Hello, my name is Rick Hernandez and I am the Lead Sound Designer for the Multiplayer component of the Titanfall franchise. Sound Design is one of the most fun pursuits on the planet; I get to bring things to life with my sonic ideas and designs. A big part of my role at Respawn is to design and create the sounds for our Titans. Titanfall 2 has seven different Titans [including BT] and they all have a unique look, voice, weapons, and abilities.
What exactly…would you say you do here?
Making the sounds for our hulking mechanical beasts is pretty time consuming. There are many different animations, abilities, and weapons to cover and they should each sound unique and interesting. One of my main goals when coming up with design ideas is to develop sounds that help you identify which Titan is nearby. I want players to know exactly what type of Titan they’re encountering even before they face them. To achieve this, each Titan needs to have a signature set of sounds that gives it a distinct voice; and that’s no simple task. In fact, it takes about a month per Titan.
So, all Titans are not created equal!
There are four different types of chassis in our game: Light, Medium, Heavy, and BT (featured in Single Player). All four chassis have different animations and the tone, timbre, and pitch is drastically different from one another to properly convey the weight of the chassis and make each sound uniquely different. Additionally, there is a very specific distinction between First Person (1P) point of view sounds and Third Person (3P) point of view sounds. Third person sounds have distance attenuation (the volume gets louder as it approaches and quieter as it gets further away) and make use of our occlusion system. First person view sounds are usually much more detailed and have additional audio content on the LFE (subwoofer) and Surround channels.
Time to breakdown the audio design elements of a Titan! *Record Scratch*
(but seriously, don’t scratch records…it’s not good for them)
There are a lot of different components that make up a set of sounds for a Titan. The three main ones are: metal, mechanisms, and servos. I used a few key processes in order to create believable, signature robotic sounds. One of the principles of my approach was to record lots of metal-on-metal layers. I used sheet metal, anvils, bolts, thin metal, and thick metal, and tried to think outside the box when I went out to record them. I would hit them against each other, scrape them, hammer them…recording as much of it as possible in as many different ways as I could think of.
Getting good mechanisms and servo sounds were also important for the Titans. A servo, also known as servomechanism is an automatic device that uses error-sensing negative feedback to correct the action of a mechanism. In essence, a servo error corrects and helps control the mechanical position, speed, and other parameters of a mechanism.
Good servo sounds are hard to create, and I wanted to avoid library sounds since they’ve been used by everyone and, the result would not have been signature but rather generic. As an alternative to stereo miking or digital plug-ins, I used something called an Arduino Micro Controller. It allowed me to easily create a servo that I could automate using software such as Ableton, and develop stereo servo sounds by creating multiple takes and panning these hard left/right. These could then be pitched down and manipulated using digital plug-ins.
Another great technique? Mashing sounds together to create more complex robotic sounds. After I record my metal layers, debris, and servos, I usually mash them together to create variations.
Drop it like it’s hot…and all the rest of the hotness!
These are some of the main Titan elements for which I design sounds on and some of the elements that make up the final sounds:
I. Hotdrop –
Titanfall has a pretty unique way of delivering Titans to players. They fall from the sky at blazing speeds and create a booming sound on impact. The impact sound they emit when they land has to credibly sell the weight and the momentum with which they would fall. I create these impacts by recording massive metal hits, layering them and processing them to sound larger than life. Once Titans land, they perform an idle animation as they survey the battlefield. The accompanying sound is composed of little bits of metal, clicks and pops that are uniquely different per chassis. Some of the materials used to create the sounds are bass drops, big rock impacts and falling debris, distorted air rushing, and reversed wind along with big metal impacts.
The following audio sample breaks down Scorch’s Hotdrop into five layers. The first layer plays the Button Press Warpfall and the “air rip’ sound. The second and third layer are booming sounds of breaking the sound barrier. The fourth layer is a descent to land sound and the fifth layer is the huge metal impact when it lands. The last sound on the audio sample is the composite of all the Hotdrop elements for Scorch.
II. Embarking & Disembarking –
Once your Titan is delivered, this is where the fun really starts: getting into your Titan and going to battle! To keep it interesting in the battlefield, players can embark their Titan from many different positions: front, back, top, both sides and in midair! All of these different positions have different animations along with distinct sounds. Some of the main elements that I use for Embarking and Disembarking are air depressurizing, hatch opening/closing, and moving parts working together as a complete piece of machinery. I also add a few out-of-the-box elements such as dubstep ‘wobbly’ bass, rewinds, and bass drops.
The first sound in this breakdown for Ronin’s embark is the hatch opening, followed by the hatch closing. The third element is a dub step growl bass, followed by the Foley for the pilot getting into the cockpit. The last sound on this breakdown is the composite of all the embark elements for Ronin.
III. Titan Powering Up –
When the player Embarks and decides to take control of a Titan, the power up sequence begins. The Power Up is a Surround Sound audio file I create to immerse the player into the experience by making it sound like the Titan is now in control. It is meant to hype up the player and it consists mainly of synthetic energy (risers) sounds, interior mechanical movements and gadgets. Lots of synthesizers; both old and new were used to create the rising energy portion of the sounds, the rest of the sounds are small mechanical objects and contraptions Foley pitched down.
The first element that makes up the BT Power Up is a synthetic rising energy stinger, followed by a more intense and ramping riser. The third element is a steadier energy sound that ends with an energy blast and the fourth element is a “tail” of energy that gracefully fades out and covers up gaps in my buildup. The last sound you hear in this audio sample, is the composite of all the different elements.
IV. Interior Cockpit –
All Titans have their own interior cockpit sound. This is a surround sound audio file that plays all around the player for immersion. Cockpit interior ambiences consists mainly of computer sounds, interior mechanisms and other moving bits of “jangly” parts. I recorded a lot old a new computer sounds for these sounds. The sounds included in the cockpit interiors are based off hard drives under duress, processed computer keyboards, broken up walkie-talkie communications and household appliances such as microwaves, refrigerators and AC vents. There is also a LPF (Low Pass Filter) effect that plays when the player is inside the cockpit for added enthrallment and the “home away from home effect” while inside. A low pass filter is an equalization process that filters out the high end frequencies, thus taking away the crispness and details out of sounds.
The Interior Cockpit sound for tone includes three surround sound audio files. The first is the engine sounds along with glass stress and creaking. The second sound is composed of computers and other small machinery, while the last sound adds in a bit of more movement. The last sound in this breakdown is the composite of all three surround sound cockpit sounds.
V. Footsteps & Movement –
Titans have both first person and third person perspective sounds. If the player is inside a Titan (1P) he will hear a lot of the moving parts, chassis, servos, and mechanisms. When listening to Titans in third person perspective, the player can gauge how distant other Titans are by the far, medium and close variations of footsteps for added awareness. Their movement in third person also includes layers of big metal movement and exterior mechanisms. Some of the sources for the movements sounds include chain movements, metal stress (both high pitch and low pitch), tonal and non-tonal metal friction, and pneumatics gases. The footsteps are all metal impacts consisting of different weights along with surface specific sweeteners such as concrete, grass, metal, wood…etc.
This example breaks down the sounds for Northstar’s Third person perspective footsteps and movements. The first sound is only the foot plants. It goes from far, to mid and finally close distance. Following are two layers of mechanical movements sounds, a heavily processed servo sound, and a more traditional hi-tech servo sound. The last sound is composed of all the sounds together.
VI. Melee –
All Titans have some sort of Melee. Heavy Chassis Titans for example perform a straight punch composed of heavy hydraulic movement, servos, and bits of metal movements. The interior (1P) versions have additional servos and moving metal pieces in the surround speakers. Ronin, on the other hand, has a sword rather than a punch for a melee attack. The Ronin Sword Melee consists of whooshes, big sword “shings” and a hyped up bass decay for sweetening. The rest of the melees consist of hydraulics coming from garbage trucks, bulldozers and other open-ended hydraulic machines.
This example breaks down the Melee attack for Ronin and it is composed of three different layers. The first has mechanical movement and a heavy whoosh, the second has a metal “shing”/scrape and the last element is a bass decay sweetener. The last sound is the composition of all the mentioned layers.
VII. Dash –
Titans use Dash to escape an encounter that’s not going so well, evade an attack, or to pursue an enemy Titan trying to make an escape. The heftiness of the Dash goes in line with the size of the chassis, but otherwise is composed of a metal slide, an afterburner, and a short burst of energy. The sources used to make the Dash sound include an afterburner from an F-15 Eagle, bursts of fire from a flame thrower, and Turbocharger boost engage sounds.
The Dash for Scorch features a big and heavy mechanical stinger, a burst of nitro energy, chassis movements (which plays in the Surround speakers) and a burst of flame that also plays in the back speakers. The final sound is all the layers together.
VIII. Unique Ability –
Every Titan has a unique ability. This is based on what type of energy the chassis specialty has. Scorch, as an example, is a master of utilizing fire and has several special Fire abilities/attacks. Ronin’s special attack is the ‘Arcwave’. He executes this attack by violently striking his sword against the floor, producing a massive electrical shock that travels in a wave motion. Common library electric sources have been overused and sound very generic, so instead, to create a cool unique sound for this, I recorded whooshes, and synthetic energy pass bys along with an added riser for sweetening. The sources used for the special abilities vary widely from Titan to Titan, but generally include fire bursts and crackle, electricity bursts, air, and synthetic energy.
Ion’s core ability was done by senior sound designer Brad Snyder and is composed of five different layers. The first is a stereo laser cannon fire, the second and third layers have thick laser looping texture. The fourth layer is composed of a tonal laser looping sound and the fifth and final layer is the “Stop” and has a graceful tail of energy decaying.
IX. Executions –
This is the big pay off! Executions is a cool way to reward a player for getting up close and personal with the enemy. If you make serious damage with your melee attacks, you get a random chance to see your Titan’s execution. The executions are creatively visceral, and visually and sonically rewarding. With these, I turn it up to 11! I hype these up to be larger than life with over the top massive hits, stingers, and risers.
Bryan Watkins and his team at WB helped us tremendously in creating the sound for BT. His.executions can be performed in single player campaign against bosses. The first layer is composed of deep metal and abstract impacts. The second layer covers all of the footsteps and movements and the third layer has the “ripping open cockpit” sound along with other more traditional metal impacts. At the end of this breakdown you here the final composed execution with all the layers together.
This video is a compilation of Titan abilities, weapons, movements and executions. Although I did a lot of the heavy lifting on the Titans sound design, sound designers Erik Kraber, Tyler Parsons, Bradley Snyder and Warner Brothers also did some amazing design work for the titan weapons and abilities featured in this video.