Introduction

BattleBlock Theater is a game from The Behemoth, available on XBOX 360 and Steam!  I did a bunch of audio for it – some sound, music, narration…yeah, I was the obnoxious guy who never shut up.  I’m sure you knew all this, though.

Below you’ll find a comprehensive breakdown of my involvement, some tips, couple videos, etc.  It’s a long project page, so I’d get some coffee or something.  Beer.  Yeah, do beer instead.

Note, a lot of this is taken from a breakdown previously posted on The Behemoth’s website, with some changes here and there.

Prototype Intro (2011)

(…MAN I’m glad we didn’t use this one.)

Development: The Cinematics

So BattleBlock was well into development before I stepped in, and was starting to get beefy.  Time to wrap a story around it!  At this point, we didn’t know if narration would even work, but Dan (Paladin, lead artist) laid out some plot points and asked me to take a crack at the opening cinematic.  We have a very similar sense of humor, so I had a pretty good idea of what he had in mind.  This is the first thing I turned in for BattleBlock, and from that point on, I was the narrator.

Originally, I did the cutscenes in sequence and on an individual basis.  The shipwreck came first, of course. Months later I did the second chapter. Later still, the third chapter. I was hammering through in-game quips in the meantime, but handling the story in this manner turned out to be a bad idea. A lot was up in the air and riding on the hope that I’d eventually cover everything we wanted to. I say: envision your painting as a whole > start your painting > finish your painting. Don’t come back to it once a month and splash some color on it – not only do you run the risk of losing your original vision, but you’re likely to think that everything you established in the beginning isn’t good enough anymore. So you’ll sit and chip away at it, the obligation to finish overshadowing the fact that you lost your way a long time ago. On the off chance you DO finish, you’ll more than likely end up with a helter-skelter production you aren’t very proud of. This is just how I personally feel, of course – planning and focused execution is incredibly important.

Back to the drawing board…

After I wrapped up the third chapter, we all felt that the story just wasn’t cutting it. Not that it was BAD, it just wasn’t clicking. Sooo, we had a few serious roundtable discussions to lock every plot-point down from A to Z. After that, the cinematics came together fairly quickly. I’d simply bounce from chapter to chapter, making sure each one was consistent in length, humor, and timing while delivering key plot points at regular intervals.

On a personal note, I’m glad we re-did the entire story. As development progressed, my manner of speaking and delivery changed. Timing got zippier, I was delivering with more energy – just a natural side effect of falling into the role as time went on. You can hear the difference between early clips and newer clips in the final game, and in my opinion, the difference is night and day.

Now – as far as the writing end of it goes, I’ll explain how I normally handle a script. When I make a cartoon (or work with specific people who share my methods), I generally use a series of bullet points (as opposed to your typical script). These points generally consist of nothing more than key events or important pieces of dialogue – much like keyframing an animation. As I’m recording, I’ll make sure to cover everything that needs to be said, while filling the gaps with ad-libbed bits that relate to the key points. I feel this process works best for organic dialogue, or, the way real people tend to talk. Of course, that’s not to say that developing a comprehensive script is a waste of time – my method isn’t practical for everybody. It works because I generally voice all of my own cartoons with a firm direction in mind. But even when a script is well thought-out, following it to the letter could produce robotic results, and members of the general audience are quick to pick up on anything that sounds off. If you take the classic script route, I feel it’s a necessity to constantly read things out loud as you go, question why or how you’re speaking, and to constantly consider human nature.

…or, give my funky method a shot – try some simple bullet points, you might be surprised.

New Intro (…plus ALL cutscenes!)

Thanks out to punchaface1 for compiling this video!

For BattleBlock I employed my standard bullet-point method, I just used faaar more bullet points.  For a project of this magnitude, you can’t shoot just anything off the hip.  Obviously, there’s no pleasing everybody…but you can definitely take steps to appeal to the broadest audience possible – all ages, backgrounds, morals, senses of humor – the tricky part is doing so without tipping too far in one or the other direction.  So with BattleBlock, I’d appeal to kids with a butt joke, then follow it up with something more intelligent, a little more global.  But kids are smart…they understand far more than what we credit them for – so I’d throw them a curveball from time to time, flip the concept, and hand something juvenile off to the adults.  I wanted something for everyone to appreciate, even if they were momentarily put off by something I had previously said.  It’s a delicate balance to create for such a wide audience, especially when it comes to console games – I mean, a father of 3 who lives in Japan could easily be playing through story mode with a kid from North Dakota who lost his legs last year.  Making them both laugh at the same time is a task worth pooping your pants over.

But that’s how accessible media is nowadays.  Interesting to think about.

http://stamper.tv/wp-content/themes/salient/css/fonts/svg/basic_lightbulb.svg

Stamper’s Tip Korner:

When you’re creating, all that matters is your bottom line – the point(s) of your production, your intentions, and the reception you’re gunning for.  It doesn’t matter how you get there, so long as you get there.  Stay focused on the points you’re trying to get across, but don’t be afraid to go off-script (or off-path in general).  Interesting results come from breaking outta your comfort zone and incorporating the unplanned.  And if you work (or plan to work) with voice actors, give them a little freedom here and there.  Accept an ad-libbed line every now and again.  Remember, you chose them for their talents – your key ideas will always be there, but your overall production could easily turn into so much more.

BattleBlock Theater Trailers!

http://stamper.tv/wp-content/themes/salient/css/fonts/svg/basic_info.svg

Please Note!

Below is a some development and technical-process breakdowns.  I’ve learned a lot about audio since BattleBlock development – for example, I’ve learned various compression and normalization techniques, etc.  In other words, I wouldn’t do things EXACTLY like this in the future, but it’d be close.  Either way, this is how it was done for BattleBlock in particular!

The Technical Side (For those who care…)

Uh, so yeah.  I made the cinematics my primary focus and fired em’ out, one by one.  This’ll help explain the process:

…yeah, there’s a lot of extra takes.  And a lot of ad-libbed stuff I ended up not using.  And a lot of…other.  Things.  I talk to myself a lot.  ANYWAY, after I was happy with the timing and quality of the pure-voice track, I’d add character and enhance moments with music and sound, Bob’s your uncle, cinematics done.  Afterwards, I’d hand them off to Dan to work his magic.

Development: The Quips

At some point, someone thought it’d be a good idea for me to comment on various in-game happenings. You die, I say something snarky. Pick up a gem, God knows what I’ll say. You get graded, I’ll be there. These weren’t so much difficult as they were time consuming.

The process was fairly simple – I’d get a voice pack request for a specific in-game reaction. Take for example, “DEATH” reactions. I’d hack out a few lines I definitely wanted to do, take that starter list to the booth, then continue to fire out anything I could think of revolving around the idea of someone dying. I’m in there screaming my lungs out, repeating lines over and over, fumbling words, singing improv songs that have absolutely nothing to do with the task at hand…it’s a borderline psychotic process.

That’s the easy part. Afterwards comes the tedious process of listening to an hour+ of spoken dialogue and breaking it all down into a series of the best quips. Here’s a series of development shots that should help sum up creation of a quip bank:

I wouldn’t exactly call it fun.  But man, it’s satisfying to finish a bank.

That’s really all there is to it.  When I got a bank request, I’d try my best to go above and beyond any requirement.  Generally, I’d hand over a bank with at least 2-3 times the amount of voice clips we’d end up using in the game – I wasn’t doing so to polish apples and stuff, I just felt it was smart in the longrun.  First, it allowed me to exhaust all possibilities, so I’d never have to return to a bank to supplement it.  Second, to give the staff a wide variety to cherry pick from – they could pick the best of their favorites and have an ingame collection they were all satisfied with.  Some people ask why we didn’t just add them all, but nobody wants to sit and download a clunky, 50 GB game – ya gotta be selective!

Remember to stay organized!

…obvious tip for huge projects.  Our method was simple, color-coded spreadsheets:

No shit, right?  But it’s an imperative, often overlooked aspect of most large projects – possibly something you’re currently elbow-deep in.  You know, that project or responsibility that’s ruining your life because there’s no end in sight?  Employ something like this to keep everybody on the same page, but moreso because it’s a clear and constant reminder that you’re making dents in that monstrosity.

Unless, of course, you enjoy trying to swallow a whole steak without chewing.

Conclusion

So lemme wrap this borefest up. For me, BattleBlock was a big deal. Not necessarily for the obvious reasons; moreso because it was a serious crash-course and I learned a great deal throughout the development process. I mean, I still have NO idea what I’m doing half the time, but I’m grateful to The Behemoth for the opportunity. Working with those guys is always an easy going process and lots-o-fun – Dan, Anna, Derek, Anna, Emil, Anna, Ian, Derek, Megan, Megan, Derek, dude #1, dude #2, blonde guy, Ian, other blonde guy, Stamper, John…all great people, and I’m always down to help with anything they’ve got up their sleeves.

Keep your butts polished!

Written and only halfway re-read,
Stamper

I love you Hatty.

I also did music for BattleBlock, that stuff is on a dedicated music page – info and downloads there!

BattleBlock Music