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Oct
17

The Making of The Churnwalker – The Language, Acting, and Technology behind the Voice of Darkness

The Churnwalker

The Churn is a destructive, cyclical force in the Vainglory universe. When it grows out of control, no human can live inside it. It kills or infects anyone who comes into contact with it. One enterprising explorer entered the Churn wearing an environmentally-sealed suit and charted this unknown world – but became a monster in the process.
 
The Churnwalker is a horror straight from your nightmares. Early in his development, we decided that any words he spoke in-game would diminish his scariness. We thought about just having him make scary noises, but I grabbed the opportunity to construct a new language.
 
The Churn language needed to be a workable language, because I wanted to use it in the Churnwalker’s written story, but also to be accessible in some way to our players. I began by choosing sounds and rhythms that sounded frightening to me, then decided on a conjugation structure. From there it was mostly a matter of following the verbs. I spent a few weeks muttering this creepy language to myself at my desk, freaking out the unfortunate people who sit near me at work.
 
From the beginning, I wanted Roger Jackson for the role. I knew he’d take what I’d constructed and make it his own. I went into the recording with trepidation that quickly diminished when Roger entered the booth. My weird language rolled out of him as though he’d been speaking it forever! The Dehumaniser added a whole new layer of fun and inspiration to the process, allowing Roger to hear his voice transformed in real time.
– Sarah Arellano

Intro

Teaser Trailers

 A series or trailers were created to tease the release of the much anticipated new character.  In this one, you can hear the voice of the explorer become more and more corrupted by the “Churn” as the scene progresses.  You can learn more about VainGlory at the publisher’s website, Super Evil Megacorp.
Meet the Churnwalker, an explorer and cartographer who went too deep into a jungle, called the Churn, and became a monster. We’ve created a pure horror movie monster here: dragging chains, painful hook attacks, an alien monster look, and we’re topping it off with the creepiest voiceover we’ve ever attempted – in a brand new, constructed language.
Some inspiration:

 

Hero Spotlight

The People

Actor: Roger Jackson

Writers/Producers: Sarah Arellano and Jay Osipa (SEMC)

Creative Director: Dale Crowley (Somatone)

Recording Engineer/Vocal Processing: Michael Brinkman (Somatone)

Sound designer: Dan Johnson (Somatone)

The Language – “All Secrets are Worth Knowing”

 “All secrets are worth knowing” is the Churnwalker’s personal motto. Even if the secret can kill you, or make you into a monster.
 

The Actor

 
There was never any question who was going to voice the Churnwalker. Normally, we would send out a new character to dozens of actors (via their agencies) to read for this part.  However, we know that Roger was perfect for this role, so we sent it to him directly. We never looked back.  Here is a video interview with Roger:

Some will recognize Roger as the voice on the phone in the Scream movies. Others will recognize him as the voice of Mojo Jojo of Powerpuff fame. Roger has been the voice of some of your favorite characters over the years, and you may not even realize it. Check out his Imdb profile here to see what we mean: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0413996/

The Voice

 

The Recording

We recorded the vocal audio here at Somatone, in Emeryville, California. Sarah Arellano and Jason Osipa from SuperEvilMegeCorp, produced, Dale Crowley, of Somatone, directed, and Michael Brinkman, of Somatone, was the Recording Engineer.

While Roger Jackson was in the booth, we ran the Krotos Dehumaniser2 plugin on an aux bus so that everyone in the studio, including the actor, could hear the effect the plugin was creating, and the actor could work with it in real-time. This gave Roger total control over the final product, by allowing him to play off of the effected voice, and create the sounds that he felt worked for this character. But in the end, what we had was a clean, raw version of his recording, that we could tweak, and play with, to bring out the Churn.

Roger gave us a lot to work with, both in terms of great acting, and in setting the sound/tone of the character overall. Some of the best ideas for the direction of the Churnwalker’s voice, came from playing around in the booth, and letting Roger go wild. From creating creepy noises, to delivering spine-chilling lines, (and spitting Wu-Tang verses between takes)

Roger created a character that fans are going to LOVE. In terms of playing VainGlory, it will be just as much fun to be killed by the Churnwalker, as it will be to BE the Churnwalker! Thanks to GREAT writing and character development, The Churnwalker is set to be one of the coolest characters in MOBA games today!

The Tech

Michael Brinkman handled all of the vocal processing for the Churnwalker character at Somatone. The project involved several layers of the same audio file being processed in different ways simultaneously. First, we started with the raw line of dialogue, then ran it through the Krotos Dehumaiser2 plugin, and came up with our own customized preset that included just 2 nodes. One for granular synthesis, and one for pitch shifting. This gave a really dark, sinister feeling to the voice, but also kept it clear and recognizable.

Next, we took a copy of the same clean line of dialogue, and did a little modern day backmasking. First, reversing the audio with the standard reverse plugin in ProTools Audio Suite. Then we added a decent amount of reverb with Truverb, and bounced that out as a new audio file. Once finished with the reverb, we again reversed the file using the same audio suite reverse plugin. The final product was a line of dialogue where each word begins in a reverb tail before developing into the word. This is a common effect in horror films for ghostly and/or evil characters.

The third layer was something that Roger did on the fly in the vocal booth. We all decided we loved it, so we added it to the character. It was a sound similar to the chittering of the Predator from the movies. With a little reverb that included some glittery artifacts, we ended up with a nice effect that made you wonder what kind of mouth the Churnwalker is speaking with under that mask.

The fourth and final layer of the Churnwalker’s voice, is the Churn itself. The tear in reality. The break in known existence that allows the Churnwalker to move freely among us. For this, we chose a set of samples of thunder that were really deeply rumbling, and sat mostly in the midrange, with a big notch in the area of the vocal EQ so the words were still clear, and understandable. Each line of dialogue for the Churnwalker had to be hand laid and edited with both the Predator clicks and the churn breaks, line by line. A process we believe was definitely worth it in the end.

The Result

 The resulting voice is one that fits the Churnwalker character in every way. The evil is well represented. The “not-of-this-realm” vibe is well represented. There is character in every line the Churnwalker delivers, whether he is taunting your character, killing your character, or dying himself. Roger Jackson and the rest of the crew made the Churnwalker one to remember. This will be a character you might want to only fight during the day… with the lights on. You’ve been warned.

Oct
05

Somatone and FMOD Announce Formal Partnership

Melbourne, Australia  (Originally published on Gamasutra)

“Good sound design is more important than ever and increasingly developers rely on the creative talents and specialist technical knowledge of experts to not only source original audio content for their projects, but to take full responsibility for the implementation,” noted Matthew Connor, General Manager of Firelight Technologies. “For producers, this means better outcomes with less risk.”

The dedicated team of sound designers, composers, VO producers, and implementation experts at Somatone have worked on over a thousand game titles, across the Mobile, Desktop, Console, Arcade, and Virtual Reality (VR) platforms.  Close cooperation with Firelight Technologies will deliver premium access to FMOD product knowledge and technical support to ensure their customers enjoy the full benefit of FMOD during development and operation.

“FMOD is a great solution for implementing adaptive audio and gives us the ability to offer our customers a complete service from audio design through mixing to final testing,” said Dale Crowley, Creative Director of Somatone Interactive.  “It is not enough to just create great sounds.  We bring them to life with FMOD, making the audio experience truly interactive. With close support from the amazing team at Firelight, we are getting even better results and our customers love it!”

About Firelight Technologies

 

Firelight Technologies is the developer of FMOD, a complete audio solution for interactive entertainment, supporting all the major console, desktop and mobile platforms. Use FMOD Studio to design adaptive sound and music for games, virtual reality experiences, gaming and simulations.  FMOD Studio integrates easily with popular game engines such as Unity and Unreal and is built on the industry standard FMOD engine which has been used in thousands of games during the last 15 years. For more information visit:www.fmod.com

 

About Somatone Interactive

Established in 2003, Somatone Interactive produces audio content and technology solutions for interactive media.  Widely recognized as one of the video game industry’s most experienced and trusted creative partners, Somatone serves as a leading global provider of original music, sound design, VO, mixing, and audio implementation.  With more than 1,000 titles to its credit spanning all genres, including many top-sellers and tens of millions of daily active users, Somatone maintains longstanding relationships with major publishers, developers, and indies.  Distinguished by years of combined industry experience and a driving desire to deliver world class game audio, the Somatone team includes core staff members with executive experience at major game makers, and cutting-edge sound design, music, and technology professionals.  Visit: www.somatone.com


Oct
09

FMOD Releases Latest Update – FMOD 1.10 – Three Great New Features

We are honored to be working with Firelight to bring you a series of feature and tutorial videos for the new release of FMOD 1.10.

It is packed with some fantastic new capabilities, broadly grouped under three categories:  Live Update, Per Platform Optimizations, and Smart Presets.  These greatly increase the speed and flexibility of working in FMOD, and one of my favorites is the new Live Update feature that allows you to swap out audio files without requiring a new build of the game!

I call this Hot-swapping, and the scenario where this is most useful is when working with clients who send us builds of the game with Live Update.  We can test out different sounds realtime, while the game is running, without needing to ask the developer for a new build.  This feature alone makes the update to 1.10 a no brainer, but with all the other improvements and features, it seems like this is one of the most important updates to FMOD Studio in a long time.

To Download FMOD 1.10 for free, simply head over to the FMOD Website.

Here is the introduction and overview of the videos that follow:

And here is the first video, which covers the new capabilities of Smart Presets

Large projects can have thousands of events, creating a huge challenge for developers.  Smart presets provide an innovative workflow solution to managing parameters, effects, and automation across events in you project. This feature greatly improves scalability while also reducing the project’s memory footprint. Smart Presets allow you to link any number of events and have changes propagate across your project.

Smart Presets make it easier to:

  • Manage large projects
  • Reduce memory footprint
  • Edit once and change everywhere
  • Provide a dynamic and scalable workflow that is fast and easy to iterate on.

Live Update

Live Update allows you to create audio content and monitor the results while connected to your game in real time. You can mix, iterate, test and optimize your entire project in real-time with instant feedback. Interactive media provides a unique challenge for sound designers. Live update provides a powerful workflow to improve the audio design of your game.

Live Update allows you to:

  • Create, Mix, Test, and Optimize in-game
  • It allows for fast iteration, and fast results
  • All in a workflow designed for games.

Per Platform Optimizations

Getting the audio right for each platform requires an understanding of the key features and limitations each platform, such as: what audio codecs are available, is there a limit to download size, how much RAM is available, how powerful is the CPU, and other questions that you need to understand to deliver the best audio experience you can. FMOD studio makes it easy to develop and optimize by making one project and exporting to multiple platforms. In the project we can set encoding formats and loading strategy for each platform and, new in 1.10, we can set which content and DSP plays on which platform.

The general range of platforms runs from Desktop, with the least limitations, to Mobile, with the most limitations.  On a desktop you generally have lots of memory, a powerful CPU, and unlimited download size. Whereas on mobile, you have limited memory, a less powerful CPU, a small download size and the added limitation of battery capacity. These limitations affect how we design and implement audio for each platform.

FMOD’s platform optimization tools allow us to:

  • Have a single project for all platforms
  • Have centralized management and testing environment
  • Simplify the development and maintenance of a project
  • And makes it easy to reuse content on multiple platforms

For more info go to the FMOD Website.

 


Oct
26

Somatone VR Audio Tutorials – Unity+FMOD+GVR – Part 1 – Introduction

Introduction

Welcome to the first of a three part series of in depth tutorials about the art and technology of creating audio for virtual reality.  In this first part, we will be giving a general overview and talking about some of the key concepts of audio in 360 degree surround.  In the following articles, we will go into the details of setting up that audio in FMOD, and then integrating that audio into Unity.  We don’t leave out any of the steps, and even include the FMOD and Unity packages for you to play around with!

In this series of articles, we have created videos that demonstrate the pipeline for working with the Google VR (GVR) audio plugins in FMOD and Unity. We will be using the Viking Village Demo from Unity and a Vive demonstrate, but FMOD and GVR will work with any device.  This video is a collaboration between FMOD, Google and Somatone we would like express our gratitude to everyone who helped to make these videos possible.

 

 

VR Audio Concepts

There are a few concepts and I want to go over before we dive in, which I cover in this video.

 

The first concept is Ambisonics. Ambisonics is the technique that describes creating the full-sphere of sound around a listener; this includes both the stereo panning of the horizontal plane as well as the up and down of the vertical plane.  We will be using First Order Ambisonic files. these are 4 channel files in which the channels do not correspond to speakers, and for the purposes of VR, should be decoded to a stereo output and heard in headphones.

GVR in FMOD

The next concept is the different GVR plugins. There are 3 plugins in FMOD: the listener, source, and soundfield.

  • The Listener takes information from both the source and soundfield and applies binaural spatialization and room effects, then converts the information to a stereo output. This should put on the master bus in FMOD.
  • The Source takes mono sound files and applies distance attenuation and directivity patterns, then sends that information to the Listener.
  • The Soundfield decodes first order ambisonic files based on rotation and sends it to the Listener.

GVR Effects

Spatial Audio in GVR is comprised of 3 effects:

Interaural Delay and Volume

  • Interaural time differences – This is the difference in time from when one ear a sound to when the other hears that same sound.
  • Interaural level differences – This is the difference in volume between one ear and the other.

Spectral Filtering

  • Spectral filtering – This is the changes our outer ear makes to a sound depending on the angle in which it reflects off of the outer ear and into our inner ear. This is the primary way we hear elevation of sounds.

These effects that our ears do for us in the real world must be recreated in a virtual world.

Based on these effects Google has created HRTFs or head related transfer functions that recreate the effects and packaged them into the GVR audio plugins so we can spatialize sounds in virtual reality. The plugins also include distance attenuation curves and can link to the GVR audio room which will simulate early and late reflections (or reverb) in real time.

Additional GVR Settings

The plugins also have settings for directivity patterns, occlusion and spread.

  •  The directivity is the way the sound propagates from a source, these work like virtual microphones and mimic the common pickup patterns patterns: omni, cardioid and figure eight. It also includes a sharpness factor – which is the width of the directivity pattern.
  • The occlusion factor simulates an object blocking the direct sound from a source and affects high and low frequencies differently and mimics how occlusion works in the reality.
  • The spread describes the point the sound comes from. Sounds like gunshots and ricochets can come from small point sources and have no spread, but water sounds will come from wider sources and have higher spread.

Final Thoughts – Key Concepts in VR Audio

Lastly, the videos above cover a few general rules for designing sound in a VR space to make your world seem more believable.

  • Use mono source files, unless it is an ambisonic sound field or it is not going to be spatialized (ex: non-diagetic music, internal player VO).
  • Only use reverb in enclosed spaces
  • Place audio sources as accurately as possible (voice sources should come from the mouth, not the center of the body)
  • Use complex waveforms covering a wide spectrum – fundamental waveforms like sine waves do not exist naturally and do not spatialize well.
  • If you want a listener to locate a source, play a sound multiple times, make sure to include higher frequencies as they are easier for our ears to pinpoint, and animate it, people have an easier time locating moving sources as opposed to stationary sources.

Stay Tuned…

We will be releasing the remaining  parts of this tutorial series over the next few weeks.  In the next installment, we go into the FMOD setup for different types of VR audio and how to use the GVR plugin.  In the final two installments, we explain in detail how to integrate FMOD into Unity, including the projects themselves and the code required to get some really cool audio hooked up.