The Sound Design Of DOOM - Exclusive Q&A
The DOOM video game has continued to be a household name in the gaming community, pleasing gamers with its intricate plots and stunning design. Being the audio lovers that we are, we couldn’t help but wonder…how on earth were the game’s sounds created? Ben Carney and Chad Mossholder, both sound designers who played a central role in the game’s development, were nice enough to answer our questions.
© 2016 id Software LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Doom could be considered one of the most famous game franchises in gaming history for many reasons… What was your reaction when you guys found out that you would be working on DOOM?
Super excited, I had just come from working on a project that was very grounded in this
reality. While still a fun and challenging project, I was ready to use more imagination.
After SOE I had several new audio jobs on the table to choose from. I chose DOOM over them all! I was incredibly excited to work on such an historically important franchise. And it combined two of my favorite genres into one game: sci-fi and horror! So, yeah, I couldn’t wait! Leaving Austin was hard, I still love Austin! But it was worth it. That being said, I was very nervous taking on such a huge responsibility. There are a lot of strong feelings out there about what DOOM should sound like. Overall, I think we were able to evolve DOOM’s sound and manage to keep the fans happy.
How did you start coming up with sounds. What did you start on first?
I think my first asset I created for DOOM was the sound of the super shotgun shells
ejecting. Pretty simple. The first big one was the Mancubus glory kill for our initial top
secret Quake Con reveal…ripping out his stomach, stuffing it down his throat and
exploding him from within. We had a couple in house burping talents help with that one.
The first sound I was tasked with was the armor pickup sound. This required some large metal impact sounds, that I slightly distorted and layered. It had to be chunky. DOOM is all about being visceral. The sound had to feel badass and communicate that you just slightly increased your chance of survival by picking up this armor shard.
What was your favorite element you worked on?
I would have to go with BFG. I liked the early stages of the VFX so much that I
immediately had an idea of what it could sound like. That, or something super subtle. The
little air compression sound when doom guy falls from high up. The ”impact
compensation” sound; For some reason that one came out just right.
My favorite sound I created is the sound for the forcefield you find on a few maps. It’s a simple synthetic hum, but I love how it came out. It sounds deadly and subtle at the same time. I made so many more complicated and bigger sounds, but this one just sticks with me for some reason.
Can you name some of the effects or sound manipulation software you used?
Lots of Ableton Live. Max 4 Live plugins(granulator II, convolution reverb, and the LFO device are great) a bit of Renoise, Audition, Sound forge, a modest eurorack rig and a few… secrets.
I use a wide variety of tools. A couple of my favorite would be Kyma & Max/MSP. Kyma is incredibly powerful. I can’t imagine doing my job without it. It has a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the basics, it’s amazing. I also use U-he Zebra 2 software synth. The majority of my sci-fi sounds started in Zebra. I would craft the synth patches and then run them through various DSP. After I create and gather all of my source material, I end up in Pro Tools where I layer, mix and master everything.
How much field recording did you do?
A pretty good amount. We had a blast with some gore recording, raw meat, macaroni salad, cabbage, celery, wet cloth, pistachio shells etc. Went to a junkyard and smashed all the heavy metal we could find.
We did a fair amount of recording. We did a big ‘Gore’ recording session with all kinds of meats, vegetables and strange gooey things. One of my favorite sounds from that session was when Austin Duffy (our Jr. Sound Designer) decided to take a Whirly tube (kids toy that whistles when you spin it around in the air) and stuff it full of raw boneless chicken meat. The sounds it made as he squished the meat into the tube, alternately compressing and expanding it, were so disgusting. Imagine air trapped in a flexible plastic tube between two wads of wet meat. It gurgled and bubbled and gasped and the tube accentuated and colored the sound, making it very alien. Anyhow, that session was very fruitful. Those sounds are all over DOOM.
Watch their recording session in the video below.
© 2016 id Software LLC. All Rights Reserved.
What were some of the challenges you faced in the field? Any crazy stories?
The amount of time spent playing the same portion of a level is astounding. Game dev is really repetitive when getting a portion just right or ironing out bugs/dealing with optimizations. Any stories I have would bore you to tears.
We did a recording session at a scrap metal yard which was pretty difficult since it was close to a road and was incredibly noisy. We did manage to get some useable metal hits out of it, but it was challenging. I had called so many scrapyards and asked about recording. All of them refused to let us record due to liability. Finally, I found one that was more laid-back. I explained that we wanted to go there and record metal impacts by smashing any metal they had lying around. He said fine, come by whenever. When we got there with our headphones and recording gear, the guys working the lot looked at us like we were crazy. I told them the manager, who wasn’t there, said it was ok for us to record. They said, ok, go for it. I asked if we needed hard hats, they said, naw, just don’t walk under anything that might kill you if it fell. So, we were free to roam about this scrapyard and record whatever we found. The guy even gave me a large metal gear for free that I offered to buy from him. Back at the studio I got a lot of great pings and rings from banging on that gear.
How did you balance the blend of music and sound design?
We all met with Mick Gordon early on and had a day and a half long chat about this very subject. his soundtrack is very visceral and hard hitting so it just naturally flowed into the sounds we were already creating and continued to create, and vice versa.
We aren’t permitted the luxury of subtlety in a game like DOOM, everything needs to be at ’11’, so mixing is no easy task. You have many sounds competing for the players attention all the time: music, weapon, monsters, gore, pickups, VO, etc… Chris Hite, who was the audio director on DOOM, decided early on that the weapons were really the main character in DOOM. The weapons should be at the forefront over everything else all the time. We loved this philosophy and did our best to maintain it. Weapon sounds never get ducked by anything, not even VO. So, we started with that base and worked everything in around the weapons. This is why you feel so powerful as the Doom marine. You’re voice is your arsenal.
da Vinci once said, “Art is never completed, it’s only abandoned.” Is there anything you feel you wish you had been given more time on?
Tons of stuff. There are only a couple SFX elements in the game where I think “thats perfect, thats just the way it should be.” most everything else I wish I could have had between another week to 3 years to polish.
Definitely. The creature sound design came out great, but I wish we had had more time to dedicate to it. I really wanted to give them unique languages and interactions. But there just wasn’t time to work in a complex AI VO system.
The game sounds incredible. What was your primary DAW and sample rate/ bit depth you guys use though out the project
Thanks! I use primarily Live as that is what I am fastest with, but Chad uses Protools for the same reasons. we author at 96k/24. final assets are 48k/16.
Thanks! We all have our favorite DAWS. I worked in Pro Tool 96Khz 24 bit for all of my sessions.
How many elements did you create for the game?
Too many to keep track of. Not including VO or music somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2
Honestly, I can’t count them all. We all worked on everything, weapons, pickups, monsters, FX, UI, equipment. We even did ambient music in spots.
Are you ready for DOOM 2?
Whatever our next project may end up being, I am chomping at the bit to do a better job and use our tools and audio engine more efficiently… Never thought I would be excited about efficiency and workflow, but here I am.
I can’t discuss what our next project will be. But, I’m always looking forward to creating new sounds. We are planning a ton of cool unique field recording sessions, including an explosions session!
My son Killian would like to know how the chainsaw sound was made.
What is up Killian! We recorded a kid yelling and then added distortion and pitched it down. Just kidding, we bought a chainsaw and recorded it 😉 We abused it and made it sound sloppy and like a way worse quality chainsaw, flooding it with gasoline and making it sputter and groan…then we added distortion and pitched it down!
We actually recorded a chainsaw at one of out producer’s home. He wanted to own the DOOM chainsaw. So, he bought it, we recorded it and used it in the game. Then we all signed it. Dan Moditch has THE doom chainsaw. We took turns operating the chainsaw (which DID have a blade on it while we recorded so we could get the clack of it.) We used mics on either side of the chainsaw as well as contact mics on the body of the chainsaw. We recorded a variety of starts, idles, stops and revs. We also waved it around while it was running to get different sounds. Fortunately we walked away from the session with all our limbs intact.
In certain parts of the map when your in hell, you hear a lot of drone type moans & voices, were those real human voices or were they synthesized and mixed with something else?
Both. Chad is a processing master and he did tons of it, but there is one specific sound where it sounds like a big groan, but a bit more ethereal. That is me coming upon a deadline and needing much more hell ambience. So I groaned, pitched it down and added a bit of processing to make it sound bigger and throatier.
This is a mixture of voice performances and synthetic elements. The voices were processed, pitched and time adjusted. There are also animal recordings that were manipulated and mixed in. And lots of other strange sounds.
Was there a particular reverb you preferred for a lot of the big chamber and castle ambiences in hell?
We baked special reverbs into the weapon fire that play as a layer of the weapon based on what space you are in. Other than that we used the onboard Wwise reverb to create reverb regions.
At the end when you confront the Spider Mastermind, you find yourself in awe of how massive this beast is, were there particular challenges for creating the sounds to match its enormous size?
This one was really hard to balance. She is very aggressive. She’s always screaming or firing something at the player, so there wasn’t a lot of sonic space. And she’s so massive, positionally was an issue. I ended up making all of her sounds into 2D positional speakers. So, you could really hear her sounds wherever you were but you also got a bit of directionality as to where the sounds were coming from. I also distorted her weapons and vocals a lot, emphasizing the high end of the spectrum to help her cut through the cacophony.
Could you tell about us about some of the effect chains used on the voices of Dr. Samuel Hayden and Vega?
Chris Hite developed the process for Vega. It’s a very cool special IR (impulse reverb) that he hand crafted. The way that IR resonates the voice gives it such a unique sound. I developed the process for Samuel. I ended up doing it as three layers: a bass, mid-range and high frequency layer. Each layer has it’s own unique processing, a combination of vocoding, EQ, distortion and compression. I’m a fan of the GRM plugins. There’s some of that in there as well.
Could you tell us about the process to create the sounds for the BFG gun and the Gauss Rifle?
I did the BFG. a lot of times after a sound is created I have thrown so many things at the wall I don’t remember what has stuck. That is the case with the firing sound. The explosion however, I remember wanting to have it sound like space and time was warping in on itself, causing massive damage in the process, so I threw a bunch of sweeping oscillators going both up and down, mixed with a bunch of electromagnetic sounds and a bunch of different explosion sounds.
Ben did the BFG. And he knocked it out of the park. One of my favorite sounding guns in the game. I’ll let him discuss his process. I took on the Gauss canon. I listened to a lot of .50 cal sniper rifles and used that as my starting point. But, since this is a futuristic weapon I quickly guided that sound into a mix of both energy based sounds and mechanical sounds . I wanted it to feel the air around you got sucked up into the shot. I wanted it to distort the world around you when fired. One trick to creating that huge sound, is to have an initial impulse that quickly chops off to silence, followed by the bigger actual impulse of the weapon fire. As if, again, the air gets sucked out of the room by the gunshot. I used Izotope’s Trash 2 for a lot of the distortion on this weapon. That plugin is incredible. It’s definitely my goto plugin for distortion.
More images of their recording sessions.