Danish video games studio Io-Interactive revamps HQ

A move to a new home for one of the world’s leading video games company proved quite a challenge for the AV consultant. Paul Milligan gets the full story.

For the uninitiated, video games are now big business, very big business.

For example, the latest release in the 17-year long Hitman series of games was expected to sell nearly 250,000 units in its first week alone.  It has been a big 12 months for the company behind Hitman, IO-Interactive (IOI), based in Copenhagen.  In the last year it has become an independent studio after an MBO from Japanese company Square Enix in June and also moved into a new home in the Danish capital late last year.

Danish-based consultants Green AV was initially contacted by a local AV distributor to participate in a meeting to discuss the special requirements of the client.  From there Green AV took part in a series of discussion with IOI’s creative director, which eventually shaped the finished project.   In addition to supplying AV for testing rooms and 10 meeting rooms, Green AV was tasked with creating a creative meeting space in the large staircase in the middle of the building, stretching over two floors, equipped with high-end presentation and surround sound AV equipment.  

So how did those early planning meetings for what was going to be the client brief to the consultant? “IOI wanted to have areas where they could sit or stand to test live changes to games, and see the quality of those changes,” says Søren Møller, partner, Green AV.   “I spent a lot of time early on in project meetings telling the architects how the system was going to be used, and why it was important for the clients. They knew we were going to have the AV equipment no matter what. Getting in to those early project meetings was key.”

Io-Interactive Studios 2

The significant challenge in this project says Møller was installing a huge presentation space, right in the middle of a central staircase.  He takes up the story, “It’s a stairway going through two floors, so users sit in the middle of the room but also stand on the first floor, so it’s a special installation.  At the same time they have to listen to audio from two floors. Some of them are sitting on the floor and others are standing on the floor above, which is five metres higher.”

For the space, which was completely empty to begin with, it was decided to use an LED videowall as the main display.  Møller, along with the creative director and the production team tested 1.4mm, 1.6mm and 2.5mm pixel pitch LED tiles, but it was decided the quality wasn’t good enough for their purposes.  “The brightness was good, but the problem was the uniformity was lacking as was a natural reproduction of the picture.  There is so much focus on LED, but you can only use it in some cases, if you want a completely smooth picture you need a projector.”  So then the hunt for a suitable projector began, again with a series of product tests, held by Green AV with the creative director on board too. 

Green AV tested a range of projectors from different manufacturers including a laser model, but eventually chose a 20K Barco DP2K20C unit, but why go for a digital cinema model rather than a conventional projection? “The client required very low latency and high quality colour reproduction because they are running HDR on PlayStation 4, so the only projector we could go for was a DCI-compliant unit.  We couldn’t choose a laser cinema projector as it would have blown the budget. The client wanted to be able to operate to 4K, so we can just change the projector engine to 4K.  LED is nice and would be great if we were standing 20-metres away, but here they are testing the games to see how it feels, how it looks etc close-up.”   

The giant stairway space, called the Townhall, is akin to an office in that it has a lot of ambient light floating around, there were other issues to overcome too says Møller, like how to deal with the audio.  “They can’t close the light.  It has to work as a testing site but also an office/gathering space.   It is a very dynamic working space, with people switching desks every day. This is why the architect came up with the huge staircase, so they can use it and have meetings on the staircase, but also move images to a big screen if they want to.  We had some calculations to do to settle the uniformity of the audio for both floors.  Using WAVE we had to calculate the tweeter system to work 15-degrees downwards to have the right coverage.   We had to cover two floors in one big room.  I wanted to have the smoothest, most linear frequency response, so we built a special box to mount the speakers in. When the (acoustically transparent) Draper projection screen comes down it goes in front of the speakers.”

All the audio and projector tests were done on-site, but as Møller says, that wasn’t the end of changes being made. “In real life when you put furniture in the room the audio changes, we made preparations to put more speakers in so we could adjust the side speakers for the surround system, but actually we didn’t need to.  If 200 people are sitting in the room, the acoustics change completely.  A normal room is square shape, here you have lots of different angles.”

Io-Interactive Studios 3

In the Townhall space all of the AV is hidden away, the projector is housed in a custom-built (and designed by Green-AV) soundproof box, built 25-metres from the screen in the back wall of the staircase.  To help aid a collaborative way of working when the Townhall is well attended Green AV specified Catchbox throwable microphones and Sennheiser broadcast microphones, which are also used when the space is used for press conferences.

“There was a lot of collaboration in the whole project between the different parties,” says Møller.  “We all worked together on the sound isolation material and the projector box, on that we worked with the sound ventilation people because we had to move a certain amount of air around, so they had to design a new ventilation system to allow this to happen.   The projector is really noisy, so it had to sit in a box.”

Although the Townhall is the centerpiece of the project, Green AV also installed 10 meeting rooms and some game testing rooms too.  In the meeting rooms there is 85-in and 65-in LG displays, LifeSize videoconferencing, Extron switchers, Evoko room booking system and Neets Echo control panels. The testing rooms feature a mix of 65-in and 43-in LG displays, M&K Sound loudspeakers and Extron amplifiers.
The rooms were designed to be as wireless as possible, which creates its own challenges says Møller.  “It was a very exciting project because of wireless, but that gave us some problems.  In the smaller Hitman room we had a problem with noise on the screen, we played around with cable length, but in the end it turned out to be a PowerPoint problem.  When you embedded a video in PowerPoint something happened with the graphics card, I hadn’t seen that before.”

Green AV also supplied streaming to the installation, Extron SMP351 streaming and recording processor and Sony pan/tilt cameras can live stream and also record events.
The whole project took three months from start to finish to complete, and Møller is very proud of the results, especially of some parts which may not be noticeable to many of its users, “I spent a lot of time designing the projector box, and calculating the projectors back axis.  A lot of this project wasn’t normal! It gave me grey hairs, and I often lived there!”

Kit list

ADA controller/preamplifier
BSS BLU100 DSP matrix
DPA 4088 headset
Procella surround sound loudspeakers and amplifiers
Sennheiser EW-300 and EW-345 microphones

Barco DP2K20C digital cinema projector
Draper motorised tab-tensioned screen
Evoko Liso room booking system
Extron SMP351 streaming processor and SW4 HD 4K switcher
LG 65UH5B and 84WS70 displays
Lifesize Icon 800 and Icon 400 videoconferencing
Neets Echo keypad control system