Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption Designer Diary #5 - The Sounds of Corruption

Audio director Frank Klepacki talks about coming up with whole new corruptive sound effects for the expansion to Star Wars: Empire at War.


It's safe to say that you know what Darth Vader sounds like, though the challenge for Petroglyph audio director Frank Klepacki is to re-create that sound, as well as to create many new ones for Star Wars: Empire at War: Forces of Corruption, the upcoming expansion pack to this year's excellent real-time strategy game. Empire at War gave you direct control over the armies and fleets of the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire as you fought the famous Galactic Civil War your own way. In Forces of Corruption, the new Zann Consortium criminal faction is being added--and you'll use this faction's corruption and guile to defeat the militarily superior forces of the Rebels and the Imperials. Klepacki's challenge was to create sound effects, music, and dialogue that would fit right into the famous Star Wars universe. And he explains this process in the latest designer diary. Forces of Corruption ships later this year.

What does a charging rancor sound like? Find out in Forces of Corruption. Also, find out how to stop a charging rancor.
What does a charging rancor sound like? Find out in Forces of Corruption. Also, find out how to stop a charging rancor.

The Sounds of Corruption

By Frank Klepacki
Audio Director, Petroglyph

With Empire at War behind us, and a grand sense of accomplishment, we wasted no time in moving forward on the expansion. The idea of creating a faction based on the criminal element of Star Wars was really exciting. How they would fight in the game would be very different from both the Rebellion and Empire, and the game's sound needed to reflect that.

There were several general audio elements we needed to create. For example, when you corrupt worlds, a yellowish smog effect engulfs the planets. So the sound I felt would suit this was like an ominous gas being released. The new abilities of our heroes have distinct sounds as well, such as Tyber Zann and Urai Fen's ability to cloak. In addition, we wanted the Underworld interface to be noticeably different from the others, so we came up with a male droid, almost like EV9D9, with a touch of something foreign about him.

Weapons for the Zann Consortium provided a new challenge as well. Their weapons are modified from traditional Star Wars lasers so that they sound at least a little different, without straying too much from the original signature sounds. But the most distinct weapon sound comes with Underworld hero Silri, a Force-using Nightsister. She has a lightsaber whip, and it was a blast creating a new twist on the lightsaber sound for it. Because it flails around quickly and snaps into place when it cracks, I used faster swinging sounds that I ran through a vocoder effect, and used a bit of a higher pitch then conventional lightsabers to emphasize speed. The cracks from it were a combination of the original lightsaber clashing sounds and real whip cracks that were also run though a slight vocoder. It is definitely distinct enough from a regular lightsaber, so you will know when it's Silri who's attacking. She also has the fierce ability to summon Rancors out of the ground, which was a nice rumbling creepy sound to come up with.

IG-88 was another fun hero to liven up with audio. His contamination and infection abilities are quite ruthless. When he sprays the battlefield, enemy troops cough and choke to death. When he contaminates an area of space, it's the equivalent of what Captain Antilles did to weaken enemies, only more brutal.

But I think the biggest, most over-the-top sounds in the game have to be from the orbital bombardments and the Death Star II firing. Nothing says satisfaction then hearing the loudest explosions and super weapons at work!

In space, no one can here you scream, but they can hear the glorious sounds of battle.
In space, no one can here you scream, but they can hear the glorious sounds of battle.

We knew we wanted Tyber Zann, who is our main character, to sound intelligent and arrogant but not too sinister. Casting the voice actor for him was difficult, because I really wanted to avoid the typical raspy low voices often associated with villains in games. Will Beckman, the voice director at LucasArts, sorted though several auditions until we finally found the perfect sound in the voice of actor Jake Eberle.

Urai Fen, played by David Anthony Pizzuto, quickly became one of my favorites in the game with his deep and slightly growling tone. As an extremely old and wise alien creature, he really feels like a fresh addition to the Star Wars universe. Kari Wahlgren as Silri was spot on with the natural blend of sexy and psycho tones to her voice, adding to her character the feeling she was a raging loose cannon. Anime fans will love to know that Steven Blum is the voice of one of the fan favorites in the game, the Defiler.

I, myself, had the flattering pleasure of being formally cast by LucasArts as a few of the characters in the game. In particular, IG-88! I based his tone of voice from the Droids DVD, but made it more believable with the metallic processing. I really wanted him to be an unfeeling, calculating, and all-business type of personality who has no concern for human life in battle. Other characters that I had fun voicing were the ewok handler, a host of alien grunts for the one and only Bossk, and for the almighty Jabba, where I had to speak fluent Huttese.

I was so happy to see Darth Vader's Executor ship in the game, that I immediately made the responses to be like Vader and Imperial officers having conversations while on board, and having Vader get "displeased" when they take too much damage. There is so much dialogue in this game it may as well be a sequel! Once again, Will was instrumental in helping us finalize our script and getting great performances with the actors while on a tight schedule. Everyone in LucasArts audio and the localization department are fantastic people to work with.

Forces of Corruption will lumber toward store shelves later this year.
Forces of Corruption will lumber toward store shelves later this year.

With an expansion comes the opportunity to do new scores to accompany the new faction. I started this process by composing ideas for the main theme of the Zann Consortium. While several ideas were written, none of them were hooking me enough, until after a week or so, I finally wrote a main melody that I was satisfied with that captured what I felt their personality should sound like. I wanted to use a nice choir on their main piece that doubles the brass parts to sound really bold, and have the strings come in to indicate more of the sneakiness to their side. Then, rather than totally scrap my past attempts, I instead integrated those ideas into my new battle themes.

I wrote six new themes for the expansion, mainly heard at the main menu, galactic mode, and a few new battle themes. Not to mention the finale of winning the campaign, which gave everyone around the office goose bumps. And so another audio chapter closes in the Star Wars galaxy, of which I am again ever grateful to have been part of.

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