The secret is out! Today, we’ve decided to give you a peek into the work of the sound production team responsible for the sound design of Allods Online, Skyforge, Cloud Pirates and Armored Warfare. In this article, we’ll tell you all about who speaks for the Elves, screams for the Orcs, and how to bring together all that sound diversity together. Here we go!
Voice Acting: Angelina Jolie’s “Russian Voice” and Grunting into the Mic
Allods Team boasts a sound production team of six: a sound director and five sound designers.
The main characters are usually voiced by actors, many of which are professionals working in the film industry. For example, Gerida, a Skyforge character, is voiced by the actress that dubs Angelina Jolie in Russian. Russian voice acting goes down in our own studio in Moscow. When creating English versions, we outsource our specialists as native speakers only.
In fact, secondary characters are often drawn depending on the voice: first we record phrases, and then create a visual image of the character corresponding to the voice.
There are also characters who don’t speak, but simply make various sounds. In this case, voice acting requires a very creative approach. The members of the sound team often have to shout, squeal or grunt into the microphone. There are also sound libraries where it’s possible to find a suitable variant. But it’s rare that a source sound is used in its original form. Usually it undergoes major changes at the hands of a sound designer, and then, for example, an animal sound might turn into a monster’s roar.
Soundtracks: Terms of Reference for Composers
The music in our games is created by professional composers. The sound team prepares the terms of reference which describe in detail what kind of music is needed for a particular part of the game, and then a composer writes it on the basis of that description. But still, some music is also written by our team. A written composition almost always gets touched up later, and even then more often than once.
Recording a Corkscrew Sound: Yes We Can
Sometimes our sound people record sounds literally “in the field.” This is the kind of work they really enjoy, as it allows their creativity and imagination to unfold to the fullest. Record the sounds of rustling leaves, some metal things getting kicked, and celery crunching, and then turn them into the cracking sound of bones? Easy!
Sometimes it also happens that an unexpected sound might be born in the studio during our normal research. For example, recently we discovered that a corkscrew can produce really interesting sounds. So expect that to show up on the soundtrack of our next game!
One of the most important tasks when working on a soundtrack is to evoke a sense of realness in the player. Our colleagues have a number of techniques for making this happen.
First, real sounds sometimes work worse than artificial ones. For example, thanks to science fiction films, we are used to the fact that a laser makes a ‘whistling’ sound. In reality lasers can only buzz, but if a player heard buzzing instead of the usual sound, it might make them feel cheated (and in the worst case just wonder “what the heck was that?…”). It’s important that sound stereotypes like these are remembered and taken into account.
Second, in contrast to, let’s say, graphics, which most people assess consciously and reasonably, sounds often “fall” straight into one’s subconscious. Sound people often rely on the rule that “a good sound should go unnoticed,” but in some cases a sound needs to draw a player’s conscious attention on purpose, and these are our most interesting and challenging tasks. To understand which sound should be unnoticeable, and which should attract attention, requires considerable experience and excellent comprehension of how to make a player feel something through sound. If you can produce the right feelings in people, then the game sounds real. Accordingly, specialists learn to work not with specific sounds, but rather with their perception in a player’s mind.
Any game is a string of sounds. To piece together music, footsteps, fight noises, character dialogs and different background sounds, you need a few people. The sound producer monitors the aesthetic integrity of the sound in a game, the sound designers shape the elements that create the sound picture of a game, and the technical sound engineer places the sounds in a game and makes sure everything works as it should. All together they create the concept and integrate the sounds harmoniously into a game.
Difficulties: “Yesterday” as the Deadline and Having to Instantly Switch Between Genres
As in any field, voice-overs for games have their own set of difficulties. These can be divided into technical and creative issues.
The main technical difficulty, which will come as no surprise to anyone, is a lack of time. Often, dubbing starts after all the visuals (animations, locations, cutscenes) have already been finished, meaning in the last stages when time is already winding down. And sure, they know the age-old “on my desk by yesterday” deadline as well. One of the most interesting tasks is switching between the genres. Sometimes this happens the next day after work on Skyforge is finished, where suddenly we need to work on Cloud Pirates, a game that is totally different from the former.
Creating soundtracks for games doesn’t have uniform laws that work for all genres equally. For example, fighting is the key element of games like Skyforge and Armored Warfare. And in Skyforge there are a lot of sounds that occur simultaneously, each of which must be clearly audible in the general mix. Armored Warfare is a different type entirely: it is important that after shooting a player it’s possible to determine what the shot hit, whether it missed or not, or from which side they shot back and who fired the shot. Achieving this effect is a task for the sound team.
Soundtrack vs. Soundtrack: Movies and Games
Despite the similarity in dubbing movies and games, there are significant differences. Sound design for movies is linear, and in games it’s interactive. In the movies, sounds are played the way they were recorded and incorporated, but in games a player can do anything they see fit (of course, within the limits set by the gaming universe). The sound team needs to foresee all possible player actions and decide which of them need to have sounds, and which can stay silent. As a result, specific actions produce specific sounds.
In addition, another task for sound designers is to put different sounds in the foreground depending on the circumstances. Those that are important for player feedback should be heard better, and other, secondary sounds, should be turned off or made quieter. In fact, it is indeed sounds that help players navigate in the game and understand what’s happening, like where the enemy is slinking in from, which boss is waiting for them, and how far the tank shooting at them is. Soundtracks create the game’s atmosphere and affect the player’s perception using different music and sounds. Voices are loaded with information too that is meaningful, emotional and encouraging to take action.
And here’s a few numbers for you to realize how labor-intensive the work of our sound team is: the process of voicing a 3–5 minutes trailer takes a professional sound designer 2–3 full business days. All together. Voicing the companion in Skyforge (a small robot that flies next to the player, talks and helps them in the battle) takes just as long, only for three people: two specialists and an actor. Impressive, huh?