Feature

Beyond Brown Notes – The Sounds Of South Park

by Kyle Hilliard on Oct 24, 2016 at 09:20 AM

The children of South Park have changed their game for The Fractured But Whole, and the soundtrack has changed along with it. Whereas Stick of Truth looked to games like Skyrim and the soundtracks of the Lord of the Rings films, Fractured But Whole is looking toward the super hero genre. It is also expanding how much music and how many sound effects are part of the game by a huge degree.

Nicholas Bonardi is the lead audio designer for South Park: The Fractured But Whole, leading a team that works closely with long time South Park composer, Jamie Dunlap, to craft the sound of the game. For Stick of Truth, Obsidian mostly pulled music directly from the show, and worked with Dunlap to fill in the gap. Here Dunlap, as well as Bonardi and the rest of the sound team, are crafting more original sound.

“He knows what South Park sounds like,” Bonardi says of Dunlap. “He’s been working with them for so long that he has a large degree of trust with them and thankfully, we’ve earned their trust early on.” Bonardi said that early on he also pieced together music from the show to soundtrack the game, but Nonardi works so fast, so it’s often just better to request original music from him. “Living in the digital age is what allows South Park to make its stuff so quickly,” Bonardi says. “Jaimie [Dunlap]’s used to getting his stuff at like 2:00 in the morning on a Saturday when the show releases on Wednesday, so he needs to get them the music by Tuesday night. He’s got literally no time to do it.” Dunlap works from his home-based music studio in L.A., but the magic of the digital age allows him to turn around music very quickly. “The quality of what he gives us sounds very much like an orchestra right off the bat. Usually, we can just run with it without a lot of back and forth.” Bonardi and his team are also composing music for the game, but Dunlap takes a listen to everything giving it the South Park thumbs up.

The super hero movie references are very clear, and you will hear all kinds of music inspiration from super hero films, despite the main Civil War narrative baseline. Avengers-style music is an obvious inclusion, but so is inspiration from the X-Men films, and Batman. “Superman – sort of,” Bonardi says. “The good parts of it. But also some more retro stuff, like Batman Returns.” Both The Coon and Mysterion’s soundtrack are heavily inspired by Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight film trilogy, but Coon’s group, coon and Friends, borrows more from The Avengers. Mysterion’s group, Freedom Pals, are more inspired the sound of the X-Men films, partly due to Timmy’s role as an Xavier-type.

Outside of the protagonist children, the town’s assorted factions have their own soundtracks, as well. One of the more interesting pieces of music we got to hear belonged to the Vamp Kids, which offers a clear auditory reference to Castlevania and that distinct Konami brand of rock.

Where the music is mostly on Dunlap’s court, the game’s sound effects are handled almost entirely by Ubisoft. Much of the show’s sound effects come from cheap sound effect albums, which adds a level of cheapo humor to the show’s audio design. The team has access to all the show’s iconic sounds, like doors, the school bell, and the vocalized cat meows, but Ubisoft is handling one of the game’s most important sound effects – the farts.

The studio Bonardi and his team use to record sound has a corner dedicated to fart sounds, with plungers, a Vuvuzela (which Bonardi admits he’s not really sure what that was used for), as well as a jar of Flarp Noise Putty.

A lot of the fart sound effects on the show are simply down to the skilled voice work of Matt and Trey, but Bonardi and his team needed to come up with a much larger library for the games myriad sounds. "In a game like this, there's a point where you end up with farts on everything," Bonardi says. "And you go, 'Oh man. There are too many farts. Everything farts.' We have to work on really getting different qualities into these farts, to the point where you're focusing on these powers, but it has a quality of a fart to it." Bonardi describes the protagonist joining with Kyle (A.K.A. Human Kite) for his fart-kour power. "If you just have a regular fart through the whole thing, then you're just farting all the time. We mixed it so it's kind of like a jet engine in there. We layered it to the point where it's more jet engine, but it is still gated by this farty quality."

Trey and Matt were presented with tons of different sounds going down the list saying which ones they liked and didn’t like, which gave a Ubisoft a good idea of what they liked and what kind of fart sounds they should focus on. For all of its focus on farts, however, Bonardi assures no real farts were recorded for the game. "I can say, pretty much flat out – no."

"You wouldn't think you would have this much direction in something as simple as a fart," Bonardi says. When asked how many fart sounds his team has recorded Bonardi says, "I actually do not know how big the library is now. It’s tempting to put a number on it. I am going to say it's definitely more than 100."

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