Having been described as Splatoon meets F-Zero/Wipeout, Trailblazers is a fresh, new co-operative arcade racing game with a world-first on-track game mechanic: Paint the track, boost on your colour and work as a team to win!
Ben Ward, the founder of Supergonk contacted me to design and implement audio for their debut console title, Trailblazers. As we started the project it became apparent to us both that not only was the audio landscape truly integral to the world Ben had envisioned, but the sheer volume of audio required was staggering. As nervous as this made us, we were thrilled at the challenge ahead.
From the start I was tasked with the goal of designing an aesthetic that evoked a great sense of nostalgia for games such as Jet Set Radio (no pressure!), as well as the unique vibes of old school hiphop music. Since the team already had a licensed soundtrack in a genre that we eventually deemed ‘future funk,‘ and the artwork of the game had already begun to take it’s final shape, it wasn’t hard for me to use these to inspire and support the sound effects I was creating. I consider the sound effects for the boost meter and levelling up to be pitch perfect representations of the aesthetic, as well as being particularly proud of adding numerous nods to retro video game sound effects to really hammer down the nostalgia trip.
A big part of working on this game involved mashing up two ideas to create something unique and new, as is Supergonk’s aim in mostly everything they do. This very much applies to the painting mechanic in the game, which visually mashes together the analogue medium of painting and the fact that it is all digitally displayed on the racetrack’s surface. This ethos influenced the design of the sound effects related to this mechanic, in that the looping effect that plays while you paint contains the sound of pouring and mixing paint along side the chirps and beeps of a digital interface. The same goes for attacking and being attacked by other players, however in this case an explosive paint sound is mixed once again with a sound effect reminiscent of retro arcade games.
See below for gameplay footage demonstrating the in-game audio and explanations of the car engine and interactive ui systems.
CAR ENGINE AUDIO SYSTEM
Without a doubt the hardest aspect of designing audio for a racing game is the car engine sounds, and Trailblazers was no exception. Thankfully, the talented Chris Cummings (Criterion, Media Molecule, and other equally impressive names to his credit) was helping the team out with his programming wizardry as well as helping me to design the game’s audio system.
Since the cars in the game were visually stylised to run on petrol engines, we worked together on designing an engine that shifted through three gears as the cars drive. It required a fine balance and much tweaking to emulate the real thing, while still maintaining some creative freedom to match the aesthetic, and more importantly to match the way the cars drive in game.
INTERACTIVE UI SYSTEM
Oddly enough, one of the parts of Trailblazers I enjoyed designing the most was the menus. In my eyes they most strongly reflect the Jet Set Radio and old school hip hop vibe in the whole of the game’s audio - and the logo splash screen sets the tone right off the bat, with an old transistor radio frequency sweep mixed with a meaty paint splat to reinforce the game’s main mechanic.
From there, having been inspired by the main menu of Rayman Origins, I designed a system to navigate main menu buttons with the sound of turntable scratches to allow the player to feel like they are scratching along with the music. The same treatment was given to the options and character select menus, instead with a range of workshop tools, and a mix of more transistor radio effects and comic book page-turning, respectively. Finally, to seal the deal, I used an old school orchestra hit for the submission button effect.
WHAT I LEARNED
I never expected a racing game to present nearly as many complicated challenges to overcome - things such as the tricky task of managing audio in split-screen and online multiplayer, designing around vast amounts of sound effects being triggered at once or in a short space of time, and finding the right balance of intensity for audio in general (continuous looping effects in particular).
The most valuable lesson in all of it was that in most cases less is more in terms of quantity and saturation of audio, especially when it comes to adding things like environmental audio in racing games. At the same time you can’t go wrong with making effects that give the player affirmation that they have done the thing, be it positive or negative feedback, really stand out - just make it beefy and explicit!