Bringing the Battlefields of WW1 to Life

November 2016


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During our initial meetings with DICE they outlined their ambition for the project was to create a historically accurate and authentic sounding WW1 game.  So this was SIDE’s challenge.  The battles needed to sound like real battles.  The soldiers needed to sound like common men fighting.  The dialogue needed to feel like the actual voices of the men from this period.

Our research showed us that the majority of men fighting in WW1 campaigns were not trained soldiers but ordinary men fighting in extraordinary situations.  Consequently, we felt that our soldiers would not necessarily respond to battle situations in a skilled, professional way.  So, while recording events such as incoming artillery or grenades, we carefully directed the varying levels of emotional involvement and response that a soldier would have.  From, say, blind panic to reckless boldness.  We then added to this a set level of proficiency to stop our soldiers sounding too skilled or efficient.

Most WW1 soldiers were fighting for the first time in their lives, away in foreign countries, away from their loved ones.  So we needed to demonstrate the inevitable brotherhood that flourished within these units and battalions of men.  To do this, we chose to record with large groups of actors in big, open studios, allowing them space to move freely and, importantly, play their lines off each other, spontaneously.  Using this technique we were able to create an authentic energy, a bravura and camaraderie that we felt would have existed among the despair and hopelessness.

The advent of mechanical warfare brought threats and assaults to soldiers, never experienced before on a battlefield.  We wanted to hear these tensions and agonies in the voices of our men.  To do this we placed our actors under physical stress.  We got them to wear rucksacks with heavy rocks in, carry poles supporting sandbags, even pull each other along on ropes.  All this, while they were actually delivering the lines.  We kept them breathless and on the move – a real workout.  They were directed to always imagine that they were doing something other than simply holding a gun: nursing a bleeding wound; pulling an injured colleague; wading through thick mud etc.
 
Our dialogue also needed to feel contemporary and spontaneous.  So our actors were directed to first respond emotionally to a situation then allow the words to come afterwards – like the first thing that came to mind.  Using this method our responses sounded more instantaneous and genuine.  Dialogue was meticulously researched.  We used slang found everywhere from firsthand letters to historical slang dictionaries.  Sometimes, however, we found that to maintain a Player’s emersion in the experience, period language had to be trimmed and more familiar contemporary phrases added instead.

SIDE experimented with these methods when recording the British army here in London.  Once we were satisfied that we had got as close as we could to the real vocal sounds of a WW1 battlefield we travelled the globe with these techniques to record actors in the different nations that fought in WW1.  From London to Paris, Istanbul to Moscow, resulting in an authentic sounding game from all sides of the battlefields.