Made with wub: A detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the Saints Row 4 dubstep gun

Made with wub: A detailed, behind-the-scenes look at the creation of the Saints Row 4 dubstep gun

Ben's note: I don't know what I was expecting when we first explored the idea of doing a deep dive into the design of Saints Row IV's dubstep gun, but when the files started streaming in I knew we were onto something special. It's so easy to underestimate the amount of people, time, and resources it takes to add a weapon in a game, but the team behind the dubstep gun was kind enough to take us through the entire process of adding the gun to the game. Being this silly, it turns out, is ultra-serious business.

Scott Phillips – Project Design Director, was looking for a new iconic weapon for Saints Row IV

The impetus for adding a new weapon like this came from my feeling that we needed a “Marquee” weapon for Saints Row 4. We didn’t have anything that was as impressive or memorable as the Dildo Bat at that time early in the project so we brainstormed. During the brainstorming Dave threw out those two words “dubstep gun” and everyone immediately loved it, so JB (John Brunkhart) wrote the spec and then it got underway. See below for more details from Dave.

From talking with Ariel it sounds like the idea for a “dubstep gun” had been lingering in a few peoples brains since the end of Saints Row 3, but hadn’t been widely discussed and nothing concrete existed until SRIV did it. As with all cool things, great minds think alike.

David Bianchi (AKA The Dubstep Godfather) – Designer, one of the visionaries of the gun, worked on it design-side

Original concept came from me based on some cool tech for attaching behaviors to tags in audio files that Victor Cepeda [former vehicle/physics programmer at Volition] put together before leaving.  The high level concept of having people dubstep as they die was very nebulous at first, so I started listening to a lot of dubstep all day long, and watching videos of people dancing to it.

The first step was to get audio and a programmer on board, as with many things they’d be doing a lot of the work. Behind the scenes there are TONS of tags in the music that tell people when to dance, when to fire bullets, and when to fire rockets. That also triggers pedestrians dancing, when to freeze, teaches cars to dance, flashes nearby lights, creates a laser show of VFX, tells the camera when to “wub”, etc.

The process from original concept to all the little things it actually does nowadays was awesome. Every new behavior we added was fun and exciting and would take it to the next level of awesome, as it were. Like for a long time it had placeholder VFX, and everyone thought it was awesome, but the VFX guys kept saying “those are only placeholder”. They pushed extra hard to get new ones in for the PAX demo and man, what a difference.

Using vehicle hydraulics when dubstepping I believe came from Zavian, IIRC, and armed with the knowledge of what hydraulics are capable of, JB and I went a little nuts with it to make the dancing, with excellent support from Randy.

It’s one of those things that everybody gets behind and enjoys working on.  There was a whole lot of iteration to find the best way to show everything. Randy did a ton of stuff for us, some new features like anim freezing, slowing, and eventually going backwards. One of the things I love about the dubstep gun and working on it, is it’s very cross discipline.  Programming, animation, VFX, SFX, design – everyone had their part that all came together to make it as awesome as it is, and in the end it makes everyone look good.

My back of the box quote: “I haven’t had this much fun making a weapon since the magnet gun”  [the magnet gun is a unique weapon from Red Faction: Armageddon]

Ariel Gross – Studio Audio Director, one of the visionaries of the gun

I can remember my part of it.

It was roughly three months to submission on SR:TT. I was listening to Existence by Excision and Downlink. At the beginning of the track, there is a line, “Initiate phase one. Power up the bass cannon!” And I burst into Brandon’s office and described a gun that murders people with the sound of the wobbles and bass stabs. Then I went over to Payne’s desk and described the gun, and he barfed down the back of my shirt at the mere thought of adding such a complicated weapon at that time.

Then I brought it up later as a weapon for another game we were prototyping. It was part of a bunch of music-oriented ideas that I was proposing. I’d also proposed it on the newsgroups as Bass Cannon. Here’s the quote:

“Bass Cannon. Press LT to start a dubstep beat and charge up. Press RT for a filthy bass drop. Fires in a cone that makes people dance so frantically that their skin boils off, leaving a pile of bones.”

The next I’d heard about it was that it was being worked on for SRIV and that made me happy. This weapon is the definitive team effort. Every single discipline had a hand in crafting this weapon. It makes me feel really good to see the team come together to make magic happen.

Steve Holt – Senior Artist, concept art

This thing had quite an evolution. My initial thought was a Franken-morph of solid body guitar, disco-ball, saxophone and tweeters with rotating barrels. Maybe the guy could play the sax as he was firing? I was contemplating Dizzy Gillespie cheeks on the guy, too.

As the smoke cleared, it moved into a chunky gun-ish shape with a rotating turn table, db meter and a sub-woofer that would pulse as it fired. That idea moved into a longer bazooka shape with those features. Finally the direction was clean, iPod like lines maintaining the turntable, meter and a megaphone horn barrel. At that point everyone dug it and it moved on to the next phase of development.

David Payne – Weapon Art Lead, made the weapon model

Ariel brought up the idea for a ‘dubstep gun’ to me a few years ago… may have been on Saints Row 3. I kind of laughed it off and thought ‘we’ll probably never do this, unfortunately…’
then along came SRIV.

I asked one of the concept artists (Steve Holt) to draw up the design for the dubstep gun to be slick and clean with nice curves.  He came back with these concepts for me to work with along with Stephen Quirk (SRIV Art Director).

I really liked what he did with it, but the front of the weapon needed to have both tweeters and a subwoofer to go along with the music and vfx, so I redesigned the front with this in mind, and came up with the final design

The weapon really doesn’t shine in one particular area – but when it comes together as a whole it’s pretty amazing. The VFX, audio, animations and all the crazy shit that happens around you while firing the gun really make this a special weapon.

Much like the Penetrator from SR3, I had no idea how much of a fan favorite this would become.

John Brunkhart – Designer, handled design spec, coordination, and setup

While I can’t stake any real claim to the genesis of the Dubstep Gun, I was the person tasked with speccing it out and as weapons guy, the person responsible for making sure all the pieces that everyone worked on got put together into a workable weapon. 

One problem … I was the central coordinator, but I listen to Brahms, Beethoven, and Rachmaninoff, and had NO idea what ‘Dubstep’ was. Had never even listened to anything remotely close to it. When I first heard ‘Dubstep’, I thought ‘double-step’ and asked someone (I forget who) ‘is that like, square dancing?’  Needless to say, the only ‘square’ present in the process was me, and I had to be given a quick lesson in Dubstep 101 by Dave B.

Randy Oberlerchner – Principle Programmer, handled all of the complex programming

JB: Randy was pretty much The Guy when it came to programming this weapon.
Randy: I make dreams come true.

Brandon Bray – Audio Director, handled audio

Behind the scenes there are TONS of tags in the music that tell people when to dance, when to fire bullets, and when to fire rockets.  That also triggers character dancing, when to freeze, teaches cars to dance, flashes nearby lights, creates a laser show of VFX, tells the camera when to “wub”, etc.

  • I added roughly 300 markers to the wav files to get everything to work properly.
  • One of the tracks being used is composed by Malcolm Kirby, Jr. [SRIV composer]

Marc Kirkland, Senior Artist – VFX

About 1000 years ago, Dave (Bianchi) sent out a meeting invite to discuss the feasibility of the Dubstep Gun for SR4. Dave then went on vacation and left JB to run the meeting that he had scheduled.

JB ran the meeting and got the ball rolling. His driving description for the gun during that meeting (and after) was “it’s like a party in a box.” Shockingly during that initial discussion pretty much everyone thought it would be possible. We’d recently gotten the ability to tie audio markers to effects and that meant that it was possible to do something where the gun was shooting to the beat of the music. There was a lot of funny brainstorming, all of which sounded ridiculously pie in the sky at the time but a LOT of which has actually happened, much to everyone’s credit.

VFX was hammered and “dubstep effects” got kicked to the bottom of our to-do list. We put in placeholder effects so others could continue to work on the gun and moved on to higher priority stuff. I kept bugging Jeremy Kendall (SR4 Lead VFX Artist) about the gun, and “hinting” at how I thought it would be cool to work on. Eventually, to shut me up I think, he said something like “ok – give it a shot, but it’s still low priority.” 

I started working on the effects and experimenting with textures to see if I could get something like a sound wave to shoot out of the gun. Jeremy said we simply couldn’t do something that long – that it was a limitation of our effects system and we would have to do short bursts instead. so I started working on the muzzle flashes and left the bursts to figure out later.

We had the PAX demo coming up at that point and as the list of what to show was being drawn up, Jeremy told everyone: “We CAN'T show the Dubstep Gun, Marc just started working on it, it’s still using placeholder effects.”  Everyone said they understood, that would be fine, etc. Then the next day Scott said “We want to show the Dubstep Gun, can it be ready by Thursday?”

So the Dubstep Gun effects got moved from the bottom of the list to the top. I remember coming back to work that night and Jeremy said “I got it… I was sitting at dinner and I figured out how we can get our system to make that sound wave you wanted.” it was awesome, like Christmas coming early. So we took my muzzle flash stuff and Jeremy’s tracers and suddenly we had amazing dubstep effects!

But the saga wasn’t done.  A side effect of Jeremy’s solution caused the tracers to slam into the ground, and it was a bug that Scott didn’t like and Randy was slated to fix. I liked the bug, and thought it made a huge visual impact. Actually everyone in my office thought it was intentional and looked like a graphic equalizer. I pushed to keep it, but there were too many edge cases where it caused issues. So the bug got fixed, but before the demo branch was closed I built a custom hit effect for the dubstep gun that mimicked the cool behavior of the bug – win/win. 

Zach Lowery – Animation Director, mocap actor

I danced.

Clay Mathews – Animation Lead, handled animation work

Originally, I was against the idea of the dubstep weapon. The pitch that I had heard sounded like a tremendous amount of work for the animation team and I was determined to kill the idea before too many people got on board. The animation team was already terribly over scoped. 

But, fortunately, by the time I heard the idea, it was already time to get on board or get run over. So I got on board, but original scope of creating several new special Dubstep death and flinch animations was immediately cut and we reached what I think was a better solution in playing the “normal” deaths with custom time scaling effects. 

Which I also didn’t think was possible with our animation system, processing animations in reverse, but we’ve got some pretty smart programmers and they were able to get to work beautifully. So ultimately the only additional scope for the animation team were a few new special dance animations for pedestrians and some simple weapon animation.  One of our team’s best examples of proper cross discipline communication and collaboration.

Zavian Porter – Designer, dancing vehicle concept

The bit about the hydraulics came during a weapon review meeting. We were watching the dubstep gun in all its glory, when I noticed that while it was a very powerful gun, it didn’t actually give much impulse to vehicles. Murmurs went around the table about how that should be relatively easy… but then it hit me: why don’t the cars dance too? Laughter ensued. Someone noted that the hydraulics system was still mostly there, so they hooked it up. And so it was even more glorious.

Katherine Nelson – Associate Producer, can’t handle the Wub

I was thrilled to hear about the Dubstep gun and quickly found that I am the only person in the office that can’t use the weapon for a long period of time without experiencing vertigo – I am now the guinea pig for wub sickness testing.

I had a lot of fun collecting the stories everyone had to tell about this special weapon.  Passion like this is why I love working in game development!

Jordan Lynn – Player Experience Researcher, runs usability tests of SRIV and sees people play with the gun for the first time

Everyone loves the dubstep gun. There aren’t any really good anecdotes, so I wrote from the heart instead:

From the Word of the Row, Book 4, verses 6 through 9:

6In the beginning, the majestic spray spewed forth from the septic truck’s nozzle, filling the air with the glorious sight of fecal artistry.

Later was introduced the meaty slap that the Penetrator wrought upon the faces of the foes of the Third Street, heralding death and destruction like the trumpets of the archangels.

Finally the powers that be unleashed the sheer, visceral sensation of the Chum Gun, eliciting a primal reaction as evil doers and na’er-do-wells were rent asunder, limb from limb, in a breathtaking display of violent death in all of its terrible beauty.

7But it was not enough. They were merely prophets of what was to be.

For it was not enough to please the eyes, though the sight of poo-flung bystanders was a wondrous sight to behold.

Nor was it enough to please the ears, though the sound of the lumberjack of justice was an inspiration to the pens of the poets.

Neither was it enough to please the instinct, with the rending and gnashing of teeth of the giant fucking shark.

8Thus was the stage set for the delivery of the chosen weapon.

It came with lasers, blinding the eyes of the unrighteous.

It came with bass, a roar to shake the heavens and the asses.

It came with wub wubs possessing the strength to stir the fiery passions of even the most frigid amongst us.

9The Dubstep gun had arrived, and yea the Lord of the Saints looked upon it, and smiled, for it was good. And lo, with a bowel-twisting elation, hanging upon the precipice of the cliff above the world, hanging by the thinnest of threads over the edge of creation, did come…the Drop. And the Saints did smile, for it was Sick.

A final thought

One of our usability testers was asked to provide feedback on a lengthy mission.  This is what we got:

“Dubstep gun. I don't know what the hell else was going on, but dubstep gun. Dubstep gun.“