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The Musical Box #30: Shepard Can Dance

The Musical Box features 30 articles focusing on game music production and implementation. Edition #30: Mass Effect 3

The Mass Effect franchise is one of the highlights from the 7th generation of video game consoles. Featuring memorable characters, solid gameplay, and an amazing universe, these games should not be missed by any sci-fi fans and probably even those who are not very fond of space adventures. Needless to say, the soundtrack is brilliant and contributes immensely to the believability of this marvelous universe. In this edition of the musical box, we’ll analyze a simple, but effective use of dynamic EQ in one the most important places of this world: the Purgatory Bar.

Game: Mass Effect 3
Released: 2013
Platform: Windows, PS3, Xbox 360, WiiU
Developer: BioWare
Publisher: EA
Composers: Sascha Dikiciyan, Sam Hulick, and Christopher Lennertz

The Set-Up

The Purgatory Club is a dance club. As with every night club, the music is extremely loud and can be heard even if you’re not close to it. In fact, one can hear the music from outside and with the doors closed. Due to the nature of sound propagation, we can only hear low frequency sounds/instruments. But how can we replicate this in a game?

One of the simplest ways of achieving this by using a dynamic EQ, more precisely a high cut filter, which will attenuate the volume of higher frequencies. When a high cut filter is active, one can hear only the signals below the cutoff frequency. So, if this frequency is set to 200 Hz, everything above 200 Hz will be attenuated. That’s why only low frequency instruments/sounds will be audible (bass guitars, kick drums, heavy synths, etc.)

The cool aspect of Mass Effect 3 is that the cutoff frequency is dynamic. The closer you are to the source of the sound, the higher the cutoff. As a result, the player gradually listens to more instruments as he/she approaches the Purgatory Bar is Mass Effect 3.

The Moment

Check out this memorable audio moment in Mass Effect 3:

The Impact

Applying a high cut EQ filter to simulate real-life experiences is not a very complicated job. Every respectable audio middleware should include an EQ that can easily accomplish this task. Talk to your composer/sound designer/audio programmer to understand which filter is better for your project. To see more examples of EQ usage, check out The Musical Box #14.

Special thanks: Gilliard Lopes, Rafael Kuhnen, Fernando Secco, and Sandro Tomasetti.

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