How sound is made for games: on the example of DOOM, Hellblade and the short story “Bunny”
The sound cannot save a bad game. No matter how brilliant the composer and voice actors are, the efforts will not be enough to captivate the gamer. However, the sound can make an average game good and a good game outstanding. But how do they make sound for noteworthy projects? Let’s tell now!
DOOM. Outstanding Mick Gordon
Mick Gordon has been working for the gaming industry since 2006. The composer began by working on the sound of Destroy All Humans! 2 , and then came out on top with hits like Wolfenstein: The New Order , Need for Speed: Shift and FEAR 3 . There are many notable projects in Gordon’s portfolio, but it was the tracks for the chic DOOM that became his magnum opus.
Before the start of cooperation, id Software set many conditions for the musician. The music had to fit perfectly with the gameplay, please the fans of the previous parts and sound like something unheard of before. Mick Gordon was also banned from using the guitar.
The gameplay was simple: Mick made the sound as fast and aggressive as the Doom Slayer. To do this, the musician recorded riffs reminiscent of the roar of a chainsaw, created a rhythm that would motivate him not to stop, and even took into account the peculiarities of the plot.
The root of many ills in the world of DOOM is Argent Energy. Earthlings were not aware, but the energy was extracted straight from Hell, and it was generated in the process of torturing souls. Alas, at some point everything got out of control: people began to mutate, and demons broke out of the lair.
The trick is that Mick Gordon made argent energy the basis for music. The source impressed with its power, held huge platforms in the air and swept away everything in its path – the sound became the same.
In order to please the fans, the composer took tracks from the classic DOOM and reworked them beyond recognition. Hear what At Doom’s Gate used to sound like…
To keep in touch with fans, Gordon remastered dozens of classic tracks. At the same time, remakes were created with respect for the original: they sounded modern, but still made you nostalgic for the nineties, when the industry was just emerging.
The composer understood that it was impossible to make a mistake with remakes – one of his quotes speaks of this. “DOOM fans are not like Disney fans. If the DOOM fans don’t like what you’ve done, they’ll burn down your house.”
After all, the OST was supposed to create a sense of novelty. To do this, the composer collected many unique instruments, and a special place among them was occupied by the Soviet synthesizer Polivoks. It was this instrument that more than once replaced the guitar and made the sound expressive.
There were other chips too. For example, many tracks were built around white noise: Gordon recorded an oppressive sound, broke it into fragments and overlaid basses, beats and other sounds on top. Plus, recording regularly went to several microphones – the first one always worked, and the rest turned on as the sound increased. In the end, all this made the OST truly “hellish” and unique.
But Gordon could not solve the issue with the guitar. The composer still had to use the instrument, but the riffs did not become the basis of the tracks – rather, they only complemented the idea and helped to place accents. At the same time, the sound of the guitar was distorted so much that sometimes the instrument was unrecognizable. For example, riffs were recorded on an old tape recorder, and then they processed the sound, slowing it down and transforming it.
Usually, developers get into the sound when the gameplay and story are ready, but the developers at Ninja Theory understood that in the case of Hellblade, the sound is more than just background. It’s about a key aspect of the game.
Norwegian metal artist Andy LaPlegua was invited to write the sound. Initially, he was offered to create tracks for the fight scenes, but the musician liked the idea of the game so much that in the end he took on the entire OST.
Andy had a full Hellblade storyboard the whole time. He knew what scenes would be in the game, how they would follow each other, and what kind of mood they should create. At the same time, the musician constantly communicated with the game designer: the creators discussed the plot, changed the presentation and exchanged ideas about the angles that the operator should take for the sake of the unity of the script, sound and visual.
Naturally, La Plagua understood that Hellblade is a game about madness, which means that the approach to the tracks should be unusual. That is why the vocals and melodies are surreal, and the sound was extracted in the most unexpected way – for example, using a drill. That’s right, Andy brought the drill to the strings and recorded the sound.