Greg Candel

Soundscapes I: A Warcraft Re-Design

January 23, 2020 by Greg Candel

My interest in video games has come primarily from having played games from Blizzard Entertainment. For many years I grew up with the sounds of games such as Warcraft, Starcraft and Diablo. Back then, I wasn't focused on specifically sound design too much. However, it sure left an impression in my memory and the overall experience of these games.

I have always been impressed with the audio Blizzard delivered to their games, and it inspired me to become what I do now: creating sound design for video games. One of my dream jobs is to create audio for games of Blizzard, such as Warcraft. So here I decided to make new live generated soundscapes for two races of the Warcraft universe: Orcs and Humans.

Before you jump in, listen to the end result!

The generated orc soundscape.

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The generated human soundscape.

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An artists impression from memory

The beauty of a nostalgic memory is that it is primarily driven by emotion and feeling. I can only think of how the races of Warcraft sound like, but I haven't heard specific soundscapes from the capital cities of the races, Orgrimmar and Stormwind, in years. This makes it a perfect assignment. I haven't listened to any real examples, and made sure to create sounds that are driven from memory. The drive to reshape a world that is not forgotten, but far away.

Creating the soundscape: Orcs

Metal Hits

The first thing I remember from the universe is that they are ofcourse always at war, and there is always somewhere a blacksmith creating dangerous weapons. I decided the put some metal hits into the soundscape.

For these, I layered two different sounds on top of each other. The first layer are sounds I recorded by throwing objects into a metal bucket, to add a bit of chaos and rumble. I took different variations and pitched it down by 3 semitones to give it a bit more body, since it was quite a small bucket.

The second layer is a single sound file of a metal hit. To make variations, I duplicated the single sound file and stretched them out all differently, while making sure the pitch doesn't get preserved. Since stretching the file too much makes it sound crackly, I also pitched them slightly different from each other. So I made about 7 variations, and we can randomise these later in our soundscape.

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Orcs: Metal Hits

War Cart

Since I would like to give a busy impression of the place, I decided to put a moving war cart in that drives by the perspective.

The sound is made out of 5 layers. As you can see in the picture, I did pan and volume automation to simulate the drive-by, panning from right to left, while the volume gradually increases, up to the point where the panning is centered, following by a reduction in volume as it drives further away.

The first layer are footsteps over debris. I added RBass (Sub-Harmonizer) to give it body, while also pitching it down 3 semitones. The next two layers are pitch-layered, meaning it is the same sound layered on top of each other, while having pitched one of them. In this case, I downpitched the second one a full octave. As long as they are directly above or below each other, you can add body or clarity to a sound this way. I love pitch layering, since it often can give some already great sounding results!

To make it sound cranky and unstable, I added the squeeks of a metal vegetable cutter. It was important to limit this, since the squeaks are unpredictable and sometimes spike very loudly. The last one is some more rumbling from a large plant can with some objects in it, also limited.

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Orcs: War Cart

Fire Loop

I also added a loop in the soundscape from another project. It is a burning fire effect I made by pouring water on top of a hot object. It is a very small loop. and one would say it is too short, and people might hear it is a loop, because it does have that repeated movement in it.

In this case, I would like to debunk the myth that repeated movement is not loopable. In our busy lives, there are constantly loops with the same movement going on, since rhythm is something we all sub-conciously use in our lives. When a cook is cutting vegetables, she will also cut it with a certain finesse and rhythm, and not irregularly. But since there are a lot of other things going on around her, her rhythm gets masked into the environment, making it sound human and irregular.

So if we have a simple short loop with movement, as long as we have enough other sounds in our environment masking the repeated rhythm, chances are that it is very believeable it is a real thing. In the case of my fire loop, I saw it as fire from a furnace nearby.


These are the most notable sounds in the orc soundscape. Let us move onwards to the Humans soundscape!

Creating the soundscape: Humans

Walla

For the first sound, I knew I had to first fill up the city with people. I used a Walla (soundscape of people) of an Ethiopian market. Since there were a lot of audible voices in the sound file, I made sure to cut those out, and only use the fragments of people that are pretty inaudible. There is always a chance someone speaks the language of your Walla (in this case, Amharic), so you have to 100 % make sure the speech is not understandable. I also made sure to EQ the Walla, and dip it around 150 Hz (the fundamental frequency of most speech) and 1kHz (the loudest percievable frequency for our ears). I could have chosen 2kHz to 4kHz (where most consonants are formed), but I liked having the clarity of the recording to punch through the rest of the sounds that I will design.

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EQ of the Walla

Church Bell

From memory, I knew you also heard a church bell at times in the city of the Humans. I decided to put a church bell in, gradually fading in and out at random intervals. Ofcourse, this is not what a church bell does in real life; it sounds for a couple of minutes, and abruptly stops. If I were to do this in my soundscape, it would punch through everything and grab the attention of the ear.

When we hear a church bell, we usually perceive this for a moment, but sooner or later our attention goes elsewhere. You could say the bell gets masked by other sounds, since you can't focus on everything at once. So why doesn't this work in a soundscape of a game?

In this case, it could very well work, but I wanted to simulate an impression of the city, and not a realistic portrait. It still is a game environment, and when there is a choice to make between realism and meaning, more often you should go for the impression you want to bring across.

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Gradually increasing the volume of the church bell.

Reusing the War Cart

In game audio, it is always good practice to reuse sound assets, for the sake of saving space, but also to align the overall sound more with one another. In this case, I decided to use the war cart from the orcs, and add a horse walking on pavement, with some horse grunts. Notice how this immediately makes it more civilized and human.

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The horses add a human-like sound.