How Audio Helped Rockstar Nail LA Noire

Gaming headset maker Turtle Beach looks back on LA Noire in light of the game's pending re-release on current gen systems.

The 1940s, a decade of men in suits, beautiful dames singing, smokey bars full of smooth jazz, and apparently, a heck of a lot of crime. LA Noire introduced gamers to this world back in 2011, and now Rockstar is bringing its crime-fighting, neo-noir title to the Switch, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One consoles.

Anyone who got their hands on a copy of LA Noire back in 2011 will no doubt remember how unique the game was compared to anything out there, especially Grand Theft Audio, Rockstar’s flagship franchise. In LA Noire, you didn’t jump behind a car, cruise around Los Angeles, and take down mob bosses with weaponry, you were instead a clean-cut detective who was working their way up the ladder, using intuition and good ol’ detective work as your weapon.

This meant that the game took a different pace, despite being set in a seemingly open world like GTA. Objectives involved scouring crime scenes for clues in a desperate attempt to collect any information about the crime, which was vital if you wanted to get your suspect or witness to speak, which was the highlight, and the primarily selling point of the title.

Speaking with suspects and witnesses was a tremendously rewarding challenge. The delivery of lines and facial expressions sold every moment as you tried to pinpoint a wavering voice and detect whether a person was giving you the truth of holding back information. Sound was the key to your success in LA Noire, and it was the key to building a realistic representation of a 1940s Los Angeles.

Jim Sterling of Destructoid found the voice acting to be some of the best he’d experienced, commending the performances: “All the voice acting, with the exception of a handful of bit characters, is outstanding. Professional and naturalistic, one of the finest vocal casts you’ll find — and this is coming from someone who is very discerning about voice acting.” Though the voice acting wasn’t the only audio worth listening out for in LA Noire, the entire soundtrack helped lay a foundation of emotions – perfect to enjoy with a gaming headset like the XO THREE for Xbox One!

In IGN’s review of LA Noire, Hilary Goldstein commented on the music in LA Noire, stating it was, “one of my favorite game soundtracks in years,” and you can see why. The music below perfectly encapsulates an emotion difficult to describe, it’s from a place and time many of us have never experienced. We hear the swelling jazz and the downpour of rain as they couple together to evoke a sense of loneliness, sadness, and mystery.

Brad Shoemaker, over at GiantBomb, had this to say about the soundtrack in LA Noire:

“The big-orchestra score feels completely appropriate for the setting and subject matter, and there’s a great musical aspect to the investigations as well. When you’re out looking for clues you’ll get single notes from the piano and stand-up bass indicating there’s more evidence to be found, and sustained strings add some discomfort to the interrogations when the tension starts to build between Phelps and his subject.”

Thanks to the excellent capture technique utilized, confrontations with other people were awkward and difficult in LA Noire, and by partnering the ambient score with these scenes, Team Bondi were able to elevate the entire experience. It was incredibly easy to just get lost in the moment, staring down your witness, listening to the rain on the pavement and the distant buzz of a jazz bar.

For a game that is quickly approaching ten years old, LA Noire has managed to stand the test of time both graphically and from a gameplay standpoint. Now that it’s releasing on current-gen consoles, anyone who missed out on the original launch back in 2011 should take some time to dive into LA Noire and walk the footpaths of 1940s Los Angeles as a cop just lookin’ to clean up the streets.

ESL One New York CS:GO Tournament Preview

The post-Major lull is well and truly over in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and following some big roster swaps and curious results over the past few weeks, a bunch of teams head into this weekend’s ESL One New York with something to prove. Let’s take a look at how this $250,000 tournament is shaping up.

Who’s playing at ESL One New York?

ESL One New York is an eight-team tournament with a quarter million bucks to play for, and the line-up is made up of six invitees and two qualifiers. The invited teams are Astralis, FaZe Clan, Team Liquid, Natus Vincere, SK Gaming and Virtus.pro, while Team EnVyUs and Cloud9 qualified from Europe and North America respectively.

Following Gambit’s prediction-busting victory at the PGL Major in Krakow at the end of July, the roster merry-go-round went into overdrive as simmering intra-team enmity reached boiling point and top teams tried to address perceived problems.

FaZe made some of the most eye-catching changes, adding GuardiaN from Na’Vi and olofmeister from Fnatic, while Na’Vi managed to bring back Zeus from Major winners Gambit to plug their gap, and Cloud9 finally mixed things up by replacing n0thing and shroud with tarik and RUSH from OpTic Gaming.

Malmo mo problems

All three of the most-changed teams then failed to take a step up when they got to DreamHack Masters Malmo, the first real test of everyone’s new setup post-Major. FaZe and C9 both failed to get out of groups, while Na’Vi went down to Ninjas in Pyjamas in the quarterfinals.

That’s one of the weird things about this invitation-heavy ESL One New York tournament: none of these teams made the top four in Malmo, with heavy hitters Astralis and SK Gaming out in the quarterfinals.

The other teams heading to Brooklyn’s Barclays Center aren’t exactly in form either. Virtus.pro have been shambolic since the Major, losing 16-4 to Na’Vi and, more worryingly, 16-7 to Renegades in Malmo groups, while Team EnVyUs also propped up their group in Sweden, losing to their nemesis G2 and then Fnatic.

New York, New York

The groups have already been drawn and SK Gaming will probably be happiest. They are in Group A along with Cloud9, Na’Vi and Team EnVyUs, while Group B consists of FaZe Clan, Astralis, Team Liquid and Virtus.pro.

In Group A, it’s hard to look past SK Gaming for top spot, with Na’Vi making it out in second place. Na’Vi actually won ESL One New York last year and s1mple in particular did some crazy things, so they will probably be hyped for this tournament.

In Group B, FaZe Clan and Astralis seem nailed on to make it out as well. Liquid blow hot and hold – they went quite deep at this venue last year, albeit with p1mp still on the roster – but FaZe and Astralis should have too much firepower for them.

Looking beyond the groups, Astralis feel like they are ready to come up big again with the team hyped and raring to go after Malmo. We wouldn’t be surprised to see an SK Gaming vs Astralis final, with the Danes coming out on top!

GLHF!

Whatever happens, it should be a good show, and you’ll be able to catch it live on ESL’s Twitch channel starting 11am Eastern / 8am Pacific this Friday, September 15. The main event runs Saturday and Sunday.

The Best Sounds of Destiny 2

Destiny 2 is here, baby, and it’s just as fantastic as we hoped it would be. After being kicked to the curb and walking away with our tail between our legs, we have finally gathered enough loot to let Ghaul know what we really think of him.

Between collecting new abilities, shooting guns, punching Cabal, and talking with new characters, we’ve heard a lot of interesting sounds out in the wild forests of the European Dead Zone and the water world of Titan. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the tremendous audio design of Destiny 2!

Unique Weapon Sounds

Destiny is known for its gunplay. When Destiny first launched in 2014, many people thought the story was, well, “lacking”, but the saving grace was the incredible guns and movement. Destiny 2 now has one of the greatest sci-fi stories to go along with that tight gameplay.

When using a headset like the XO THREE on the Xbox One or the Stealth 600 for the PlayStation 4, you can hear the intricacies of the guns at work. The Graviton Lance has a gratifying other-worldliness to it as the third bullet from the 3-round burst explodes from the barrel. Then there’s Coldheart, the pre-order bonus, with its constant stream of energy. You can tell a sound designer has thought long and hard about how to represent power when you can tell from the sounds alone whether you’re hitting your target.

The Coldheart increases in power the longer the stream is held on an enemy, and is paired with a charging, swell of power that caps out. However, if your aim falls off the enemy, the sound of the power increase is cut short.

These little sound details all work together to build an intense feel to the combat. Every weapon sounds powerful, so when you’re shooting the heads off of Fallen or Cabal, every pull of the trigger feels special.

Enemy Theme Songs

 

Destiny 2’s story centers around the Cabal invasion of the Last City, as Ghaul rips the Light from your Guardian and tosses you aside. Without revealing what follows, the music score perfectly captures every emotion you would expect to feel. The sense of loss and sorrow is compounded with heartbreaking clarity as a string piece follows your battered Guardian on his or her next path.

But once things are back on track (as we knew they always would be) and you’re scooting around the battlefield killing aliens, the music picks back up. If you’re fighting the Cabal, their music resonates with a sense of an Empire, a powerful force that ponders along with disregard to what lies in its way. Heavy drum beats and brass capture this sense of opulence and power, a literal marching beat.

Then there is the ever-creepy and foreign Vex, whose music is a mixture of synthesizers and other electronics. The beat and tempo of their themes are often mechanical and thrilling, as if a giant machine was power-dancing while preparing to transform a world into a living dance floor.

Bungie were awesome enough to release the full digital soundtrack on YouTube. Check out the full playlist here.

Sound Effects

The environment in Destiny 2 is full of mesmerizing sounds.

For some players, the different sound effects that accompanied the abilities in Destiny 2 were tough to accept, but the subtle differences end up making the experience richer. The Warlock Glide has been improved, adding more power to the initial jump, and to make this felt, the audio team have given the sound of the jump an overhaul. No longer is the Glide a gentle whisper of wind, instead, it’s a like some cosmic jet propelling you along.

Grenades, punches, and Supers all have their own sounds that ring out across the battlefield. Nothing is quite as satisfying as activating your Super and tearing your enemies apart. The crackle of the lightning from the Stormcaller, the fiery whip of the Golden Gun, and the vibrating energy of the Sentinel shield are all immediately recognizable due to their sound effects.

Then there are the sound effects you might miss. A flowing brook in the European Dead Zone, the shifting of metal against the ebb and flow of the ocean on Titan, or the hum of energy on Nessus build a larger picture. The world of Destiny 2 feels truly alive around you, with every tiny element giving off its own unique sound, adding another layer to the universe.

Bungie have well and truly nailed the audio in Destiny 2, whether it’s the sound effects, atmosphere, or music, every facet is exceptional. We can’t wait to spend some time listening to the world, and then more time hearing our kickass Exotic weapons tear the Red Legion to shreds!

A Gaming Festival With Heart: Four Days At PAX West

From esports finals to E3, there are more events on the gaming calendar than ever before, but PAX West – formerly the Penny Arcade Expo – has done a great job over the years of growing in size and entertainment value without losing sight of what made it special in the first place. We flew out to Seattle this past weekend to see what the organizers had managed to put together this time around.

Games games games!

As you’d imagine, one of the most eye-catching parts of PAX is the exhibitor hall. Whereas E3 is all about cacophonous million-dollar booths fighting to annihilate one another with crazy decibels, PAX West is more laidback and indie-friendly, with fixtures like the Indie Megabooth and DigiPen student games rubbing shoulders with heavy hitters from PlayStation and Xbox.

This year the triple-A end of the scale included Quake Champions, id Software’s exciting new take on the multiplayer PC shooter that launched endless first-person shooter infatuations (not to mention careers). Following Doom’s triumphant revival in 2016, the Bethesda-owned studio is trying to do similar for Quake, taking the core of fast-paced rocket-and-railgun gameplay that it arguably perfected in 1999’s Quake III Arena and wrapping it in modern free-to-play trimmings. The result looks, feels and sounds devilishly moreish, and you’ll want a good pair of cans like the Elite Pro PC Edition to hear those telltale sound effects across the map, so you can avoid taking a rail to the back of the head.

A PAX West attendee checks out PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds on Xbox One X while wearing Turtle Beach's XO THREE headset.

Sony and Microsoft might not have brought the ultra big guns to PAX West to quite the same degree they do for the big industry shows, but there was still room on the floor for curios like tough-as-nails Cuphead with its eye-catching 1930s-inspired visuals, as well as Detroit: Become Human, David Cage’s latest PlayStation parable about what it means to have two legs, two arms and a Netflix account. ARK: Survival Evolved had a big presence, literally, with a giant T-Rex, while Lord of the Rings offshoot Shadow of War was also on hand. Shadow of Mordor was a sleeper hit for Warner Bros and Monolith Productions, so there was quite a buzz around this more expansive successor.

A PAX West attendee plays Shadow of War while using the Turtle Beach Elite Pro headset.

And of course, you can’t forget the streamers and personalities who come out to meet and spend time with their die-hard fans. The Face of Twitch, DrDisRespect, spent Saturday and Sunday streaming from the ASUS ROG booth, while Di3seL and Mae both had their turns streaming from the show floor.

The face of Twitch, DrDisRespect streams live from PAX West while wearing Turtle Beach Elite Pros.

 

 

Indie and competitive

The meat of PAX West is often indie titles, and 2017 was no exception, with the Indie Megabooth taking pride of place on the show floor, showcasing 84 games from 82 different developers. (Someone’s obviously been particularly productive!) The level of variety was typically captivating and hard to categorize, but personal favorites included UFO 50 from Spelunky’s Mossmouth and West of Loathing.

The latter also made it into the PAX 10, a group of 10 indie titles given special recognition after review by a panel of industry experts. Other PAX 10 winners included No Heroes Here, a hybrid castle-defence/crafting/platform game, Ship It, a VR puzzle game, and Keyboard Sports, which is a game that uses every single key on your keyboard. Yes, even that one. And that one. And that one. Please stop.

One of the nice things about PAX West is that its competition and tournament areas also embrace indie titles, rather than just focusing on esports heavy-hitters. That meant we got to see people duking it out in Towerfall Ascension, as well as games like Rocket League and more popular fixtures like Smash 4, Mortal Kombat X and even Ridge Racer Vita. Watching people play these games, as opposed to watching G2 Esports win DreamHack Masters or the European League of Legends Championship Series, gives us hope that we too might one day be up on a stage competing for gaming titles.

Speaking of competition, Magic the Gathering had a whole floor, which was pretty amazing to witness. There seemed to be less tabletop gaming at PAX West than last year, to our eyes, but there was still plenty about.

Panels galore

Whereas some events have a few speeches and canned announcements, one of the best things about PAX West is its huge range of panels. This is the sort of place where you can go from listening to Bungie’s Luke Smith reminiscing about developing Destiny 2 to watching members of the Vice Waypoint editorial team goofing off, and then slide into an interesting talk from a newly minted Twitch streamer or a serious industry discussion about trends like Early Access and DLC. There truly is something for everyone, and everything seems to find the audience it deserves, with lots of participation and appreciation.

As you might imagine, the Luke Smith talk was light on big announcements – hardly surprising given that Destiny 2 was due out a few days later – but rich with interesting anecdotes and perspectives on development and the discourse around it. But probably our favorite of the event was The Witcher 10th Anniversary session, where documentary maker Danny O’Dwyer hosted various CD Projekt Red developers and we explored the design of these enduringly successful role-playing games. 10 years seems like a huge amount of time and also no time at all when you consider the scale of their accomplishment.

PAX West attendees enjoy hands on time with Destiny 2 at the Paramont Theater while using Turtle Beach XP SEVEN headsets.

Seattle isn’t the biggest city in the world and PAX West brings tens of thousands of gamers to its overcast streets, so it’s no surprise that events often spill over into outside venues. One of the biggest this year was the Destiny 2 Experience at The Paramount. Each day Bungie had panels running that gave attendees insights into the life and development of a Destiny title, from community managers and cosplay specialists to weapon and audio designers. With the game gone live this week, there was plenty to talk about and a lot of hype. Seattle is Bungie’s home town and Destiny Guardians are a close-knit, surprisingly warm community for a shooter, so at times it felt a bit like a homecoming or a family gathering.

Until next year

All good things come to an end, of course, and after four excellent days of games, gossip and goofing around, the organizers brought down the shutters on another PAX West. This event still has unique character, despite its ever-escalating scale and notoriety, and it’s always one we look out for on the calendar. Don’t worry if you missed out though, because it’s sure to be back this time next year, and in the meantime there’s always PAX East in Boston.

The Best Soundtracks of the SNES Classic Era

The internet has been losing its collective mind about the SNES Classic ever since Nintendo announced it – and for good reason. Not only will this dinky replica console allow you to relive 20 of the best 16-bit games ever released, but it will also be the first time we’re able to play unreleased sci-fi shooter Star Fox 2. Whereas the NES Classic was a brilliantly executed curio, good for a few evenings of fun, the SNES Classic represents hundreds of hours of peerless gameplay, with a bit of something for everyone.

One group who will be particularly excited about the SNES Classic are connoisseurs of video game soundtracks, because the Super Nintendo was home to some of the very best. From Square’s legendary Nobuo Uematsu to Rare’s David Wise, composers from around the world drew beautiful, timeless scores out of the console’s unassuming S-SMP audio chip, developing melodies that many of us still hum to this day. Ahead of the SNES Classic’s release, here’s a look back at a few of our favorites.

ActRaiser (Enix, 1990)

Sadly you won’t be able to play ActRaiser on SNES Classic, but any list of the best soundtracks of the era would be remiss not to include Yuzo Koshiro’s astonishing score for this peculiar platform game/city simulation hybrid. ActRaiser is a game where you control a divine being attempting to liberate a world and restore people’s belief. Upon completing each beautiful side-scrolling platform level, you are then transported to a top-down city-building simulation, where you help populate the land you just saved. It’s surprising that this works so well anyway, but the music is something else. Produced within months of the console hitting the market, Koshiro’s symphonic suite gives the game outsize emotional heft, at turns humble and commanding, rebellious and dutiful. An early masterpiece.

Chrono Trigger (Square, 1995)

ActRaiser is a little obscure, so we can understand why it didn’t make the cut for the SNES Classic, but Chrono Trigger’s absence is unforgivable. Directed by a sort of RPG super group, including Yoshinori Kitase (Final Fantasy VI), Akira Toriyama (Dragon Ball) and Yuuji Horii (Dragon Quest), the result was a time-hopping adventure where every system, design and scenario came together in perfect harmony. The soundtrack was almost effortlessly brilliant. The work of Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu, it was full of hope, ever upbeat in the face of the player’s tribulations. There isn’t a dud among the 61 individual pieces and, fittingly for a game about bonds that echo through time, some of our favorites, like the Guardia Millennial Fair theme, still float to mind as we go through our lives decades later.

Donkey Kong Country (Rare, 1994)

Rare’s Donkey Kong Country was most famous for its Silicon Graphics-influenced visual design, but beneath the technobabble was one of the finest platform games created outside Japan. Levels were well-paced, easy to read and addictive to master, and Donkey and Diddy were a lovable tag team. A lot of that love was for David Wise’s superb soundtrack, which had a bit of everything – catchy upbeat numbers that we still hum to this day, lonesome ambience, particularly in caves and underwater levels, and synth-heavy electronic rhythms for moments of tension like boss fights. Even the little jingles you hear upon finishing a level or completing a secret room successfully are mini masterpieces.

Final Fantasy III / VI (Square, 1994)

Arguably the best soundtrack of the Super Nintendo era, Nobuo Uematsu’s score for Final Fantasy III – as it was known on its initial North American release – includes themes for every major character and location, boss and battle themes, and special music for individual story revelations. Everyone has their own favorite, but for us the basic battle theme stands out. A piece of music you will hear literally thousands of times as you fight your way across hill and vale, it always delivers. Perhaps moreso even than Chrono Trigger, which some felt was overly sentimental, Final Fantasy III had an epic sweep that drew the grand and personal together in a vast symphony of nuanced storytelling, and Uematsu’s soundtrack was more than equal to the task.

Mega Man X (Capcom, 1993)

Now for something completely different. As the blue bomber transcended his NES heritage for this Super Nintendo title, Capcom’s audio team of Setsuo Yamamoto, Makoto Tomozawa, Yuki Iwai, Yuko Takehara and Toshihiko Horiyama took their work to the next level as well. Mega Man is a series famous for its almost rhythmic template of platforming and boss fights, and the game’s composers gave each section its own energetic theme, using rock music as inspiration for their fast-paced electronic melodies in a way that has us pining for the 90s.

Secret of Mana (Square, 1993)

Bold and experimental, Hiroki Kikuta’s soundtrack for Secret of Mana was as much a feat of technical engineering as musical inspiration. Kikuta famously created samples to match the capabilities of the new Super Nintendo hardware, allowing him to compose Mana’s charming and unusual soundtrack without worrying that his melodies would lose something in transposition from instrument to machine. Mana would become one of the most-loved action-RPGs of the 16-bit era, and like its unusual three-player multitap gameplay option, Kikuta’s soundtrack eschewed convention, preferring haunting piano melodies and peculiar noises – whalesong, bird calls, even phone sounds – to draw you into its mysterious myth.

Super Metroid (Nintendo, 1994)

Dark and ominous, Kenji Yamamoto and Minako Hamano’s score for Super Metroid is minimalist and understated, full of tension and foreboding befitting a game about a sole explorer delving into a shadowy, brooding planet full of hidden peril. As players master their environment and the many abilities and resources Samus Aran gathers to her cause, the game itself becomes a less hostile place, but the soundtrack remains ever daunting. Even listening to it now as we type these words transports us back to a scary place that we’re glad we conquered but never felt truly at peace.

Celebrating Madden Commentary

If you’re a fan of Madden then you’re no doubt a fan of the commentary. Hearing a famous sports commentator narrate your epic final throw, the tackle you skilfully dodged, or the intercept you nailed, is some of the most rewarding moments in the franchise. Now, with Madden 18, that commentary has been taken to the next level, increasing the excitement as you push your players to their limits.

Featuring Tom Brady on the front cover and the Frostbite engine under the hood, Madden NFL 18 has upped the game when it comes to commentary. EA has brought back the legendary Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis for Madden NFL 18 and has included hundreds of hours of new commentary content. In an interview with Brian Mazique from Forbes, Seann Graddy had this to say about Gaudin and Davis.

“The team is back at it again this year, with hundreds of hours of new content, heavily slanted towards Franchise mode. They’ll be talking about the MVP race, the playoff hunt, player of the week awards and more. It’s really going to add to the immersion factor of Franchise.”

With the 400 hours of content from last year, and the hundreds of hours from this year, the amount of commentary really adds to the overall feel of the game. Hearing the commentators call out your players and speak about their awards and how well they performed as the MVP heightens this experience.

Even the pre- and post-show commentary has been improved. Part of what makes the series so great is the end breakdown of what took place. Whether it was a nail-biting finish or an absolute stomping, the commentary will back this up. Graddy went on to say:

“We’ve also focused on more contextual awareness for end-of-game moments, for better recognition of blowouts vs tight games. Coupled with improved late game AI, this should make the end of games more authentic.”

In terms of improvements over the years, one tremendous addition was the Live Commentary Updates. These updates added voiceovers of the commentators talking about events that literally just happened in real life! Not only was it great to receive these updates, but it made it feel as if the game you were playing actually happened out there in the world.

Madden NFL 18 is already making a name for itself with the new and improved commentary systems, and we’re stoked to see what comes with any Live Commentary Updates. Have you experienced any hilarious or awesome commentary in Madden NFL 18? Let us know in the comments!