Red Dead Redemption, L.A. Noire, Max Payne 3, Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto. Can an audio CV look any better?
Between them, Craig Conner and Will Morton have devoted more than 30 man-years to creating best-of-breed music, sound and audio content for renowned developer, Rockstar. As they contemplate life after Rockstar and embark on a new production partnership, they reflect on working for the world’s most famed developer and its extraordinary video games canon.
“I’ve gained an incredible amount of experience over the last two decades," says Craig Conner. "Working on large projects like the GTA games is certainly made easier by the fact I'm obsessed with sound – and as well having an eye for detail you also have to see the bigger picture. In fact, I'd bet that on a lot of projects it's the audio team who know most about the game as a whole. If you have to put sound to something, you need to know everything that’s in the game!
"Working at Rockstar wasn’t just a career, it was a way of life - most of my colleagues are still my best friends today. We achieved success through passion, dedication, talent and time."
Will Morton concurs: “I learned a hell of a lot at Rockstar - it’s really true that if you work with good people, you'll learn good habits. There’s never any room for complacency – there’s always something new to learn, and as technology changes constantly, our skills should develop too.
"Probably something that people don't really think of as being important when starting out in game development is how vital organisation skills and discipline are - especially when you’re working with vast amounts of assets. A lot of people who want to work in audio are creatives usually shielded from anything ‘non-artistic’ when working on their own projects. They raise the quality of their work through practise and experience, and maintain it with discipline (being a bit of a perfectionist helps) - but managing to hit deadlines while you're doing the impossible (with hundreds of thousands of assets, across different time zones and multiple locations) is a skill you really don't think you'll need when you're studying sound production at college.
"There's no way we would have been able to do what we did with the audio for the GTA series without being absolutely precise in the planning and organisation. Latterly, managing dialogue from start to finish became my sole responsibility. To get a sense of the scope, consider how the dialogue requirements grew - for instance GTA IV had about 80,000 lines of in-game dialogue but GTA V (on the same hardware) had over 150,000 lines of in-game dialogue.
For Conner, the highlights of his Rockstar tenure have been working with ‘some of the best people in the industry, pushing the boundaries in game audio and making the impossible, possible’. Meanwhile Morton, like his stable mate, is immensely proud of what was achieved at the iconic developer.
“It was fantastic to work with such an enthusiastic team – amazing talent in such high concentration, with everybody on the same page focused on the same goal," he says. "You’d always find that people would be blown away by what another department had managed to do and it just gave everyone the thirst to push themselves and the game further, always asking yourself ‘How can I make this better? How can I give the player more?”
Clearly, it’s the duo’s firm intention to bring those same skills and that same attitude to their new venture, Solid Audioworks – a production company offering a full audio service, including dialogue, sound effects and score, as well as movie post.
Morton says: "For me, leaving the Rockstar family was about being able to work from my own studio and be closer to my wife and daughter, but also to expand my horizons in terms of the projects I worked on. There are a lot of interesting games being developed out there – especially indie games, as well as AAA titles – and I really wanted to try something different, though it wasn’t a decision I made lightly.
“Actually first of all, I found I kind of fell into doing film sound work – I took a job on a British horror feature called ‘Plan Z’ which I’m just finishing the sound design and mix on at the moment. That led to being offered a recording job on another feature called ‘The Fairy Flag’. At a production meeting just before the shoot, I discovered Craig was also involved and that’s when we started discussing working together.
“Following recording the production sound on The Fairy Flag, we were asked to take care of the post-production audio, so we’re currently working on that, after which we’ll turn our attention back to games. Whilst a change is as good as a rest, and it’s been great to work on films, we’re very much looking forward to getting back into game audio.”