Loïc Couthier is the supervising sound designer within the Creative Services Group of PlayStation Europe in London. Speaking to Native Instruments, Couthier explained how he, together with his team, designed the engine sounds for WipEout Omega Collection, the latest installment of the iconic PlayStation racing franchise.
WipEout Omega Collection is a remake of older games, how did you go about refreshing the sounds?
Technically it’s a remaster of three older games. WipEout HD and Fury from PlayStation 3, and WipEout 2048 from PS Vita. WipEout HD/Fury were released almost a decade ago, at the time they represented futuristic racing with award-winning sound and music. But using these same sounds again wouldn’t work, they wouldn’t feel futuristic anymore.
Over the last decade players have seen many sci-fi movies, and played many games. From Star Wars’ pod racers to Tron’s light cycles, from Oblivion’s drones to Transformers’ robots. All this has influenced and ‘updated’ their sonic references and expectations.
Comparing modern references to the original games made it clear: we needed to redesign the sounds of WipEout to sound futuristic again.
How do you design something that doesn’t exist?
I started by designing the real world layers, using a wide variety of recordings from different types of racing and high-speed vehicles. I love synthesis, but I never feel convinced by fully synthetic sounds in sci-fi. I like to layer them with many organic, realistic sounds to get something more complex and hybrid. Something that feels like it could actually exist.
I aimed to give a sense of scale to the power and speed of the ships. I designed a prototype ranging from electric racing cars to fighter jets, to space rockets. In this short clip of that prototype, you will hear the sounds from the game, but see the source material we used to design them:
With this prototype I had a pretty full sound, but one major element was still missing. That growly, tonal sound that gives an engine its identity and power!
How did you give it that growl?
In an ideal world, I would have spent a lot of time trying to find real world sources, from powerful vehicles to more organic and exotic elements, such as animals and nature sounds. But in reality, I had one week to find a solution for the tonal layers. We had really tight deadlines.
What’s important to understand is that in video games, the players’ interactions control the sound. It is very satisfying, but also a tricky task for sound designers! In games you cannot rely on the editing to reuse your most expressive and powerful sound. You cannot trick the players with an engine constantly revving up, or with having infinite gears. The engine sound needs to behave in very specific ways, especially regarding their pitch modulation. This adds many constraints, and with no time to take risks, I decided to use synthesizers. Synths would allow us to design characterful sci-fi engines, and give full control over pitch behavior.
I started experimenting at home with an Access Virus TI, to figure out which type of synthesis, filters, effects and processing would give interesting results for futuristic engine sounds. After those initial experimentations, I had to think about which tool would be great to design those sounds at work. It was also important that the whole team would be able to work on these sounds, as we needed to create different sounds for each ship. We decided to use MASSIVE, as we all have a copy of KOMPLETE, and MASSIVE has pretty much all the features we needed.
How did you design the first patch?
I wanted to start designing the engine sound for the Feisar team, this is the first choice when you launch the game. It’s a very popular and well-balanced ship. I was expecting this task to be tricky, but surprisingly I was able to design the patch in just 10 minutes! In the video below I explain in detail how I made the sound in MASSIVE.
What happens when the sound design phase is over?
We need to render the assets for the game engine. Since we set up a macro in MASSIVE to control the velocity, exporting is easily done by rendering loops and changing the value of macro 1. We simply did this by automating it in Reaper, in this screenshot you see 10 increments of 10%:
It gets a lot more complicated in the master session of the game. In here you have all the different ships, with all the different tonal assets designed with synths! As our DAW we use Reaper, because it is very powerful in managing huge sessions with a high number of assets ready for iteration and export.
How do the sounds end up in the game?
Here are the assets exported from our DAW, and imported into Wwise, the game engine. You can see a crossfade between the different sound files, all representing a different velocity of the ships:
Games are interactive, what the player does in-game greatly affects the sound. The game engine takes care of this, taking the assets we created and using EQs and effects to sculpt the final sound.
What roughly happens in Wwise is:
- A lot of EQs, linked to camera perspectives, mix states, acceleration, velocity, throttle, tilt, altitude and doppler.
- Distortion, linked to acceleration, velocity, throttle, tilt and air brakes.
- Reverbs, linked to in-game environments.
- Tremolo, linked mainly to acceleration and doppler. This is probably the most significant effect.
- Many other pitch and volume modulations, linked to all available game parameters (mostly physics, but also mix).
So when a ship accelerates, the sound is mainly the result of the acceleration and velocity parameters modulating the volume and pitch of all the assets, combined with the cross-fading between the loops designed with MASSIVE.
Here is a capture of the acceleration sound of an AG-Systems ship in the game:
photos: Kristina Sälgvik
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