Smile Politely

The Sound of gunfire

Electronic games are big business. Sixty-five percent of current American households play some sort of electronic video game (console or computer), and the financial stakes are huge. These days, the creative output of the game companies rivals any action movie coming out of a Hollywood studio. With the release of Saints Row the Third, local entertainment software/game company Volition is taking the players of the SR franchise further than ever before; giving them game play like never before and making it sound oh so good.

A huge part of the appeal of any game universe is the sound. It allows a player to hear their opponent coming up behind them; it gives them aural clues as to what to do next, and provides a canvas for the audio designers to have some fun. But audio design is not just the music, not just about the sound effects, and not just how the dialogue is recorded. Audio designer, Ariel Gross, was part of the Volition team that created the sounds for the recent Saints Row release.  In a discussion with Smile Politely, Gross describes what went into making the audio universe for the third installment of this popular series.

Turn It Up, Strap It On

Music can make (or break) a game. Even the background music has a purpose. Saints Row: The Third was the first of the series to have an original score created specifically for the game. Composer Malcolm Kirby Jr., was hired to produce music specifically for the in-game missions and cut scenes. Gross says of Kirby, “[Kirby is] ridiculously talented and super fun to work with.” Having the score composed just for the game “added so much emotion to our cut scenes and some of the missions.” To complement the score, a kick-ass soundtrack worthy of a Saint needed to be created. Volition used the services of Josh Kessler of Dubwise to produce the radio station playlists, finding a balance between cutting edge (and popular) and what works with “driving off a ramp and shooting a machine gun out the window.”  Based on the radio stations that were the most popular on Saints Row 2, the audio crew created the list of stations and then worked with Kessler to select the music. Gross elaborated, “It was many, many meetings with many, many people, but ultimately we decided on what we thought was right and would be inclusive enough that people would actually listen to them and we wouldn’t be wasting money, because licensing songs is very expensive.”

Gross said his one regret was not utilizing the musical talent in Champaign-Urbana. “We’re going to endeavor to change that in the future. We made some really cool connections over the last year or so and we want to work more with local composers. It could be some really great exposure for these musicians, and we love that aspect of it.” Gross goes on to say that he likes the local music scene in Champaign-Urbana.

Did I Just Hear What I Think I Heard?

“We pour ourselves into every sound in the game, even the less glamorous ones,” said Gross. “Even the footsteps have little sweeteners, so every third footstep or so you hear a twig crack or a pebble kicked down the road.” Gross and his team made sure there was enough going on in the game to make even the most serious audiophile happy. While handling both the music and sound effects can be challenging, the team poured some obvious talent into both. “We have some serious audio wizards here practicing sound voodoo that would make your head spin, all to make the player feel rewarded in some way.

“It’s a blast, actually, and it’s the reason that most of us were hired, because we love to mess with sound effects,” Gross concluded.

The Sound of the Fart in a Jar Grenade

While the designers at Volition are about as passionate and geeked about their work as anyone, they also like to have fun. Gross shared one of many sound easter eggs that with some luck and persistence, the gamer can find while playing. “f you find the right restroom and hang out for a little while…you’ll hear a guy having possibly the most hilarious and heinous struggle in there.  [The guy sounds like he] has a demon in his bowels. Byron, who made it, was like ‘is this too far?’ and I was like ‘no way we need to get that in the game RIGHT AWAY.’

“A lot of this stuff may seem tasteless or juvenile to some, and that’s fine, we kind of pride ourselves in it. We know that there are people out there that will appreciate it.” 

Not many people can have a conversation at work about “the sound for the fart in a jar grenade,” but when you’re serious about your commitment to your craft, well, somebody’s got to figure that out. And with a game like Saint’s Row: The Third, the difference in the sounds of explosions can be wondrous thing.    


Saint’s Row: The Third, was developed by Volition, Inc., The game’s audio team was led by audio designer, Ariel Gross, and included audio designers Kyle Vande Slunt, Brandon Bray, Byron Evora, and Stephen Hodde, programmer Aaron Gresch, QA tester Brendon Ellis and project manager Anne Odom.

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