Teardown is a voxel based heist/destruction game developed and published by Tuxedo Labs. Currently available in early access on Steam.
Into the Groove
I’ve worked with Dennis Gustafsson and Emil Bengtsson, who are the founders of Tuxedo Labs, for many years now. It started with the mobile game studio Mediocre, which Dennis founded with Henrik Johansson in 2010. I made the music and sound design for all of their games, and we’ve had a great time working together over the years and they’ve all become great friends of mine too.
Dennis started working on a new PC based physics engine in 2018, and after a few game iterations he and Emil started working on Teardown in 2019. I joined in briefly in November the same year with a few music drafts, and then joined full time in February 2020. The first priority was the sound design, and there was lots of it needed. The main thing that differs from other games when it comes to the sound design is the fact that we didn’t create sounds for different objects, but rather just the materials the objects are made of. That’s because everything is made out of voxels (3D pixels if you will, or just little cubes) and not polygon based 3D models of specific objects the way it works in most games, and game engines. The Teardown engine isn’t aware that for example a chair is a chair, just that it’s made out of wood, and how big it is.
There’s 7 materials in the game engine – wood, metal, glass, plastic, masonry, foliage and dirt. (There’s water in the game too, but it isn’t volumetric, and it isn’t made out of voxels.) For the different categories I created hit- and break sounds, in 3 different sizes and multiple variations of each size. I also created slide sounds for each material, in three different sizes, and looping squeak sounds where applicable (metal and wood), used for joints that can be created in the engine, for example door hinges, planks that have been nailed together, jointed metal pipes etc. (This isn’t used much in the early access version that was released on October 29th 2020, but will be implemented in the future.)
I also recorded foley for each material (footsteps, jumps and landing sounds) with my friend Mathias Schlegel who is a brilliant sound engineer and sound designer. He has a really nice studio with a foley pit, pretty close to mine. We had a great day and a half in May 2020, where I walked, ran and jumped on planks, dirt, sand, leaves, metal shelves and more for hours and hours… We got great results, and it’s a nice touch to have your own custom recorded foley in a game.
Leaves and sticks for the foliage sounds
Various planks were needed to get the wood sounds right
Next up were the vehicle sounds. There’s around 40 vehicles in the game and most of them have a unique set of sounds. The ones that we re-used sounds for are for example some of the SUV:s, jeeps and a few forklifts. (Some of them have the same vox models but different colors or paints.) In those cases we often shifted the pitch slightly to give them a little bit of variation.
The system used for vehicles is relatively simple (actually VERY simple compared to the implementation of vehicle sounds in racing games) but it works to our advantage. I suppose you can say we went for character and realistic SOUNDS but not always realistic BEHAVIORS of the vehicles. In, for example, a racing game it’s extremely important to have the RPM:s of the engine match the speed your driving, and to have the right under- and overtones for gear changes and not just adjusting the pitch of a constant engine loop. However, the results of that kind of sound design is sometimes a bit TOO clean and digital sounding. Teardown is a game where EVERYTHING breaks all the time, and everything has a blocky look (although I have to say the vehicles look surprisingly realistic from afar, given the brilliant voxel modeling done by Niklas Mäckle and Dennis’s ray tracing) , so in our case it fits way better to have realistic – almost naturalistic at times – vehicle sounds, with lots of revving for the race cars, compressors hissing, gear changes here and there, squeaks, sudden fluttering from engines of the work vehicles and so on. It brings the blocky vehicles to life. And the way you usually use them in the game is driving a short stretch, turning left, backing up, turning right, accidentally crashing into a wall etc. So the realism of tracking RPM:s and gear changes wouldn’t add much. Instead we added things like brake squeaks, tire screech, gravel sounds, a reverse layer, reverse beep for some of the work vehicles and suspension bounce. You can actually walk up to a car that has “loose” suspension, for example one of the old 50:s American cars, grab it, wiggle it about and hear the suspension working, which is a detail that I love. I also made sure that the metal and glass categories of hit- and break sounds fit the vehicles, as crashing into stuff and breaking them is such a big part of the driving experience in Teardown.
Each vehicle has an ignition sound, an idle loop (about 10-20 seconds long), a drive loop (about 10-40 seconds long) and a turn-off engine sound. The ignition- and turn-off sounds are made to fit seamlessly with the idle sound, and they crossfade for a tiny bit. But they also need to work with the drive sound, which fortunately they often did most of the times, given that I had used recordings with the same microphone positions for all the sounds of one vehicle. At a few instances I had to fiddle a bit with them, exaggerating the treble and volume for example, as the engine turn-offs are quite short and sometimes very subtle engine wind-down sounds.
A view of the test level that I set up for the vehicles in the editor
I spent quite some time auditioning vehicle sounds. Even the best sound libraries in the world sometimes don’t have the exact type of sound you’re looking for… in which case recording them yourself might be the answer but that wasn’t really an option for me. (To be clear: finding 40 some vehicles including sports cars, old tractors and excavators, finding drivers, a secluded place to record everything and strapping recording gear onto the engine block of a race car going in 150 mph wasn’t an option for me.) What I needed were really close miked sounds from near the engine compartment (and sometimes the muffler) which is easy to find when it comes to ignition-, idle- and engine turn-off sounds, but not so much when it comes to the kind of varied and sonically interesting driving sounds we were after. I did manage to find great recordings in the end but I had to scrap a few great sets of vehicles as I couldn’t create drive loops that were good enough. As mentioned above, what we found out to work the best for us, were drive loops with quite a lot of character – revving, gear changes and other things that made the vehicles come alive. I found that it was harder to achieve for faster vehicles than for slow ones. The starting point of the loop needs to sound as you’re actually starting up the vehicle, but it also needs to work again when it loops. We use pitch that is controlled by the velocity of the vehicle which masks it relatively well. It will obviously be noticeable for some people if you’re driving in a straight line for a long time, but that doesn’t happen too often in the game, so we were willing to sacrifice that at the altar of naturalistic, sometimes quirky, character.
After some experimentation, I learnt how to edit the drive sounds – where it was possible to cut, crossfade, pitch bend, and how to make the loop point believable even if you’re driving relatively fast when it occurs. Editing engine sounds with gear shifts and revs is pretty similar to editing a recording of an acoustic instrument. It’s easily detected for anyone when something’s wrong, but if you put some time into it, you can make even quite radical cuts pretty believable. I noticed that long streaks of steady RPM:s made it too static, even for the back-and-forth kind of driving you do most of the time in Teardown, so I edited the drive loops in a way that made them dynamic and interesting.
Creating a decent mono signal for the vehicles was a bit of work, since I used vehicle sounds from different sound libraries (although most of them come from the Odyssey Collection by Mark Mangini & Richard L. Anderson, which is great). Many of the recordings were stereo. Some were narrow enough that I could sum them into mono without any problems, but some were so wide that they rendered phase issues. In some cases they were stereo files, but left channel was on the engine block and the right channel on the muffler/exhaust pipe, in which case they were far apart enough to work both as separate files, or mixed together nicely in different manners, which ever sound I wanted to accentuate. I made different choices for almost all vehicles, as they vary so much and I wanted it to be relatively cohesive, even though some are MUCH louder than others in reality. It took lots of EQ-ing and in a few cases some enveloping or de-reverb (iZotope RX is every sound designer best friend) to make up for different mike positions and such.
I also created a couple of sets of different gear shift sounds (used for switching between drive and revere, not actually shifting gears manually) I categorized them as vintage (the old tractor, the classic 50’s cars), modern (sports cars, small cars), heavy (trucks, forklifts, excavators) and generic (the rest of them) but it didn’t make a big enough difference to be implemented in the early access, so we went for one and the same sound for all of them. It might come later though.
A couple of vehicles from the Lee Chemicals map
A couple of weeks before the early access release I started creating sounds for the different boats. Dennis had used my muscle car sounds as a temp sound for all boats during development and it had kind of worked well enough that I hadn’t prioritized it… And we were pretty late in the development process when all the boats were actually settled on. Again, the fast one – the speed boat – was the hardest one to get right. For the big fishing boat and the small outboard boat I found really characteristic and quirky sounds, so they were a lot easier.
LCN News host Catlyn Sandstream
I had a lot of fun creating the sounds for the TV in the home base of Löckelle Teardown Services. Like, a WHOLE LOT of fun.
The local news show LCN News is always blaring out of your big old TV in Teardown. There’s a female news anchor in the studio and a male reporter who is out in the field. Emil and Dennis wanted them to speak jibberish, but in the tone of generic TV news. My first attempts were leaning a little bit towards eastern european with a few hints of Spanish and Portugese. I was asked to make it more Scandinavian sounding. I made some changes to the most slavic sounding words and recorded it again with an unmistakably Swedish accent (not the Swedish Chef kind, rather the kind of strict, unnatural, middle of the road accent they use on Swedish public TV news). I will shamefully admit that I laughed out loud when I wrote the script for the reporter… I’m well aware that it’s not objectively funny though, it probably only is if you’re Swedish and a fan of dadaist poetry. So that makes 37 of us. An excerpt of the script below:
Kabinetteh därav strålbark, visom treva. Mino treskam flygvända uppsåtan, juli hostel inskrakas i någen parkase. Kommandora förrän stupjärn, upp le vilosäten vändspark. Skyndsaka aktningen on dess framgent turligen hjorthavre. Passoten föll i dova, visom ärrades om disas någonsant, eftir solu salom kundava. Planerist våndskjuta till noms kullbo-lager. Undom kullbo-dagars skänkmån. Haveriplane vårdome visom allmaka tillskänkta, föll i fredsliget mansdrivet undboflygel. Masthuga bivosam erkane undplana, vel pos orata uppsåtan balini. Kun lo vilosäten persko, framdrevet mosta trindor. Kanom belstavade, undiro venkla virosmyr, panle gunoda lenkas delom skyndsaka. Buvodan vilosänket kan dess oftakes vänsla. Oftakes trinidor kullbo-lager jordanas vasko. Dunbara undskoga fel nos tillskrava anoshte jedos. Tyllvarligen gunstakade in moss tursambliver. Undfoll gunstakade borrlagar. Hovdagrar mosta drimino askun squandor. Spenagare villkorlo hostel skärmflana pol des verksbode undi lenkas pilstaga. Kaduro skyndsaka pu don logo, terja gullmovaldes rytkbanor vides fyndvarpa. Persko trini samkvala golvmässig undlygel, revi revi gunoda trapa. Åvalgånges medes strevkane, orata driveds-skalpat, pyn der tufateh limonite. Menkidor tjänstesektan pen ju konstflydel, ara werdoman visom stupjärns-flybel. Aktsagandes målriktningars molgana tufateh logo.
On a more serious note, I made sure to form sentences that actually feel like they could be real. The amount of words, varying long and short words, the punctuation and repeating certain words as if though they actually mean something. And putting in a few real words here and there just for the heck of it.
I used Sound Toys AlterBoy to change the pitch and the formants for the male and female voices. I then added a rather loud layer of static, and then put it all through a transistor radio speaker in Logic’s Space Designer to get that exaggerated, old crappy TV-effect. This goes for all the sound that comes through the TV – the news jingles, the TV shows and the commercial. Level designer Olle Lundahl was of great help with the implementation, and cheering on my stupid little tv commercial jingles…
Things are going exactly as planned at Lee Chemical
Causing a Commotion
The tools section of the sound design was pretty straight forward. I’m not much of a weapon nerd, and neither are the rest of the team, so I just went for sounds that I liked sonically. A Benelli M4 for the shotgun and a Colt M1911 for the gun. I found really good, dry recordings which I tightened up a bit, I wanted as short tails as possible, as the acoustics are simulated, so you get nice, clean reverb tails when you use your weapons indoors.
I recorded subtle little sounds for things like grabbing objects, throwing objects, swinging the sledge and attaching/detaching planks. Sounds that need to be quiet, subtle and varied as you’ll hear them so much.
Explosion were made much in the same fashion as the physical sounds – 3 sizes, and a bunch of variations of all of them.
Ring my bell
When you set of the alarm in any of the missions and the 1 minute countdown starts, a cacophony of alarm sounds (and really intense music) starts playing. We use a combination of place specific alarm sound throughout the map, and a stereo loop with a sequence of different alarm sounds that are treated to sound as if though they’re coming from a little bit further away, and spread across the stereo spectrum. This works because of the fact that the player will always be moving around as fast as possible, driving cars, blowing stuff up, really focused on the heist. But if you were to actually just stand still at a certain place during the heist, turn off the music and don’t do anything at all, it would probably sound strange. So it’s a bit of a cheap trick, but it works. We use all kind of alarm sounds possible, old bell fire alarms, war klaxons, car alarms and other digital alarms. Not the most realistic approach, but the main idea is to tell the player to HURRY UP, THEY’RE COMING FOR YOU, YOU’D BETTER GET OUT OF HERE FAST!!!
The UI sounds for the main menu and the terminal in the hub came late in the process. Dennis and I sat together at his place for half a day or so, and I basically dotted midi notes into Logic on my laptop. I used EFM1, which creates pretty gnarly FM sounds, Retro Synth which is may goto soft synth for pretty much everything and Klopfgeist, which is the simplest little click-tick-tock synth ever, but really useful. Arpeggiator and Note Repeater on really high speeds were used a lot, and lots of fourth- and fifth intervals. We had place holder sounds for everything (unused sounds that I made for Smash Hit) and many of them had the right timing and function so I used them as blueprints.
In some cases, sitting in my studio for days and days and fiddling with little details on sounds is the way to go, but in other cases it can be very inspiring and efficient sitting together with your team member/lead and just doing really fast iteration. Finding out what gets the job done and not theorizing too much about it.
Another beautiful day at Villa Gordon
Ray of light
A nice little detail that many people might not have noticed in Teardown is place specific sounds for things like fluorescent lights, soda machines, Xerox machines, the big machines in the factory in Lee and a few other things. It’s set up in the way that everything that has a light can have a sound attached to it, and the sound will end abruptly with a spark noise if the light is broken. This creates subtle sense of real-ness, when you’re walking around the Lee factory for example, and a brute kind of interactivity when you hammer the front panel of a machine to pieces and it goes quiet. I recorded buzz and hiss from my guitar amp, my Philicorda organ and my fridge among other things.
The technically most astounding thing about the sound design in Teardown is the simulation of acoustics. And it’s also something I can’t take any credit for whatsoever since it’s all Dennis’s magic at work. I couldn’t explain it in detail even if I wanted to, but very simplified; he created a custom kind of ray tracing that’s done on the CPU rather than the GPU (as that kind of raytracing is built for triangles and not voxels) and it is used not just to create beautiful and realistic lighting for everything in the game, but also for acoustics. When you’re in a room, it’s volume is measured and the appropriate amount of early reflections (and for bigger rooms a reverb tail) is played. It also takes in to account what material the room is built in, so for example, wood makes for a more damped sound than masonry. Perhaps Dennis will write a post about this at https://blog.tuxedolabs.com in the future, so make sure to bookmark. By the way, a nice little unplanned feature that happens because of the ray tracing of indoor acoustics is that on missions where it’s raining – where we add a wet layer to the footsteps of whichever material you’re walking on – the wet layer stays on for a few seconds when you walk indoors while the calculation is made, which gives the impression that it takes a few steps for your shoes to dry.
I should also mention that Emil created quite a few placeholder sounds for scripts and things he created, and in many cases I didn’t replace them as there really wasn’t anything to improve. The benefit of working with multi-talented team members.
Where’s the party?
Teardown is the most challenging and fun project I’ve been involved in to date, and it’s not over yet. The game will be in early access for about a year and even when the full version is out, we all see ourselves maintaining it after that and there’s already a big community of players, speed-runners, modders and voxel artists who are contributing to making it more than just a game. I’m really looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Ferris wheel created by TroubledSalmon