Making sound effects in Skywind
by Cesare, with the contributions of Corpus X, Del Chupenebray and Mike Vogler.
Hello, folks! It is blog o’clock, and it’s about time we told you about sound design.
As you know, Skywind is a complete recreation of Morrowind. But for it to be legal, we need to make everything anew. Assets, of course, but also music, and sounds. All those little (or big) noises that make a world believable. We thought you might enjoy learning a bit more about how those sounds are created, so the lead Corpus X (Michael Pewtress) agreed to shed some light on his SFX department.
SFX’s busy little bees have been working like crazy for the past year, and, sound after sound, Vvardenfell is taking shape. Their work goes from the folding of a piece of paper to ambient sound for a whole region that can mix more than 20 different sound effects
It’s not easy to create fitting sounds for assets that are being made. For that, our sound designers rely on their inventive ears, and draw inspiration from various sources. Morrowind is obviously one of the main ones, but also concept art, and in-game videos of Skywind itself (especially for environmental sounds). Sounds from the original game are used as a reference, but, like everything else, the team has to create most sounds from scratch, and it can get pretty challenging, especially when the sound needs to be synchronized with an animation. We wouldn’t want those cliff racers to have a weird out of sync wing flap, would we?
Some designers record their own sounds and use their personal sound libraries. Others will use available sound databases and work from stock sounds. Although tools may vary, the workflow stays mostly the same. Any member of the audio team can pick from any unclaimed project, ranging from creature sounds, interior/exterior environment sounds, item sounds, misc in-game sounds such as turning a crank or pulling a lever etc. from a list of unclaimed tasks. Once a member starts work on a task, they are allowed a month to ideally finish, or at the very least make some substantial progress. They are asked to frequently (twice a month) update a SFX admin with the progress they’re making on a task, or submit it for review in the hopes that the job can be considered completed.
Everything is carefully reviewed before it gets in game. There are three SFX team leads who oversee the review process – Corpus X, team leader and manager, Mike Vogler, who handles a lot of the technical aspect of sound design, and Del Chupenebray, who works more on the creative vision. When a task is put up for review, they each listen to the sound files provided, and each leave a comment with their opinion on what could be improved, what is working well, any technical issues that need to be addressed, or any creative tweaks that need to be looked at.
Mike Vogler: “My personal focus is on giving both creative and technical guidance to our sound designers who either feel ready to submit their sounds, or are adhering to an assigned deadline. I try to reign in audio that might sound uncharacteristic, unnatural, or over-the-top; help fine-tune frequency ranges and volumes to assure sounds don't clash, like lava and thunder for Red Mountain; or direct how much reverb (wetness) might be on sounds depending on where they will be in-game. Sometimes reverb that is part of the raw audio can make the sound appear out of place, or one element may have too low a rumble that conflicts with another lower frequency sound.”
Del Chupenebray “I like to think first about the lore of Morrowind while I listen to a sound. Does the sound feel convincing for what it is trying to achieve – if it is an outdoor environment sound for example, do I feel immersed in the land of Morrowind, hearing great reptilian beasts, or hear the calls of distant creatures with the wind and insects buzzing around me? If I’m reviewing a creature, the same principle applies – Does the creature sound as fat and heavy/thin and light or intimidating as it should? Do I feel these sounds suit the creature and stay lore friendly? In some special cases, does the creature stay true to the original game and still sound iconic? Once I feel the designer is on the right creative track and knows what sorts of sounds need to be achieved, I may offer feedback concerning frequency balance, compression, general volume etc.”
Once the sounds meet their expectations, they can be implemented into the game. Implementation required Mike Vogler to write up a file nomenclature similar to Bethesda's, which he makes sure everyone follows accurately.
Over the past year, the department has grown to its current state of 25 active members and has produced a tremendous amount of work, which adds greatly to the atmosphere of the game. Before Corpus X took charge, only six tasks had been completed. Seven months later, we have 57 tasks that are game ready, and many more still in the works. Here are a few peeks at what you will hear in Skywind.
SFX is also famous among the Skywind members for providing some much appreciated fun, as one of the goals of its leads is to make serious work in a positive environment. So the SFX team was the first to implement a system of rewards, among which is one that makes all the departments partake in their progress: each time a new sound is approved, the “story” of its making is told to everyone. Here are a few tasty examples, all written by mad genius Corpus X:
Knapsack SFX, created by AlexRAudio:
"I'm running away, mom." said AlexRAudio, "I'm running away and you can't stop me!" Alex turned away from his mother and started packing more things, but not his clothes. Alex wouldn't accept any advice from some monster who wouldn't make him Kraft Dinner for lunch. This was important! He then grabbed his Optimus Prime, his favorite Transformer and placed him alongside He-Man. He'll need the companionship and protection from his two warrior heroes. Alex then reached up on his shelf and grabbed one of his walkie talkies, "I'll leave the other one just in case you decide to make me Kraft Dinner." Alex then grabbed his knapsack and threw it over his shoulder”
Book SFX created by GeorgeK and note SFX created by Mike Vogler
"Quick, close the magazine, I hear someone coming!" exclaimed Mike Vogler. He knew what he was doing was going to be awesome but he just couldn't help himself. "What? I don't hear anything?" replied Georgek with an excited look on his face. "No, seriously," Mike said nervously, "I don't want to get caug..." The door to the garage swung open causing George and Mike to jump. "What are you little turds up to?!" spat Elizabeth, Mike's big sister. "Ugh, nothing LIZARD BREATH! Why don't you go back to your cold cave and hibernate for the year!" Mike looked over to George knowing he got his sister real good. George came in to Elizabeth's rescue, "Shut up, Mike," this was going to be his night, "Maybe we can include Elizabeth in the fun." Mike was instantly repulsed, "Fun? Ew!" "What kind of fun are we talken about? Did you boyz find a few dollars and buy some candy or do you still think lego is cool?" Elizabeth laughed. George countered, "Well, my dear Liz, I think this might entice you more than both of those options combined!" George stood up with his usual shit eating grin. They indeed bought some chocolate bars earlier that day. The pages flipped open exposing the centerfold. Elizabeth scoffed, "Um, seriously? You want me to look at a national geographic with you turds?" George’s heart was broken and Mike just wanted to leave the garage as fast as possible.
Ashlands SFX, created by Kayla Perry
"Oh my god Corpus X is such an asshole!" Kayla Perry was not ready to get up. It was 11am which was practically her crack of dawn. "I need more types of wind, he said. That sounds like an alien fart, he said. I'll make you sound like an alien fart." Kayla opened up her foldgers crystals and shoved her spoon into the dry coffee crystals. "One for the road." She shoved a heaping spoonful into her mouth and took a swig from last night’s beer bottle. "Time to get back to work." Kayla grabbed her sound gear, pushed open the tent flap and took in the fresh air. "Fuck me." All she could smell was her camels diarrhea. Two Humps, Kayla's Camel, had been sick for 3 days. "I didn't realize Camels couldn't eat Mac'n cheese loaf, but I'll remember for the rest of my life." Kayla climbed the sand dune so she could scout the best location for recording wind. "Looks like I head east today." - Kayla finished the Ashlands SFX! Way to go!
Food pick and drop SFX, created by GeorgeK
GeorgeK finished blowing up his 200 003rd balloon. He knew that it would work this time. George had figured out that dropping food from a great height through his girlfriend’s window would create the best "food pick up and drop" sound effects ever created by humans. His girlfriend crouched in the corner too scared to move. She was thinking that her recommendation at joining Skywind might have been an error in judgment. "Don't worry Julie," exclaimed George, "It's going to work this time!" George grabbed his mother’s cooking and brought it to the window. "Do you want to count with me, Julie? 5...4...3...2...1!" George cut the rope anchoring the house and the helium did the work. His girlfriend’s house began to rise. "Ha, UP has been totally legitimized! I'm the best!" George screamed with a smug satisfaction. It was unclear if Julie was laughing or crying hysterically.
And on that note, we’re leaving too for this time. See you soon for some more exciting news about Skywind!