Audio Blog

Hi NCAA Fans,

Christian McLeod, NCAA Football 13 designer, and I’m here to talk a bit about the audio and commentary improvements we’ve made to this year’s game.  

I joined the NCAA Football team in October and have been working on a few different aspects of this year’s game, primarily focused on anything speech and sound related. I’m also a college football fanatic who lives and dies each week during the season with my beloved Michigan State Spartans- GO GREEN!  That being said, it should come as no surprise that NCAA Football has been my favorite game to play each year since it was known as Bill Walsh College Football…I’m an EA SPORTS NCAA Football junkie. I’m extremely passionate about the NCAA Football franchise and I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am to be working on the game’s dev team.

Now that you know who I am, let’s get down to business….

Audio Improvements

There’s nothing more important to the atmosphere of college football than the crowd. Whether it’s the swelling of noise after a big play, or the echoing of a team specific chant, we’re making a concerted effort to capture the audio nuances of Saturday (and Thursday for you MAC fans out there!), that make college football so special.

We have a new audio team here at Tiburon dedicated to taking our crowds to the next level. This team is headed by new Audio Director, Aaron Janzen (or as we call him AJ).  AJ left the great white north at EA Canada to join us here in sunny Florida in January and we have been working closely together ever since.  While in Vancouver, AJ was able to work on both the FIFA and Fight Night series and brings a wealth of sound knowledge to the team—specializing in crowd ambiance. In our time with AJ we’ve been able to harness the same tech and workflows used by games developed in our Vancouver studio.

Our push to deliver the most authentic crowd experience doesn’t stop there. College football is all about the passion of you the fan, and there is no greater spectacle than thousands of rabid, passionate fans supporting their team in unison. Because of this, we’re making a concerted push to get YOUR voice into our game—literally. That’s right, there’s a chance that if you attend a college football game this past fall that you may be a part of NCAA Football 13.

We sent people all over the country, including some of our community members to record crowd audio at games during the season. Below you will find a list of the games we had representatives at this year and if you were in attendance, congratulations, you played an important role in this year’s title.

In addition to the records acquired from games we attended, we also were afforded the opportunity to work with our partner ESPN at this year’s Ohio State vs. Michigan game—one of the most intense and electric atmosphere’s in all of sport. While at the Big House we were able to use a 24 track recorder to pull audio samples that would later be orchestrated by AJ and integrated into our new crowd mix.  We hope to continue being able to share in ESPN’s resources and utilize any technological advancements in the future.

Oklahoma at FL State
9/17/11
Attendance: 84,392

Louisiana Monroe at Iowa
9/24/11
Attendance: 70,585

Missouri at Oklahoma
9/24/11
Attendance: 85,547

SMU at TCU
10/1/11
Attendance: 35,632

Auburn at Arkansas
10/8/11
Attendance: 74,191

Arizona at Oregon State
10/8/11
Attendance: 40,403

Arizona State at Oregon
10/15/11
Attendance: 60,055

Oklahoma State at Texas
10/15/11
Attendance: 100,101

UCLA at Arizona
10/20/11
Attendance: 46,565

Washington at Stanford
10/22/11
Attendance: 50,360

Clemson at Georgia Tech
10/29/11
Attendance: 55,646

Purdue at Michigan
10/29/11
Attendance: 112,115

Northwestern at Nebraska
11/5/11
Attendance: 85,115

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh
11/5/11
Attendance: 49,362

Indiana at Ohio State
11/5/11
Attendance: 105,195

Nebraska at Penn State
11/12/11
Attendance: 107,903

TCU at Boise State
11/12/11
Attendance: 34,146

North Carolina at Virginia Tech
11/17/11
Attendance: 50,140

BC at Notre Dame
11/19/11
Attendance: 80,795

Kentucky at Georgia
11/19/11
Attendance: 92,746

Miami at USF
11/19/11
Attendance: 57,572

Arkansas at LSU
11/25/11
Attendance: 93,108

Pittsburgh at West Virginia
11/25/11
Attendance: 60,932

Penn State at Wisconsin
11/26/11
Attendance: 79,708

Plant at Armwood - High School
10/28/11
Attendance: under 1,000

Ohio State at Michigan (ESPN 24-track recording)
11/26/11
Attendance: 114,132

As you can see, it is a priority to visit large, medium, and small stadiums to ensure we stay authentic to the sounds that are generated in each.

We’re already planning our trips for the 2012 college football season, and will let you know what games we will be at so you can be sure to rest your voices, drink some hot tea with honey, and have those pipes ready to represent your team on game day.

Below I’ve attached some assets from NCAA Football 12 and their counterparts that will appear in NCAA Football 13 gathered from a couple of the above games. 

Right click to save and listen:

Florida State '12 vs Florida State '13
Texas '12
vs Texas '13

As I’m sure you will agree, the chants captured for NCAA Football 13 are far superior to anything we’ve captured in the past.  Just listening to “Texas Fight” echo through a stadium of 100,000 fans gives me goose bumps, and I’m not even a Texas fan.  And listen to the fullness of the new Seminole War Chant captured among over 84,000 Seminole fans.  For you Oklahoma fans out there you have to be happy with how deep the tones of Boomer Sooner are compared to our old recording.  There simply is no discounting the importance of capturing assets that are provided by you the fan out in the wild- the audio quality is unmatched.

The entire Audio team can’t wait to have you hear the all-new NCAA Football crowd mix this season, complete with the new team-specific chants.   We’re all very proud that the mix brings a richer, more robust sound to your favorite college football stadium.  There is always more work to be done to create the ultimate NCAA Football crowd, but we are very happy with our year 1 results. You’re going to notice a difference the second you boot up your first game. 

COMMENTARY IMPROVEMENTS

Since arriving at EA I began working with the team on a completely new commentary philosophy.  The key factors behind this new approach involve increasing the commentator’s contextual awareness and the establishment of a true broadcast flow.  What I mean by this is that not only do we want Brad Nessler and Kirk Herbstreit to be smarter about what they are talking about as game progresses; we also want the flow of what they say to be able to mimic the pacing of a real television broadcast. I’m happy to say that after many months of hard work we have made several big strides that will lay the foundation for exciting new commentary additions for years to come.

As the years have progressed, the team has become aware that the commentary engine we were using was handcuffing us from a technological standpoint with regards to accomplishing our commentary goals. The first exciting step we made this year was to move away from our old commentary engine, and move to an engine that was pioneered by our friends up at EAC. The key advantage to the new system is that it allows our commentary to recognize past events via statistical analysis, and then is able to reference them at any time during the game.  In previous years,  we were working with a very linear system that was limited to addressing only certain plays from the immediate past..

I like to use the following analogy when discussing our new engine’s capabilities—imagine our old system as a traditional chapter book where once you begin reading it you are locked into a defined beginning, middle, and end. Our new engine can be related more closely with a “choose your own adventure” novel—an evolving story with multiple branching paths and different endings. The eventual result in future years will be commentary that is much more dynamic and able to evolve over the course of a game.

Another big advantage to this engine is it allows us to establish a much more natural flow in our broadcast. One of the first areas we utilized this new tech to test it was at the end of each scoring drive and quarter where Nessler announces the score. Our current engine is able to request and return this score data much quicker than the old system. The result is a score summary that flows better, without the pauses and inflection changes by Nessler that have reared their ugly heads in past versions of the game. Feel free to listen to the below example of this change:

Right click to save and listen:

NCAA 12 Score vs NCAA 13 Score

We’ve also made a big change when it comes to how we approached our scripting and recording sessions thanks to the tutelage of another EAC colleague, Phil Nakis.  Phil is an Audio Engineer in Vancouver and has worked on the commentary in MVP Baseball, FIFA, NHL, and Fight Night: Champion, employing new stitch techniques along the way to deliver some of the most natural sounding commentary in sports gaming.   Among the most important lessons to be learned from the commentary in the games mentioned above was how Phil and company relied on their voice talent to be the content experts—utilizing the talent’s years of real world broadcasting to create a theatre of the mind in the video game they were calling.

In the past, our team would watch hours upon hours of games that Nessler and Herbstreit called on television, writing lines of scripted commentary that were meant to be in the voice of our talent.  We’ve realized that no matter how much tape you watch we were never going to be able to predict how Nessler, and specifically Herbstreit as an analyst, will react and call a situation as it unfolds on the field.  Scripting for the two takes away their ability to put events into their own words and provide personal inflections—a key component to capturing a true broadcast sound.

It is because of this that NCAA Football 13 will mark the first year that we’ve moved away from attempting to write scripts for our talent.  The process now involves working in the studio with the talent to paint a picture of the game situation and allow them tell the story in their own words.   We want both Brad and Kirk to feel like they are in a booth on a Saturday night, and even pump in crowd noise and fight songs into their headphones to get them into the moment.

As speech technology advances so does the desire to blur the lines between video game commentary and a real life broadcast.  It was critical to the team that we move in this new direction to help achieve our goals.  The resulting commentary sounds extremely natural and is the first step in breaking down that barrier between being just a video game that talks, and a smart virtual football commentary experience.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to the team that Nessler, Herbstriet and our mystery voice to be named later,  bring their own personalities and banter to our game. These guys are college football experts, and it’s impossible to script the knowledge they bring to the table.

One final note that should be a welcome addition to long time fans of the series: this year we were able to use this new recording approach to refresh thousands of old lines that have become franchise staples.  Much like an FPS uses heat map technology that identifies choke points on a map, we are able to look at user commentary telemetry that allows us to analyze how many times a certain line or bank of lines plays.  Using this data allowed us to dig into our old commentary scripts to identify the areas where we needed to focus on providing fresh new content and also isolate any instances where we may want to remove certain lines completely.

We realize stale, repetitive commentary lines have been a legacy issue for the series.  Personally I can’t tell you how sick I am of hearing Herbie tell me a quarterback was a sitting duck, and how no one likes a sitting duck.  I’m happy to not only report the elimination of that wonderful line, but also the elimination of hundreds of other top offenders along with the addition of fresh new lines as replacements. The analysis of commentary telemetry is something that will be very important to us moving forward, and we are focused on enhancing your commentary experience by removing old, tired lines on a yearly basis.

NCAA Football 13 marks year one of a multi-year approach to make our commentary feel truly dynamic and alive across all game modes.  Our new engine, new recording style, and ability to identify repetition are all key factors that will allow us to build compelling commentary into our game, engaging fans in the aura of college football.

Thanks for reading and I am so excited for all of you to hear more about what we’ve been working on for NCAA Football 13. The team is incredibly passionate about college football, and is committed to bringing you the most authentic college gridiron experience possible.  I’ll be back later with an exciting announcement concerning commentary in Dynasty Mode.  Until then, let us know your thoughts on what you’ve heard so far.  The team is always listening.