Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sound Design: King's Toll

I got to do a lot of gory, crunchy, bloody and downright brutal sounds for this game. Some of the most fun was taking some of the more elaborate animations from their animator, Sean Fowler and posting audio to the animation frame by frame (using Sonar 8.5). 

The Dragon Queen death (which I'll try to upload another video of the Sonar project itself, showing each of the subgroups of layers one at a time to show how the entire piece was built) is to date the most fun I've had with posting to a canned animation. The camera transitions, slow mo, everything about it looked and felt so epic that I felt very compelled to come up with something that audibly was just as epic.

Another aspect of the game that I feel bears mentioning is their Fury mode. While in fury the player does more damage, is unable to be knocked out of moves, moves faster and generally is more of a badass. To help drive this home I recorded two sets of vocal effects for the player, "Brutal" for normal and "METAL!" for Fury Mode. Making sure to sound even more enraged/bloodthirsty for the Fury sounds. We really wanted to make the user feel even more powerful during this, so in addition to the vocal aspect intensifying, I also added in beefier swings and impact sounds for the weapon as well as layered in additional impact sounds for the enemies themselves while hit during this mode.

Sound Design: Demolitia

In case you were wondering, wielding a giant hammer and destroying things is always fun. Turns out doing sound for a game based on that same idea is equally fun.

Nothing too fancy with this game, just good ole smashing things for the fun of it.

If you'd like to know more about any particular sound in here, please let me know, I'll go into as much detail as possible on it. :)

Sound Design: Tension Rising

This game was one of the hardest I've had to work on, not because the sound design was super challenging, but because the game itself is so very fun and rewarding. On more than a few occasions I'd start to test or mix an asset by playing, and then 10 minutes later forget that I'd intended to test, not play!

This was one of the first games I'd done a complex event / blend + random container set-up (Using AudioKinetic's Wwise). Each of the new waves and level completions can trigger an event that randomizes between a multitude of different wave "headers" (the line of dialog that denotes what type of wave is incoming) and a second set of assets for "flavor" (a line that comes after the header, giving more insight to the wave or jabbing at the players). All of this was achieved with a single event per wave type. It made life on the programmers much easier.

Speaking of the announcer, that aspect of the game almost didn't make it in. It came down to a decision between working an extra 30 hours on my own time to make the game that much better, or... Yeah no, I can't think of anything I'd actually rather be doing than making an already awesome game MORE AWESOME! A majority of the lines were recorded, edited processed and implemented into the Wwise project (and subsequently, the game) days before Gold.

One last system I was particularly fond of: Berserk Mode. With a single event and RTPC (Real Time Parameter Control) and switch call, we were able to have the music duck, filter all enemy sound effects, add additional sounds to enemy deaths, introduce a heartbeat and dynamically increase/decrease the effect of all of these based on how many enemies the player killed during the duration of berserk mode. This was all done to further drive home the gameplay effect that happens during this time frame. For every 2 enemies killed the player would move faster, do more damage, shoot faster and regenerate more health. Since the gameplay aspect of the mode scaled as the player did better it only made sense for the audio to follow suit.

Sound Design: Steam Tower

Never have I worked on a project so full of mechanical moving parts and gears and guns and turrets and missiles and rockets... You get the idea ;)

There is a very industrial feel to the game, the theme made it very easy to start with base assets, and then refine them down into smaller more punchy sounds (in order to help combat a problem I feel a lot of tower defense games are faced with: Hectic audio due to the sheer number of towers and enemies on screen in later waves. Another method we used was limiting sounds per bus, assigning certain sounds or groups of sounds to specific buses. Additionally we had the programmers do a radius check around the player to help prioritize which towers/enemies to play in situations where things could get severely overloaded)

On a totally related random note: The score ticker I created for this was from a plastic breaking session done a few years prior. While breaking jewel cases I'd gotten quite a few interesting performances where the plastic bent far more than I anticipated and snapped much sooner than I'd thought after bending. The result is essentially what you hear for that ticker.

Another thing I really enjoyed about this game was working with Dan Gooding, a fellow game audio engineer and incredibly skilled composer. The idea we had for this game was dynamic music that changed for each new wave (the story mode of the game was set to 10 waves so we used that as the basis for the system). In order to keep memory usage low, I'd set up the system to only ever play at most 2 tracks at a time (during transitions from one piece to another). Each layer was bounced with it's corresponding parts, as opposed to simultaneously playing many tracks and muting/un-muting them as needed.

Sound Design: MiniMech

Mini-Mech. Fun times. This game was a new twist on a game type that I've done a few of: Top down shooters. The thematic difference between this game and any of the other TDS games I've worked on is what made me want to showcase it.. Well that, and it is all around a damn fun game to play.

The protagonist is a small mech, outfitted at first with a single shot bug blaster. Throughout the course of the levels you encounter various pickups (temporary and permanent) that augment your bug squashing potential. Designing sounds for these was the most enjoyable, and challenging part. They had to be cartoon-y enough to fit the art theme, believable enough within the scale of the world (MiniMech is about twice the size of an ant) and also be able to work well with all of the other sounds going on at the time so that nothing gets buried. (Although not shown in this video, sadly, the game supported up to 4 player multiplayer. During that mode things could get very hectic so it was necessary to make the sounds be something that the user could here again and again and not get annoying or overpowering).

I think the enemy sound I had the most fun with was the stinkbug's aggro sound (the little green ones with volcanoes on their backs). Watching the reaction to those bugs during play testing was just great. The idea was to have a sound so recognizable and scary that every time a user was jumped by them, they knew it. The feedback trained the user so well to know that if they didn't get out of dodge immediately, it would be game over for them. As a sound designer for games, few things are as rewarding as seeing your assets have such an immense impact on gameplay.

Sound Design: Scurvy

Oh Scurvy, this little red crab will always have a special place in my gamer heart. Undoubtedly the cutest game I've ever worked on. When editing this video together I debated that perhaps I was showcasing too much of the menus, but really, that's where the main character really establishes himself. The little pitter patter of him walking from screen to screen during the menus, the quips he says in regards to the choices you make... It really sets the tone for the game.

This game was the first (and to date, only) I've done underwater recording for. I decided to use one of my SM57s and a cable I didn't care too much about just in case something fried (which they both did, in fact). I used a non-lubricated condom to sheath the mic and hopefully still allow it to pick up as much signal as possible. Sealed the connection between mic and cable with more duct tape than you could shake a stick at and went to it. I had 3 different water tubs set up, 1 small tupperware storage bin, 1 large tupperware storage bin and the bathtub. To create the swinging sounds I tried a few different approaches. First I moved the mic back and forth slowly through each tub, secondly I used a multitude of wooden dowels, moving those through the tubs while keeping the mic stationary (which by the way, those came out a bit better in my opinion. Far less handling noise). Then there was plenty of just general splashing and slopping around, cause with that much water and a recording set up... why not!? :)

The metallic sound for scurvy's claws interaction with swingable objects was a layering of many different pieces of my drum hardware. Cymbal stands, rack mount clamps, broken cymbal impacts. You name it, we bashed them around. In the end the sound for that distinct "sha-tink" ended up being a pearl rack mount clamp closing rapidly, layered with another small piece of hardware sliding along a metal ladder. This game really helped me in approaching the idea that ANYTHING can be a foley prop, you just have to have enough creative juice and experiment with performing with the prop.

The dialog for the main character, Scurvy, was voiced by one of the programmers, Jon Rebar. Initially the voice for the character was intended to be much lower/less energetic. Seeing the game in action, knowing the art style and just a bit of a hunch I decided to direct him in a much more upbeat way, tried to make all of the performances much more over the top. All in all I think we had some 300 lines of dialog/vocal sounds for the various actions and interactions in the game.

Sound Design: Smashout

The challenge behind working on this game was in trying to craft sounds that fit the theme while still being useful feedback for the end user. I used quite a few sets of scaling sounds: The menu system (as you scrolled over/highlighted different options) had it's own scale. Accepting or canceling an option based on it's position in the layout also had another unique sound associated with it (A delayed chord based off of the same note used for highlighting).

Additionally in gameplay the combo system had a 2.5 octave range of notes that played in sequence for every increment of your combo.

The most fun aspect of it all, however was designing sounds/functionality for the "Over Tilt" mode. In game, you can use the Z and X keys to tilt the machine, changing the trajectory of any balls in play. Doing so increments your tilt meter, when you max out the tilt meter the machine shuts down temporarily and the controls stop responding to input. Visually the screen dims a bit, however audibly I set the music to pitch down and fade out (as the machine is shut off, and pitch up/fade in as it resumes normal play). Additionally I created a separate set of ball interaction sounds for this mode, to further drive home the idea that the game state had truly changed. The gameplay sounds during OverTilt mode were much more organic and really create a sense of separation between the two modes, while still maintaining the sense that you are in fact playing the same game.

The set of sounds I had the most difficulty with were the curtain movements. I'd no idea what those should really sound like, so I simply recorded a lot of bed sheet ruffles and shower curtain rod slide-esque sounds. In retrospect I think something a bit more chain-y for the sliding with more dense fabric would have worked better. Live and learn, I suppose! :)