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From Cuphead to Gran Turismo: Behind The Scenes of Great Game Audio

Five great documentaries or behind-the-scenes videos showcasing audio design in games.

The soundtrack of Cuphead sounds great with a gaming headset from Turtle Beach.Once upon a time, the way a game sounded was an afterthought. Early audio hardware in consoles and PCs was so primitive that it couldn’t replicate voices or musical instruments terribly well, and while this kind of creative restraint did lead to some amazing work – think SNES soundtracks, for example – in general games were rightly pilloried by people who didn’t like them as a lot of shooting and “bleeps and bloops”.

As with every aspect of games, audio design has become an incredibly complex and exciting craft in the decades since, but whereas advances in graphics and artificial intelligence are often given center stage during product demos, when it comes to promoting games and how they are made, audio remains an afterthought. Naturally we’re pretty into it here at Turtle Beach, so whenever we come across a documentary that digs into video game sound design, we sit up and listen. Here’s a few recent favorites.

The Music of Cuphead: Recording Floral Fury

Due out September 29, Cuphead has one of the most evocative aesthetics of any game in recent memory thanks to visuals drawn and animated in the style of a 1930s cartoon, but StudioMDHR’s commitment to recreating that feeling also extended to its sound design, as you can see in this short look behind the scenes of a big band recording session for the game, using music composed by Kristofer Maddigan. The results speak for themselves.

Composing Skyrim’s Theme

Jeremy Soule is a prolific composer with credits in many films and video games, but he’s probably best known in gaming for his work on the Elder Scrolls series for Bethesda Game Studios. In this Game Informer behind-the-scenes mini-doc, Audio Director Mark Lampert talks about the studio’s collaboration with Soule, and how the composer worked with Game Director Todd Howard’s vision for the land of the Nords in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, from choirs of vikings singing a made-up language to BGS’ obsession with drums and horns.

Marty O’Donnell – The Halo 3 Soundtrack

There was a time when a Bungie game without a Marty O’Donnell soundtrack was unimaginable, and while his departure from the studio left fans confused and saddened, the work he completed was the heart and soul of the Halo series. When Halo 3 brought the original trilogy to a close on the more advanced Xbox 360 hardware, O’Donnell and his team really excelled themselves, helping to give this occasionally wacky space opera a grandiose feel and emotional heft greater than the sum of its parts.

The Secrets Behind Battlefield 3’s Sound Design

How do you design audio for something as chaotic and explosive as a Battlefield game? During this fascinating Game Informer interview, Audio Director Stefan Strandberg explains the process in generous detail, from macro-level thoughts like the need to make multiplayer Battlefield sound “cleaner” so you can pinpoint opponents, to micro concepts like the way weaponry has to sound different depending on how far away an effect occurs, and how you plan for that. As a bonus, this video also includes entertaining footage of DICE’s audio team on location at military exercises, standing around looking bored holding boom mics while tanks trundle past. And if you’re interested in hearing more on sound in war games, check out this huge interview with the Battlefield 1 audio team to mark that game’s release last year.

The Terrifying Sound Design of Dead Space 3

Along similar lines, this Kill Screen documentary goes behind the scenes at Visceral Games to explore how the developer built tension and fear in Dead Space 3, the third installment in its critically acclaimed space horror franchise. The developers talk repeatedly about using audio to create an emotional connection to the player’s surroundings, and the unique challenge of building atmospheric moments in an environment where the player could be looking just about anywhere at any time – something unique to game audio design versus film, for example, where you can define how art will be received much more predictably.

Gran Turismo Sport’s Serious Sound Improvements

Finally, a quick look at another area of games where sound design is technically incredibly demanding: racing games. Capturing the way high-end cars sound in a multitude of different environments at different speeds is the work of generation after generation of game developers, and Sony studio Polyphony Digital (along with Microsoft’s Turn 10, who make Forza Motorsport) are at the vanguard of that effort. You can see – or more accurately hear – that for yourself in this IGN First mini-doc comparing the sound of a car driving around the famous Nurburgring circuit in western Germany in Gran Turismo 6 and the upcoming Gran Turismo Sport.