymore. Suddenly we don't know what's going on. It's a huge goddamn Undead fleet, and they're hellbent on killing every last thing in every universe in existence. Why would they want to do this? No real reason. They just hate you and your little white dog, too. The transition plays upon the music and the slow overshadow of the Undead vessel, but I was unable to get the footage I really wanted for this scene before I discontinued the project. Ideally, you'd see the entire Undead ship by the time the choral section in the music finished, and then it'd transfer over. But the collision models inside homeworld 2 totally fucked with the camera and what I wanted simply wasn't doable.

If you check my account on youtube (mancatcher), you'll see several such videos. Some simple, some complex. Most of the homeworld 2 stuff was produced for a small audience on the fly as gameplay demonstrations. No serious work was put into them.

But they created immersion nonetheless.

Going back to music itself, I'll link you some pieces that I personally composed myself back in circa 2001-2005. I'll explain what I was attempting to achieve and why I failed horribly. This'll be kind of a unique, alternate viewpoint from a composer on his own (terrible) stuff. Might be insightful, might not be. Whatevs.

We'll start with the extremely old stuff back in 2001ish. I made this stuff in Modplug Tracker. By some stroke of luck, or curse, I was able to load gigafonts into modplug. Without going into major details, I could only load one sample at a time, and only the pitch changed with the various notes. But it still sounded a lot better than midi. The bigger problem was that modplug tracker is really difficult to use and I am about as braindead as you can get with complicated programs, much less trying to compose music without having any idea what a note even is much less "music theory".

So what did I do?

I hammered keys until it sounded good.

First I will talk about my pieces, what they were intended to represent, and why they are wrong. Then I will talk about a piece that I feel is fairly close to what I really wanted to achieve.

Note - I haven't finished the modplug tracker section yet, this is all cakewalk/gigastudio stuff.

Wrong - TOA Silence Emotion
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PfjUHZNk5p4
Fury01 ^
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRyYDowjyow
One of my very first cakewalk/gigastudio pieces. Revision of the one above.

Furyrevise01 -

This was a critical piece in establishing what it was I wanted my novel's music to sound like. It was with this and later pieces that I formulated a sound in my head - much different than what I could actually compose. When I realized what it was I really wanted the universe to sound like I discovered I could not progress my abilities no matter how hard I tried. The closest I ever came was with my attempt at the main character's theme - the theme of Mauu.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WSkED0L9Jhk

Analysis

The theme of Mauu starts off with something very similar to the Dark Empire Theme, obviously because Mauu is a part of the Zegredark. Though she is not Templar (the warrior order, 95% of Zegredark are Templar and the Zegredark are largely just called "Templar", as they are all servants of their God, Ascherzon, and all considered warriors in one way or another. A bit much to summarize), she is surrounded by the Templar, and was raised a warrior (specifically a Psionicist, something on the level that would make Protoss run and hide at the slightest breath). However, as the horns dull out, we are brought back into a world of peace and the oriental melodies start up again.

This piece in particular sought to visualize Mauu's perspective of life in the first chapter of TOA, where she lives mostly by herself on relatively peaceful worlds. Though she is working on a project for Ascherzon that will inevitably involve conflict, she is at peace, for she finds peace in silence. Thus, this piece symbolizes Silence as a whole in all of Throne of Armageddon, and is intended to be recited several times in later pieces throughout the novel's visualization.

However, this piece remains far too simple to properly reflect upon Mauu's inner turmoil and the complex series of emotions that begin to emerge from her character as the novel begins.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7M98FYk1hPs
Another exceptionally old piece from cakewalk.

Unknowen -

This was a theme largely devoid of TOA-specific styling but still a part of the novel's visualization. Rather it was attempt at an overarching theme instead of a character or perspective-centric theme (like Mauu's and the two Fury tracks). This theme is more peaceful and is mostly envisioned as an ambient piece all the way up until 4:00 which is where it begins turning more towards the Templar-style again, though more subtly than the strongly oriental-inspired tracks posted above.


Right - TOA Silence Emotion
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMdsXF6Jb38
This is a piece that properly establishes what it is I was trying to say with what I composed when I made Mauu's theme.

Analysis

This starts off differently than Mauu's theme so clearly it wouldn't fit in the exact same context. However, it is suitable in the primary context of Mauu's theme as a whole, establishing the peaceful and slow nature of her world and her mind, but remaining active at the same time. There is a hint of sophistication as the piece begins, hinting to her calm, yet potent, intellect.

At around 3:30 we start going into the major emotions I wanted to set up in the very beginning of the novel. This doesn't work to the extent of turmoil that I wanted, but having a second piece for that is just as good if not better.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdqjcW8u7Lw
Epic.

Analysis

I feel that the emotion of the sound and the flow of energy within this track accurately portrays TOA within the second segment (the novel is divided into four segments, each about 600-700 pages estimated when completed). This is for reasons I can't say for obvious reasons, but believe me. If you hear this like I hear it then nothing needs to be said that hasn't already been said.

Analysis - TOA Silence

Throne of Armageddon is a deeply emotional world. In the writing I seek to strike as many chords with modern reality - my reality at least - to connect characters and events to the readers, even though these characters and events are far beyond the scale and science of humans.

Silence - a mood of stillness and peace yet still emotional, often sad or in a state of "dull nerves".


This is not something I can easily put in words, so I can only hope you are able to see and feel the music as I see and feel it. I do not believe that to be readily possible to visualize without you having actually read (what's written) of the novel. Regardless, this is important to know, and this is the only way I can immediately introduce you to the subject.

TOA Intensity

I made many efforts to create battle music and energetic music in particular for TOA and like-minded mod projects. These were far weaker attempts than the Silence tracks.

There are all sorts of ways to establish tension and excitement. You can go the 300 route and try to pull out metal and be "cool" 8)! and all that but that method is used by nearly every single movie and game in the past ten years. No, there are much better, fresher ways to obtain that feeling of true power.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MqJ4YnR8sTI

For every person music is a relative subject. Every person has their own taste in music. That people will see your music in your project that much differently is also true, and this must be accounted for. Thus it's a good idea to try to detach yourself from your own personal thoughts and think independently from a neutral standpoint. I have been accustomed to doing this for many years, for reasons other than modding, so for me it's easy. But for others it's usually impossible.

Many mods, campaigns, or gameplay videos, or really any user-made media, are too dependent on "mainstream" music. This isn't referencing to metal but rather several sources of music I feel are the best to use as examples of what to totally avoid in your productions.

- Major Final Fantasy series music, specifically the OST's. There's a lot of live concert recordings and stuff that people don't even know about, those can be used and still provide a fresh sound.
- Trailer music. That means Immediate Music, Two Steps From Hell, X-Ray Dog, ect. Once these got leaked everyone started using them. 90% of WoW gameplay videos have this music in this. Using trailer music has the added risk of major copyright trouble. Most companies are too lazy and uncaring to do anything about you using their ip in your mere mod, if they ever even know, but trailer music was never intended to be publicly available in the first place. I try to avoid using it whenever possible. Besides, there's much better sounding stuff out there.
- OST's from mainstream movies. Transformers, The Rock, Batman Begins, ect. Most Zimmer-style stuff should be avoided, although Zimmer has made several decent soundtracks recently that seem to be overlooked as far as mod/trailer production material is concerned - including Modern Warfare 2.

Action pieces in particular are a difficult subject. It's easy to say that the Bulgarian folk I posted will be effective because it's a really niche piece and chances are most people have never heard it before. This alone will captivate them. For action it's far, far more difficult to achieve that same "wow" effective that really catches your viewers and pulls them in. Even harder is for a total conversion to provide gameplay music that will fit correctly at any time during gameplay!

Wait, most games use ambient music in gameplay, don't they? So why am I talking about that in the Action section?

I largely use action music in my mods, opting to use ambient in specific situations. Unlike most game companies I don't force myself to adhere to any style or prose just because of where it's being used. I use something where I feel personally that it will do well in, and there is a great deal of reasoning behind that. Again, this is a big subject I'll be covering in my huge video documentary complete with visuals, but for the moment I'll do the best I can to make it fairly brief as this is already going to be a very big article.

Okay, so what the hell does all of this mean, exactly?

The key to getting your energy to flow the way you want is to ease the mind into it, and not try to force the energy. The reason these movies and games continually use electric guitars and synths is try as hard as possible to make "awesome". In reality most people will be like "lol cheesy". Surely if you are a big music buff, especially in orchestral, you'll know what I'm getting at.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=quuQP_6gGS8

This is what I personally consider to be one of the greatest action pieces I've ever heard, especially from a material for mod production standpoint. And this is why.

This piece flows between high intensity and flow very evenly all the way until the very end. It doesn't slow down or lose energy as it travels, rather it goes from emotion to emotion. This is very important for background music and is largely why movie soundtracks don't work well for mods; they're composed to fit to a scene, not for general usage. There are many exceptions, but that's generally what you will find. Of course, you can always mold the scene to the music piece, especially if it's a part of a cinematic or a timed series of events, but in general what you're looking for is stuff like this.

The Flow in the music is important. As it changes melodies and instruments it also subtly changes the emotion the music gives. I used this piece in one of my homeworld 2 videos, and though very basic, I think it will provide a general demonstration of what I am talking about.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V5mHZdkur40

I tried to construct the video, despite the limitations of my recordings, to the flow and emotion of the music. Everything from which parts of the battle I showed to how often the camera changed views.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-CdeDOzcOU

Though subtle and not a mod-related video, I used two separate music tracks from Kameo: Elements of Power to help portray the emotion behind the ships. It intensifies gradually as the classification of ships and complexity intensifies. Through this there is unification in the motion of both visuals and music, which is what you are trying to achieve.

Likewise, high-intensity music will not with light-intensity action.

Voice Acting

Voice Acting is a tough business. 99% of games that employ voice acting have bad actors. Out of the 1% that have good actors, many have terrible editing. I'm not going to teach you how to voice act, and Maglok has already made a topic for microphones, so I'll jump right to editing and decision-making.

Acting is very important, as is voice acting. Your flagship leading a fleet across the galaxy to squash those fracking toasters should probably be commanded by an experienced veteran Admiral who shows his years through his voice and speech. Voice acting and speech in units is a pivotal way to express your universe in a Total Conversion where you do not have a campaign to express it for you. Thus, a TC without any new sounds or voices is missing a massive portion of what makes a TC whole - immersion of character.

Each unit should have specific character to it. The Undead are all fucking psychos, but each unit has its own little specific taste of insanity.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LFDhGkPges

Most people would probably employ the "Weaker unit = less impressive voice" route with this kind of a race. With the Undead, all of them are basically demons that stab people. Instead of going with the weaker unit = less impressive voice, I opted to make the weaker units more insane, and the stronger units more sinister and calculated, thus implying a caste-like system where the weak are just too insane to do anything but fight, and the more intelligent and clever demons rise in power and rank.

When using editing, take special note of style once more. The style of your edits will be quite odd of the editing of one protoss sounds totally different from the other. Point in case - SC1 Protoss and SC2 protoss. All of my Undead use variations of the same flange setup with some chorus additions here and there, plus a specific set of reverbs.

In most MFTG non-Undead units, I gave each unit something specific to bitch about or be involved in doing. Be it pie, obnoxious alarms, complicated computers, or people sticking themselves into inappropriate locations, every Confed/GC unit allowed the player a fleeting yet terrifying glimpse of their world.

Hopefully that gives you some food for thought.


Chapter4: show
Centralization; The Concept of Energy in Motion

If it is true that sound and music empower the mind and thus the body, then one must make note how to best convey his sound, and what sound is thus best conveyed. To enter this subject I shall tell you a personal bit about myself.

Amongst my only memories I have of my years in the past, back when I was still in the hellish nightmare that was school, was the endless sleepless nights in drought of extreme heat (Canada gets fucking hot dude don't let the igloos fool you, here in Abbotsford we easily hit 100f in spring and winter), I would spend countless hours in total darkness listening to one or two specific things;

A fan.
The late-night radio shows.

For many years after I dropped out of school and left the physical portion of that nightmare behind forever, I was left with an abundance of shattered memories and depressive flashbacks. But these memories in particular, these endless nights, they always stuck with me for some reason. Long I pondered why they were so powerful to have endured my endless attempts to purge my memories, until I forged a concept to explain the energy behind them.

Centralization

The reason they are powerful is really a combination of factors.

- The environment, the darkness, is where I am most mentally active. Light naturally subdues and dulls my ability to think and makes me extremely tired.
- The heat dulls out my senses even further and instills a sense of weightless "motion" of anxiety that is tempered by total stillness.
- Through these two events my mind is slowed to the point that cohesive thought is possibly (generally my thoughts are racing non-stop from my brain damage and I can't control it). My physical discomfort and mental equilibrium have unified into a curious state of mind that is drawn to one presence - a single sound or thought.

In the case of the fan, this instills a sense of Silence, of true stillness where the mind loses all sense of time and motion in the world and is locked in eternal nothingness. Only at these times am I ever at peace.

In the case of the Radio, I am consumed by the late-night radio shows (The Shadow was one of the big ones, plus Triffids). Even the nature of low-quality radio audio played an extremely unique role in this immersive environment.

Since then I have long conceived of ways to bring about this kind of centralization to my projects and even my writing. This is, again, where I put myself through immense physical stress by forcing myself to stay up for extended periods of time to try to attain that level of exhaustion and mental crossover where I could try to achieve a state of centralization and study its effects. Those were times I was able to model or write coherently. It most certainly has a profound effect!

Image

This can even be applied to cinema, and it's then I realize I had merely rediscovered, through a different path, a key form of cinematography used in many Asian films and anime. The classics always seem to involve Samurai at some kind of stand-off, calm before the storm, or general "silence in drama" moment. I've also noted that although Western counterparts have attempted this form of filmplay on many occassions the majority of them are total failures (lol hollowwood), something key I make note of is the differences between the two and why I see them as failures.

The mechanics between emotional impacts and immersive environments are difficult to pick apart in a sense that can be brought into words. The easiest way of saying it is that Westerners are too heavy-handed and try to force emotion when emotion cannot be forced. Transformers is a good example of this, as well as Avatar. When something is forced it has no impact and you can see it from a mile away. These movies are just CGI masturbation and nothing more, but even then they often fail in achieving what can be done with graphics alone. People will say, "oooh, shiny!" but real, lasting impact is not made.

I like to try to gun for the sophisticated mind, the one that is extremely difficult to please. Because only the sophisticated mind will be able to truly understand what it is I am trying to say at all. If I can access him, I can access everyone. So I studied these CGI-intensive movies with forced immersion repeatedly and tried to discern what made them tick from a perspective without any kind of training about cinematography at all - the best kind.

But there are also Asian movies who travel a route of high-intensity motion in an effort to strike that upper level of intensity. Their methods are different, however, than American ones. I have tried to reason this in my mind before but I lack the words to describe my anologies. I shall try, though.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTsKEgUJyUQ

Hero, a recent martial arts film, represents a portion of the cinematography I envision for Throne of Armageddon itself.

This movie has a great deal of personality in it, intentionally placed into it as though to reflect upon its ancestory and heritage in films. The grand nature of several events and the personalities of the characters are all key in the overall prose of the movie. At around 1:45 is a transition from energy to stillness. But this scene was not intended to enter full Silence (a state of total still motion) but rather to slow the mind for the upcoming "foresight" scene."

This is a really unique collection of images.

Plus I also love the music and that has special meaning to me, too.

In most Western movies, they often go out of their way to demonstrate a character's power if he is powerful (especially in The Matrix), but in this scene those effects are fairly subtle. The choreography is still there, but the "bling" is fairly minimal. However, the impact remains just as significant if not better.

A problem that can afflict movies from both sources, however, is choreography that is too "perfect". In the new Star Wars movies, for example, The Matrix, ect. This brings us to the second part of Motion...

Although the concept of energy in action is fairly basic, and the battles within your mods/campaigns/videos are just battles, consider the events that can add unexpectedness to what is happening, if even minor. Collateral destruction from explosions, ect. Events never happen out exactly as planned. But don't try to force twists into the motion, either, or they'll come out as terribly as they did for most movies.

Image

The key aspect of centralization is minimalization of distraction. Since it is the concept of drawing the focus into a single event or motion, while you are trying to establish a level of unfamiliar freshness you also cannot stray from the concept that it is you are trying to employ. Something most artists will already be familiar with.

In a mod, though, this typically relates to the way you employ audio, especially in a campaign or transition of some kind. Even the lack of music and instead the presence of a small number of ambient sounds can have a better effect than something much more extravegant. Less is more, in some cases. This can give the mind time to recover from an intense action moment or prepare the mind for one. Western movies always try to have that calm before the storm moment but they usually ruin it with cheesy predictable bullshit. This is also, incidentally, a huge issue with western movie music as well.

But do not think of the concept of Centralization as a door into voiding your world of detail. It is rather the opposite. So hard to describe, mang. :( My weary mind tires of this. This is so hard to put into hard.

Image

In much the same way there should be focus in cinematography, there should also be consistency and focus in your mod's graphics and sounds. They should flow together well, and transition evenly. If you're going to be using one ambient music piece for your Zerg's soundtrack, you should probably make the rest of the music sound similar in style. If you choose the route of going metal, having a classical piece in the mix will sound strange.

See Centralization as a gate to the impact of Silence in particular, for that is how I envision both concepts. It can be used for high energy as well, but this is more difficult to do, especially in a game.

Starcraft did this very well for me in the elder days. That was in part due to my severely damaged psyche.

The overall goal of Centralization and Energy is to instill the suspense of belief and draw the mind into your world. For a mod this is difficult to achieve but it is doable. See Armageddon Onslaught.

The reason AO works is because the Diablo and Infinity Engine graphics I used already resembled Starcraft graphics in a way, so they fix fairly naturally into the game. Plus, they all have unique sounds. The mod also has a build-up of energy over time as Armageddon ascends its tiers, and it summons a massive variety of units; it takes nearly an hour for Armageddon to exhaust its entire tech tree, by then you are usually dead. But I also heavily employed custom sounds and effect graphics, aiming to make Armageddon as feral, boisterous, and vicious as possible.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qM-CVEa4BYo

I avoided using vocal dialogue for all units besides a handful of Legendaries, and reason for this was also to instill a suspension of belief. Although The Great Destroyer's voice is one of my better voices and it is true I could make unique voices for many units, the impact of each voice is lessened somewhat as you hear evil voice after evil voices. So, I had voices only for very specific units. Other than The Great Destroyer, the voices of the Fallen Hero, Prince of Pain, and Zeus played randomly throughout their attacks and not all the time. I had magic voice the Lord of Terror but he didn't make actual attack sounds like I had asked (people seem to misunderstand; I want grunts aka exertions for attack sounds but most VA's are not skilled enough to make good ones. It's something I am practicing over and over again these days to acquire the skill.). So, as it is, he plays his sounds too oftens and that's one of the things I wanted to fix but didn't get around to.

The sudden appearance of a unit with vocals, particularly The Great Destroyer, is profound. His deep, forbidding voice will immediately draw and centralize attention on him. This achieves the concept of Centralization within Armageddon Onslaught and completes the circle of the mod's overarching prose when he finally appears at the end of the game.
Image~[Gameproc]~Image
Warning: dialogue contains politically incorrect content. Viewer rearsore may occur.

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Pr0nogo
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Vocal Practise

Postby Pr0nogo » Wed Jul 13, 2011 6:38 pm

Voiceovers are a HUGE portion of my immersion process, but being the sole voice actor and editor puts pressure on me to create different vocal personalities without changing the source (which is me). For this, I need to practise altering my voice to accommodate different styles and personalities, which ultimately works to add life to the characters' dialogue.

In The NOMAD Saga, I use my experience with death metal growls and that sort of vocal altering to voice the brash Zealots and the enigmatic yet brutish voice of Kempor. I would have had some audio samples but unfortunately the site I was using didn't work,

I practise this vocal style and many others in my hobby as a vocalist. The lung expansion techniques that allow me to keep my breath in for longer periods of time than the average Joe have been very helpful in particular. Here's an example of my exercise in vocal practise.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OYrchWqxNtU&feature=channel_video_title

I'll do a vocal tutorial sometime later on, if I can get around to it.

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HelpMe
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Re: The Importance of Atmosphere

Postby HelpMe » Mon Jul 25, 2011 8:43 am

How did I miss this topic... I thought the Workshop forum was dead.

What always befuddled me about the concept of atmosphere was how I could never put my finger on it, when I experienced it from a player's perspective. I could sense it, yes, but it felt like something abstract and difficult to narrow down to something palpable. I couldn't look objectively at this "atmosphere" thing. Even the word sounded vague and uncertain, like something no one really knows what it is.

My confusion of course came from the fact I didn't realize this "atmosphere" was an amalgamation of different elements. You already mentioned some in your post; I would add that narrative can also contribute to atmosphere.

To be exact, I mean the circunstances surrounding the action. The overarching story not so much; that's what you take away with you when you're NOT playing the map or campaign. For me atmosphere is something more immediate than that, immediate and momentary, when stuff falls into place and make you FEEL. And the circunstances you're caught up in help conveying the feel of that moment. For instance, if you're on a mission to investigate an abandoned outpost, this story element will (hopefully) transfer into the atmosphere; there will be an "investigation feel" to it. It will put the player in a mental disposition that is appropriate of that task. You could call this "mood" if you will, which is closely related -- if not synonymous -- to the idea of atmosphere.

This is why I believe in-game dialogue or transmissions are important to setting the atmosphere. They allow you to use the narrative element to bring about the emotions you want. The ultimate goal is to affect the player, and dialogue is maybe the most flexible, direct and easy way to do it. It's our everyday language after all -- it's more obvious and easier to interpret than the more subtle, artistic elements.


PS: I LOL'd at your video, while simultaneously scared by it. :o


Randallaron
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Re: The Importance of Atmosphere

Postby Randallaron » Thu Aug 09, 2012 4:21 am

Atmosphere is truly a sound effect that make your gaming experience more enjoyable and memorable. When I play my games with my friends then I experience lots of enjoyment.

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Last edited by Randallaron on Fri Aug 31, 2012 2:49 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: The Importance of Atmosphere

Postby GnaReffotsirk » Sun Aug 12, 2012 12:42 pm

It's close to theme in writing.

Simply put, it is the "environment" from which all other things that create emotion come from and are in harmony with.


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