This time last week, I was hanging out with George Lucas. Me, the guy this site and PC Zone magazine was obliged to employ under Future's Equal Opportunities program. When I say hanging out, of course I mean I met the man briefly. And when I say I met the man briefly, of course I mean I watched him eat a salad from behind my menu, from another room. The fear of accidentally shouting something nasty about Attack Of The Clones was immense. I'm not worthy.
The setting for our social non-interaction was Lucas's very own Skywalker Ranch, the open country workplace of the Star Wars creator and the home of Skywalker Sound. I hadn't come to the idyllic Californian hills overlooking San Francisco to cower from George Lucas behind a list of midday meals though; I hadn't even come to cover a LucasArts game. The reason I'd been flown to this nerd's paradise was to wrap my ears around the new Scarface game's bombastic new sound engine.
Still starry-eyed, I found myself in a room with Randy Thom, one of the most famous sound designers in the movie industry, with movies such as Apocalypse Now, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Incredibles, Starship Troopers, Forrest Gump and Harry Potter under his belt. "Gaming is going all kinds of interesting places," he tells me, "it's following the model of film story-telling in some ways and not in other ways, breaking new grounds in terms of interactivity. I think there are all kinds of possibilities in terms of sound out there that games haven't explored yet."
So why is it that Radical Entertainment have decided to make their way to Skywalker Sound? "The reason we're here today," explains Rob Donald, sound designer at Radical, "is because we wanted to do our post-production audio as though it were a movie. Typically in games, there really is no post-production - it's just a scramble to get everything working and get all the sounds playing in the game. So we decided to bring all of our audio production outside of Radical and into a studio environment. We travelled around and saw quite a few different studios before we settled on Skywalker being the place we should do this."
A good choice it was too. Working with Skywalker Sound gives Radical access not only to some of the most accomplished sound experts in the industry, but they also get access to a huge sound library, with things like lightsaber.wav and whydidithavetobesnakes.wav hidden inside. Similarly, with the Scarface movie licence, the sound team get to use a lot of the movie's original content too.
"With Scarface, we had access to the original Giorgio Moroder score," claims Donald, "so that was pretty cool. We discovered a load of music that wasn't in the film which we could use in the game. We have over seven hours of licensed music too - I couldn't believe it when I saw it laid out on a timeline, I'd no idea how we'd get it all on a disc. We've two hours of score on there as well, there's a huge amount of audio content to choose from. About 80 per cent of the DVD is just audio."
And if you've not already seen the list of celebrity names signed up for voice talent, expect to see some bizarre inclusions - Tommy Lee, Ice T, Bam Margera, the list goes on. "The voice talent is pretty huge in this game," explains Donald. "We got to work with Cheech and Chong, James Woods, and I also got to fly out to London to do the Ricky Gervais recordings - he plays a drug dealer's contact. On the same day we recorded Lemmy from Motorhead, that was bizarre. He plays a gun vendor. In his contract, he said he had to have a bottle of Jack Daniels at the session and a car to pick him up."
And what of Tony 'F***' Montana? "Al Pacino's lent his likeness to the game and he's hand-picked his sound-alike," confides Donald. "I'm not allowed to say who he is, but he used to be Pacino's chauffeur. We went through hundreds of auditions for the voice of Tony Montana, but this guy was head and shoulders above the rest."
So there you have it: expletives will be rendered with unerring accuracy, gunshots will ring out crisp and clean, and explosions will rumble with all the might your subwoofer can muster. A movie conversion demands movie-like sound production, and this has it. The rest of the game has a huge challenge in reaching the lofty standards of the GTA series it's so selfconsciously trying to emulate, but you can be sure it's going to sound fantastic.