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The Sound of Robots Need Love Too
by Jack Menhorn on 08/07/14 08:49:00 am   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Elephant Mouse (www.elephantmouse.com) is a mobile game development studio proudly located in the Research Triangle of Raleigh, North Carolina, a hotbed of tech innovation, game development, and tasty BBQ.  EM veterans hail from the likes of Activision, Ubisoft, EA, Playdom, Zynga, and other industry giants. We’ve released several highly-rated mobile titles, including Star Trek™ Rivals, The Godfather Slots, Lil’ Birds, and Archetype.

Robots Need Love Too is our new game that will be launching in September.  A lite version is currently available in the Canadian App Store.  If you are in Canada, please give it a try and let us know what you think!

RNLT_FB_1200x627.png

Robots Need Love Too is an upcoming mobile game that features a mechanic where the player has to slide tiles to create a path to unite two robots in love. I did the music and sound design for this title, and wanted to share my experiences on designing sound with this Unity powered game.  

When I was first brought onto the project to design the  sound, I spoke with the team about using Wwise audio middleware. This seemed like a good fit, as Audiokinetic (the developer of Wwise) had just announced their new indie pricing model.  Any project with less than 200 assets can license the software for free. I knew we would definitely have less than 200 assets and that Wwise would provide a better and fuller creation experience. I laid out the strengths of using the audio middleware, which were that I would spend more time on implementing the sound assets which frees up the programmer’s time.  For example, audio digital signal processing (DSP) and dynamic music and parameter systems allows fewer assets to go a longer way.  There is also less of an audio footprint due to the aforementioned improvements. The team was as excited as I was to use Wwise and we dove right in!

I identify mostly as a sound designer who occasionally does music. On the previous Elephant Mouse title I had done SFX for, Star Trek Rivals, there was no need for me to do music.  We had the movie’s cinematic score available and I just edited that to fit our needs. Since Robots Need Love Too is an original IP, I was lucky enough to do both the SFX and music for the game! The game designer, Matt Shetler, and I went back and forth for a little while sharing music we thought would fit the intended visual style and story of RNLT. Finally, we settled on something very familiar and fun for me to do--A sort of ambient, electronic, piano-y sort of music. I hope and feel it works well in the game.

Given that the gameplay is very slow and contemplative, it did not seem necessary to create a complex dynamic music system that contained different sections of tension or parameters based on health or enemies. Such a system would have been a bit prohibitive since my audio budget was very low. Instead, I focused on creating a cohesive, subtle, and enjoyable blend of looping level music that a player listen to for extended periods of time without getting frustrated or annoyed. On top of this one-minute track (and we had different tracks for each chapter), we made use of Wwise’s music system by playing a short arpeggiated loop whenever the player’s robots are in motion. The goal was to play short loop when the two robots start moving towards each other that alludes to the a scene common in films and TV when two people in love run towards each other in slow motion.

 

                    Logic X project of the Chapter 1 music

 

For sound design I use a DAW (digital audio workstation) called Reaper. It is a fantastic, lightweight program that I find to be much more user-friendly and stable than some other DAWs on the market. For music I used Logic Pro X and a little bit of Ableton Live. I have used both of these DAWs for years (or at least previous versions). There are dozens of ways to make sounds these days and most are quite valid methods, their use comes down to personal preference. Many of the synthetic sounds in the game came from using Massive and FM8 synths.


Designing the sound effects for RNLT was quite easy and fun to tackle. There were no difficult sounds to create and most of the sound ideas came to me quickly. The few changes and iterations I made were mostly to dial back the silliness of some sounds (like having a slide whistle for an object falling down a hole). Instead of being more silly and cartoony, we went more for a realistic tone for the sounds. I find this style much easier to do than comedic or fantastical sounds. In addition, given the synthetic nature of the instruments used in the music, I was able to use the in-progress soundtrack as a reference and knew what sort of electronic and analog sounds to try out.

                    Reaper project of all of RNLT SFX


One of the more interesting and fun sounds to create was the sound of EDWard’s dialogue.  He begins each level by telling the player more information about the story of the two robots in love. Matt and I agreed we wanted a neat fake language that sounded like the talking sound heard in Zelda, Team Ico and Panzer Dragoon games. I recorded myself through a Rode NT2-A microphone and a Roland VT-3 vocoder to get the suitably robotic sound. I recently impulse-bought the VT-3 so I was really excited to be able to use it on a project and justify its purchase! Instead of painstakingly coming up with a fake language that wouldn't stick out or sound too weird, I used solfege syllables (do, re, mi, fa so, la, ti, do) and those are the “words” you hear in the game! However, recording and editing these sounds is only half of the sound. Pitch, time, and asset randomization were the final steps in the creative process of bringing these sounds to life. The power of Wwise audio middleware is what got these sounds to the finish line.

Being able to work as close as I do with Elephant Mouse has been an absolute joy as a contractor. Some developers can feel a bit distant with communication and it feels like I’m just throwing assets over a fence and hoping for the best. Given my long relationship with Elephant Mouse, and the fact that I myself was implementing the audio in Wwise, meant I had a greater amount of control of the final audio. Elephant Mouse’s openness to try new things and our frequent communication has led to, in my opinion, the best audio experience of any mobile title I have worked on.

 

Jack Menhorn is a freelance sound designer in North Carolina. You can follow him on Twitter @JackMenhorn.


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Comments


Jake Frederick
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I've been using Reaper for music production for a few years now (switched from Cubase) and really like it. I love the flexible routing options. Its maybe a bit light on plugins out of the box but for the price its hard to beat.


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