The Mix of Ghost of Tsushima

June 9th, 2021

It’s hard to believe Ghost of Tsushima is almost a year old already! It came out on July 17, 2020. We started planning for the final mix in February of that same year. Do you remember February of 2020? The only people that wore masks were superheroes, vaccines were for kids and traveling, and people felt totally comfortable crammed into enclosed spaces. With that mindset, we started planning. I would fly down to Sony San Mateo, other Sony sound folks would fly up from San Diego and Los Angeles and collectively we would spend a month packed into a studio mixing the game. I knew a month wouldn’t be enough to mix the game, but it’s all I could get. The thought of me being away from the office for that long was already daunting. The initial plan was for only 3 weeks, but I negotiated to 4. Because we weren’t going to have enough time, my strategy was to focus on what most players would experience: start with the core systemic gameplay, followed by the Golden Path missions, our main narrative, the special Legendary Item missions, and finish up with as many of the buddy chain Silver missions as we could get to. It was a solid plan.

As things got worse with the coronavirus, our mix plans became a bit more fluid. Maybe I could fly a small charter airline down to the Bay Area. Maybe we’d need to limit the number of people who came. Then the shelter-in-place orders came. Because the audio team needed special facilities to do our jobs we were initially given special consideration during this time. I kept working in the office with a skeleton crew of others, and there were a couple people at Sony doing the same. As the situation worsened, I was forced to move home, and our plans continued to change. We started floating every idea possible. Mixing at home was not ideal since I didn’t have a decent, quiet room. Would I need to seal myself off at work and mix alone in my non-calibrated studio? By early April things had solidified into what would promise to be the most unique mix experience I’d ever been a part of. I would drive down from Seattle to San Mateo (a 14 hour drive normally without traffic, yet only a 12 hour drive at peak pandemic time). I would stay in a hotel right across from the Sony campus. There would be one other member from each discipline joining me: Adam Lidbetter from sound design, Kyle Richards from dialogue, and Nick Mastroianni from the music team. Adam, Kyle, and myself would be situated a minimum of 10 feet apart from each other in Studio A, and Nick would be in the live room playing the game. It was not ideal, but it was a plan.

And surprisingly it worked exceptionally well. Part of the reason for that was that we asked the other folks who were supposed to be at the mix to play the game, and to play ahead of us. I maintained a google doc of mix notes, and every day as people played through they would add to the mix notes. The reason we had them play ahead of us was so we could address their notes as we made it through the game in the studio.

The unsung heroes of the entire pandemic were our IT department. They and a few programmers figured out how to get the entire studio and our proprietary toolchain working remotely in a matter of days. It was remarkable. Using this tech, I was able to download package builds from a devkit at the hotel I brought with me everyday and play them each night while I was in my hotel room ordering takeout and wearing a combination of N95 masks, bandannas and boxer shorts as facemasks (how far we’ve come).

About halfway through the mix we found out that our ship date was getting pushed slightly which gave us an extra week for mixing, which was a godsend. Somehow we managed to cover everything we’d planned in the initial 4 weeks, but that extra week gave us more time to polish and cover more of the game. We were so fortunate and that time really paid off.

I shot a ton of video while I was down there (though often not at the most opportune times), because I knew this was going to be a weird experience and such a strange mix process. The fact that it worked, and worked so well, is a testament to the entire team. The support I had from Sucker Punch and Sony was incredible and I still am in a daze over how lucky I’ve been to work with such a phenomenal team. So here’s a video showing some of the “highlights” of the mix. It’s long. It’s often boring. It’s sometimes funny. But it shows what the process of the mix really looked like, and I get honest about a lot of my personal and professional concerns, learnings and shortcomings. I don’t know that I would recommend watching it because it really is over a half hour of watching me talk with underwear covering my face or clicking a mouse in Wwise, but hopefully there will be some nuggets of interest to people getting a glimpse behind the curtain of a strange mix in a strange time.