A Quick Look At Marvel's Spiderman's Nuanced Audio Choices
I've recently been playing the new Spiderman videogame on the Playstation 4, and it's an absolute treat. I could get into all of the details about how great the game visually looks, how polished the gameplay is and how Yuri Lowenthall was a fantastic casting choice to voice the role of Peter Parker/Spiderman. But instead, I want to talk about something I noticed while playing and listening to the game extensively and it's really interesting.
Spiderman is a superhero character who has most (if not, all) of the abilities of a spider. His most characteristic ability is to shoot webs from his wrists which can be used in a great manner of applications such as sticking objects, restraining bad guys, and most notably, swinging the the streets of Manhattan! Now, the game has a dialogue system, as most games do nowadays where Spiderman can be talking either to himself, or he could be contacting someone on his radio. Spiderman talks a lot. It's part of his charm! However when playing the game there are generally two "player states" that will be come across. A state where Spiderman ("player") is relaxed or still, and another state where the player is moving, running, fighting or doing something that would exert some energy from the character.
Most of the time while playing I was swinging through buildings getting from point A to point B and I would listen to Spiderman speak and he wouldn't sound out of place. He sounds like he's exerting some sort of force or energy in the way his voice and delivery sounds. However, on the way to point B, I died and got a game over and respawned back to my last checkpoint. The dialogue had started again, but at this point I was stationary and Spiderman sounded different. He sounded a lot more relaxed and didn't sound like he was swinging through buildings. I thought that was interesting and thought about how that might've been coded.
I wasn't able to procure a capture card to record my findings so I searched online, and found footage from Kirk Hamilton of Kotaku showing exactly what I had found.
In both tweets, Hamilton shows examples of this neat little trick at work. It even works mid-dialogue as well. So if Spiderman says one line while exerting force, and then the other character says something, and then Spiderman says the next line after he's stopped exerting force, the vocal takes change. That's a very clever trick on Insomniac Game's part and while reading through the tweet thread, Jon Paquette, the leader writer on the game confirms this, saying:
"Programmers exposed a variable to Wwise allowing the game to switch between dialogue assets, depending on the player state." (Jon Paquette, 2018)
Essentially, all of Spiderman's dialogue that you hear whilst roaming the open-world was recorded twice! A relaxed take and an excited take. (Paquette, 2018). Alex Previty, the audio designer for the game touches upon this further saying that this trick only works on a "per-line basis" rather than something that can be done "mid-read", and that getting that set up would've made it difficult to get a natural sound down properly. (Previty, 2018)
I keep saying it's a neat little trick, but it seems like it's something that's so...obvious to do. Yet, I can't think of a game that's done something like this before, and I have to give Insomniac Games and the audio team a lot of credit for incorporating an idea like this with Wwise!