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


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 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:

The Voice

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 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.


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.



The Walking Dead: Road to Survival

We had the opportunity to sit down with Associate Producer Jonathan Cuff of IUGO Mobile Entertainment and ask a few questions about their new top-selling game; The Walking Dead: Road to Survival. Check out the interview below for some great insights into all of the aspects of production, including our musical contributions, and how it all came together to create a hit game topping the charts in the iOS store Read More


Loot & Legends Interview

Check out our exclusive interview with Jon Loucks, a Game Designer for DropForge Games. We helped this company step out of the box with music and sounds for their new Loot & Legends, a flash to the past when true gamers played D&D in their basements with pizza to go around!  Read More


Demystifying Audio Middleware for Mobile Games


By Eric Van Amerongen, Sr. Sound Designer, Somatone Interactive

Audio for games: It’s what we do. It’s what we breathe day in and day out here at Somatone. If you’re a producer and want your game to be engaging, creative, cohesive, competitive on the market and most importantly, FUN! for your user’s experience, then factoring in great audio is an important component of your production. From our experience, great audio not only begins with its inception, but also continues through to its final implementation, which is the most important part of game audio production. Read More