“This is the story of Kunuuksaayuka. The story of an endless blizzard that threatens the survival of our people. A story of a dangerous and cold journey at the top of the world. A story of bravery and true friendship.”
My company Impossible Acoustic has just finished all the sound and music work for an upcoming PS4, Xbox and PC game called “Never Alone“. I cannot express just how beautiful, fun and unique the game is and what a rewarding experience it was for my business partner Jamie Hunsdale and I to work with the development team at E-line media. The game was conceived and is being distributed by Upper One games, the first all Native American game company. I encourage you to read more about this unique project and the story behind it’s making. In this blog post though, I’d like to share with you some of the sounds from the game and talk a little about how they were made.
Within the first few weeks of our 9 months working on the game, we made two field recording trips up into the mountains to collect snow sounds. The first trip was largely unproductive since the snow was too slushy and the road noise too loud. For the second trip we drove an extra long distance to get deeper into the wilderness. We drove Jamie’s jeep up a service road until it was too icy to go any farther and then we hiked in another quarter mile until we found a nice quiet gully. There we set up shop and recorded all the footsteps, slides and all the other sounds we thought we might possibly need. Keep in mind that at this point, only a few levels of the game were finished so we didn’t yet know the scope of the entire game. One of the benefits of finding such a quiet spot is that we were able to mic everything from 4 to 6 feet away and still have a good signal to noise ration. The following is an example of some of the fox footsteps. For the fox we used the old trick of fitting a glove with paper clips on each finger to simulate the foxes clawed paw.
On the way home we made a spontaneous detour into a cross country skiing area parking lot. The snow plows had piled the snow up along the edges of the parking lot and they had frozen into large chunks of ice and packed snow. We spent some time kicking and throwing these chunks down into the parking lot. These sounds ended up getting used throughout the game a lot. Like in this sound of a collapsing snow cave
These same chunks of icy snow were covered in small ice crystals about an inch tall. If you listen carefully to the ice chunk recording above you can hear them a little bit. We loaded some of the ice chunks into the jeep to try and get away from the ambient noise of the parking lot and I recorded myself scraping these crystals off onto a towel.
This is another sound that got used a lot throughout the game; both in sound effects and in the music. It can be prominently heard in this sound
Later, back at the studio, we also played with the classic Foley technique of using cornstarch to create snow sounds. Pro tip – if you punch a pile of cornstarch it makes almost no noise and a huge mess.
…but….if you coat your hands in it and rub them together it makes some pretty wild sounds. Or just slowly rolling your hand across a pile of cornstarch makes a great deep snow sound which we used in sounds like this one of a boulder rolling off a snow ramp.
On another day, we went to home depot and bought a bunch of wood scraps. One wooden lattice was quite large and Jamie got some funny looks in the Home Depot parking lot as he proceeded to smash and break his brand new purchase so it would fit in the car. We spent a day in the studio recording all the wood footsteps for the game and creating a library of other wood creaking and breaking sounds. We still ended up supplementing from library sounds but this gave us a great basis to work from. One sound I quite like is the sound of platforms in the Coastal Village falling off screen. The distant echo of the wood clattering it’s way down the cliff face is what sells the sense of height at this moment in the game.
Given that the basic plot of the game is about the heroin finding the source of a giant blizzard, it goes without saying that wind played a large roll in the game’s soundscape. I spent a lot of time creating and revising the ambiences for each level. The challenge was to create the feeling and constant presence of wind without it masking too many other sounds with white noise, without it becoming monotonous or overbearing or indistinct. I used a lot of sounds from Gordon Hempton’s fantastic winds library as well as synthesized wind sounds, some of my own field recordings, processed versions of my breath and a “snow falling” sound I made by overlapping and filtering the sound of lightly tapping on the carpet in my home studio.
Here’s the ambiance from the forest level which features all of the forms of wind I listed plus a randomized selection of tree creaks made from creaking doors and a pitched down wicker laundry basket. Randomized raven calls round it out.
One of the more creatively challenging elements of the game were all the spirit sounds. These took a great deal of experimenting and went through many revisions. Especially the spirit footstep sounds which I must have re-authored at least 10 times. What does it sound like to walk on a spirit? I tried a lot of things from silence, to echoes, to musical notes that changed with each step but wouldn’t you know, the thing that worked the best in the end was lightly tapping a nice fluffy pillow.
One of my favorite spirit sounds is that of the sky people. The sky people make three different sounds; an idle hovering sound that’s heard when they’re on the screen, a growling sound you only hear when you get close to the head and a grab sound when one of the characters gets caught. There are three different hovering sounds all made from recordings of my voice, my breath and me whistling processed with convolution reverb, Reaktor effects. This sound provided a great ambient other-worldly presence but once we put it in the game, we found it didn’t localize well to the head of the spirit people and didn’t provide that “get the hell out of the way” feeling we needed. So we created the growling sound and attached it to the head of each of the sky people and used Unity’s built in doppler functionality to create a sense of movement. This ended up working very well.
The various creatures in the game were a lot of fun to design too. The Manslayer character ended up being an amalgamation of a lot of different sources. My voice, Jamie’s voice and the voice of James Nageak who also played the Narrator all made it into the mix along with animal sounds and even some thunder.
Those are just some of the stories behind the sounds in the game.