How BioWare Uses RX to Create Otherworldly Video Games

May 4, 2017

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Screenshot from Mass Effect: Andromeda | Photos used with permission of Electronic Arts Inc.

On a sunny day in an open field in California, bullets whizzed over Michael Kent’s head. It was just another afternoon at work for Kent, Audio Director of video game developer BioWare’s Mass Effect series. He and his team were recording audio for 2017 release Mass Effect: Andromeda, an intergalactic, role-playing action game, the latest Mass Effect installment, one of the most popular video game series ever created. As BioWare does several times a year, they had hired a professional to shoot an assortment of high-powered rifles, pistols, and semi-automatic machine guns to capture audio.

“He was a pro, so I trusted him,” Kent says matter-of-factly over the phone.

“We work for BioWare, so we sent out an email to everybody and were like, ‘Hey, we're looking for armor and swords and stuff,’" says Kent. "We sent that email out, and a day later people started bringing stuff in. There's a giant room full of weapons, swords, armor, chain mail, leather armor, and we were just like, ‘Oh my god.’”

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After field testing, Kent and team edit the recordings to create authentic-sounding effects suitable for deep space combat. But as much as BioWare relies on professional weapons testers to generate the sounds they use in their games (and to not, well, misfire), they also trust RX and other iZotope products to quickly clean up audio samples so they can focus on being creative. Whether the audio is sampled from a field in rural California, Banff National Park mountains in Canada, or from a day of recording ambient noise in Austin, Texas, RX saves hours of editing time.

“The last shoot we did, we were next to some buildings' AC units in an urban area, and we had to get rid of that noise,” explains Kent. “It was a constant hum, but you could see it clearly in the RX spectrogram and just pull it out.

“I think RX is by far the most powerful audio restoration tool out there.” —Michael Kent, Audio Director, BioWare

RX 6 Spectogram Screenshot

RX 6 Spectogram Screenshot

At this point, RX has become integral to BioWare’s workflow on multiple games. “Even if we're doing foley recording for Dragon Age, where we're just banging swords around and stuff, we'll use it to clean stuff up,” says Kent.

Since BioWare uses a lot of facial capture software in their video game development, they also need a way to preserve time code when batching all of the files together, to edit dialogue and voice-over tracks efficiently. “Pro Tools will do it, but it takes forever because you have to load Pro Tools, lay everything out on a linear track, and then bounce everything out individually,” says Kent. “RX allows us to do it really fast and preserve all that time code.”

RX also comes in handy for EQ matching and making sure all their voice-over audio loudness and frequencies are consistent, as well as for cleaning up sample libraries before exploring them for sound design. For Mass Effect: Andromeda, recordings of IndyCar engines had piqued Kent’s interest. After a quick clean-up in RX, he worked his sound design magic and created spaceship sounds for the game.

Using RX for Sound Design

Beyond using RX to clean up audio recordings, BioWare experiments with the software to create new sounds for their games. “You can get some really interesting effects by over de-noising,” says Kent. “By over-de-noising an explosion, you get these weird artefacts and almost filtery kind of sound as it tails off.”

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Screenshot from Mass Effect: Andromeda

Why BioWare Chose iZotope

What ultimately led BioWare to go with iZotope versus another audio repair solution? Familiarity and quality. From De-noise to De-plosive, De-hum, and De-reverb, and the Leveler and Loudness modules, RX is a crucial part of the audio post production process that Kent and his team at BioWare need to produce top-notch audio for their video games.

“We had a bunch of iZotope plug-ins before we had RX,” says Kent. “We started using iZotope plug-ins, and then the more we used them, the more we liked them. When RX came out, we saw a lot of videos on it and were like, ‘Oh, this is probably the most powerful tool for restoration that we've seen.’

Since then, that assumption has held true. “I think it's by far the most powerful audio restoration tool out there.”

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