Marty O’Donnell Interview – Audio Director, Bungie


Composer of Halo Speaks

Q. How did you get into gaming audio? What was your background originally?

A. My fi rst career after getting my master’s in music composition from USC was as composer and audio producer for fi lm and television at a company I started with a long-time friend and writing partner, Mike Salvatori. I spent most of the ’80s and ’90s producing scores and jingles while at the same time playing a lot of games. I met the guys at Cyan just before Myst was released, and I was convinced that I could help make the audio for the sequel, Riven. They hired my company in 1996, which is the same year I started working with Bungie Studios on their Myth series.

Q. What was the fi rst game that you created a surround sound mix for?

A. Halo. For E3 2000 we made a DVD in surround sound for a theatre presentation of ten minutes of captured, scripted game play. We shipped Halo in full 5.1 surround in November of 2001 on the Xbox.

Q. What has been your favorite game in terms of the audio you’ve created?

A. The Halo series has been the most satisfying for me. Not only have we been able to create some great audio and music but also implement that content in the Halo games in ways I had only dreamed of previously. The game design, story, and art have come together in ways greater than their sum. The team at Bungie Studios has been fantastic to work with.

Q. What pieces of technology wouldn’t you be without when creating game audio?

A. Pro Tools, Peak, Mac, my keyboard (K2500), GigaStudio, and a whole bunch of other stuff are essentials for me. Of course, the Dolby DP564 is great for us to be checking our multichannel audio as it comes out of all the different sources. It’s so important for us to be confi dent in the fi nal mix of the game, and we need to determine precisely, digital to digital, what’s being delivered through that fi nal light pipe on the 360.

Q. Where would you personally like to go from here? What kind of factors do you think are necessary to give game players a new type of experience?

A. My main guiding principals haven’t changed much over the years: Sound makes it real, music makes you feel. First, do no annoying. Repetition is the mind killer. (OK, I just made that one up.) It still takes a lot of work and planning to do justice to those concepts. There is so much room for growth in areas like adaptive music, AI dialogue, physics-based sound design, real-time mixing, etc., which should be able to keep a lot of us busy for a long time, that I’m not thinking too much about completely new experiences for the player. I’m mostly concentrating on giving players better, deeper experiences. However, when it comes to games that use music and sound as a game-play mechanic, I think there are lots of experiences that haven’t been thought of yet. Of course, when I think of one, I’ll let you know.

Q. If you had to pick one thing that Master Chief and Marty O’Donnell had in common, what would it be?

A. Neither of us has much of a sense of humor.

Alan is a web architect, stand-up comedian, and your friendly neighborhood Grammar Nazi. You can stalk him on the Interwebs via Google+, Facebook and follow his ass on Twitter @ocmodshop.