The Sound Of One Gear Turning

Sound effects, wow! Pow! Bzam! Krakow! They’re important, they’re part of the game experience, and I’ve been plugging a lot of them into game objects lately and generally writing giant spreadsheets of sounds that need making.  The talented Matthew Steele, or our sound and music man for Dredmor, is back again for Clockwork Empires so he gets to enjoy said spreadsheets. Nicholas is into music — brace yourself and ask about synthesizers some day — so he and Matthew have worked that side of things out. Meanwhile all I listen to is horrible ‘industrial noise artists’ from eastern Europe, so I’m taking point on making  sound effects happen. And, horrifyingly, my terrible musical tastes are relevant because a lot of CE’s soundscape is in fact going to involve a good deal of industrial noise. I love it!

A Most Pleasing Noise


The littlest oven.

The tricky thing about these industrial sounds is that they have to actually be somewhat nice to listen to. Imagine a power-saw or a jackhammer — they sound awful and you’d better be wearing ear protection if you’re anywhere nearby. To have absolutely realistic industrial sounds would wear on the ears somewhat and, well, I’m glad I’ve got Matthew around to cook these up.

One of my favourite industrial sounds done so far is for the ‘small oven’; I find it really relaxing somehow:

Small Oven:

(Makes you really feel the holiday spirit, as if huddled for warmth around the factory boiler on a cold winter night.)

Wood chopping was a funny one. I substituted in a few variations of “hammering wood” before Matthew had found some real wood-chopping sounds so for about a month lumber harvesting had an almost musical quality to it. (And on thinking about it, this might not be so out of space in this game’s aesthetic.)

Chopping Wood:

I’ve since hooked up some more ‘correct’ wood chopping sounds, but we’ll see how it feels. It’s always nice to have a good noise library to draw on, to try different things, and revise as more sound elements are introduced and their feeling changes due to changing context.


The trees sing the song that ends their world!

Vocal Rigmarole

My first thought for how to approach character voices was to have emotion expressed through tone, eg. anger, sadness, with words in a made-up language. This way a player could pick up the feelings of the character without getting bogged down in the exact words. Working with Matthew on this, I think he dug up an example of a way to randomly assemble Middle English phonemes into words that looked and sounded vaguely English but weren’t words at all – Like the Dredmor magic item names but way more pronounceable (conceding, of course, that part of the fun of Dredmor magic item names was attempting to pronounce them).



If this approach sounds like The Sims, well, it’s basically what they did. If the sims sounded like the anglo-saxon factions from Age of Empires (which totally used Old/Middle English words – remember “fisk”?). So it’s a cool idea and others have done it, but it turned out not to be the right one for us.

The case for: A made-up fake word noises don’t need translation, and seeing as how we convey the meaning of content of moods/thoughts through icons, visually, and through easily translatable tooltips rather than through audio as-such, localization wouldn’t be a problem. And in terms of setting, using Middle English phonemes might imply Things about The Empire which we’re not going to speculate about here; But it’d sure be neat.

The case against: To have strong individual vocal characterization we’d need a *lot* of separate voices. Humans are very good at picking out voices, they’re not easily fooled (see: Oblivion & etc.). This means we’d need many voice actors, and they’d have to be good; no using employees, no ‘crowdsourcing’. The Sims had a very small cast of sim-characters on-screen at any time, perhaps six or eight at most reasonable times, so in addition to the general stylized aesthetic they could get away with a lot that we can’t. (Not that anyone would want to be hearing 30 conversations in faux-English on the screen at once! See also: why we removed footstep sounds). In short, to do this right would require more audio assets than a tiny studio like Gaslamp can conjure and it could easily turn into an awful wall of sound with the number of characters we are running.

Therefore we’ve agreed that vocalizations without any actual words is probably the way to go. “grunts”, if you like. You get some emotional tone out of it, you still have character voice, but the assets required are much fewer and there’s less possibility for overwhelming glossolalia. I should say of course that, like everything, this is open to change as we iterate  how it works in the soundscape of the game proper!

Bringing It All Together

Last year at GDC 2013 we met up with Tomislav of 2×2 Games and he talked about development of Unity of Command, saying that it came together as real once he hooked sounds up to the units moving around and fighting. At that point it became a complete experience. I like that point; That’s the game: the experience felt by the player, more than its parts. Here at Gaslamp we’ve been developing a pile of game-parts for a long time, and while sound effects aren’t the final piece of CE by any means, we’re slowly but surely making our way to creating that ‘smallest viable unit of Clockwork Empires Experience’ in which, not unlike Voltron, the pieces come together to form something more powerful than the sum of their parts.

(Didn’t get a chance to work in how that ambient hollow wind sound from Quake 1 started my obsession with ambient environmental sounds, but there ya go. Wasn’t that awesome? That was awesome. I need more tea.)

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24 Responses to “The Sound Of One Gear Turning”

  1. icepick37 says:

    Where is this Mercia? And what plague hath struck them?

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  2. Marcin says:

    Krakow is indeed in eastern Europe, but does not sound like industrial noise when pronounced natively.

    You might want to try Katowice which is a nice rhythmic sound for hammering, Kiev for a combat yell, or Wałbrzych Szczawienko if you want to mangle something.

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    • PMSL! Although since we’re talking about stuff that sounds like eldritch incantations, I’d like to point out Szczecin and Parzęczew as well. And the Polish localization of Ghost Master that used translated gibberish pronounced in all sorts of weird ways, making some nonsensical phrases oddly quotable (“Spad na banan!”, “Spad na kiełbę!” and “A kogiel mogiel dajo?!”).

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  3. Loerwyn says:

    I’m kinda glad there’s a mention of a “more correct” sound for chopping wood. That sounded way too hollow to me. Personally. Someone who’s never chopped wood. Shush.

    Interesting note about The Sims: One way they kinda cheated with the voices (esp. in The Sims 3) is to use pitch modulation. You have about six voices, I think, but there’s a pitch slider which means six voices go to, easily, 12, 24, 48 more voices at the touch of a button.

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      Oh indeed, we discussed doing pitch shifting and some other on-the-fly effects (should have talked about that in the post) but we’re trying to avoid those as they’d require yet another code feature.

      Who knows what we can do given time though! Maybe it’ll become necessary.

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    • Matthew says:

      Yeah, I brought up The Sims 3 as well 🙂 If the actual number of vocal assets is small enough, perhaps I can bake in a pitch shift effect and provide a few sets, rather than use computer thinky juice. Ahem. That being a technical term.

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  4. wootah says:

    Thanks for the post David. The hammering definitely doesn’t sound like wood chopping. As someone who has chopped wood, you need a bit of wood splitting sound to make it sound authentic. Additionally the rate at which the hammering clip played is FAR too fast for chopping wood (unless you have 3 people chopping and their timing is perfectly alternating).

    On a side note, I love electronic music and would LOVE to know what you are listening too David. I imagine I would quite enjoy Industrial Eastern European.

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    • Selvah says:

      It actually reminds me of the sounds made by lumberjacks in games such as Emperor rise of the middle kingdom (in Caesar 3 too, i think – or was it Master of Olympus ?). It was not a “realistic” sound, but at least it was quite enjoyable. Scores of funny guys chopping wood in a “tok-tokah-tok” fashion. And it just melted rather well with other industrious sounds, so they did not become annoying, which, I think, is the most crucial quality of these sorts of sounds.

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  5. Matt says:

    My favourite things about Wednesdays are the fact its takeaway night and CE blog posts 🙂

    You guys rock!

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    • Matt says:

      Saying that next Wednesday is Christmas day so if there is a blog post it may truly be the best day ever.

      If you guys manage to post something I will personally send you a thank you card filled with Warm Feelings.

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  6. musteline says:

    next time i demand the best bug ever to be seen in the internet to appear

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    • Josh says:

      That may very well have been the chicken turret from that one post a while ago. ( I hope it becomes a thing (that would be so much fun! ))

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  7. Sniperyeti says:

    My take would be to have emotionally appropriate grunts playing when a conversation is started or switched topics, giving the player a cue they can home in on if interested. That would be all the sound needed produced by individual conversations, and ambient environmental noise could be used to represent the level of conversation in an area (tavern_full.wmv, townsquare_few.wmv, gatheringof malcontents.wmv).

    I agree that constant repetitive gibberish gets tiresome pretty quickly. The only time I’d want to hear constant individual speech is for someone who your attention is supposed to be drawn to, like old father Cogswattle on his soapbox in the town square or some heretic cultist wandering the streets mumbling about ‘electricity’ and ‘plastics’.

    All just my poorly thought through opinions, hooray for thinking out loud on the Internet.

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  8. Matthew says:

    Just fooling around making up fake words was entertaining. My friend Amelia and I made little speeches, gave orders, pretended to die, etc., intending that the sounds could be placeholders, or we could have someplace to start from. We also laughed quite a bit. For some reason a word that sounded vaguely like “Kevin” cracked us up.

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    • Even played “Project Entropia”, “Entropia Universe”, “Planet Calypso” or however is this game called these days? It used gibberish voice samples to signify that you just wrote something in the ingame chat. “Magicka”, with its pseudo-Swedish gibberish used throughout, is hilarious too, and the absurd Polish localization of “Ghost Master”, in which someone bothered to record random nonsensical phrases in Polish to be used by the characters, is oddly quotable.

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  9. Martin says:

    My wife kinda detests the repetitive health-low message from Dredmor (somehow she hears that one a bit too often), but after doing my homework she practically begged me to go vanquish Dredmor. Definitely not her cup of tea… Sadly I am the one stuck with homework during my holiday… Ah well… It’s only 1 hour, better get started again. Dred will have to wait.

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  10. Quake 1 sounds! That was the first game where I really started to pay attention to sound design (though Doom made a bigger impact, maybe). Helps that Nine Inch Nails did the soundtrack, too.

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  11. Maurizio says:

    Hi David,come già ho scritto in precedenza penso che state creando un gran bel gioco molto interessante,ed è bello che qui scrivete nei dettagli tutti i passaggi della creazione del gioco rendendo così più spasmodica e coinvolgente l’uscita del gioco,spero che facciate anche la traduzione in italiano del gioco,magari con l’aiuto del vostro animator Chris Triolo dal cognome italiano,una lingua spesso trascurata nei videogiochi pc,ciao e buon lavoro.

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    • AdminDavid Baumgart says:

      Ciao Maurizio,

      Speriamo che Google non macellaio mia risposta troppo male, ma questo fa parte del divertimento, probabilmente. Grazie per seguire il gioco, contento che ti stai trovando irresistibile!

      La famiglia del signor Triolo è davvero italiano, anche se non credo che lui parla molto del linguaggio mi dispiace dirlo 🙂 Clockwork Empires è costruito in modo che tutte le stringhe di testo nel gioco possono essere sostituiti con altre lingue in modo traduzione sarà un progetto molto più facile di quanto non fosse per Dredmor. Non abbiamo solidi piani in questo momento per i dettagli della traduzione come è un po ‘nelle prime fasi del processo di sviluppo, ma dovrebbe essere molto possibile e spero che otteniamo qualcosa di bello insieme soprattutto perché penso che un sacco di persone in Europa godrebbe Clockwork Empires .

      Grazie per l’arresto buy eh!
      – David

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  12. Kaidelong says:

    That wood cutting sound effect seems like it’d be well suited to whatever the Clockwork Empire’s take is on Punch and Judy or Pantomime

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  13. Maurizio says:

    Tanks David,in un modo o nell’altro me la caverò,ma di sicuro acquisterò il vostro capolavoro Davinciano,aahhahaah,saluti dall’Italia and good job!

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