[Written by Rodney Gates for Designing Sound]
“Transformers” is a mega-hit franchise for Hasbro with a huge fan base fueled by cartoons that beckoned to us in our formative years during the 80’s. The battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons has raged on for decades now, with seemingly no end in sight, and we still line up to see it, be it new toy line, game, and movie releases.
When Activision handed down the “Transformers” mantle to us after “The Bourne Conspiracy” was released, we knew this was going to be quite a bit different than anything the studio had done before…and FUN. Finally I had the chance to work in the science fiction genre, something I’d always wanted to do.
In the very beginning, we weren’t sure what the story was going to be, but that didn’t stop us from jumping in and recording a new library’s worth of material in a few short weeks. Much of that was in anticipation of creating a whole new soundscape of material that didn’t exist much in our libraries with the prior game titles we had worked on. Fun times indeed!
As the vehicle technology behind the “Bourne” game’s Mini Cooper was being expanded and improved to make a vehicle mode viable for Transformers combat and transportation, I began editing all of the best vehicle source we had from the overused commercial libraries most sound people are familiar with out there. As anyone who’s done this knows, there isn’t much to work with. At least much that’s usable from a game standpoint. Still, I prided myself on getting all sorts of tractor trailer squeaks and hisses ready for Optimus Prime and muscle car engine audio ready for Bumblebee.
However, we soon learned that the story of the game wasn’t going to take place on Earth at all. Instead, the focus would be on the Transformers’ home world, Cybertron, as we jumped into the story of what happened before coming to Earth, an area not thoroughly-covered by Hasbro’s existing canon.
This was exciting news indeed.
With the robots no longer needing the ability to transform into human-designed vehicles for disguise purposes as they did on Earth, this opened up the sonic palette quite a bit to experiment with what it might sound like for these Cybertronian citizens to zip around in their own vehicle form, aligned with their own advanced civilization and technology.
Listen To My Bumblebee…
The first vehicle form I tackled was the class that was to represent Bumblebee in the game. It was multiple looping tracks, meticulously-crossfaded together at differing speeds, heavily processed with varying degrees of MondoMod, MetaFlanger and Enigma (three Waves plug-ins that I finally got to “dust off” after years of neglect). When I was sure I was done, I played it for some of the guys and the first thing Mike said was, “that’s cool, but it sounds more like a tank”.
A…tank? Here I was focusing on trying to get something zippy-sounding for a smaller sci-fi car and it ended up being this heavy-sounding vehicle instead.
Sure enough, that sound became the basis for the tank class and remains relatively untouched since that initial day. So funny how you can miss the mark sometimes!
Wu to the Rescue
Despite the fact that the Transformers’ vehicular modes were now going to be very different from their Earth-born disguises, including hovering being a key feature, we wanted to keep the vehicles’ sound grounded in reality, which meant we needed better source.
Even though we would have loved to seek out and record several vehicles on our own to gather this material, due to our condensed development cycle for the game, we decided to work with another industry professional that seemed to have quite a few connections in the vehicle arena – Watson Wu.
One of Watson’s specialties is recording cars, and once we contacted him, the man was out with a portable recorder auditioning several models for us right away to see what we think would work for each of the Cybertronian vehicle classes in the game. Optimus Prime no longer needed to be a tractor trailer, nor Bumblebee a Camaro or Volkswagen, so we chose the basis of these characters’ vehicle modes mainly on the character of some of these auditions that Watson was providing.
This 2005 Porsche Carrera GT was used for Bumblebee:
A 2003 Hummer H2 was used for Optimus Prime (owner John Corcoran pictured):
Many, if not all, of these other cars were featured as well, though the remaining details escape me as to which was used for which:
2005 ProCharger Corvette:
1969 Corvette Dragster Twin Turbo (owner Steve Keech pictured):
1965 Cobra Replica:
2007 GMC Sierra SLT Turbo Diesel (with owner Shawn Koss and Mr. Wu pictured as well) – used for Ratchet and other “truck”-class vehicles:
After Watson recorded each of these vehicles with multiple onboard mics, along with pass-bys, revs, and a slew of other unique recordings capturing the vehicles’ personalities, he delivered the high-resolution recordings to us and I began incorporating these sounds into the design of the vehicles. Each vehicle type has their basis defined by these recorded performances, except for the tank and jet classes, which were designed with other source.
Every vehicle can boost and jump in the game, to give the player as much maneuverability as possible while in vehicle form. When you boost, the wheels come out and you drop down from a native hovering state, giving you greater speed, though with less steering ability, which is great for straight-aways and escapes.
In the end, each vehicle ended up with about 4 or 5 main loops for main engine, a boost loop mode for each, with boost-on and boost-off sounds, jumps, lands, with some careful ducking and DSP usage woven in.
There are many different electronic-sounding, modulated motor sounds blended with the car sounds to help give that sc-fi quality to them – including an electric razor resonating a stainless steel strainer idea that yielded a wonderful tone (and idea I stole from Ben Burtt, though he used a salad bowl). It was a lot of fun to experiment with things like this, and I achieved some really cool results.
I wanted the vehicles to feel like they were always accelerating, so even if you’re in the game and are traveling at your top speed, there is a pitch envelope that continues to raise the engine loops incrementally higher for around 30 seconds or so. Of course, you never really get to experience that much during gameplay as you are too busy shooting and evading, but its there. J
“Transformers: War For Cybertron” was a great game to work on, and though I ultimately left for Sony Online around the game’s alpha milestone, I look forward to the new releases from High Moon and their audio crew, which will be even better than what has come before. Rock on, guys:
These gentlemen provided the vehicles that were recorded and used for the game – they drove, of course J:
- 2005 Porsche Carrera GT (V10 – one of only 2 of these supercars)
- 1965 Cobra (Backdraft Roadster replica with Rouse engine)
- 1969 Dragster Corvette (twin turbo, 1200hp, 9 liter (this car killed one of Watson’s lavalier mics during a burnout session)
- 2005 ProCharger Corvette (supercharged sleeper)
- 2003 Hummer H2 (V8)
- 2007 GMC Sierra SLT (turbo diesel)