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Creating the Sound of ‘Halo Infinite’ Is More Dangerous Than You Think

It is often said that editing for film and television is an almost invisible art. It exists to help tell a story and is the force that flows from camera angle to camera angle, place to place, or even through time itself. In most cases, people only notice editing if it’s done poorly. When it comes to games – an art form where player agency controls the flow of what happens on screen – sound design is just as important as any other unseen factor.

We all notice a graphical pop-in during cutscenes or times when a character passes through geometry. But the whistle of a passing vehicle, the click of an empty gun, or footsteps changing across a surface all happen when they need to, and we as a player never blink.

Taking all that into consideration, it was incredibly insightful to chat with three sound designers on Infinite Halo about the amount of work it takes to conceptualize, execute, and build all the sounds you hear, seemingly just casually through a normal gaming session.

It was also quite shocking (literally) to hear how potentially dangerous the job could be…

GAME Bible: It seems like your job can get quite dangerous at times. You’re in vehicles, you shoot guns, you fire rockets, and at some point you put discs in a microwave. Can you explain how you approach these recordings?

Robbie Elias (lead sound designer): We talked about it a lot. Kyle (Fraser) sometimes has crazy ideas and then I’m like, ‘Well, wait a minute, that sounds dangerous. How are we going to make it a little safer? Microwaving a record was one of those instances where it was something he wanted to try, and he came up with the idea. I had a lot of resistance because I was scared but finally gave in once I heard the sound.

Kyle Fraser (lead sound designer): We have never had any casualties or accidents. Safety first.

REGARDING: Yes, we are super safe. Especially the gun sessions – we are following 100% security protocol and we always have a security officer. There’s a lot of stuff behind the scenes that seems dangerous, like explosions and all that, but it’s all in a controlled environment. We make sure to hire professionals who train us and we always listen to their safety instructions.

Normally, when consumers like me think of explosions in media, we often associate it with the shooting and reference side. The perceived danger of timed explosives or heavy artillery handling is often something we imagine being filmed for massive action scenes with stuntmen diving out of the way, not the idea that they are used to record audio only. The hard work that goes into creating these sounds is impressive.

KF: I think originally when we were recording them, our ideal goal was to complement the Grunt emotes. Unfortunately, we kind of had to pivot and it didn’t work out due to resources, time and so on. So we ended up using some for Diggers, the kind of wildlife you’ll see on the island. But we have a plan to use it for an upcoming release, something that I think people will be really excited about, but that we can’t talk about right now.

REGARDING: And to add to that, we always wanted to save them [pugs], and we were lucky that two people actually had them in the studio. I also remember the day it happened, because I walked into Carl’s office by chance, and I wasn’t expecting anything and there was a pug in there. It was Buddy just growling and being aggressive and I instantly closed the door and went back to my office and grabbed a mic. I was extremely happy to have let go of everything I was doing.

As you can see from Pugs, many of the sounds players hear in Infinite Halo are not at all from the source you expect. Some vehicles or weapons may have a clear blueprint from the start, but in the case of the UNSC’s flying vehicle, the Wasp, I was truly amazed where the sound was coming from…

GB: A simple question, what is a sound in Infinite Halo do you think it would surprise players when they find out the source?

REGARDING: Your coffee maker is a good example, right?

Jomo Kangethe (Senior Sound Designer): So I had been looking for a sound for a jet thruster for one of the vehicles for some time. I tried quite a few accessories in a few months, and nothing really worked. Then one morning I happened to be making coffee and my coffee maker started making this gurgling noise. All of a sudden it occurred to me, ‘oh, we have to go record this.’ So I ran into another room, got a mic, and with a small amount of processing…I shouldn’t say a small amount of processing – basically the underlying sound had the right texture. Then, with a bit of dynamics processing afterwards, I made it much more aggressive. This ended up being the basic sound you hear whenever the wasp flies forward. Most people would just identify that as, “oh, it just has to be a stock, you know, jet library sound.” But it’s actually something completely independent.

KF: A long time ago, I used to have fun with a treadmill, in a community gym, and just threw batteries on it, just for fun.

REGARDING: Just randomly toss piles on a treadmill *laughs*.

KF: Just creating these really interesting, zippy sounds that had that natural, flangey base sound. I was like, ‘man, we could really take this to the next level.’ There’s a thrift store just around the corner from our work and it [points to Robbie] was like, ‘man, I found a treadmill’ and I was like, ‘oh shit, let’s get it.’

REGARDING: That’s what I do. I go to thrift stores and look for different items. I will listen to them. This is how I created the Grappleshot sound. I couldn’t get a grappling hook, and I didn’t know what I was going to get. Then I was walking into a thrift store, and I found stuff like a clothesline that retracts and I was like, ‘oh, that’s a great accessory’. I draw inspiration simply by walking. So I saw the treadmill there, and the rest is history.

Halo, of course, is known for its iconic sounds across the board. With a very specific design language not only for the human weapons and vehicles of the UNSC, but potentially even more so for the alien enemies, the Covenant. We all know the magical burst of a Needler blast or the turret shot of a Ghost. This design language is not lost on the team when creating the sounds from scratch for the latest release. Infinite Halo.

KF: We kinda like to think about different types of keywords that we type in that usually correlate to the visuals you see. So, for example, plasma, you want a lot of things that produce steam or hiss or maybe slightly electric sounds. But then you also want to find things that look like even more alien things that you know, that just have a really strong sci-fi feel. So, you know, we’ll use all the tools and tricks we have at our disposal, modular synths and different types of DSP processing and just start tweaking different sounds. You’re only looking for very organic sounds that you can manipulate or use in very unconventional ways. Because I think you want it to sound sci-fi, but at the same time you want it to be grounded, you want it to feel like a weapon, and you want it to be able to fit in in the world.

JK: We visited a shop in California where they do electric motor conversions for everyday vehicles. Through an array of different techniques, we could capture different tones that the ear doesn’t pick up using EMF mics. So you pick up those recordings and sometimes you can find ways to create things like the Shepard tones (which is a tone that seems to constantly increase, even though it’s a loop). You can form interesting alien loops from organic sources this way. This is a good example of like the ghost.

I could have listened to these guys discuss how the sounds of Infinite Halo gathered for hours. From the (not really) dangerous side of capturing spark effects to recording real guns, and of course what was probably one of the best days ever – recording Buddy and Gyoza the pugs. I left the chat not only with a greater regard for the work of video game sound designers, but also intrigued by the sound they teased that pugs would later adopt.