Hitman 3 - working with a kick-ass team
On March 1st I joined the audio team at IO to work on Hitman 3. I knew very little about the Glacier engine and how to navigate my way through the structures of a AAA studio but I was eager and hungry to learn the ropes and get involved in the production as soon as possible.
Since I really enjoy learning new tools I had no problem hunkering down and ploughing through the onboarding exercises. I even came in on the weekends because during this time COVID hit the country and I felt bored sitting in the little room I was renting in Copenhagen.
After a succesful and exciting first month of getting to know some of the Danish coileagues I transferred to Swedish soil. The Malmö office was still fairly new and not a lot of people in the office but I tried connecting with the colleagues that were onsite while working my way through Swedish bureaucracy to get registered and set up.
While starting out there I had my colleague Gabriel help me with engine related questions and it was great to have someone as technically gifted as him to assist my learning. We also started hanging out after work for skates and later on game nights.
Initially I was not sure what my role was going to be on the project and the Hitman games have evolved into such complex, systemic games that I couldn't even anticipate where our efforts were going to be directed to. Work had been started on the first two missions Dubai and Dartmoor with Ciaran and Gabriel leading the charge as "point man" on these as well as the Berlin and ChongQing levels. I started helping out on Dubai and we were focusing on the first 10minutes of the game, an opening sequence that had the player skydive onto the Burj Al-Ghazali, the tallest building in Dubai and the world, and infiltrate it through a series of vents and chasms. We did a focus period were we as a whole team focused on getting this infiltration sequence to feel good and I was in charge of the vent system which I quickly baptised the Vent of Hell because it had a very gloomy vibe when you crouch walked through it. I recorded a bunch of ambiences and machine noise during my time in Copenhagen when the studio was almost completely empty which I used on my work on Dubai. It was fun to make things work in the engine and do some very simple visual scripting to create very primitive ambience systems to make the building feel alive and connected. Ciaran set up a centralized wind system that would agitate the environment inside the building and I really wanted to hook into this and make it breathe through the ventilation systems so pay attention to the gusts around the place when you play it!
After my work on Dubai we moved onto Dartmoor where we did an ambience pass on the mansion interior. My task here was to create the sound of wind inside the rooms and hallways - a kind of wind draft system that sounded a bit abstract and create some tonal textures to compliment the ambience. This was a really fun task and I got really excited when Jonas (my Lead) suggested that I could try recording some whistling/blowing air through my own teeth. So I did this and after some processing I got a ton of very interesting tonal wind sounds which you can hear in the video below:
After Dartmoor we moved onto the Berlin level. Here it was mainly Gabriel and I that did a focus period which lasted a couple of weeks and consisted of doing an occlusion pass, rough ambience setups and adding convolution reverbs to the rooms. When the rest of the team joined the effort we fleshed out the ambience and added the first pass of the techno music to Club Hölle. When we had the first music in we wanted to make the music really rattle every nut and bolt of the building and make it feel alive - just like in Dartmoor and Dubai. We had the idea of agitating parts of the building and make them rattle to the beat of the techno. This idea was later coined "Rave Rattles" despite the music being techno it sounded better as an alliteration. The tweet below is a summary of what we did to create these rattles and it was definitely the most fun part working on this mission.
During the work on Berlin, Jonas mentioned to me that he wanted me to be the point man on the remaining two missions: Mendoza and Carpathian Mountains. This felt like a big leap in trust and responsibilty and I was very thrilled to get the chance to own the creative direction of two whole missions.
When I got to know the premise of Mendoza it immediately reminded me of my own home country, South Africa. The mission was set on a vineyard next to a lake on a late summer afternoon. It was a very romantic level to work on and I really wanted it to be a cozy level while mainting the feeling of hot, dry heat.
Since this is the level I spent most of my time on there are numerous stories on creating its sound that deserves a separate blog post.
However, one story is too good not to share:
On my way to work one day I was busy parking my bicycle to head up to the office when a bus pulled up right infront of me with the strangest sounding engine that reminded me of a flying insect. I quickly pulled out my D-100 recorder and captured its sound (which was about 4 seconds) This bus engine recording went through some minor clean-up and processing and ended up as a synthetic cicada sound in the lavender fields. Although I went down to record more bus engines at the nearby bus station these 4 seconds were the best and closest thing to a cicada that I have ever heard. Lesson from this story: Always have your portable recorded in your bag ready to capture a cool sound that might be gone forever!
Mendoza was also a wonderful way of getting to know some level designers at IO and I really enjoyed working with the pointmen LDs Martin and Hakon!
After my onboarding in Copenhagen we had only been in touch with our Danish colleagues online and so we thought that we needed to do a little audio get together. Kristian, who started in the same month at IO as I and worked on the VR side of the audio for Hitman 3, invited us to his lovely home in Denmark for a night. This event was a great chance to see each other, socialise, talk about games and the future and most importantly - play the game together in the same room.
I gave the team a little deep dive into the sound of some stealth games as a reference and to draw inspiration for further development and we also recorded some shouts for the dancefloor in Berlin which was incredibly funny and therapeutic at the same time!
A year and a bit after starting on Hitman 3 I am now working on DLC content as part of the live team alongside Sebastian and we are close to wrapping up the Seven Deadly Sins package. Since moving to the live tail, Jonas moved into a game directing role and the other team members: Gabriel, Ciaran and Kristian have progressed to other projects. This was a lot of tumult at the start of 2021 and we have had to figure out, through all the re-structuring and transitioning, how to stay the kick-ass audio team that we were during Hitman 3 despite being on different projects.
In the course of the year we have had the pleasure of facilitating the internship of Toomas, a lovely guy from Kristian's old sound college who has been a great addition to the team and we are expecting even more newcomers in the next half year, really exciting!
Wrapping up this post I can honestly not have wished for a better working environment these last 1,5 years with such an amazing project and an awesome bunch of people to share the credits with. More exciting things are dawning on the horizon! <3