Todd Masten’s Studio Equipment
With only a few weeks until Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition joins the ranks of our other two Definitive Editions, many of its dedicated, long-time fans have been looking (or, should we say, listening) for details about the remastered soundtrack. The Age of Empires and Age of Empires II Definitive Editions waited two decades for the definitive remaster of their soundtracks, so how has the youngest of the series been handled—considering its setting in a more modern era? Today, we’re answering your questions while offering an early listen to some of what’s on the way! So, join us in welcoming the Audio Director at World’s Edge, Todd Masten, as he talks about the challenges and opportunities when remastering the original RTS(Soundtrack)!
♦ ♦ ♦
World’s Edge: Hello Todd! Please introduce yourself and what you do for the Age franchise.
Todd Masten: My name is Todd Masten, and I am the Audio Director for the Age of Empires franchise: starting with Age of Empires: DE up to and including the forthcoming Age of Empires IV. I am a 20+ year audio veteran in the games industry with credits spanning handheld, mobile, VR/AR, console, and PC titles. Aside from working with our partner studios on their audio needs, I also compose music for most of the titles I work on and provide some amount of sound design support in conjunction with our outsourced vendors.
World’s Edge: What was your approach to remastering the soundtrack for Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition?
Todd Masten: For the Age of Empires III: DE soundtrack, we chose to remix and remaster the music as opposed to recomposing each of the game’s tracks. Age of Empires III used live orchestral recordings in the original game, which resulted in high-quality music tracks available at the start of the project. We were lucky to have access to the original stems (tracks are broken out by strings, winds, brass, choir, etc.), which allowed us to remix each cue and remaster the files at a higher sampling and bit rate. We used a somewhat complicated chain of multiband exciters and multiband compressors to remaster the tracks, which adds a bit of low-end ‘thump’ and high-end ‘sparkle’ to each of the tracks.
“Noddinasgushpa” – Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition Main Theme
World’s Edge: How many others participated in this process?
Todd Masten: The original team did the bulk of the work, and they did an outstanding job of capturing the spirit and feel of an Age of Empires title—which communicates the emotion through the music. We also used an outside team of two engineers to remix and remaster the music tracks, which took roughly two months to complete.
World’s Edge: What is the goal of a remaster?
Todd Masten: The goal of a remaster is all about providing a nostalgic experience while modernizing the tracks; the original game came out almost 15 years ago, and some of the mastering sounds a bit dated so many years later. By remastering the tracks at a higher frequency and bit rates, we can add a sheen to the tracks that enables them to sound more up-to-date without sacrificing that sound that the user remembers.
World’s Edge: How much of the original is still in the soundtrack?
Todd Masten: The soundtrack is in the game in its entirety! Every track from the original game and both expansions are included in a remixed and remastered form. Overall, there are over three hours of content from the original title.
“Gunwales” – Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition Cutscene Track
World’s Edge: How do you keep the spirit of the original alive while delivering the high quality expected in the digital age?
Todd Masten: Nostalgia can be a tricky psychological concept. The game came out almost 15 years ago, and what people think they remember may not coincide with reality if we delivered the game’s audio exactly how it was in the original title. To maintain the spirit of the original and bring it in line with modern expectations, we remastered every sound and music track in the game. Much of the game’s original content—which was excellent at the time—might sound somewhat ‘dull’ to modern ears, as there is not a wide frequency spectrum across most of the content. By remastering and injecting some additional frequency content into the assets, we present a more cohesive experience that is more identifiable with our modern musical sensibilities. The game sounded modern at the time of its release; now the updated audio will capture a sense of nostalgia while sounding even better to our more sophisticated ears.
World’s Edge: Is there any new content, or just updates?
Todd Masten: We do, indeed, have new content in the title! In Age of Empires II: DE, we made the decision to add ‘Civilization Jingles’ to the game. These are short, one-minute clips that introduce the player’s civilization and help establish a sense of identity as a match or mission begins. Similarly, we composed all-new civilization jingles for each civ in Age of Empires III: DE—which adds up to about 18 minutes of new music for the title.
“Germany” – New Civilization Jingle
World’s Edge: What did you learn from remastering Age 1 and 2 soundtracks?
Todd Masten: Age of Empires: DE and Age of Empires II: DE had to be recomposed from the ground up before mastering took place. We had a team of three composers composing groups of tracks to preserve the feel and melodic content of each track while reinterpreting each cue for a modern audience. Some of the original, 20-year-old+ MIDI files were uncovered and used as a basis for recomposition; older, sample-based instruments were quite primitive at the time of the original release, so modern, sampled, and live instruments were used to bring the tracks to life while still paying tribute to the original material.
World’s Edge: Anything else you want to share with an eager audience?
Todd Masten: For Age of Empires III: DE, we really went out of our way to preserve and modernize the content rather than compose new content as we did for Age of Empires: Definitive Edition and Age of Empires II: DE. A great deal of time and effort went into the presentation of the music. We also took the time to remaster and recreate all the sound effects and voice-over work in an effort to bring it more in line with today’s audio standards. I am proud of the audio team’s work and hope that our players enjoy what’s coming your way.
♦ ♦ ♦
Thank you, Todd Masten, for answering our questions, and another thank you to the audio team and composers for breathing new life into our latest project! Remember to pre-order Age of Empires III: Definitive Edition so you can listen to the beautifully remastered music (with a nostalgic shimmer) arriving this October!