Helldivers 2 sound design Asbjoern Andersen


Helldivers 2 is the addictive squad-based shooter from Arrowhead Game Studios (published by Sony Interactive Entertainment). A follow-up to their popular 'Helldivers,' the game is all about chaotic combat versus waves of bugs and bots. The carnage-filled fun is delivered via ballistic and energy-based weapons, bombs, flamethrowers, and more! Here, Harvey Scott (audio director/senior sound designer II) and Juuso Tolonen (project lead sound designer/senior sound designer I) at PlayStation Creative Arts Sound and Kristian Johansson (senior sound designer) and Olliver Andersson (sound designer) at Arrowhead Game Studios talk about creating satisfying weapon sounds, designing different classes of enemies, reining in the mix using Wwise, and much more!
Interview by Jennifer Walden, photos courtesy of Arrowhead Game Studios; Sony Interactive Entertainment
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Looking for a fast and fun co-op shooter game? Helldivers 2 has you covered! The game (developed by Arrowhead Game Studios and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment) offers plenty of weapons options, from ballistic to energy-based, and an interesting array of bugs and robot enemies to explode. Players are air-dropped into a location, given an objective, and have to obliterate waves of combatants while completing the task. It’s chaotic and messy (bug gunk literally coats players’ armor) and addicting to play!

Here, from PlayStation Creative Arts Sound‘s are Harvey Scott (Project Audio Director / Senior Sound Designer II) and Juuso Tolonen (Project Lead Sound Designer / Senior Sound Designer I), and from Arrowhead Game Studios are Kristian Johansson (Senior Sound Designer) and Olliver Andersson (Sound Designer). They talk about expanding on the experience of Helldivers and evolving the game’s sound to fit today’s immersive formats like Sony’s PS5 3D Audio and Dolby Atmos, building satisfying weapons, designing an assortment of bugs and bots, developing a foley system that reduces repetitiveness, exploring ways to keep the mix under control in the face of chaotic gameplay, and much more!



Helldivers 2 - "The Fight for Freedom Begins " Launch Trailer | PS5 & PC Games


Helldivers 2 – “The Fight for Freedom Begins ” Launch Trailer | PS5 & PC Games

How did you build on the experience of Helldivers for Helldivers 2? Were there any legacy/franchise-relevant sounds you wanted to carry forward or re-create for the new game?

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Audio Director Harvey Scott at PlayStation Creative Arts Sound

Harvey Scott (HS): Great question; while the two games share many aspects in common, I think the differing nature of both games necessitated a different approach to asset design, both in terms of creative aesthetic and technical requirement to hit expectations. The first game, while sounding great, had an audio experience that met the expectations of a top-down shooter released in 2015, complementing the colorful, stylized art.

Fast-forward through almost a decade of game audio evolution, switching the perspective from a top-down view to a third-person vantage, and implementing a grittier, photo-realistic art style resulted in changed expectations, creating a completely different set of requirements to fulfill. For one, the camera, and by extension the listener, can gain closer physical proximity to the sources of the sounds. In the top-down view of the first game, you wouldn’t necessarily need to provide for the proximity of all sound sources. In Helldivers 2 however, we needed to provide sound assets that contain as much of the frequency spectrum as possible, even for those sounds that would not usually require full use of the lower end of the spectrum when heard at a distance. This meant that when needed – if the listener was positioned close to even the smallest of sounds, such as footsteps – the opportunity to allow those lower frequencies through the sound mix was there, a sort of proximity effect. In the first game, this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue as the camera movement is more predictable and the possibility of close range is reduced.

Likewise, the third and first-person camera views give you a more granular, detailed look at the world, so the sound has to match the detail you can now see. There’s an increased expectation of detail over the first game that a more visceral, cinematic-like aesthetic was able to fill.

Although overall the style changed fairly significantly, what we did want to preserve from the first game was the sense of satisfying gameplay and a large variety of character through all enemies, weapons, equipment, stratagems, etc.

 



Helldivers 2 Main Theme - "A Cup Of Liber-Tea"


Helldivers 2’s main theme – “A Cup Of Liber-Tea” composed by Wilbert Roget, II – sets the stage perfectly for the epic combat

Helldivers 2 is a shooter game, so the guns, grenades, and bombs are a big part of the soundtrack. How do you keep the gunfire from getting monotonous, and keep it feeling satisfying over the course of a gameplay session?

Juuso Tolonen (JT): For Stratagem explosions, we didn’t really have any hard and fast rules about the designs. (I think the design document basically said “make it cinematic.”) The main things we focused on was making them impactful, satisfying to use, and powerful.

Usually, you could identify three major beats for sound in the Stratagems – launch (either from an Eagle or the Destroyer), incoming, and explosion. These would all have multiple variations. Explosions would be divided further into separate layers, such as attack, body, and tail.

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Lead Sound Designer Juuso Tolonen at PlayStation Creative Arts Sound

While weapons, for example, were mostly created by one dedicated team, quite a few people from other teams worked on Stratagems. This is a cool and natural way of getting slightly different aesthetics and variation in the designs brought to cohesiveness by the review process. Explosions are tough to design; personally, I started to run out of ideas quite quickly. When you have a formula that works, it can be difficult to develop new ways of finding that satisfying impact. Having multiple designers, each with their unique perception of what an explosion “feels” like, helped us achieve such a varied palette across the board with explosions of all kinds.

As we were loose with the design guidelines, the review process goal was to bring all the designs to parity. That meant we would be looking at things like frequency balance, tonal vs. noise content, and making sure everything is within their appropriate loudness range. But at least for me, when reviewing work, it always came down to how it feels in the game, or whether it feels appropriate for this feature. A lot of finding the right “feel” came from playtesting. You just had to stress-test and hear it in context enough to be able to tell if it is varied enough, feels satisfying, and cuts through, while not becoming irritating over time. Once we had a few of the main Stratagem explosion types and other explosions, such as grenades, sitting comfortably in their “power-level,” we had a reference point to balance other sounds around that.

HS: I think another aspect to consider when discussing satisfaction is how the overall audio mix can aid that through dynamic mix systems. We had a hierarchical system of slow-moving integrated loudness control, volume ducking, and dynamic EQ which enabled explosions to always feel punchy relative to the larger mass of sounds around them. For example, slowly over time, we lower most other combat sounds to control overall integrated loudness, but individual explosions are still allowed to come through at full peak loudness. Without those dynamic mix systems, the difference between the loud sustained noise of war and your powerful Orbital Strike is diminished and the satisfaction lost.

 

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What went into the sounds for the different classes of weapons: assault rifles, shotguns, SMGs (submachine guns), marksman rifles, energy-based guns, the JAR-5 Dominator (which fires two-stage, jet-propelled ammunition), LMGs (light machine guns), rifles, launchers, flame thrower, laser cannon, and Arc thrower?

JT: For weapons, we worked very closely with Formosa Interactive in the UK for the weapons. The main goal for weapons was to make them feel punchy and satisfying while making sure they can really withstand the test of time or in other words, repetition.

The revision cycle for weapons was quite extensive just because of the amount of stress-testing we wanted to do to make sure they wouldn’t get fatiguing. General brightness of the weapons was something we found ourselves bringing down over time, either literally in Wwise as the firing continues or just being vigilant about any unnecessary high-frequency peaks in the actual asset.

For energy-based weapons, the designers could go wild and a little over the top with the design…

Aesthetically, we wanted to keep the basic weaponry quite true to their ballistic nature with punchy yet identifiable designs. A lot of the uniqueness for each weapon came from source selection, of course, but also matching the weight appropriately. We would look at things like fire rate and damage of the weapon to steer us in the right direction when determining “how much is this thing going to kick?”

For energy-based weapons, the designers could go wild and a little over the top with the design, and they designed some of the coolest stuff I have heard in-game. There are a lot of warbly synth textures, synthetic impacts, and tonality compared to the standard ballistic weapons.

We also wanted to make sure that the Support weapons (such as Expendable Anti-Tank, Flamethrower, Spear, etc.) were even more weighty and satisfying as they take extra effort to call down and use. Emphasizing the big mechanical clunks for the heavy weapons really added to their mass, combined with bigger tails and impacts, of course.

HS: As Juuso mentioned, the support weapons the player receives via Stratagems needed to be designed with reward in mind. To that end, not only was the sound design aesthetic of these weapons allowed to go one level higher, so too was the mix. We increased the priority of these weapons in terms of our dynamic ducking systems so they would take priority in the mix over any other type of weapon. Likewise in terms of loudness, and without those other elements of the mix making way, this effect would not have been so pronounced and the reward would have been lessened.

 

Helldivers2_sound-05

What went into the sounds of the Terminids? What are some sonic distinctions between the different classes of Terminids: the scavengers/hunters, hive guards, stalkers, bile spewers, chargers, brood commanders, and bile titans?

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Senior Sound Designer Kristian Johansson at Arrowhead Game Studios

Kristian Johansson (KJ): Since the game throws a lot of different Terminid enemies at you at close range, one of the overarching approaches was to make their vocal noises stand out from each other in large groups. One solution to this was to have different sound designers handling specific enemies. I worked on most of the Terminid enemies, but the massive vocal noises of the Bile Titan were designed by Fabio Liutina (PlayStation Creative Arts Sound) while the more aggressive roaring of the Warrior was handled by Formosa Interactive UK. Having different styles and perspectives brought in while still adhering to a direction worked to our advantage, along with the fact that both of them are really talented sound designers.

The actual sound design process involved looking at the enemies’ physical appearances: how big is their mouth, what is their body shaped like and how would that, in turn, inform the vocal noises and movements they make? Some enemies can be considered more related than others, like the nimble Hunters and Stalkers that skip around with their wings and have quick, frequent bursts of vocals. Warriors, Hive Guards, and Brood Commanders are also related to each other and were designed almost like armored crabs with stuttering rattles and stone-like textures.

…we leaned more on vocal noises than the footsteps and body movement for Terminids, because having numerous four-legged enemies spamming foley sounds clutters up a soundscape…

Meanwhile, an enemy like the Bile Spewer slowly drags its bloated stomach along the ground, so tthe vocals became this burpy, revolting noise with some resonance coming from their stomach. The foley also plays a part here, with the sloshy sounds of its belly wiggling around as it lumbers towards you.

In general, though, we leaned more on vocal noises than the footsteps and body movement for Terminids, because having numerous four-legged enemies spamming foley sounds clutters up a soundscape that’s almost always packed with other masking sounds.

The assets used for the vocal noises mostly came from various animal sound libraries mixed with household items recorded with a Sanken CO-100K and pitched down to varying degrees. I also tried to keep everything as clean and organic as possible to avoid the end result from sounding too processed.

 

Helldivers2_sound-06

As each class of Terminid gets harder to eliminate, how do you represent that increased threat/increased strength through sound?

KJ: It depends on the type of threat it represents. With larger enemies like the Bile Titan that have longer pre-attack buildups, the focus is on the buildup. If the threat is quicker and sneakier like the Hunter, we have a lot of small vocal noises to keep it “alive” audio-wise as you hear it quickly closing in on you then followed by a sudden screech.

It’s also about using Wwise HDR to our advantage to make sure specific attacks are given enough space in the mix.

On top of that, we had various systems to make sure that vocal noises are frequently being triggered at certain distances from the player no matter what. It’s also about using Wwise HDR to our advantage to make sure specific attacks are given enough space in the mix.

HS: We also had tiered mix systems for each class, which enabled us to create clarity in the mix so that when you have several lower-tiered enemies and one high, the highest can dominate the mix and draw your attention.

Likewise, the more powerful enemies can be heard at greater distances, even when not necessarily louder, they attenuate less rapidly over distance to give the player a chance of hearing their approach.

 

Helldivers2_sound-07

What went into the sounds for the Automatons/bots? What are some sonic distinctions between the different classes of bots: Raiders/Marauders, Berserkers, Scout Striders, Devastators, Hulks, Tanks and Cannon Turrets?

JT: Sound Designer Edward Durcan (PlayStation Creative Arts Sound) was working on all the Bot enemy vocalizations and delivered fantastic results! The overall aesthetic for the automatons was rusty and rough-edged industrial steel rather than something hi-tech or sci-fi; a lot of distortion and screechy metal source was used.

For the characteristics of each enemy type, we wanted to play up the identifiable features of each bot, so we would look at things like movement speed and animations before doing any sound. Arrowhead did a fantastic job giving each of the enemy types a distinguishable unique personality with the visuals and animations, so we just naturally leaned into these features more with audio.

The overall aesthetic for the automatons was rusty and rough-edged industrial steel rather than something hi-tech or sci-fi…

For the Berserkers, we went for an overly aggressive maniacal character in all aspects, much like the actual historical Norse Berserkers. The foley was designed to resemble chainsaw motors; the dual chainsaws were designed to sound rusty and screechy and this enemy was designed to be more vocal than the others. We wanted the vocals to be almost comical in how crazy they sounded in line with their movement.

For the Devastators, we wanted to go for bulky, slow but unrelenting. The VO is much deeper and dopey sounding than the average units and the foley, along with the attacks, have a greater weight to them.

The raiders are the cannon fodder. Tonally we wanted all aspects to sound thinner and smaller, which opens opportunities to work on more high-end details, like small servo and clicky mech sounds.

Source material used for the VO actually came from the first ‘Helldivers’.

Hulks and tanks were the beefiest of the units. Source material came from rusty ship hulls, and actual tanks – any material to convey weight and danger.

Source material used for the VO actually came from the first Helldivers. The final result was achieved by applying heavy processing and manually splicing the files up to have complete control over the cadence and the stuttering robot texture.

We also scaled the general weightiness of the sound design based on not only the enemy size, but their growing danger levels. Footsteps, weapons, and the death explosions are all bigger, and weightier, making them more satisfying to kill.

 

Helldivers2_sound-09

What went into the player foley for the game? Also, the player is running around a lot in the game. What were some of your strategies for keeping the foley (particularly footsteps) from sounding too repetitive?

Olliver Andersson (OA): Helldivers are heavily armed (expendable) super soldiers that carry a truckload of different weapons and equipment through hills, bug hives, jungles, and other hazardous environments. Though they belong to the same distinct faction, player fantasy and agency are of utmost importance when controlling these heroes. Our goal was to emphasize the weight of the carried equipment, while still conveying their amplified agility throughout play.

Helldivers2_sound-10

Sound Designer Olliver Andersson at Arrowhead Game Studios

Taming foley repetitiveness in this game was mostly done by adopting the mindset of “more is more!” – very much in tune with the rest of the game. Players’ foley layers consist of held weapons/items, armors of different categories, backpacks, and more weapons (stowed on the back). We wanted each of these layers to be represented in the overall movement. Since there are mostly four players in a mission, these intersecting layers also became an important factor in allowing players to fit into their role of play, (i.e. I’m the heavy gunner, or I’m the scout character) as well as adding into our pool of variety. One goal early on was to be able to pick out roughly what equipment and armor type you’re carrying without visual reference.

Joanna Fang and Blake Collins (PlayStation Creative Arts Sound) did a stellar job recording a great variety of different assets for the team. Most layers were recorded with different movement states in mind, such as walking, jogging, or sprinting – even for weapons stowed on players’ backs. Most categories were also recorded with speed transition assets, going from jog into full sprint – per surface or equipment.


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We also wanted to accentuate the different terrains we have in-game. Extra debris assets are triggered for some surfaces depending on the angle of the slope the character is traversing. Other environmental hazards such as barbed wire and bushes also introduce some additional elements when traversing through them. Helldivers 2 is a loud game, so some layers were additionally processed with saturation and transient shapers to give them a bit more presence.

As ‘Helldivers 2’ is a live game, we continually add more weapons, backpacks, and armors into the game. The different foley categories have been implemented with this in mind.

As Helldivers 2 is a live game, we continually add more weapons, backpacks, and armors into the game. The different foley categories have been implemented with this in mind. Though we use share-sets among these categories, the overall implementation has been opted for adding more layers to support the fantasy going forward.

Playback of all intersecting foley layers is in some cases very traditional, like animation tagging. Features such as the glorious helldiver cape and stowed support weapons (like machine guns or launchers on players’ backs) were better driven with physics-based implementations. For these features, we exploited the Wwise music switch system to drive event playbacks. In Wwise, you can tie RTPCs (in our case cape/weapon movement deltas) to regular switch containers and use this container to drive a music switch. This setup causes the music switch to change rapidly due to the fluctuating RTPC values. In the different music segments nested under the switch, you can trigger Wwise events in the music editor. This setup allowed us to effectively track cape and weapon movement fluctuations in relation to the player’s actual velocity – adding that extra weapon rattles or cape flair as the players speed up or keeps pace.

 

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There are numerous planets/sectors that the player needs to liberate in the game. Can you talk about your sound design for your favorite locations? What went into the sounds for those locations, and why are they your favorites in terms of sound?

JT: The sound of the world could be split into environment and objective pillars. Environments are quite self-explanatory, and objectives are the various activities and missions that players are trying to complete amongst the hordes of enemies and ensuing mayhem.

Lorenzo Valsassina (PlayStation Creative Arts Sound), was the pillar owner for Environments sound. The environmental sounds were biome-specific (like arctic, forest, primordial, rocky, etc.). Each biome had its own Quad 2D Bed with additional 2D Layers fading in and out, 2D Positional one-shots using random Paths with Listener Automation in Wwise, and an additional constant weather layer. We also had 3D emitters in the world tied to specific units and every Objective area had a bunch of hand-placed emitters as well. All these sounds, especially around the objectives, give the world nice details to listen to.

Each biome had its own Quad 2D Bed with additional 2D Layers fading in and out, 2D Positional one-shots using random Paths with Listener Automation in Wwise, and an additional constant weather layer.

Objectives were quite straightforward design-wise. We wanted to make all the players’ actions quite hefty to make it feel satisfying and enforce the sense of progress in the objective. As a lot of the objectives had multiple phases, it really was important to emphasize these big beats for the player.

Out of my own work, my favourite small detail was a little bleep that you can hear from the terminal when you turn the radar dish into correct position, this way you can complete the objective by yourself if necessary.

The real star of the show though must be the ICBM launch. It is a cool cinematic sequence in general with a very satisfying payoff with the rocket launch and massive explosion in the distance, designed by Danny Hey (PlayStation Creative Arts Sound). Playing this wall of sound in 2D makes sure it will grab the player’s attention!

 

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Can you talk about using 3D audio for Helldivers 2? What did it take to make the game feel so immersive? What were some challenges you had?

HS: Some of the largest challenges were related to handling not only just 3D Audio, but also supporting Dolby Atmos for both PS5 and PC. Being able to make use of both technologies on both platforms while keeping parity between all of them was a challenge in itself as there are inevitable trade-offs to any approach, but I think what we went with on Helldivers 2 serves players no matter what they choose to listen with.

For example, there were decisions as to whether to pursue designing ambisonics assets that would benefit users of 3D Audio on PS5 the most, while 7.1.4 content would give the best results for users listening with Dolby Atmos compatible systems.

Mixing in Dolby Atmos for PS5 was a new area for us on this title, with the final portion of the Mix being carried out in RAK Studios’ Atmos suite in London.

The usual challenges and choices for 3D Audio existed too, including what was to be made passthrough (bypassing the HRTF processing) or not. Most of the sounds tied to the player’s Helldiver (including weapons or foley, for example) are passthrough as their position is largely fixed in front of you, which doesn’t necessarily benefit from the increased sense of positionality that the HRTF process affords. If the same content is playing on a teammate however, we dynamically switch from passthrough to ambisonics so that the player can benefit from the increased sense of positionality 3D Audio provides.

Mixing in Dolby Atmos for PS5 was a new area for us on this title, with the final portion of the Mix being carried out in RAK Studios’ Atmos suite in London. This enabled us to carry out translation checks between all formats, making sure that the mix was consistent and as designed no matter the output format or platform.

 

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What were some of the creative challenges you had in making the sound of Helldivers 2?

JT: Keeping the designs fresh was something I struggled with. When you have made a few explosions, it is quite difficult to break the formula and re-invent the wheel in a way. Thankfully, we had a few people working on various kinds of explosions throughout the project, so I tried to analytically compare my work with theirs and of course, the most efficient way was to ask for advice. Seeing how other people designed work that I felt like I could not replicate helped massively and with such a talented group of designers the inspiration was endless!

There are a lot of mechanical clunks and action-feedback that we had to cover and after a while, I ran out of ideas.

A similar creative struggle happened on Objectives. There are a lot of mechanical clunks and action-feedback that we had to cover and after a while, I ran out of ideas. Instead of redesigning the same thing repeatedly, I tried to create a mini-library or a palette of some mechanical impacts and movements and later use these as a base for designs, layering with some additional elements to give them a unique identity.

HS: Making sure that the still-in-progress visuals earlier in development did not dictate the ambition in quality or aesthetic was a major challenge for us. When you are on limited timeframes and the visual elements of the game are still in their infancy, there can be a subconscious tendency to creatively limit the sound design aesthetic. What invariably happens is that the visuals catch up and suddenly the sound design aesthetic just doesn’t cut it and design iteration is needed. So always pushing to create as strong an aesthetic as possible regardless of the state of the rest of the game in terms of visuals or gameplay was one creative challenge to overcome for the team.

 

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What were some technical challenges you had in making the sound of Helldivers 2?

…it can be very difficult to predict every scenario and every combination of equipment, weapons, and enemies interacting with each other.

HS: One of the greatest challenges is testing and simulating a realistic gameplay scenario, given that the title is a four-player co-op shooter. Optimization can be difficult to test in such cases where it can be very difficult to predict every scenario and every combination of equipment, weapons, and enemies interacting with each other. For example, if players chose to split up on the map rather than stick together, that would be an example of something that might catch you off guard and introduce yet-unseen issues with the audio and reveal flaws in the systems that help to keep performance in check.

Likewise, trying to stress test the mix in a realistic way proved to be challenging. Players could generate an ungodly combination of Stratagems, enemies, and weapons all in one place and that needs to be handled in terms of performance but also mix. No matter the amount of chaos, any scenario should be handled and kept under control so making sure we had enough testers to help us mix and test in a realistic way was paramount.

 

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What engine did you use for Helldivers 2? And middleware? Can you talk about your workflow on this game?

HS: The title was developed using a little-known engine called Autodesk Stingray with Audiokinetic’s Wwise as the audio middleware. We relied quite heavily on code support for most aspects of implementation and any existing systems were largely exposed via XML, so a relative challenge in comparison to other more popular game engines.

We would try to test on target hardware as much as possible, meaning we would play packaged builds on PS5 Dev Kits and deploy new soundbanks to existing builds. That way we could catch any hardware-specific issues and rapdily iterate on target hardware which is especially important for 3D Audio on PS5.

 

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What was your approach to mixing this game? What were your biggest challenges in terms of the mix?

HS: When we first took a look at this game, we knew it would be a serious challenge, purely based on the non-stop chaos inherent to the gameplay. Constant explosions, constant waves and waves of enemies, projectiles, incoming strikes, weapon fire, screaming….you name it. That density of sound effects in addition to needing to cater for dialogue and music was a big challenge to solve gracefully.

Having a set of loudness targets for your team to follow was the first step so that you can achieve a rough balance amongst the different categories of sounds. Plotting out a loudness graph for every category helped us to visualize what we wanted sitting where both in terms of momentary loudness and integrated where relevant. The most important thing here is to reserve the headroom for the things that must feel loud, if everything is peaking into this zone, nothing will feel special.

Having a set of loudness targets for your team to follow was the first step so that you can achieve a rough balance amongst the different categories of sounds.

Sounds making room for other sounds was the next thing to tackle and we opted to make heavy use of Wwise’s HDR system. We created a hierarchy of importance in terms of what sounds were the most critical to hear in any given moment in time; this dictated what voice volume these sounds would receive and prioritize them accordingly. Wwise HDR is probably too deep a topic to dive into in this interview but through the use of this system, we had a decent system for making sure the most important sounds, not necessarily the loudest, were always heard when needed by ducking all other sounds with a lower priority. For example, your own weapon fire will be ducked by the sound of you taking damage and an objective being completed might even duck a grenade explosion if it’s important enough.

While HDR takes care of sounds vs. sounds, dialogue vs. sound or sound vs. music required a more transparent approach in order for the ducking to not feel too abrupt. We employed dynamic EQ so that higher frequencies in dialogue would only duck the higher frequencies in the music; this allowed us to dynamically sculpt the music and sound around the dialogue. Likewise with the sound, an explosion might only duck the lowest frequencies of the music for the first few milliseconds, rather than throughout the entirety of the tail which doesn’t need to scoop out those lower frequencies from the music. This serves to provide a transparent approach for dynamic subtractive mixing, only removing the parts of the music or sound that are conflicting.

One other trick we employed was to increase the amount of ducking, or dynamic EQ based on the overall loudness of the game.

In addition to this, the more the music was ducked, the more we would compress it in order to increase audibility at lower volumes, the reduction of dynamic range would allow for the quieter aspects of the music to still be heard clearly.

One other trick we employed was to increase the amount of ducking, or dynamic EQ based on the overall loudness of the game. In other words, the louder the game is overall, the more ducking and dynamic EQ we could afford to apply in order to maintain clarity. If the same level of ducking was applied while there was relative calm outside of combat, it would be very noticeable, and players would hear the volume pumping.

Still, despite these systems you can still find that overall, integrated loudness will creep up, making listening fatigue increasingly likely. To combat this, we employed a few tricks to try to keep things under control, including bringing down the overall volume of all enemies, or all weapons, explosions, etc. as the overall mix got louder. Similarly, if a sound was behind you or off-screen, we might potentially reduce its volume in order to give more space to on-screen sounds, as well as reduce the overall integrated loudness.

 

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What have you learned while working on Helldivers 2 that you feel will be helpful when creating the sound for future games?

JT: One of the biggest lessons for me personally was time management and expectations. What this means is that instead of thinking that you couldn’t do your best work because of time limitations, you need to accept the fact that time will always be a limiting factor in one way or another. This means you will have to re-define success for yourself and your team. When you have unlimited time, you might define success as “we got to do everything we wanted, and we did it to the quality we wanted.” That’s probably always the dream but in reality, it very often shifts into, “We did the best we could within the time we had.” And at least for me, this was quite often difficult to accept.

…instead of thinking that you couldn’t do your best work because of time limitations, you need to accept the fact that time will always be a limiting factor…

To be content and satisfied with this, it needs proper communication and alignment with the team. It can be easy to lose motivation or the creative spark if you feel like you are constantly underperforming because of limited time but if the expectations are established and communicated within the team it alleviates that self-doubt. It might not be ideal but considering the circumstances, and the reality of the situation, we are still successful, and we are hitting our goals.

Seeing the project from both the point of view of a sound designer and a lead gave me a whole new perspective on game development in general but one thing that stood out the most was just the value of making a decision. For me, it was a bit of a revelation that very often there is not “the right decision” to be made but rather it is a starting point. No matter what the seniority is, making decisions will make the lives of those around you much easier. This does not mean that “this will be the way it’s done” but rather that you already have options to present – you have investigated the issue and have reasoning for your decisions or options. Then it is much easier, for example, for a lead to just say yes or no without having to investigate further themselves and you can work towards the common goal together.

Having a well-mixed game throughout the development of the title helps to bring clarity to decision-making…

HS: For me, amongst many things, it will be to invest in the mix as early as possible. Having a well-mixed game throughout the development of the title helps to bring clarity to decision-making and reveals flaws in current asset designs that might otherwise not materialize until it is too late.

I think in addition to this, making sure to set clear, realistic quality goals for all areas, and not to sacrifice quality in the areas that require it. I think this applies to every title in development, but knowing which pillars of your game will act as the backbone of the soundscape helps to shape where to invest and where to accept less.

PlayStation Creative Arts Sound Design Staff that worked on the project include: Harvey Scott, Juuso Tolonen, Simon Gumbleton, Loic Couthier, Lorenzo Valsassina, Lewis Barn, Edward Durcan, Daniel Ramos, Toivo Kallio, Danny Hey, Fabio Liutina, Lewis Everest, Pete Hanson, Joanna Fang and Blake Collins.

 

A big thanks to Harvey Scott, Juuso Tolonen, Kristian Johansson, and Olliver Andersson for giving us a behind-the-scenes look at the sound of Helldivers 2 and to Jennifer Walden for the interview!

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