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"She was an opportunist tramp. Well that's what I heard." - Glease

Ben McCullough Interview

Sound and music is a well known thing in the Broken Sword games. But what do you do when you have to compress the original sound/music up to 300 times for the Game Boy Advance? Read below to see how Ben has worked on Broken Sword for GBA. He also talks about himself and the upcoming Broken Sword 3.

Jojo: Hey Ben! Maybe you could do a little introduction of yourself?

Ben: Allo. I'm Ben, I live in York, England, and work for Revolution as audio director and game designer.

Jojo: How and when did you start working at Revoltion? Have you always worked with sound effects?

Ben: I started working at Revolution in May 1999, so it's been nearly 3 long, painful years now. ;-)
I got the job here in a bit of an odd way. I'd been at uni for 3 years, then when I finished my degree I quickly discovered that getting a real job was going to be quite difficult. It would also involve making a decision about what I actually wanted to do for a living. All of which I found far too strenuous. So I got a job in the York branch of Virgin Megastore. Loads of fun. Then I heard about a position at Revolution which I went for; a job entering collision geometry into 3DS Max models.
"I had a chat with Charles, which consisted of me saying things like 'No, I have no experience', 'No I've never used 3DS Max before, or indeed any 3D modeling software'. To my amazement I got the job..."
I had a chat with Charles, which consisted of me saying things like 'No, I have no experience', 'No I've never used 3DS Max before, or indeed any 3D modeling software'. To my amazement I got the job and worked my arse off for the first few weeks sussing out the basics of Max and Revolution's data management system - I've never learned so much in such a short time. It was only a temporary position at first, due in part to the fact that Charles didn't reckon I'd be able to do the job, but after 3 years I'm still here. Thankfully not putting geometry into Max anymore though. So no, I haven't always worked on sound. But my degree was music, so I always wanted to get my hands on sound really.


Jojo: Broken Sword 1 on GBA have just been released. How pleased are you with the sound/music in the game? And when you think of the original game?

Ben: In a nutshell, very pleased. It doesn't really sound like any other handheld game I can think of. It would have been nice to have a bit more time to tweak the levels on a few pieces - in some cues certain instruments sound a bit too loud or a bit too quiet, but you can't have everything. Comparing it to the original game is interesting. Some cues really do hold up well to direct A-B comparison, others less so. With some of them it can be quite tough to tell them apart. But then, in some cases we did use the same actual samples that Barry used when he recorded the original score, so they should sound quite similar.

Jojo: I've calculated that the music on the PC version is about 300 times as large as on the GBA version. How did you compress the music and sounds so much? Was it a hard task, or did you just simply use some kind of converter?

Ben: All the music you hear on BS1 GBA is actually generated in real-time, as opposed to the PC version which purely played back fully 'rendered' wav files. It's the same sort of concept as pre-rendered environments vs real-time 3D rendering. For PC, Barry recorded the music using his sequencer and samplers into a wav file, which was then played back.
"All the music you hear on BS1 GBA is actually generated in real-time, as opposed to the PC version which purely played back fully 'rendered' wav files."
For GBA, we run a sequencer and a wavetable in real-time as the game is being played. So no, we didn't convert the files as they existed for the PC game - we had to go much deeper than that. I created an orchestral wavetable of 18 different instruments which matched up to the orchestral sections that Barry composed for. But, due to the GBA's memory restrictions, the samples for the wavetable were of much reduced detail compared to the ones Barry used. So, where Barry would write for violin 1, violin 2, cello and double bass, I would point all these parts at just one sample in the wavetable - 'strings'. The sample itself is modified using standard ADSR parameters to give variation to the sound. Then these samples are all triggered by MIDI files, running in real-time in the background as the game is played. That's the general idea anyway! But yeah, as opposed to just playing back waveforms, we use less wave data and more MIDI data.


Jojo: How much of the original sounds and music have been cut?

Ben: Quite a few of the sound effects had to get ditched. Just no room. Basically, we only featured sound effects for really, really prominent events - ones which would stick out like a sore thumb if they were silent. The majority of the game is supported by the music, which was where most of the concentration went on my part. Roughly half of the music cues made it from PC to GBA, but a lot of them are used multiple times, which was not the case in the original.


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