Today, we were blessed with this short but fascinating article about a facet of NieR: Automata’s most interesting tech–the incredible dynamic music transitions that are present all over the game. Short of maybe INSIDE’s detailed music loops that act as cues for puzzles and keep the right timing to still be going even when you die and respawn, I think Automata’s transitions are the most amazing music tech happening right now in games. This article convinced me of that even more.
This tech was also a part of the original NieR, but there it was only different versions of a song switched out via smooth volume fade, and it was fairly noticeable, but the fades in Automata are even smoother and I was sure something was being done to make the two fading songs gel better. Some of that was revealed here! I hope the rest will be too, but for now…
This is the image included with the article showing the complicated music workflow of these transitions into hacking segments, all this for something that only lasts a few seconds.
Over the course of the transition when you press Triangle/Y to hack, the original music is being filtered into a narrower band of frequencies, what they call a 4-octave tone filter here. They do this because very low or very high frequencies would sound real bad with what comes next…
Bit-crushing distortion that creates a harder sound associated with the square waves of retro game console PSG sound chips. Chiptune artists would probably call what they’re doing here “fake-bit”.
But luckily, this distorted version of the original song is not the only thing playing. It is lowered in volume to be a subtle touch, and a fully-produced 8-bit version of the song comes in over it! This is where they determine the depth and volume level of each track, and look at whether any important sounds are getting buried in the mix. Yes, the NieR: Automata composers made 8-bit versions of almost all of the songs just for this. AND the game is mixing individual tracks of the music LIVE. That’s… I’m sure that was the product of a fun meeting.
So, the combination of the 8-bit cover of the track and the quieter, distorted original track make for some very expressive and smooth transitions. I had thought I heard real instruments being distorted during some of these hacking segments–not just chiptune–and this explains that! I can only guess at what kind of stuff they did for the other music transitions, and I hope we learn more.
And if you learn better by watching and listening, Ueda has three video demos at the link that shows him doing the transitions live in the Wwise audio middleware program.