Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Blowing bubbles...FOR SCIENCE!

It has been awhile since I made a post about my audio work on Heroes of Newerth. I thought it would be good to write something about our new upcoming hero Pearl and her alternate avatars.

After reading a little bit about the lore for the character, seeing the concept art, and having a conversation with [S2]Loremeister, it was clear to me that this character was very heavily based on anime.

I came to the conclusion that the audio had to reflect both the anime part of her as well as the cute part - and there is nothing cuter than bubbles.

For her first alternate avatar, the dwarf named Brann, I found out he was going to be someone with a cursed object that was a shield. He also has a sling and a rock as a weapon(awesome!) He also has a lot of gear on him. So I knew I had to record lots of leather, metallic objects and rocks for the dwarf.

For her second alternate avatar, Shadian, I could see by the concept art that he was going to be the darkest of the characters, but I also found out he was to have a hint of good in him.
So for him, it was all about murky, nightmarish sounds with dark laughter and screams.
It was also important to use sounds that reflected a good nature about him, like water bubbles and mid-high frequency sounds that were calming.

I split some of it up, however, to help reflect the cursed object of the dwarf, by using laughter for him and for Shadian. I used screams and lots of bass.

I’ve always believed that sound design for movies and games, should always start with understanding the character, the magic, the lore and\or the environment, in order to create audio that reflect the nature of the location, event or character.

So for the final part of this segment, I’ll post the lore that the lore guys at S2 conceived for the characters:

For eons the Bubble Magi were the greatest defense the Legion had against the Beasts and Demons. Their protective magic circled the Legion cities in domes that kept the enemies assaults at bay. When Maliken's betrayal came to pass, his agents simultaneously assassinated every Bubble Mage known to the Legion and burned their monastery to the ground. All of them save for one lone apprentice who was mistaken for a mere servant and one pet turtle who had watched his master from afar. Searching amongst the ruins of her home, she discovered her master's staff clutched in his charred hands. As she took up his weapon, she finally allowed her tears to flow and her determination became clear. She has spent years honing her craft and now Pearl, the last known Bubble Mage has taken to the battlefields to wreck vengeance on Maliken and his demon horde.

Deep within the Iron Mountains the dwarves toil day and night extracting the riches from the earth. Occasionally when seeking the metals and gems buried in the mountains the dwarves stumble upon on other, hidden things. Such is the case with the Aegis. The ancient shield of the first King of Hell was found in one of the deep tunnels and the first dwarves who touched it were asphyxiated by its evil. A great alchemist warded a charm through the use of her own blood to protect another from its evil. Her own son must take the unholy burden to the deepest point in the ocean and drop it in in order for it to be destroyed. While waiting for a ship to sail, the adventurous dwarf has decided to bring its power to bear against the demons that forged it as Brann, The Shieldbearer.

Deep in the wilderness Legion soldiers are not able to protect every small village for the advancing demon armies. For those on the frontier, it is a dangerous, but rewarding life, and most of the time the settlers are able to hold the small patrols at bay. In some cases the army is too great and they must flee or be destroyed. In one such village, the families had been stricken ill with an unknown disease and were unable to escape the encroaching horde. The village elder tore his robes in frustration and beseeched any power that could hear his cries to aid him in protecting his people. One dark power, Asterax the Unseen, heard him from beyond the veil and bestowed the power upon him to protect his people – the price was only his eternal servitude. The elder repelled the demons, but still bears his curse as the avatar of Asterax – Shadian the Shield of Darkness, may Sol have mercy on his soul.


For Pearl, we picked Erica Mendez. Finding a voice for Pearl was difficult when many of the auditions were absolutely fantastic, but Erica brought something to the table that was just spot on to the character. It was so cute I had to balance myself by hitting my toe hard enough with a hammer, so I could again feel what it was like to suffer. (In truth, it was enough to just watch the movie: The Road. Man that was depressing.)

She gave the character a great overall balance of cute and feisty fighter:

Brann was done by Matt Greenberg. He’s done some work for us before, most notably the voice of Lord Salforis. I’ve known him for quite a while and worked with him before on other projects outside of S2. Since Brann would have a sarcastic nature and of course the legendary stubbornness of dwarves, I knew right away that Matt would be great for the role. (I suspect he is in fact a dwarf which is why it comes so naturally to him)

Shadian was voiced by Lucas Schuneman. He also voiced our male version of Silhouette.
I always enjoy listening to his auditions. he is quite creative with them and he keep finding ways to surprise me. He brought a great echo of longing and chaos within his voice, as well as keeping it human enough that the meek version of Shadian showed.

Sound Design:

Attacks and whooshes:

Pearl throws bubble magic, Brann throws a rock with a sling and Shadian throws a cursed darker version of bubble magic. (I just call it oil-bending)

For Pearl, I recorded water by filling an aquarium tank with, you guess it, water.
I then used cups and plastic pipes to create some big and thick sounding bubbles by putting them into the water, and just angling them the best way I could in order for the bubbles to stream out.
Using my wizardly wit, I also put a straw down into the water, and blew air into it.
SORCERY BY THUNDER! There were bubbles, and I had an easier way to control the amount.

After I had a fair amount of them, I started recording the sound of putting half of the cup into the water and then moving it slowly side to side to create a wake. This created a pleasant water movement sound that would layer into the whooshes. Once I had all the recordings I needed, I put them into my DAW (I used Reaper) and used a doppler plugin to create the whooshes.

Once I had the basic structure in place, I layered the previous recordings of water movement in order to give the whooshes a sounding tail that wasn’t a reverb. I also added in some of the smaller bubbles I got from using a straw into the whooshes, but being careful not to make the attack sounds too busy.
This is due to the fact that in video games, you can get the ability to attack quicker, so it is important to make sure the attacks are interesting - both in quick motion as well as slow, but also not so busy that it is chaotic.

For the impacts, I decided to bring out a large plastic plate, attach a contact microphone underneath it and aim two shotgun microphones, both at top and underneath, and then went back to my childhood and threw mud at the plate while standing on a ladder.
After an hour of recording and two hours of cleaning up the gloop of nostalgia, I had what I needed.
Then, using the recordings of just a short segment of the straw bubble sounds, I had Pearl’s attacks.

The whooshes for Brann were more straightforward;
by recording the whooshes of a bungee cord, I had the basic whoosh in place.
I then went and recorded lots gravel and sand, that would help create a structure layer for the whooshes.
I also recorded sounds of bigger rocks being thrown about and breaking for the impact noises.
Then I edited everything together and had a small bungee whoosh with some sand and gravel trail.
For the impact, I spent a little time compressing and EQ’ing to get a satisfying thud at the start of the impact.
I leaned a bit to a sound library and took out some punching sounds and added that to the impact.

When it came down to Shadian, it was a different story.
His attacks were going to be reminiscent of Pearl’s, but at the same time stand on its own.
I used some previous recordings of the mud hitting the plastic plate and reversed the sound to give it a creepy alien feel. I layered in some of the previous water recordings as well, but pitched these down slightly. I added in a couple of sounds from a sound library and then slapped on a doppler. I liked the whooshes and turned to the impacts.

With the impacts in mind, I went and recorded some additional sounds of mud.
This time, I used a sponge (poor Bob) to get some strange dirty air sounds.
By squeezing the sponge in the mud with all the dirt and the water, and then putting the sponge to the microphone, I was able to get some cool airy but dirty sounds. I also put some mud in my hands and just rubbed them around getting some nice textures.

Afterwards, I started editing the impacts.
I used the mud impacts I had recorded before, pitched them down by a lot.
Then I used the texture and the air sounds I had recorded, and layered them in as the tail of the sound.
To give the impacts more of a magical nature, I used the iron rod I had recorded earlier and used a tremolator and reverb plugin to sound design them. I also used some small amount of sound library sounds to give it a much fuller structure.

Here is a video of Pearl, Brann and Shadian attacking with the whooshes and impacts:


Because Pearl and her Alts would have somewhat different looking abilities and they themselves looking nothing alike one another, I thought it would be a good idea to use thematic sounds for the abilities.
It would help players know which hero the alternate skin belonged to.
It also serves to help the future content for that character, that might even have radically different looking abilities, to have a familiar sound the player can associate with, and so it is not dangerous to stray away visually or by adding additional sounds, as long as the thematics helps bring it all together.
In other words, all the abilities needed to have a thematic core sound, that when heard, the players knew what character this belonged to.

This ‘core’ sound would also need to be good enough, that it could stand alone as the sound of all the abilities without needing any additional stuff. It also could not give any favors to a specific existing character thematic, like being cute for Pearl or evil for Shadian.
It had be neutral, structured to be standalone and easy to recognize.

But that was not all, once the core sound was done, the characters needed to have sounds that reflected their own thematics i.e. Cute anime-like sounds for Pearl, sinister metallic sounds for Brann and Chaotic Oil-like sounds for Shadian.

I will not spend too much time to talk about the core sounds due to their creation was rather random and I have forgotten most of the process. However, I remember using bullroarers, rope, explosions, bullet whooshes (thanks Frank) and lots of synthesized sound and then using pretty much every plugin I got to create the whooshes, impacts and looping drones.

Once I had the sounds I liked and I knew would work for the sake of thematics, I jumped ahead on making the character thematics for Pearl and her Alts.

Before that however, here is a video of Pearl, Brann and Shadian, using all their abilities but with only the core sounds on:

Ability 1: Asphyxiate

The hero attaches a bubble to the enemy, the enemy is slowed and then the bubble grows and explodes.

For this ability, I wanted to focus on just the casting and slowing down part, and let the core sounds do the rest.

I started off by using the bubble sounds and other water stuff I had recorded earlier, and compressing that so the bubbles sounded like they were building up as they were thrown.
Since Pearl was anime based, I harkened back to how sounds were done for the earliest of anime, like Dragonball (before the Z), where most of the sounds were made by using synthesizers and being in analog.
I used a program called Reason with a sound bank of old fashion synths, I created around 30 different sounds that to me sounded good and old, I then used an analog delay plugin, to give it that much needed “old fashioned” echo.
These synth sounds became the basis of all of Pearl’s abilities.

In order to make a loop sound that felt like it was slowing the target down, I used previously recorded bubble sounds, but I also ended up using an additional sound of heavy rain falling in an entrance of a small cave. The water dripping was supposed to give the notion that someone was slow, because they were drenched in water.

This video shows Pearl using the Asphyxiate ability, first without the core sound and then with both the character thematic and the core sound on.

I used previous recordings of metallic surfaces for the basis of Brann’s cast sound, and then layered in wind whooshes. Since I wanted his shield to have a sinister sound, I recorded myself laughing a lot as evilly as I could, whispering stuff in a gibberish language and even more laughing.

I ended up layering the cast sound with some of my whispering and slowed the whispers down by around 10%. Afterwards, I used the doppler plugin (I know, overused, but it does magic, man!)
and also put in a reverb and slapback delay. Once the cast sound was done, I used the previously made loop sound that I had made for Pearl, and pitched it down, I added in some more whispers that could loop.

Like before, first without the core sound and then, both the character thematic and core sound:

For Shadian, I recorded myself screaming.
After explaining to my neighbors that I was neither killing people nor summoning the hounds of hell, I went back and made porridge. Not to eat, but to mess with.
I didn’t want to use anymore mud, so I decided that porridge would work instead.
I squeezed it, threw it, stirred it, tried to blow bubbles in it and called it a name.
Once my date with the porridge was over, I went and recorded a pogo stick.
Not exactly the most evil of things, but once you fall and scrape your face up, it is your arch nemesis ever after.
On a serious note, the pogo stick had a strange squeal whenever you jumped on it and I used that, combined with the screams, to make it seem more unsettling.
I put in the porridge as the oil layer and tail of the sound.

You know the drill by now:

Ability 2: Whirlbubble

The hero throws a bubble that catches anyone in its way, and pulls them with it to where it explodes.

I used a lot of bubble sounds here but recorded additional sounds of water going down a drain.
I then layered in a subtle sound of the whooshes that was made by throwing water out of the aquarium tank with my hand, where it was skimming the surface first.
It was then layered together for Pearl’s cast.

For the loop, I ended up using the recording of the thicker and bigger bubbles that I got from using a hydrophone. It helped making the big bubble seem like it was going to explode at any time.

The explosion was made by recording the plunge of big rocks thrown into a lake, then layering in another sound of water going down a drain. Since there was bubbles popping at the end of the skill, I used some of the bubble sounds I had made by blowing into a straw. This sound was also used for all the other characters.

This is where something dramatic happened.
When it came to Brann’s way of casting his ability, I wanted the shield to be very prominent here.
I went to a junkyard and found a large metal plate, large enough that it reached my neck. When I moved it, it made a clicking sound that I really liked.
It also made a great big roar when I hit it with a hammer.
When I spun the plate around (like how you move a tire to a car) the sounds I was getting were too slow, so like an idiot, I decided to go faster. I then suddenly felt something weird with my index finger and had a look.
At one part of the plate, there was a sharp edge that I hadn’t notice before, that edge had cut through the working gloves and into my index finger. I was bleeding pretty badly and had to go the emergency room and get stiches.
The doctor told me that had I not worn gloves, I would most likely have lost my finger.
However, I was undeterred, and went back two days after and finished the recording (with just one hand).

I then used some previous recordings I had done for Master of Arms (another character), of me hitting a stretched out slinky. This was so I could get a laser like sound, I processed the sound with some chorus effects to get a bigger laser sound.
As the tail of the sound, I used a recording of female laughter.

I layered it together with the laser sound and the roar of the metallic plate, being the casting of the ability. And then I used the laughter and the metallic clicking as the trail of the sound.

The only additional sound I put in for the explosion, was some female wailings being the trail, else it was the same sound as I had made for Pearl.

I spent a day at a farm close by, to record all the animals the farmer had.
One of the animals was a big fat pig.
It would constantly screech, grunt and be...well, a pig!
I have always found pig screams to be very unsettling, and I would use that, combined with my own scream, to make the more sinister part of Shadian’s cast sound.
I added in some porridge sound at the beginning and trailed the sound off with bubbles I had reversed (more of this later).

By using the sound of a rock plunging into water and then processing that, so it sounds like a laser beam, I had the initial sound of the bubble exploding. I also reused the same bubble trail I had created for Pearl.
To give it that chaotic sinister feel, I used another scream I had recorded earlier, it was overly pitched, reversed and had lots of dark reverb added to it.


Ability 3: Soothing Presence

Bubbles rise from the hero and on activation, heals everyone close to the hero.

This one had a very simple design, for the loop that would be on all the characters, I used just regular water bubbles, I made sure it could be heard but it was not overly annoying in the long run.

The cast sound for Pearl was a combination of one of the previously created synth sound, some library sounds to give it more body, and water being gently poured into a plastic cup.

The last sound that was made was for the animation, I used the loudest bubble sound I had, and tried my best to synch the bubble popping with the animation. I ended up using variation of this on the other characters as well.

I recorded a power drill that I pitched down, and then added the roar I had previously recorded from the metal plate that nearly nommed off my finger. I used a ring-modulator on the reverb of the roar, and included an additional sound from a soundlib to give it trail.

By recording the sound of metal chimes, and reversing the audio, then adding a reverb plugin, I had the “healing” sound down for Brann. The final thing I added was the previously made bubble sound but I pitched it slightly down.


For Shadian’s cast sound, I recorded myself breathing closely to the microphone, I then pitched it way down, Eq’ed the sound so only the mid frequency was there and then I attached a reverb to it. I took some of the sounds I had recorded of the porridge bubbles and reversed them,
Then, I used a failed audio I had from before when I designed the audio for a character known as Solstice.
The audio was an explosion that was reversed and pitched higher, it also had a phasing filter attached to it, so it made sort of implosion sound. It was intended for Solstice’s third ability, but it just didn’t fit.

I added the sound of me squeezing porridge with my hands for the healing sound.
As the bubbles pop, that gave it a great filthy quality this oil-bender needed.

Ability 4: Preservation

A giant bubble envelop the hero and its allies, it pushes any enemies that are close to the hero away, the bubble stays for a while but then it pops.

I used a synthesized sound made to sound like a bubble, and reversed it. Then I attached the same sound without the reverse at the very end of the previous sound, so that it sounded like the bubble was being blown up. I then used three different takes I had done previously of water going down a drain.
I layered the rest of the sound with most of the analog anime-like sounds I had previously created, and also put in some sounds I had from a soundlib to just give it extra structure.

As for the loop, I simply just used rapid bubble sounds I had made by blowing into a straw; this was also a hydrophone recording, since I wanted it to sound like the characters were sort of underwater.

The last sound I made for Pearl was the sound of the gigantic bubble popping. It is nothing more than simply a bubble popping with lots of reverb. Simple, but so powerful.

I used some recordings of whispers on the cast sound for Brann.

I shaved off all the high frequency sounds from a car starting, so only the mid and low frequency could be heard. I then used the same laser like sound I had made for ability 2, and just pitched it differently. Also, at the very beginning of the audio, added in a tremolo effect. Then I finished by adding in a synthesized bass sound that would drown out the laser trailing off.

The loop was made by using overly pitched whispers and the sound of a car engine idling. This was also pitched down.


For Shadian, I used lots of bubble sounds that were recorded previously.
I also used a bullroarer, cloth ripping, distorted guitar and a gunshot that was extremely processed to be beyond recognition. At the very end, I used laughter where most of the high and some of mid frequencies were cut away. This helped give Shadian the feel that he was a victim to something evil that held its grip around him, it being more prominent at the apex of Shadian’s power.

Now for the reverse bubble thing I talked earlier about. If you reverse the sound of bubbles, you get a really weird sound. It is almost comical and I thought it would work perfectly for him.
Humor is one of the most human aspects we have, so I decided to use something that sounded strange, nigh comical but also disturbing, to give him some humanity. At the very end, I layered in the sound of mud being poured, to give it a slimy sort of feel.

Additional sounds:

Brann has a lot of leather on him, a backpack filled with stuff, and of course, his shield.
I recorded lots of leather and added in some pans banging together and other junk, for his movements.

Shadian needed to have a dark slimy sound for his movements, being the “oil” that drips from his body. I used again some of the porridge recordings, and also added in a drone sound that I made by recording the fans of my computer, and then processing them to sound like they were pulsating in a high-mid frequency.


I loved doing the sounds for Pearl and her two other characters. I nearly lost a finger, but in the end, I had a lot of fun.

You should check out her spotlight video for more information about the character!


  1. It's back!!!!!!!!!! O(≧∇≦)O

  2. Glad to see you're posting again Soundwizard. Your work in HoN is one of the main reasons I continue to enjoy the game to this day (been playing since 2009.)

    The amount of thought you put into grounding the sounds in the lore are really appreciated by me and many others. It might not be something we can pinpoint, but it always "feels" right, and it is one of the main reasons the game feels so much more awesome in the middle of team fights an similar MOBAs.

    I hope you continue your awesome work, and please, do keep posting. It's always a pleasure to read.

  3. Wow dude, SoundWizard, you are awesome! Keep up the good work!! I'm gonna buy this character in support of your work! Do keep up the postings because, tbh, i never listened too deeply into the attacks and abilities, but THERE IS SO MUCH WORK IN THERE! Keep it up SoundWizard!!