God of War Interview – Meet the Formosa Group Sound Design Team (Uncharted 4, Zelda: Breath of the Wild)

Francesco De Meo

God of War is a game that needs no introduction. The fourth entry in the series developed by Sony Santa Monica raised the bar for story-driven action-adventure games, creating a game that deserves a place among the best titles released in the current console generation.

God of War's storytelling is greatly enhanced by the game's sound production, which has been handled by Formosa Group, which also worked on other AAA titles like Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, The Last of Us and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We recently had the chance to speak with Paul Lipson and Erica Mehallo about working on God of War and more.

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Formosa Group has worked on the sound production of the recently released God of War. Specifically, what did your work entail?

(Paul Lipson) – Working with the Santa Monica Studio team on God of War was an absolute pleasure and a rare game experience, pretty much a sound designer’s dream. We worked with Mike Niederquell, Santa Monica Studios’ Audio Lead, to provide core sound design content and coverage for several key characters and situations in the game. Highlights include Atreus’s attacks & magic, various creature sounds and sub-boss sounds, death sequences and various other animations. Our Creative Director/Supervising Sound Designer Shannon Potter (Uncharted 4, Last of Us, Fable 3) interfaced with Mike daily and lead our team of designers to produce some stunning results.

Being a story-driven game, God of War required a sound production that would highlight the most important story segments in a proper way, and I believe this has been masterfully achieved. Did Sony Santa Monica give some pointers or was everything left up to you?

(PL) – We received outstanding direction from Mike and we were able to ramp up quickly to zone in on the right context and aesthetic. We enjoyed the freedom to experiment and try out different takes, and Mike focused in and provided feedback to drive the end results that ultimately shipped. It didn’t take us long to get into a groove, and it was a smooth and satisfying production.

One thing that truly stands out in the God of War sound production are the battle sounds, which manage to convey the impact of Kratos' attacks, the damage received by both enemies and the main character and so on. How did you approach this and was there some sort of influence?

(PL) We have a long history of working on dynamic, impactful content for AAA interactive experiences – and Shannon and our crew pulled out all the stops to get sound profiles with both impact and depth. It’s a challenge to communicate intent through hard impacts and dynamic aggression with mythical creatures for sure. We focused heavily on leading into actions to create anticipated tension, and resolved with big hits and tailing sounds to give a satisfying payoff. We worked on lots of death sequences for monsters, so we certainly considered all of Kratos’ might as he ripped baddies to shreds!

Formosa Group also worked on other intense, story-driven games like Uncharted 4: A Thief's End, The Last of Us. How's it been working with Naughty Dog?

(PL) Naughty Dog is a fantastic partner and we’ve been working consistently with them for the last six years or so – from hours of custom sound design and foley for cinematics to thousands of lines of dialogue and performance capture audio support. Naughty Dog has certainly set the state of the art for sound, and we keep improving our workflows together every year.

(Erica Mehallo): When working with Naughty Dog you can always expect an amazing level of innovation and a progressive approach to technology. Naughty Dog’s ingenuity, combined with our adaptability, has yielded an extremely efficient dialog process, starting at the recording phase, continuing post-recording organization, and powering through into the editorial process – all without skipping a beat! This fine-tuned pipeline has consistently produced award-winning results and given gamers an immersive dialog experience!

Formosa Group worked on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild dialogue production, too. How did the game's unique take influence dialogue production?

(EM) –Exploring the complex and rich lore of Zelda while at the same time taking part in creating new characters and storylines was an incredible experience. This also meant the pressure was on to bring these characters a voice for the first time. In the case of BOTW, the dialog is quality over quantity with special attention being given to exactly when and where the dialogue is placed within the game to achieve the highest level of storytelling. This was truly an amazing opportunity to work on a game so consistently loved by lifelong fans, but also innovative enough to spark an interest from a new generation of gamers.

Lastly, was there anything at Formosa Group you wanted to do in any of the video games your worked on but couldn't due to any reason?

(PL) We have been fortunate to work on everything from larger AAA blockbusters to cutting edge Indie passion projects and the mandate is to push the limits of what platforms can do and what fans expect. Just when I think we’ve hit a wall, we come up with something cool and find the resources to do it. From recording massive battle tanks and crazy weapons like flamethrowers and anti-aircraft guns to capturing the artistry of a 100-piece orchestra at an elite recording stage here in LA, we certainly push the quality bar. So far so good!

Thank you for your time!

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