The second you hear ADVENT Officers barking out orders, you know you’re in for heavy resistance, Commander. But what are they saying? Eurogamer might have some ideas of their own (Hint: NOT “Toucan Safari”), but we spoke with some of the dev team to gather intel on how – and why – the ADVENT troops sound the way they do.
It started with Creative Director Jake Solomon. “He wanted some kind of vocalization for the ADVENT forces that went beyond the typical grunts and chirps – something more fitting of fascist alien ‘peacekeeping’ forces,” says Scott Wittbecker, the writer for the XCOM games.
Wittbecker has written for a number of Firaxis games since he started there in 2005. But creating ADVENT dialogue was an interesting challenge because, “It was clear right away we weren't going to have the time or resources to try and create an actual language for the aliens.”
TALKING MEANINGFUL NONSENSE
That meant creating gibberish dialogue to capture a sound and tone that conveyed meaning. You need to create something matching the stern, intimidating outward appearance of ADVENT's soldiers. This idea was also lined up nicely with XCOM's emergent narrative, leaving some things open to the player to interpret and frame as part of their own personal stories.
The team started out by looking at various examples of game speak used in other games to get a feel for how these pseudo-languages came together. Wittbecker says, “In both Sid Meier’s SimGolf and Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution, Firaxis used basic babbling to convey leader and advisor emotions, but those were lighthearted and chipper.” ADVENT clearly needed something darker and far more ominous for a group of imposing space fascists. Wittbecker’s solution: “By looking at some of the more common guttural languages, especially German and Dutch, I tried to identify sounds that captured the feeling we really needed.”
In the studio, they recorded initial scratch VO with one of their go-to volunteer actors, Senior Artist Steve Ogden. “Steve helped shape the final sound by experimenting with the gibberish pronunciations that we came up with. In order to convey meaning to the player, we had to rely solely on the tone and delivery of the lines, with things like ‘Halt!’ Or ‘Enemy Spotted!’ coming across with more intensity than say a standard ‘I’m moving’ line. In the process I also tried to establish vocal patterns in each subset of lines to create some cohesion between the otherwise meaningless words the actors were reading.”
In fact, here are some of the actual lines of ADVENT dialogue Scott wrote….and what they sound like, unfiltered.
Line 1 - Vemosi botus!
Line 2 - Helbete betal
Line 3 - Mortan zeilaran!
We had the actors, we had some lines of alien gibberish, but we still needed that distinctive sound. That’s where the audio team came in, creating a filter for the ADVENT voice overs.
THE SOUNDS OF ADVENT
Lead Audio Designer at Firaxis, Christopher D'Ambrosio explains that, “First, we combed through some movies to find a gruff and mechanical sounding voice that still had organic undertones to it. After we got some references, we started tweaking the sound to best fit the game..” He goes on to explain how that process actually works: “We started off with ‘dry’ recordings of the voice actors speaking the ADVENT language. From there, it’s a processing chain with several multi-effect modulation plugins. The bulk of what the player hears is a combination of delay and pitch shifting. The pitch shifting was achieved with Ultra pitch (A Waves audio plugin) while the delay is used to add a robotic feel to further dehumanize the ADVENT and set them apart from their XCOM counterparts.”
D’Ambrosio still had to nail down the perfect sounds from there. “[Audio Designer] Dan Price and I spent an afternoon in his office trying different combinations of effects. We used Sound Forge to batch process portions of the pre-recorded ADVENT VO until we liked what we heard. We really wanted the sound of the ADVENT voices to be recognizable as human derived, but also needed to express massive genetic modification.”
The other directive is that they wanted the voice to scream, “Bad Guy!” It needed to always sound intimidating and threatening. “I think Scott did a great job of creating a base language for the voice actors,” says D’Ambrosio. “A lot of the threatening bad guy feel was achieved by the inflections in the language itself, and the reading by the voice actors. The lines the ADVENT say may be gibberish, but the emotion they convey is spot on and is embellished by our processing chain.”
Those filters gave the dialogue weight and a unique feel, heightening questions about how and why these soldiers look and sound the way they do.
We know what you’re thinking: “Will those filters work on anything?” Well, we asked Sid to give it a try. Here’s how it turned out for him.
In the end, our goal here was to bring ADVENT to life, giving them more personality and attitude than they would have had otherwise. The best part: Our fans obviously had fun trying to figure out what all the yelling was about – so, on that front, mission accomplished!