[Interview] Matt Harwood, Director of Auditory Kaos

We sat down with Matt to talk about his involvement in Kaos Studios, his goals for Homefront, and how sound is better than visuals... at least, in our opinion.
Author: Ryan Green
Published: February 22, 2011
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In game development, there are many unsung heroes that bring a game, and even a studio, to greatness. This point cannot be stressed enough with bigger teams. To that end, we at TotalPlayStation have a penchant for audio geeks, if you couldn't tell by Sam's interview with Jeramiah Ross of Shatter fame.

During a press event in New York City, I was able to meet another hero of sound: Matt Harwood, audio director at Kaos Studios. To truly capture the energy of this man, imagine Sam Bishop in an excited state, but brought down to Sanity Town. I had a delightful chat with Mr. Harwood, encompassing his background, his work on the upcoming THQ game Homefront, and how you should properly appreciate audio.

Seriously, you people need to cut the crap and invest in a nice pair of headphones.

So, Matt, could you tell us a little bit about how you came to be working at Kaos Studios and your involvement in the industry prior to your work on Homefront?

Well, specifically on this project, I was already working at Kaos; I [had] worked on Frontlines. And before that I applied online; I found [Kaos Studios] on Gamasutra. I said, 'Hey, it is a New York-based studio – I might as well try.' So I applied, auditioned, and I got it. You know, prior to this, I sort of fell into things. But when I saw it, it motivated me; it was the only job I ever physically applied for. I worked freelance for about seven years, working on various projects for TV and things like that. But I never thought I would have a full-time job, and I wanted to form a family. It was the necessary step that I had to take, and it worked!

So there you have it: from freelance, to Frontlines, to Homefront!

Was there anything that you learned from working on Frontlines that you carried over into Homefront's development?

There were a couple of really core things that I wanted to maintain in Homefront, and that was our distance-based weapon sounds and general audio. What do the weapons sound like from different perspectives? What does a chopper sound like when it is right on you versus it being far away? Gunfire – close, far, or when you're firing it. I wanted to keep all of that and embellish on it, and we did.

When we did all of those [sound effect] recordings, we had mics way down the field, all over the place; central location on the guns and always hidden away in the woods, tossing a few recording mics a half-mile away and further. And what we got, in doing that, was a whole new chunk of audio that we didn't have when we did Frontlines. About 80% of the audio in the game we did in the field – going out and getting the actual, credible sounds, from the sources or from things that would sound interesting. One of the guns we recorded didn't have enough “oomph,” and [when] I was walking down the street one day, a dude was jackhammering. I just thought, "Man, that sounds good," so I recorded it and cut it up so it worked with the fire rate of the gun. And out of this, I get a neat, metallic compression, [a] crazy-weird thing that just made it truly feel like you are firing a gun.

When you are really firing a gun, man, it is loud and it moves and does crazy stuff, and it is really hard to pack that into this controller. And because you are watching it on a screen and using a controller, a lot of that firing experience in the game, I think, comes from how it sounds. My guess is 60% sound, and the rest are visuals, and of course how they marry. If it sounds great but it doesn't marry with the visual and how it works, then it isn't going to feel good.

So in doing all of those recordings in the field and making sure that they sound great, that was something, combined with what I learned in Frontlines, I was able to craft and nurture something great for Homefront. In all, working with location-based sound is what I ultimately carried over from Frontlines.
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