The Beat

simcity_news_header_723x250.jpg POSTED BY EA Staff ON 10/30/2012

The Sounds of Nonsense: Recording Simlish

Hi there! I’m Kadet Kuhne and I want to share a glimpse of the casting, recording and implementation process forSimCity. I was hired onto the sound team at Maxis as a Voice Director and Sound Designer, and it has been a blast and truly an honor to work with such a talented team of artists on this awesome iteration of SimCity.

Working under the direction of Audio Director Kent Jolly and Designer Shawn Stone, our goal was to record a vast array of voices according to various archetypes covering residential, commercial, and industrial domains. These include residents, professionals, business persons, government employees, foremen, blue collar workers, barons, high tech bosses, and police and fire department workers, just to name a few. To start our recording session, I sent our character wish list along with audio samples, written Simlish examples, and audition instructions to EA’s internal service that sends out casting calls to voice talent agencies, and within days, I received plenty of options to sift through.

One fascinating aspect of casting for SimCity was listening to hundreds of auditions in Simlish (the fictional, needs-based Sims language originally developed through experimentation with fractured Ukrainian, French, Latin, Finnish, English, Fijian and Tagalog) while, at the same time, seeking nuanced performances according to character type, age, occupation, and emotion. Unique from previous incarnations of Simlish, our aim was to also include accents exemplifying various countries, though by no means representative of all. The timbre of the talents’ voices along with notable acting and recording experience was substantial enough to successfully illustrate the characters I was seeking to cast with my final candidates.

Recording at EA in Redwood City was a highlight of the process. With two rounds of sessions covering multiple days along with Engineers Miik Dinko and Christopher Davidson and the diverse stream of talent, there was no shortage of determined focus and humorous outtakes. For each character we recorded four emotional deliveries - happy, neutral, angry and sad - at three different lengths covering a range of 1-6 second sound bites. In SimCity,the Sims are viewed from an aerial perspective, so the greatest challenge for the talent was projecting their voices loudly while simultaneously conveying the intended emotion and accent or tone of their character. We captured thousands of takes for the missions they send you on. We also recorded plenty of wild sounds for use in the game that cover events like Sims arriving at home, PA announcements at work, and reactionary screams for when disasters strike.

After selecting and editing the best takes, the files were mastered and given a touch of reverb and equalization to set the spatial signature of a cityscape. Then I uploaded each character into “random containers” for each mood and length. When a player clicks on a character’s speech bubble in game, the appropriate group of samples is chosen by the software to match the text, and different takes are heard each time which increases gameplay variety. There are also female and male versions for every role that gets called up at random by the code - transportation chiefs, auto foreman, coal barons, doctors, teachers, bus drivers, city advisors, police chiefs and so many more populate the vast world of SimCity.

After months of playing SimCity through many stages of development, it is such a thrill to see the characters come to life with their unique and expressive voices. The directives and opinions of the Sims given to players in the text based speech bubbles are now effectively personalized with the emotive tonality of the characters speaking. Plus, there are tons of opportunities to hear these characters move about your city that we are loading in daily, such as greeting you upon clicking on them as they walk down the street or hearing them call out a goodbye to their co-workers after a long day at the factory. Check out the posted example to get an idea of how your city will be filled with distinct voices from various walks of life!

SimCity Coal Baron Simlish:

SimCity Fire Chief Simlish:

SimCity Politician Simlish: