Raven’s new flesh-ripping game nails the ferocity of Marvel’s Wolverine. But how did they get all those bone-breaking sounds and how did Hugh Jackman pay a role in the sound process?
Two days after the Game Developers Conference ended in San Francisco, Activision and developer Raven invited the press to return to the W Hotel to spend a day playing deep into their new visceral action game, X-Men Origins: Wolverine for the PS3 and Xbox 360, due May 1 with the movie’s release.
Wolverine looks and plays with an incredible physicality to it. The game is designed truly represent the raw physical power fearless aggressiveness of the Marvel comic book character, and it succeeds very well in delivery that experience in a visual way, by means of showing Wolverine ripping his enemies into parts, but also, and perhaps even more significantly, in an aural way. You can hear him ripping enemies’ bodies apart, hitting bone, and tearing them in two.
How did Raven design one of the best sounding games you’ve ever heard? We sat down with Sound Designer Andy Bayless to get a feel for what vegetables, garden tools, machines, and city vehicles he sampled, along with details about how actor Hugh Jackman contributed to the part through his voice acting session, to make Wolverine come to life.
Douglass Perry: I’m here at the W Hotel in San Francisco with sound designer Andy Bayless, who created all of the sound effects for the upcoming Activision game Wolverine. When you sat down to create the sound for Wolverine, what were some of the biggest obstacles you thought you’d face?
Andy Bayless: One thing I set out to do on day one with Wolverine from an audio standpoint was to give people the feeling that they are Wolverine in this game and that they can kick ass. We want to make people feel powerful and tough. And we wanted to be true to what the character really is. Part of that is what Wolverine can do in the game. He can do all these cool moves. We also wanted it to sound cool. And we want all these elements to come together, so when you do these things in the game, you go, “Oh my God, this is awesome!” And then you’ll go grab your buddy and bring him in.
Doug: There is the sheer metal sound I heard again and again while playing the game. How did you get the sound of Wolverine’s claws?
Andy: Part of what makes the sound of wolverine’s claws sound so cool is what is on the receiving end of the claws. So when you smash through guys, you’re literally tearing through bone and flesh and your enemies are getting shredded to pieces. So a few things I did was to get lettuce and watermelon and do things to them. I got heads of lettuce together and tore them apart for the nice crisp clean flesh-tearing sound. I gouged watermelons with stuff and dig my hands in and squish it around, you know, to get some of that drippy, squishing splattery stuff. So when you hit guys with Wolverine’s claws and you hear stuff splatter out, it makes it sound like Wolverine is slicing through guys like butter.
Doug: Did you shear knives to get Wolverine’s metal shearing sound?
Andy: I did use knives. I used a lot of random pieces of metal that I could find that sounded cool. I used clothes hangers, parts of metal shelves, anything that had a cool kind of metallic tone to it. Sometimes I would use metal against metal, and sometimes I would see what kinds of effects I could get from thrusting metal into some kind of organic material. (Laughter.)
Another that’s satisfying to hear in the game is the claws slicing through flesh but there is also bone in there. We really wanted to get some bone crunchy sounds. So I would crush organic things like walnut shells or carrots, things that had a nice crunch to them. But I would cover them with a towel to mute the sound, which works well because it then sounds like the bones are being crushed inside the guy’s body. I also did things like cracking my back and my fingers and then layer those sounds on top of one another. You really get some of those wincing sounds, where you just go, “Ohhh, Owww!” But then, right after, you go, “Awesome!” Then you really just want to keep doing it; you know, find the next batch of guys to dispose in cool and brutal ways.
Doug: Did you work directly with Hugh Jackman for the game?
Andy: I implemented his voice in the game. Our voice director and writer, his name is Bob Love, worked directly with Jackman in the voice-over sessions.
Doug: How did you think those sessions went?
Andy: Jackman is incredible. You always hear that celebrity talent just phoning in their performances. I read all these reviews with people being let down and disappointed by celebrity performances in games, but this is not the case. You can tell Jackman puts his heart into the character. He cares about what the fans think. He really wants people to be happy with Wolverine. It shows, too. I mean part of what makes you feel powerful in the game is the claws. The other part is Jackman is Wolverine. He’ll do all these big, powerful moves, but then you’ll hear Logan rip off these huge yells, and it’s like a stage dive and you feel invincible when he does that. He is Wolverine! He did a fantastic job, and I couldn’t be happier with it.
Doug: Did he rewrite any of the script or have comments about the script?
Andy: Hugh Jackman has an intimate understanding of the character. At this point he knows the ins and outs of the character pretty well. So what he would do is read the line and give alternate takes of that line, providing different inflections and readings and emphases on certain lines. Or he would say it more like Wolverine would say it. He might take a sentence and add some of that smart-ass sarcasm to it to make it more true to the character.
Doug: How much access did you have from sounds of the movie?
Andy: Actually, everything in the game is 100% original. I modeled some of the sounds–keeping in mind that people expect certain things to sound a certain way–on X-Men games, movies, and cartoons. Anything I could get my hands on to hear what’s there and then I would base my own sounds on that.
Doug: Were there any sounds that surprised you the most, or were there any sounds that you rejected?
Andy: Yes. There is an environmental kill where Wolverine, instead of using your claws, you can use things in your environment, to dispose of enemies. One of them is a big turbine. You can throw a guy in that and he gets all chopped and ground up. I used power tools for that. I used a lawn mower running over the top of something hard. The part of the game you played when you fight the Sentinel and Wolverine throws his body through the turbine? Well, Wolverine can do that because he’s got the Adamantium skeleton and he regenerates his body and flesh, and so he knows he’ll be OK, but we wanted something that would make you cringe when you hear it.
For the sentinel I used a variety of objects. In the boss fight against the Sentinel, Wolverine fights a prototype model. He is the first of his kind. We didn’t want to make him sound too high tech and space age. We wanted to make him sound like he was put together using lots of miscellaneous parts. He’s using an internal combustion engine and he’s burning fuel instead of a power cell. So I used garbage truck and metro bus kinds of sounds, and different hydraulics, fighter jets, submarines, all kinds of real world vehicles, and it helped give the Sentinel that realism, yet at the same time he is fantastic. But it’s not too fantastic, you know.
Doug: Did you find that it was easier or more difficult or any of the various consoles? Was it easier to create sounds on the PS3 over the Xbox 360, for example?
Andy: Well, we used the Unreal Engine 3. We used modified versions of their audio tools and applied that to the different platforms. The platforms all run a little differently, but as far as getting a consistency, we ironed out everything pretty well, and there wasn’t a lot of headache in that.
Doug: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about that we haven’t talked about?
Andy: On the general side, this is Wolverine like you have never seen him before. You will see things you have never seen him do before. You will hear him do things you have never heard him do before. These are things the fans have wanted for all these years. At Raven, we’re on the same boat. You know, how come there hasn’t been a great Wolverine game–ever? So when we got the chance, we said, “We can’t mess this up. We gotta make a real and true Wolverine experience. We have to give everybody what they have been salivating for for all these years. I think we nailed it.