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The Sound of Shields
Continuing our journey through the sounds of Star Wars™ Battlefront™, it’s time for the Personal Shield and Squad Shield. This time, we hand over to Sound Designer Gustav Rathsman, who will explain how the iconic sounds of these shields were developed.
GUSTAV RATHSMAN: Accidents happen! We had a microphone set up in our large studio for an interview which if you weren’t careful could monitor directly through the large monitors and produce an awesome pulsating feedback signal resonating in the whole room. Whoops!
A few weeks later when the Personal Shield first appeared in Star Wars Battlefront, this sound immediately came to mind. I shaped the feedback recording into a loop, and attached it to the shield.
So far so good, but the experience was not very dynamic, and it was lacking a bit of presence. I experimented with a plugin version of the ARP2600 (a synth used by Ben Burtt to create many of the original synth-based iconic sound effects) to create a tonal layer to add to the feedback loop.
To this I added sounds for activation and deactivation. Looking through the content we had acquired when we visited Skywalker Sound, I found some nice tonal elements from the Gungan Shields in Star Wars™: Episode I: The Phantom Menace™. To make the sounds more snappy, the nose of the different variations each contain a mix of elements from recordings of igniting matches, turbo dump valves, mortar strikes, and Tesla coils.
The Gungan Shields were also great sonic reference for how it sounds when a shield intercepts a projectile. The impacts have some very nice tonal content, but maybe they are a bit soft for a laser that was just absorbed really close to your face. Good thing our Audio Director Ben Minto had some five meter long plastic tubes lying around in the office. Sound Designer David Jegutidse and I brought one into the studio and recorded the exit of the tube while dropping it on the floor, and this is the result:
I added this to the nose of the impacts, to simulate when something hit your shield. It could still be a bit snappier, so I boosted it further with one of the layers from the blasters content.
To emphasize that being inside the bubble is safe, we filtered the sounds outside the bubble. This is what really gives the experience of activating the Personal Shield its character. The safeness of being wrapped in a personal buzzing energy bubble was complete!
When the power pickup Squad Shield appeared in our game, it was obvious that it would belong in the same “family” as the Personal Shield. Altering the pitch for variation is definitely a “Star Wars-esque” thing to do, and pitching a sound down is an easy way to make it seem bigger. While pitching down some of the Personal Shield elements is part of the recipe for the Squad Shield sound, this simple value tweak isn’t the only ingredient.
In comparison to the Personal Shield, the Squad Shield’s startup sequence is expanded, and it has a metal device as a source of the energy, which is what the player deploys. The look of the shield and the energy flow once again had a similar feel to the Gungan Shields. I used parts of this original sound as a base, and started by putting further emphasis on the placement of the metal device emitting the energy. I went back to the studio to record a metal tripod used for video recording and placed it on the floor with some force. It produces a nice metal tone together with some rattle which helps sell the physicality of placing the emitter. I also added some pneumatic elements for the emitter’s legs deploying. After Charles Deenen had worked on our Reveal trailer, he sent over his work and I reworked his new beefy deploy elements back into ours.
The biggest difference in the experience from the Personal Shield is that you can go in and out of the “bubble’s” safety. To enhance this experience, and make the transitioning into a filtered soundscape smoother, I created sounds for entering and exiting the Personal Shield. Thanks once again to the hoarding skills of my colleague Ben Minto, we had some wobbly broken plexiglas lying around! Bending and flexing the plexiglas in the air was the main source for these sounds. Pitch it down a bit and add some flanging and distortion, and this was the result:
When I first tried this out in the game, it didn’t feel like it was fully there. Sometimes that happens; you try a sound out and it just doesn’t fit the scenario as you intended. What was interesting this time was that when I switched the exit sound for the enter sound, and vice versa, suddenly it worked perfectly!
The Squad Shield intercepting the rain from orbital strikes like an umbrella became a spectacular event in the game, so much so that I decided to make a unique sound for it. I made a mix of the impact tail from Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace content with an explosive impact, and the result was a more noisy and chaotic sound.
The last piece of the puzzle appeared at our annual DICE Audio BBQ, where Atticus (Ben’s son and “Sound Overlord” in training), reached up and grabbed a metal windowsill, and when he let go of it, it created a really nice metal twang with a ring out that caught everyone’s ear. At this time, the Blaster Cannon in the game had recently been fitted with its own small Personal Shield, and this twang would be a great element to add to it, and make it sound as if the shield’s ripple extended right into the metal frame.
After mixing and molding it with the previous impacts I had made, the sound fit nicely into the game and added some extra flavor to the Blaster Cannon’s Personal Shield mechanics.
The shields started out as an experimental feature, and turned out to be one of our core mechanics; adding quite a bit of diversity and uniqueness to our gameplay. I am happy they have been able to add so much character, flavor and detail to the soundscape, and to have been able to keep them together as part of the Star Wars family of sounds.