A Conversation with Skylanders Swap Force Lead Audio Designer Christian Portwine

A Conversation with Skylanders Swap Force Lead Audio Designer Christian PortwineSkylanders Swap Force is one of a handful of video games that made the jump from current to next-generation consoles last month. Experiencing Swap Force on Xbox One or PlayStation 4 offers more than simply some visual refinements and smooth 1080p visuals. It sounds better, too, and there’s no better person on the planet to talk about that than the game’s lead audio designer at Vicarious Visions, Christian Portwine.

I met Christian back in September during a Skylanders Swap Force media day at Vicarious Visions and sat in his small-ish sound room to learn about how audio was approached for the game. The following q/a is an extension of that wonderful trip in which Christian reflects upon Mesmeralda’s boss battle, workiing with Patrick Warburton to capture Flynn’s voice, and taking Swap Force into the next generation. The shooters may get all the Xbox One and PS4 publicity, but Swap Force is one of the cleanest and smoothest titles available to pop into the new consoles.

Mesmeralda’s Show is considered the big “song” boss fight in Swap Force, much like Drill-X was in Giants. How was the music approached for this sequence, and did the music drive the gameplay or the other way around?

The process was very integrated. We wrote and composed the music working very closely with the level designer and artists. Every change in the words and music helped the artists and designers to define the look and the feel of gameplay. And inversely, when a designer or an artist had an idea that could improve our gameplay we would try to incorporate those changes into the music. This was essential to communicating the dangerous and safe sections of gameplay while also highlighting the personality of Mesmeralda and her minions. It’s an awesome example of many people on the SWAP Force team with different talents all combining to support a single cohesive vision.

You had mentioned previously (during a visit to Vicarious Visions) that Patrick Warburton was extremely dedicated and focused when performing the voice work for Flynn. He’s almost omnipresent in Swap Force from the first scene to the last. Was it a conscious decision to have more Flynn in Swap Force given the positive feedback from fans?

A Conversation with Skylanders Swap Force Lead Audio Designer Christian Portwine

Absolutely! Based on fan feedback we knew that we’d only scratched the surface of Flynn’s personality. His zany booming voice and accident-prone tendencies combined with his honesty of heart is exactly what makes Flynn the perfect partner for adventures throughout the Skylands. We wanted to write a story that gave him opportunities to be really silly, but also to be heroic… even if by accident. Flynn is such a fun, open-minded character to write for and Patrick Warburton’s voice talent is without a doubt inseparable from Flynn’s persona. Even now after three games Patrick has continued to give us a timeless character that kids and adults alike can’t seem to get enough of.

Xbox One and PS4 offer many more development opportunities versus current-gen consoles. The bump up to 1080p is a clear improvement in visuals. Is audio fidelity improved on the Xbox One and PS4 versions as well?

It most certainly is. We are proud to say that next-gen Swap Force audio is higher than CD quality! This is an excellent achievement for a kid’s title and one that I hope will soon become the standard in the industry. It was very important to preserve the core elements of our game across all platforms, but we made sure that players with 5.1 and even 7.1 surround sound systems are truly rewarded for their own investment in audio fidelity.

Our Skylanders (even all the Skylanders from Spyro’s Adventure and Giants) are sharper, cleaner, and feel more powerful than ever. Voices are bright and alive inside of lush audio-rich environments. From the footsteps to the fiery explosions, we were dead set on delivering personality, individuality, and quality in the audio. We knew that kids would play the game over and over again with new characters and thus our music and our ambience is procedurally driven to ensure that the player can never have the same auditory experience twice. When you combine features like this with larger than life, true 1080p visuals, it’s a jaw-dropping experience for both parents and kids.

A Conversation with Skylanders Swap Force Lead Audio Designer Christian Portwine

Are there any other neat little audio tidbits you would like to pass along to our readers and Swap Force players?

  • Washbuckler’s tentacle sound effects were creating using recordings of a sticky suction cup bathmat!
  • Master Eon’s voice is most always in surround sound. We figured any guy whose official title includes the word “master” should also have a pretty sweet voice treatment.

Special thanks to Mr. Portwine, Activision and Step 3 for this opportunity. Skylanders Swap Force for Xbox One and PS4 is now available.

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