Many of the creepy sounds created for Singularity are just recordings of ordinary things that are used in effective ways. Sometimes all it takes is a little player imagination to make players feel tense. For example, under the right circumstances, even the innocent bell-like music of a child’s toy can be a fearful thing. Most sounds grew to life through signal processing, like pitching sounds down to make them bigger and more menacing. On occasion we started off with a sound that was eventually removed; it’s only purpose to help inform us that, “Hey, this type of sound just isn’t compelling enough”. In this Diary, I’ll give a few examples of sounds we started off with and how they were utilized to fit and enhance the unique atmosphere of Singularity.
Many of Singularity’s creatures are ordinary people deformed by E99, so it seemed appropriate to use the human voice as a starting point and then “infect” it. Recordings of pigs, horses, elephants, and even sounds you might hear around home like a toilet getting plunged provided some ugly sonic textures to mix in, which made the voices more twisted and horrific.
Creature sounds always developed from organic ingredients and most of them had some sort of wet quality. People generally don’t like the sound of wet things – even a quick kiss can come across as uncomfortable if it sounds too wet – so we really wanted to take advantage of that. At various points in the game you may be walking through rooms and hallways that are covered with slimy nests and tentacle things. One doesn’t pay much attention to them after a while but the oozing sound they produce makes them very uncomfortable to be around.
Sometimes vocalizations such as breathing and choking sounds were used as templates for sequencing animal growls and grunts. The timing and order of sounds coming from the actor’s mouth and throat is just as useful as the sound itself. Making creatures sound like they are breathing is an effective way to make them more realistic. For example, a monster should take a big breath in before letting out a big scream and will need to take another breath before letting out another one. If a monster happens to accumulate some saliva in its mouth, it may have to swallow it at some point to prevent choking on it. Such subtle behaviors are present in the actor’s performance and are cues to help the sound designer create more believable creature sounds.
Zeks are the most prominent creature in Singularity and they come in several varieties, which seemed to grow over the course of development. Early in the project, Raven outsourced sound for the original Zek’s voice. We weren’t all together happy with the result – the voice sent to us sounded not unlike an infuriated monkey – so a lot of signal processing work was done to make it scarier. Namely, we enhanced it by making the sound deeper and more guttural. The process of evaluating and adjusting creature sounds occurred regularly. In most cases, when a creature sound was revisited, the goal was to make it a little more powerful and threatening because the entire game was sounding scarier each month.
For each species of Zek, the sound came together differently. For example, the voice of one particular species of Zek has a speech-like quality, which was created by mixing in gibberish based on Russian language – Russian words were diced up, re-pitched and reversed into something altogether different. This gave the creature an air of intelligence. Since he is especially large and strong, thunder cracks were occasionally mixed in to add a more oppressive vibe. These two elements helped to provide contrast against sounds produced by the other Zeks.
In the following recording a number of human vocal sounds can be heard, which were used as starting points for a Zek’s voice. Immediately following each of these examples is the final sound that developed from it. Without hearing the originals, you might not have guessed these sounds started out relatively characterless.
Reverts, which are humans that have been deformed by time-shifting, have an especially horrific vocal quality, primarily based on drowning, vomit, and bronchitis. The sound set for this creature covers a lot of territory – he has unique sounds for breathing, groaning, gasping, coughing, vomiting, numerous attack yells, and we even designed sounds for him begging to be killed. The idea behind the Reverts voice is that, because of his condition, he is forced to constantly clear fluids out of his throat, sometimes chewing and swallowing his way through slabs of thick phlegm just to maintain his ability to take air in.
The initial sound of the Reverts sprang from an 8 minute recording of a Raven sound designer slobbering into a microphone, and that was pitched down. As this was not nearly enough to characterize the Revert, sounds suggesting goopy obstructions in the creature’s airways were added in. Sometimes the Revert just goes silent for a split second, to the ear unable to breathe, and then there’s an explosion of fluid or a big cough as he clears his throat.
This recording features a short example of the original sound the Revert was created from, followed by a few examples of the processed versions. The original and final versions are not one to one comparisons as there was much cutting and re-ordering of the sound, but this example should give a sense of how the sound started off and eventually took shape.
The world these creatures live in, including structures that the player walks through and objects that can be manipulated with the TMD glove, where just as important to setting the tone. Objects age and twist into shape, at times squealing and roaring with life. For these non-biological elements, the sound sources emerged from some unexpected places. It’s not so much what sound is used but what it contributes to the end result, so literally any recording is fair game. The identity of a source ingredient is often so transformed within the context of associated visuals that it is identified as something altogether different anyway.
For example, at one point the player must use the TMD glove to timeshift a cargo ship that has been rotting in the ocean since the 1950’s. This causes the ship to launch out of the water, regenerate, then land on the surface with an enormous splash. It was desired to accentuate the upward and downward movement of the ship and for this a fire engine siren sound was used. When the ship rises up, the siren goes up in pitch, and then back down in pitch again when it falls. The sound acquires new meaning when merged with the animation and visual effects – it actually comes across more like a Doppler effect, perhaps more dramatic.
Another example of this occurs when the Freighter is being regenerated by the TMD glove. In order to call attention to the materials of the ship being restored, the sounds of very low tuba notes going through a guitar amplifier were added. Heard in connection with the TMD regeneration visual effects, the distorted sound that results is perceived as something between a ghostly ocean liner horn and the sound of the ships metal structure bending into shape.
What a Feeling
The series of actions and reactions that bring sounds from birth to effective use within a game are not at all predetermined. To give a game its own sonic signature, invention and experimentation are made part of the creative process. That perfect sound, where it originates from and what it needs to sound like is often hidden within a nebulous range of possibility. A lot of thought went into the sound design for Singularity. We believe that some good decisions were made toward designing sounds that will keep players feeling tense and afraid when running about dark places of Katorga-12.