Cyberpunk2077_sound-01 Asbjoern Andersen


Go behind the sound of CD Projekt Red's most ambitious game to date, Cyberpunk 2077. Here, the sound team talks about capturing car sounds and creating satisfying in-game driving experiences, handling dialogue for 11 fully localized languages, creating custom systems for triggering sounds and effects processing like reverb, and so much more!
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of CD Projekt Red
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CD Projekt Red, creators of the popular medieval fantasy-based game franchise The Witcher (read about the sound of: The Witcher 3), have done a complete 180 and headed into the dystopian future of Cyberpunk 2077. According to their studio, Cyberpunk 2077 is “the largest game in CD Projekt Red’s history.” And it’s certainly their most ambitious. In terms of sound alone, the game comes fully localized for 11 different languages, delivers satisfying driving experiences complemented by 11 radio playlists ranging from rock and pop, to jazz, hip-hop, industrial, black metal, and techno, offers a wide variety of weapons and ‘cyberwear’ implants to modify your character, and more! As they say, “no risk, no reward,” and CD Projekt Red has definitely gone all-in on this one.

Here, CD Projekt Red‘s talented sound team: Paweł Daudzward (Expert Sound Designer), Hanna Kubiak (Senior Sound Designer / Scene Audio Coordinator), Krzysztof Lipka (Expert Sound Designer), Piotr Malinowski (Senior Sound Designer), Krzysztof Popiel (Senior Sound Designer), Marcin Przybyłowicz (Music Director / Composer), Colin Walder (Code Lead Audio and Localization), Jasper Yang (Senior Sound Designer), and Patryk Woźniak (Sound Designer) talk about the creative opportunities and challenges they faced on Cyberpunk 2077, like recording cars and creating in-game engine simulations, designing an immersive futuristic world, creating those unique weapons and cybernetic enhancements, building the radio playlists, controlling the mix, and so much more!



Cyberpunk 2077 — Behind the Scenes: Arch Motorcycle with Keanu Reeves and Gard Hollinger


Cyberpunk 2077 — Behind the Scenes: Arch Motorcycle with Keanu Reeves and Gard Hollinger

What are some adjectives you’d used to describe the sound of this future world in Cyberpunk 2077? Also, were there directions that you wanted to avoid, like it shouldn’t sound too ‘pleasant,’ or things like that?

Marcin Przybyłowicz (MP): For music, it’s always been “attitude.” It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about the score or the soundtrack — Night City is a place to express yourself, to go over the line. That feeling of style that grabbed us all during our days playing Cyberpunk 2020, that’s the energy Night City is all about, and music just had to have its own take on that idea.

…one very specific rule we brought in from the start: stay as far as you can from arpeggiators and generally avoid the synthwave zone

Pretty early on we discovered that ditching the 80s (a decade commonly associated with cyberpunk aesthetics) and going all-in on the 90s was the way to go. I listened to tons of The Prodigy, Nine Inch Nails, and Rage Against the Machine during the 90s, and all these bands have one thing in common despite representing completely different genres: attitude. It became very clear to me that this is what Night City and Cyberpunk 2077 in general really needs to present itself as an authentic cyberpunk experience.

And besides that guiding principle, we really didn’t have many hard rules with the music. We were able to go as crazy and as wild as we wanted — but there was one very specific rule we brought in from the start: stay as far as you can from arpeggiators and generally avoid the synthwave zone; our game is not only about rain and neons.

Paweł Daudzward (PD): Sound-wise, right from the beginning of production we knew we wanted the world and its components to sound organic, natural, sometimes maybe dirty and raw, but not too sci-fi. We imagined a futuristic world in which most things that the player hears can also possibly happen in a real world. We felt this would be a good foundation for the sound to be believable and transparent to the player, as well as a good base to build some unique, stand-out elements on top of that.

 



Cyberpunk 2077 — Behind the Scenes: Revving Up Night City


Cyberpunk 2077 — Behind the Scenes: Revving Up Night City

You’ve done extensive car recordings for this game. Why was the sound of the cars a priority? What do you hope players take away from their experience with the vehicles in this game?

Krzysztof Lipka (KL): From the get-go, we knew that vehicles were going to be the main transportation method across Night City, simply due to its sheer size. Our main goal was to push Night City’s exploration to emphasize its uniqueness and artistic style while in motion. In short, in order to make the city feel cool we had to make cars feel cool, thus we needed them to sound cool, too! But not just in the engine department. It became quite clear that the vibe of Night City could also be conveyed to great effect thanks to the radio music selection. When sitting in the front seat, or even as a passenger, you really feel like you’re in an authentic machine in an authentic world.

…it soon became apparent that sound was at least 50% of how a car feels.

We started conceptualizing the cars early on and it soon became apparent that sound was at least 50% of how a car feels. We made the decision to stick with combustion engines — as in the original Cyberpunk lore, where after a couple of massive corporate wars the world had to switch to an alternative alcohol-based fuel called CHOOH2. The plan was to aim for engine behavior that was as smooth and organic as possible, and after extensive research, it became clear that to achieve this we needed to conduct our own recording sessions and invest in tech that we hadn’t used before.

I’d say the overall goal for this undertaking was pure immersion. We wanted that raw automotive noise to dance with the sound of the radio blasting out while you drive the Night City streets — that type of audio work can really take a typical ‘drive from A-B journey’ and elevate it into a personal, memorable experience.

 

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Sound designer Grzegorz Michalak

Can you share some specifics on your car recording sessions — how many cars did you record? What was the hardest car to track down and record? Also, what did your mic setups look like? What mics did you use on what parts of the cars and why?

KL: Recording audio for vehicles was a tremendous team effort. The whole process was pretty complex, and we were lucky enough to track down and record a plethora of stunning vehicles, from modern supercars and amazing classics to heavily tuned rally cars. Overall, we recorded 34 cars, 4 of which were electric, as well as 8 motorcycles — quite a lot for a non-racing-focused game!

The main recording sessions took place at Moto Park Ułęż and Autodrom Słomczyn, a small track near Warsaw. Additional sessions were conducted at Biała Podlaska Airport and on private roads near Warsaw and Zielona Góra. For the 1977 Porsche 911 Turbo (930), we went especially to the AVA Consulting dynamometer facility in Stratford-upon-Avon, UK.

…we had up to 4 sound designers/sound recordists working during the main sessions.

To help make the process more efficient, we had up to 4 sound designers/sound recordists working during the main sessions. Usually, two sound designers worked on the engine bay and two-handled the exhaust side.

As for mic positioning, we treated each car individually and always listened for where the mics sounded the best. For most cars, we used 3 microphones in the engine bay, 3 on the exhaust side, 2 inside the car, and up to 6 on the track. In the engine bay, we positioned mics usually near the intake or just in front of the air filter, near the blow-off valves, close to superchargers, etc. When searching for spots that produced the most interesting results, we had to take under consideration heat, wind, and space constraints in the engine bay. We had mechanics to support us on-site, which turned out to be extremely helpful as we gained access to many nooks and crannies we wouldn’t normally have. As for miking up the exhaust side, we also used up to 3 different microphones, but placed at various positions and distances from the exhaust pipe. That allowed us to achieve that wide and powerful bassy sound we were aiming for. We spent a great deal of time finessing the position of the microphones as the exhaust is usually crucial in capturing the car’s character.

…we had to use an additional special electromagnetic field microphone placed near the power cords…just to reinforce the quiet sound of the electric power unit.

As for the gear we used, mic-wise for onboards we mainly used DPA 4062 and 4061s, Line Audio Design CM3, Sennheiser MKH 8020, Crown PZM 6D, LOM MikroUsi Pro and a pair of 414XLS for the interiors. For exteriors, we used Sennheiser’s MKH 8040 in ORTF and a pair of Oktava MK 012 in M/S, Sennheiser MKH 416 and Rode NTG shotguns. As for recorders, we used Sound Devices 788T and MixPre 10 II for onboards, along with Sound Devices 702T and Zoom F8 for externals. We always synced the timecode on all recorders, just to save time later during editing.

As far as the hardest car to track down — I’d say that had to be a genuine, unmodified 1977 Porsche 911 Turbo (930) — but it was certainly worth the effort! The biggest hurdle we came across during recording sessions overall was with the ELIMEN Racing fully electric rallycross cars. For these sessions, we had to use an additional special electromagnetic field microphone placed near the power cords, or other areas that emitted electromagnetic fields, just to reinforce the quiet sound of the electric power unit.

 

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How do you handle the engine sound assets in-game, to create car engines that react to player input?

KL: We used different implementation methods for each of the specific vehicle elements, i.e. tire noise, electric engines, combustion engines and their auxiliaries, car foley, etc. Needless to say, the management of vehicle audio assets was challenging! The most important aspect for us, though, was to create a modular system that can be modified or upgraded throughout development and beyond simply and intuitively.

The most important aspect for us, though, was to create a modular system that can be modified or upgraded throughout development and beyond simply and intuitively.

Starting with the engine simulation, we used the Crankcase REV granular synthesis plugin for the player’s car and a loop-based system for all other traffic vehicles. By using REV, we simplified the process of handling audio for the player’s car greatly. From a sound designer’s perspective, it all boiled down to providing steady engine RPM acceleration and deceleration ramps, from minimum to maximum RPM range, together with an idle loop.

The rest, i.e. car handling behaviour and gearing, was then controlled by a dedicated gameplay designer and a relevant vehicle programmer. As for all the traffic you hear in Night City, this was done with a series of loops containing RPM accelerations or decelerations, through all gears, then put into Wwise in a series of switch and blend containers.

…we used the Crankcase REV granular synthesis plugin for the player’s car and a loop-based system for all other traffic vehicles.

Moving to the tire simulation — and most other car elements — we used a series of additional loops. Thanks to the sheer detail and meticulous manner of the recording sessions, we had a pretty good separation of source material. The best example here is with electric cars; not only were we able to capture awesome-sounding electric engines, but also plenty of different tire noises under different driving maneuvers — and on different surfaces.

As for the interactiveness of the vehicle, we used a plethora of real-time parameters informing us about things like throttle input, engine RPM, engine temperature, gear information, tire surface etc. Pretty standard stuff for an arcade racing game, definitely above and beyond for an RPG… but that’s how we like it!

 

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Cyberpunk 2077 is a massive open-world game. How did you tackle the huge undertaking of designing the distinct ambiences for each of the 6 regions?

PD: It was quite a challenge for us to make each world region have its own sound signature. With Night City being so dense, with each district like a mini-city themselves, we had to establish some global rules and divisions allowing us to paint a broad picture first. Later, we could work on smaller details in selected areas.

For the city itself, we wanted it to feel heavy, oppressive, and dirty but without tiring the player out in the long run. Here we mainly used a combination of some human-originated elements, crowds, adverts, flying vehicles, sirens and horns, as well as sounds specific to particular locations (like industrial machinery noises, markets, back alleys, clubs, etc.), random abstract elements, and finally — music. This included both licensed point-source music and background drones.

…we had a pretty complex reverb system and equally complex system of parameters that helped us shape the output in real time…

To make each district feel different, all of those elements had slightly different assets and were spread through the city in different proportions per district.

For expanding a variety of ambiences even further, we had a pretty complex reverb system and equally complex system of parameters that helped us shape the output in real-time according to player movement, the geometry of buildings around the player, time of day, weather, and the story input. All those things working in parallel made the world feel more alive and immersive.

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Krzysztof Popiel (Senior Sound Designer)

Krzysztof Popiel (KP): In contrast to the ever-busy and bustling soundscapes of Night City’s futuristic, diverse districts, the vast territories outside of the city — the Badlands — needed a different approach to sound in order to support its unique character, narrative, quests, and avenues of exploration.

This region is mostly desert with sparse vegetation, hills, and canyons, but it also contains some small towns, protein and power plants, highway motels, nomad camps, abandoned trailers and so on. A natural-sounding approach worked well for this ‘close to real-world,’ familiar environment.

The day and night cycle is reflected mostly in the tone and intensity of the wind, variations in cricket chirps, the sporadic activity of some animals like toads, snakes or very rarely mammals such as coyotes. Unfortunately, in this dystopian world, virtually no animals such as birds managed to survive in this over-exploited, dark future reality.

In abandoned buildings, we can experience the decay of this world audibly with falling debris and howling winds through creaking metal and concrete structures.

In abandoned buildings, we can experience the decay of this world audibly with falling debris and howling winds through creaking metal and concrete structures. Also, things such as fans, air-cons, vending machines, etc. sound a little bit more deteriorated from neglect and exposure to high temperatures and sand.

The ambience of the Badlands was also designed to support the narrative, the characters and their relationships, as well as environmental storytelling. Out there you can hear anything from the sentimental ambience of a quiet campfire under a starry night sky, to the tense ferocity of a car chase during a raging sandstorm, gunfights in abandoned buildings on the verge of collapse, interrogations in old, forgotten motel rooms, and even more.

…we prepared a system called “attract areas,” which trigger certain audio events depending on a number of factors.

Patryk Woźniak (PW): Night City is a dangerous place, no matter if it’s the City Center, some back alley deep in the North Industrial District, night or day, rain or shine. Gang fights, robberies, acts of vandalism, and even executions are happening on a daily basis! These situations make Night City really feel like a living and breathing character. So to reinforce this feeling we prepared a system called “attract areas,” which trigger certain audio events depending on a number of factors. These include: the type of event or situation taking place, whether civilians are present, which gangs are involved — as well as the genders of both enemies and civilians, too.

There are a lot of dynamic events taking place on the city streets, and the type and factors related to the participants are varied thanks to this new system. Our job was to entice and make the player want to participate in these through audio. Together with Mateusz Szymański we prepared sounds for all the above scenarios.

 

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And how did you handle the huge variety of foley for the player and NPCs?

KP: The world of Cyberpunk 2077 is filled with a huge amount of characters wearing different styles and types of clothing. The player can equip a huge variety of different items to make their V look unique, stylish, or to be as powerful as possible. Naturally, we wanted to reinforce this vastness of NPC appearances and player items with sound as well.

We recorded seven main materials, including different kinds of leather, jeans, cotton, military canvas, etc., and eleven types of additive sounds like metal straps, belts, bracelets, different types of chains, and several kinds of beads — just to be sure we covered every aesthetic we had.

We prepared a special matrix that gave us the ability to check what types of clothes can be covered by using similar-looking materials between NPCs.

Hanna Kubiak (HK): We prepared a special matrix that gave us the ability to check what types of clothes can be covered by using similar-looking materials between NPCs. We also used special tags to mark all clothes and from what material they were made of. For example, if an NPC is wearing a leather jacket with some metal straps, our system would trigger the relevant sounds to match that combination on that NPC. If one of those tags would be changed to another material, then it would automatically change to play the correct sound. Of course, with so many different clothes — and with NPCs wearing multiple clothing types at one time — we set a number of priorities to avoid any unplanned clothing cacophonies.

The game engine…triggers appropriate foley sound effects to match clothing and movement type…

The game engine would recognize what particular type of clothing the player or NPC is wearing, what type of action is being performed (walk, run, slow or fast movement etc.) and based on this it triggers appropriate foley sound effects to match clothing and movement type of the player or NPC character. With support of our metadata editor we were able to further tweak each appearance to sound a little bit more unique with use of the same materials.

We used our main materials and additives as a base and our Audio Code team helped us with making adjustments to them in metadata. We basically treated materials as layers of sounds — we could add several layers, even a few main materials or additives, and by using simple sliders change their pitch, volume, high and low pass. What was really important to us was that all changes made in metadata were automatically audible in the game in real-time.

KP: To avoid unnecessary duplication of metadata, we introduced a special connection between NPC entities and how they were linked with specific clothes’ metadata — this solution gave us a chance to connect similar groups of characters wearing congenial clothes, as well as giving us the ability to prepare unique metadata for every NPC or V when we needed.

 

The Sound Architect Podcast speaks to Hanna Kubiak about Cyberpunk’s systemic and tech solutions for Foley, weapons, and more:


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How did you handle sound-designed elements like cybernetic enhancements, weapons, explosions, impacts/collisions/destruction?

HK: With cyberware we wanted to show that no matter how futuristic they are, they still have to fit in our world’s physics. For example, the very first thing which came to my mind when thinking about the Monowire was its fast movement. I’ve used a variety of cello and guitar strings to mimic the Monowire’s flexibility, and recorded all kinds of movement between metal objects to catch that zappy sound. But in the end, the best result was moving the cello strings between my fingernails really quickly. I added some wobbly sounds on top of that which were made by using a thin metal sheet — which was a prototype for one of our steelbooks. The overall goal for cyberware was to make them sound as organic and natural for the Cyberpunk world as we could.

I’ve used a variety of cello and guitar strings to mimic the Monowire’s flexibility, and recorded all kinds of movement between metal objects to catch that zappy sound.

PW: While creating sounds for the Gorilla Arms cyberware, I was mostly thinking about player satisfaction. If you’ve decided to build your character as a strong Solo, our job is to make you feel great about this choice every time you use them. Sound is essential to this. If you’re forcing open metal doors, taking enemies down with a melee punch, or ripping a turret from its station, we want you to really feel it. That’s why those sounds are so punchy, fast, and brutal.

KP: Audio design for firearms in Cyberpunk 2077 was a very exciting, challenging and rewarding process. With over 40 unique guns available, it was quite an ambitious task to complete. We started with establishing the audio direction we wanted for our guns in the game. After experimenting with various design styles, from “MilSim” — realistic sounding guns from the real world — to over-the-top sci-fi style, we decided to go with what was most aesthetically suited to the world of Cyberpunk 2077; so each gun had a unique character, style, and very detailed, believable audio design.

Guns in the game come from different manufacturers with distinct build quality, year of production, technology type and material used, and so on. Naturally, we wanted to support this significant differentiation with appropriate audio design. Generally, Jasper Yang, our Senior Sound Designer, handled the Tech and Smart guns, while I looked after Power guns. This way we distributed the workload while keeping design styles congruent within each gun’s technology. The manufacturer’s build quality and year of production was also reflected in designs, in details such as the foley of the gun and mechanical parts when fired. For example, the newest Arasaka (top quality build) Tech pistol Kenshin sounds super clean, futuristic, reliable, with rich highs and low-end frequencies, while the power shotgun named Carnage from manufacturer Budget Arms (lowest quality build) sounds like it can fall apart with every shot fired, while dealing massive damage.

The manufacturer’s build quality and year of production was also reflected in designs, in details such as the foley of the gun and mechanical parts when fired.

We also wanted to reflect real-world physics and sound propagation of gunfire in our game, so we developed a gun acoustics system that automatically detects what type of environment the player is in — whether inside rooms of different sizes, in narrow alleys, on the streets, under bridges, on top of buildings, in the desert, etc. — and playback appropriate, custom-designed gun acoustic tails. To further reflect the environmental feedback of gunfire, we used real-time, in-game reverb and early reflection systems based on the game world geometry. This way, we could have the environmental feedback of our guns sounding accurate at all times even in the ever-changing geometry of the world. The bullet impacts and flyby system designed by Jasper [Yang] also complements the brutal nature of a gunfight in Cyberpunk 2077.

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Senior Sound Designer Jasper Yang

Jasper Yang (JY): For firearms we also arranged a few foley recording sessions with Patryk [Woźniak], because we wanted to maintain an analog feel for even our most futuristic guns. There is a gun-wall in our office where the Art team keeps replicas of many different firearms, so we brought them all into our sound studio and started recording all the possible weapon-handling and reloading sounds.

Additionally, we set up a recording session with a variety of vintage photo cameras to get the small, intricate mechanical and servo sounds that we used for the game’s more advanced, high-tech guns. Overall, when combined with more digital synth layers, this created gun-handling sounds that were in line with the dark future’s retro analog-sci-fi aesthetic.

 

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Can you talk about recording and implementing dialogue for all the different languages spoken in-game?

Piotr Malinowski (PM): Cyberpunk 2077 is the most ambitious and challenging project we’ve worked on to date — and part of that was our attention to detail and realism when it comes to acting.

To be as immersive as possible, we needed believability. To start, we thought that giving actors a high level of freedom of movement would be a good idea, so we used Lavalier mics instead of large diaphragm condenser microphones. The exceptions here were Johnny and V — as both of those characters have a really strong and unique relationship that develops throughout the game, so their interactions had to keep that intimacy at its core. The differences between those types of microphones helped us a lot with building up the feeling of a first-person perspective.

But that was just the beginning.

We have 11 fully localized languages for ‘Cyberpunk 2077’, each one containing over 70000 lines.

We have 11 fully localized languages for Cyberpunk 2077, each one containing over 70000 lines. We knew we had to come up with a plan to manage such a high quantity of files, and we started by building our internal “automated VO pipeline” which helped us to manage the revision of files used.

One of the things we found really time-consuming during previous projects was managing the loudness of VO files. We knew we had to come up with a solution for that too. Together with our friends from Signum Audio we developed a loudness normalization tool which we later on used for automating the whole process.

…over a quarter of VO lines were treated with additional voice processing, which makes the whole project quite beefy in scale!

Thanks to that we managed to get additional time to work on voice design. Cyberpunk‘s world is filled with technology — devices, AIs, cyberpsychos… the list goes on and on. Holocalls, braindances, Adam Smasher, everyone’s favorite personality construct talking to us from inside of our head, and much more besides received a special touch, and we ended up with over 70 types of custom-made VO post-process FX chains. And how’s this for a fun fact — over a quarter of VO lines were treated with additional voice processing, which makes the whole project quite beefy in scale!

 

[tweet_box]Cyberpunk 2077: Inventing the Sound of the Future[/tweet_box]

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Music is a big part of this game. What are some radio stations players can listen to? How many songs are available for each station? How were these songs created or sourced? (Is it a mix of original songs? Was there collaboration with major artists too?)

MP: The music in Cyberpunk 2077 is super broad and sprawling — it’s a topic I could talk about for hours, so I’ll focus on the essential hits for now!

There are 11 radio playlists you can listen to in the game, ranging from rock and pop, through jazz, hip-hop, industrial, black metal, to various incarnations of techno. Our goal behind every playlist was to have it play an important part in the world-building process. For example, jazz acts as the classical music of 2077 — something social elites, corpos, and generally the rich people of the world would listen to. Pop is for teenagers and the Kitsch generation, black metal is the favored music of all Maelstrom gangers, and our minimal techno playlist (produced and performed by Nina Kraviz) creates the perfect vibe for a number of clubs in Night City.

All songs were commissioned just for this project, and recorded just for us. There are some minor exceptions though…

The number of songs varies between stations, but generally, there’s always around 40+ minutes of content for each playlist — and in some cases much more.

All songs were commissioned just for this project, and recorded just for us. There are some minor exceptions though, such as the jazz playlist which features mostly 70’s jazz recordings, performed by Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Stan Getz and other jazz icons.

We worked with many artists from all over the globe, including Swedish punk legends Refused taking on the role of SAMURAI — with Denis Lyxzen providing the singing voice of Johnny Silverhand — Run The Jewels, Nina Kraviz, Grimes, Converge, Tomb Mold, Namakopuri, Rat Boy, A$AP Rocky, Health, Gazelle Twin, and many, many others. It was truly a massive undertaking, one that I’m really proud of, and one that really adds so many layers to the world of Cyberpunk 2077.

Cyberpunk 2077 — Behind the Scenes: Score and Soundtrack

 

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What were some of your challenges in mixing Cyberpunk 2077? Were there particular quests that were more challenging mix than others?

JY: With Cyberpunk 2077 having so many gameplay and narrative systems all working together at the same time, mixing it all was certainly a challenge. Night City has a rich and changing ambience consisting of voices, vehicle traffic, adverts, and roomtones; on top of which you can have gunfights, dialog, and very punchy music to boot. Prioritizing those layers in a way that makes it sound natural — while making dialog understandable and audible at all times — was probably the biggest part of the challenge.

One particular quest I can think of is “Play It Safe” which features a huge Japanese parade with a massive crowd, very busy background ambiance, and in-world music — Taiko drums and chanting — all happening in one location. There’s so much going on here, it’s a really stimulating scene for the senses, and within this scene we had to ensure that the player could still identify and focus on certain quest objectives. As the parade takes place, you’re tasked with eliminating a squad of Arasaka snipers positioned in different locations. Approaching them triggers their chatter, which the player can then focus on in order to locate them. In this particular case, voice lines from NPCs would sidechain ambiance noise and music slightly in volume and frequency content to allow the player to pinpoint them better.

…voice lines from NPCs would sidechain ambiance noise and music slightly in volume and frequency content to allow the player to pinpoint them better.

The same goes for combat but with slightly less subtle parameters. For example, when a gunfight breaks out, the extra-diegetic combat music will trigger, which in turn removes the bass content from the ambiance sounds and in-world music to leave space for the bass frequencies in the combat music. On top of that, if enemy NPCs fire their guns, or perform any action that requires feedback for the player, these sounds would in turn reduce the combat music in a way to make the player able to focus on these NPC actions. Player guns, when fired, reduce NPC gun volume and bass content, and if any important quest dialog happens to play at the same time, this would take priority and reduce player gun noise just enough to make the spoken dialog clear and understandable for the player.

This prioritization occurs throughout the entire game on many different levels, not necessarily always aiming for realism, but always targeting readability and ease of understanding for the player.

 

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Cyberpunk 2077 uses REDengine 4. What were some invaluable features of this engine for the sound team?

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Colin Walder (CW): For Cyberpunk 2077 we built the newest iteration of REDengine practically from the ground up which gave us the opportunity to make a ton of custom audio features.

One of the main pillars we had in mind when designing the tech was city creation. It was important that the city felt alive. Night City is an essential character, so to speak, in the story — you might even say that perhaps Night City is the true antagonist of Cyberpunk 2077 — and there was a lot of scope involved with filling that dense world with sound. For this task, we employed a hybrid approach of automation and handcrafting.

…acoustics are really influential, so we developed a dynamic reverb system that procedurally combines layers of small, medium, and large reverbs based on geometry…

A good example of this is how we handled acoustics. For making the player feel like they’re truly in Night City, acoustics are really influential, so we developed a dynamic reverb system that procedurally combines layers of small, medium, and large reverbs based on geometry, but what reverbs are used and how they are combined is tuned manually by sound designers. The result is a reverb that is reactive even in complex, detailed environments, but which also has been tuned to create a specific feeling and mood. Sometimes it’s best to not use the dynamic system and just have a static reverb. It’s a creative choice.

… but what reverbs are used and how they are combined is tuned manually by sound designers.

One feature that we originally created for acoustics but became useful in many places was the broadcast-emitter. This allows a sound designer to play a sound in Wwise and have some portion of that sound broadcast on a channel that can be picked up as the source for another sound with a different position, volume, delay, Doppler, etc. Originally we used this to create dynamic reflections, but then it turned out to be the perfect solution for in-world radios and TVs, clubs, the city advert system — and even things like concert scenes and 2D/3D music transitions. So many times we were scratching our heads about how to implement an idea and someone would say: “Oh! We can use the broadcast-emitter!”

 
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What were some technical challenges the sound team faced in working on Cyberpunk 2077?

CW: Compared to our previous games, the scope of Cyberpunk 2077 is much bigger. The sheer number of assets to be designed, implemented, and then rendered in-game is on a whole new level, so we faced a tough technical challenge both in terms of having efficient pipelines to get sounds into the game, but then to be able to have all those sounds working when we wanted them to.

One thing that helped tackle both these challenges was our custom sound-loading system.

At the same time we were more limited on runtime resources because, well, there’s more of everything else too!

One thing that helped tackle both these challenges was our custom sound-loading system. To put it simply, the system removes the burden of creating and loading soundbanks from the sound designers. They can just throw the sounds in and the system automatically converts the sounds to Opus, groups them into pack files, and then loads those files as needed at runtime.

… the system automatically converts the sounds to Opus, groups them into pack files, and then loads those files as needed at runtime.

Using Opus encoding meant that we could maintain high audio fidelity across all our SFX assets while simultaneously keeping memory down. The offset of that is that decoding Opus is more CPU intensive than, say, Vorbis, but because we were using a custom system we were able to perform the decode asynchronously on a core that isn’t used by other systems — and have that high-quality audio on every platform.

 

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What are you most proud of in terms of sound on Cyberpunk 2077?

CW: Creating the sound for this was a herculean task but you can hear the love that the sound designers put into every sound effect. When all of these pieces fit together the result is something that feels like “cyberpunk” but more importantly — sounds like Cyberpunk 2077.

JY: Echoing what Colin said above, it was very interesting to hear how unique each sound designer’s and composer’s work was, and then fitting all that together to achieve a very sci-fi-yet-analog sounding game. I think the team managed to create a soundscape that is in line with how milestone-movies like Blade Runner envisioned the “dark future” would sound like: aggressive yet contemplative.

 

A big thanks to Paweł Daudzward, Hanna Kubiak, Krzysztof Lipka, Piotr Malinowski, Krzysztof Popiel, Marcin Przybyłowicz, Colin Walder, Jasper Yang, and Patryk Woźniak for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Cyberpunk 2077 and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

 

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