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The Sound Design of inFamous Second Son: Concrete Powers

Rev. Dr. Bradley D Meyer, audio director at Sucker Punch, recounts how the concrete powers of inFamous Second Son were conceived and recorded.

Rev Dr Bradley Meyer

March 16, 2015

5 Min Read

(this posting originally appeared on www.bradleymeyer.com, which despite its snappy name, does not have quite the reach that gamasutra does).

It's hard to believe that inFamous Second Son is a year old already!  I've been completely lagging on finishing up these posts about the powers design for the game, so let me use this opportunity to make good and present the first of the final 2 parts of this series. I also hope to get around to posting my presentation on the Systems Design for the game soon so those who haven't heard/seen it can have that information available to them. Anyway, on to the magic and mystery of concrete!

For those who haven't played or seen inFamous Second Son you play a guy who gets superpowers battling an authoritarian government agency called the DUP whose soldiers are all imbued with concrete superpowers by their leader Dana Augustine (as normally happens with government agencies).

The biggest challenge for us with concrete was how to make it sound unique. It's just rocks and stone right? We've all heard countless variations on rock sounds in everything from impacts to destruction and rubble/debris sounds. We needed to figure out ways to make our sounds stand out as unique, while also conveying the power of the enemies in the game who used concrete.

The powers ran the gamut from concrete grenades to spawning concrete shields to launching off spires of concrete and forming a concrete balcony on walls. In short there was tons of concrete objects being created and broken in the world. Not only did we need these to sound unique and "powered" but they also had to sound completely distinct from all the "normal" concrete in the world you could destroy or collide other objects with. It was a huge challenge, but one that Andy Martin was definitely up for.

The place to start, naturally, was by buying a bunch of concrete. I looked into the process of concrete, which is usually just a mixture of water, an aggregate like sand or gravel, and Portland cement (named after a type of stone used in the UK, not the sleepy hamlet of the Pacific Northwest US). While the thought of mixing up my own concrete sounded appealing to my construction worker wannabe self, we weren't in a position in the project where we had limitless time to experiment. So we did the next best thing: went to Home Depot. Andy and I both made trips to the hardware store and bought all kinds of concrete and stone, from paver stones (which were often too resonant) to clay bricks, cinder blocks, and more. They were demolishing a building across the street from my house and I noticed some particularly large chunks of both asphalt and concrete sitting on the other side of the fence. I waited until nightfall, donned my ninja costume (really just a bathrobe with a scarf tied around my head) and absconded with the almost-final resources we would need to make our concrete powers come to life.

From here, Andy began to run wild and experiment with all kinds of torture he could enact on our various pieces of concrete. From scraping everything he could against the slabs from metal disks to binder clips to resonating a jews harp against them to, yes, crushing, beating and destroying, he created an elaborate and unique palette of concrete sounds. As a few of the characters in the game developed, their powers also evolved. Some characters now had "beams" of concrete they would shoot out to shield allies while another burrowed underground like Bugs Bunny on his way to Albuquerque, and another sat atop a giant swirling tornado of concrete chunks. We needed something special here and I devised a way to record a constantly moving collection of concrete chunks (and naturally wrote a blog post about it).

Andy's wizardry both in recording these sounds and in shaping them in ProTools and Wwise into the layers of concrete powers was top notch as always and now it was time to show the team what we'd been doing (and that our jobs are more fun than theirs). Below is a Sonic Equation of sorts which we showed at a company meeting demonstrating some of recording techniques used to make the concrete powers of Second Son:

Thanks again for reading. I hope to get a write-up of the video powers (which naturally entailed a lot of fun creative recording and manipulation) done next week in time for the proper anniversary of Second Son's release. Stay tuned!

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Rev Dr Bradley Meyer


Rev. Dr. Brad Meyer is Audio Director at Free Range Games. Previously, he was Audio Director at Shaba Games. Brad has a keen interest in data-driven, reactive audio systems, as well as sharing the pitfalls and successes of his career with others. For more information please see www.bradleymeyer.com.

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