This posting originally appeared here
You know how sometimes you have lofty plans to do a project and then months later you think, "What the hell happened? I still haven't gotten to that thing I meant to do months ago!" Well that's pretty much where I'm at. I've been meaning to write a few short posts about some of the sound design we did on inFAMOUS Second Son for quite some time, and I'm FINALLY getting around to it. I hope this to be the first in a series of posts with an entertaining movie or two showing off some of the sounds we captured to make our various sfx in Second Son and how those ended up sounding in-game. Since the powers are the biggest sonic show piece of the game, I figured we'd start there.
A lot has already been written about smoke power, but since it's the first power you gain in the game, I'll touch briefly on it one more time in part just to show you the movie down below.
But before that here's something which has never been seen or heard outside of Sucker Punch. The first thing we ever did in regards to powers on Second Son was to concept some ideas of what these powers may sound like. We had NO idea what they were going to look like (and as you can see from the video we were even concepting powers that never made the cut into the game). This was merely an exercise to start playing with sound and seeing what kinds of things were resonating with us in regards to these potential power sets. A lot of what we started with helped inform our extensive recording sessions to capture elements to mold and bend to our will and become the sound design of the game. Other concepts we tried here didn't work and were readily abandoned. For example, I thought it would be cool if the player's footsteps had a sweetener applied to them based on your current power set. In the end it felt too heavy handed so we cut it. We played around with the notion of USTV feeds making their way into the video powers sounds (similar to Andy's Neil Armstrong clip in the concept for what was then called TV powers), but that also just didn't work in any meaningful way. None of the sounds you hear in this concept made it into the game, but it at least gave Andy, our senior sound designer, and myself a jumping off point to explore from.
Smoke was the first power we worked on, but it was also one of the most challenging: how do you make something as amorphous as smoke sound powerful? Furthermore, how do you make it sound like smoke, and by that I mean NOT like fire. These were the challenges before us. I noticed some steam pouring out from a grate in the ground one day and thought that could be interesting. But it made no sound! We experimented with other air releases from helium tanks to compressed air, but none of it fit the bill. I pretty quickly gravitated towards charcoal. I don't mean those neatly-formed imitation charcoal briquettes either. I'm talking real burned chunks of wood. I knew from ample barbecuing experience that they made really interesting crackling sounds when burned and also they had a resonance to them when moving around which was kinda unique. After buying a couple bags of charcoal and a small grill I set to work doing most imaginable things to these chunks of burnt wood: moving them around, bouncing them off each other, crushing them, burning them, lighting them on fire and then dousing them, etc. It was a great start. Many other elements ended up playing into the final sounds: blowing air through a plastic tube became a very important element in Delsin's smoke dash and various movements of sand also played a role in both quicker smoke attacks and Delsin's navigation abilities. Below is a video showing off some of these elements as they were recorded and as they sounded in the game.
One quick word on this video: it was originally shown as part of a company meeting. Every milestone during production, each team would show a short video highlighting their work over the past several weeks. We liked to show the team not only how much fun sound design is, but how much fun we have doing it. Enjoy and stay tuned next week for an exposé on Neon powers!