Asbjoern Andersen


What goes into creating the sound for such a vast game as No Man’s Sky? Find out in Anne-Sophie Mongeau’s in-depth talk with Paul Weir, audio director on the game:


Interview by Anne-Sophie Mongeau



Video Thumbnail

Trailer for the new Pathfinder update for No Man’s Sky


 

The game No Man’s Sky was an ambitious project which presented considerable challenges regarding audio, due to both its procedurally generated universe, as well as its style and art. How did those challenges reflect on audio design and implementation?

Paul Weir (PW): From the beginning, I aimed to keep the ambiences as natural as possible, using lots of original recordings of weather effects and nature sounds. It was a sensible decision to use Wwise and drive the ambiences using the state and switch systems. The advantage of this approach is that you can relatively easily construct an expandable infrastructure into which you can add layers of sound design that respond to the game state.

With a game like No Man’s Sky you need to pass as much information as practical from the game to the audio systems in order to understand the environment and state of play. For example, what planet biome you’re on, what the weather is doing, where you are relative to trees, water or buildings, whether you’re close to a cave or in a cave, underwater, in a vehicle, engaged in combat and so on.
 

A simple example of how this information can be brought together without additional programmer support is the introduction of interior storm ambience. We have a control value (an RTPC in Wwise terminology) for ‘storminess’ and know whether the player is indoors or out. It was a simple job then to add different audio, such as shakes and creaks, when indoors and a storm is raging, without having to rely on a programmer to add this.

It helps that nearly all of our audio is streamed, so I have few restrictions on the quantity of audio I can incorporate.

There’s a certain pride I take in recording unassuming everyday objects and using them for key sounds

I wouldn’t usually use electronic sounds as much as recorded acoustic material, but given the sci-fi nature of the game, a lot of the obviously sci-fi features do use synth sounds, although often combined with real-world mechanical sounds. There’s a certain pride I take in recording unassuming everyday objects and using them for key sounds. For example in the most recent update where we added vehicles, the buggy is my own unglamorous car, recorded using contact microphones, the hovercraft is a combination of a desktop fan and air conditioning unit and the large vehicle sounds come from programmer Dave’s Range Rover, I just dropped a microphone into the engine then we went for a spin around Guildford.

Apart from my usual rule of every sound being original, which I appreciate is in itself pretty dogmatic, I have no set approach as to where the sounds come from. It’s whatever works.
 

Can you define in a few words the difference between generative and procedural for the readers?

PW: There is no recognised definition for either term, so it’s not possible to definitively describe the difference. For me, generative means it is a randomised process with some rules of logic to control the range of values, it does not need to be interactive. Procedural is different in that it involves real-time synthesis that is live and interactive, controlled by data coming back from the game systems. This differentiation works reasonably well for audio but graphics programmers will no doubt have their own definitions.
 

How much of the game’s audio is procedurally generated and how would you compare these new innovative techniques to the more common sound design approaches?

PW: Very little of the audio is procedurally created, only the creature vocals and background fauna. At the moment it’s too expensive and risky to widely use this approach, although there are several tools in development that may help with this. Procedural audio is just one more option amongst more traditional approaches and the best approach as always is to use whatever combination best works for a particular project.
No Man's Sky sound
 

Can you tell us about the generative music system (Pulse) – the goals, what it allows to do, and its strengths compared to other implementation tools?

PW: Pulse, at its heart, is really just a glorified random file player with the ability to control sets of sounds based on gameplay mechanics. We have a concept of an instrument which is an arbitrary collection of sounds, usually variations of a single type of sound. This is placed within a ‘canvas’ and given certain amounts of playback logic, such as how often the sound can play, its pitch, pan and volume information. When these instruments play depends on the logic for each soundscape type, of which there are four general variations consisting of planet, space, wanted and map. So for example when in space, instruments in the ‘higher interest’ area play as you face a planet in your ship or when you’re warping. In the map the music changes depending on whether you’re moving and in your direction of travel.

We currently have 24 sets of soundscapes, so that’s 60 basic soundscapes, plus special cases like the map, space stations, photo mode, etc.

Pulse also makes the implementation of soundscapes relatively simple. Once you drag the wavs into the tool it creates all the Wwise XML data itself and injects it into the project, so you never manually touch anything to do with the soundscapes from Wwise.
 

 

In NMS, how are music and sound effects interacting together? What was your approach towards mixing those 2, and do you have any recommendations on how to mix music and SFX dynamically?

PW: I always mix as I go, the mix process wasn’t as difficult as you might expect and as a PS4 title, we’re mixed to the EBU R128 standard.

You have to accept that you’re never going to have a perfect mix with this type of title, so just embrace the chaos

Whilst there’s a lot of randomisation in the game, I always know the upper and lower limits of any sound and so over time you reach a reasonably satisfactory equilibrium in the mix. It helps a lot that we don’t have any dialogue. You also have to accept that you’re never going to have a perfect mix with this type of title, so just embrace the chaos.

I do have to be careful with the music though. 65 Day’s of Static like creating sounds with very resonant frequencies so sometimes I use EQ to avoid these from standing out too much. Similarly I’ll take out sounds that are too noise-based as they might sound like a sound effect. On the whole though, 90% of what the 65’ers make goes straight into the game.
 

What’s your opinion on sourcing any audio from libraries VS creating original content?

PW: On larger projects I am most irritating in insisting that all of the audio is original and not a single sound is sourced from a library, if at all possible. It does depend largely on the game and practicalities but I’ve been able to do this on No Man’s Sky so far. On smaller projects or where time is of the essence, then obviously it makes sense to dip into libraries. Over the years I’ve amassed a large personal collection of sounds that I’m constantly adding to.
 

Can you tell us about the tools you used for NMS’s procedural/synthesised audio, what other software was involved in its creation?

PW: Early in development we used Flowstone to prototype the VocAlien synthesis component. Flowstone has the advantage of being able to export a VST so Sandy White, the programmer behind VocAlien, wrote a simple VST bridge to host plugins in Wwise. For release though it obviously needs to be C++ and cross-compile to PS4 and Windows. VocAlien is not just a synthesiser, it’s several components, including a MIDI control surface and MIDI read/write module.
 

 

Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • Weapons Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds Play Track 800+ sounds included $80

    Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds is a sfx library recorded for police / military related film or video games. Recorded at 24/96,(real guns and soft/air guns) with 3 microphones (omni, cardioid and shotgun), you can use one sound or mix the 3 layers together for more impact!

    Key Features:

    Library ships in 96kHz, 24bit
    408 files, more than 800 sounds
    Effective workflow: well-grounded Soundminer Metadata
    Add to cart
  • Foley Lethal Blow Play Track 983 sounds included $49.99 $34.99

    Lethal Blow is a collection of high quality fight sound effect. It features 925 sound effects; 600 source recording and 325 designed sound effects. It comes loaded with all sorts of sounds – from simple punches to multi-layerd crunchy blows and and meaty hits.
    All source sounds ware recorded with top tier microphones; Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH8060 at 192kHz/24Bit with a Sound Devices recorder.

    Collection consists of two main categories:

    DESIGNED 96/24 (325 SFX)

    Bone Breaks – Crunchy breaks, snaps and tears.
    Grabs, throws and blacks.
    Bright Punches – Punches with meaty bottom and pronounces “beef slap” transients.
    Crunch Punches – Punches layered with bone breaks and cracks .
    Dark punches – Punches with more of a deep, organic, thump-y sound.
    Rips and tears – Fatality-like, gory tears.
    Simple Punches – Organic sounding, deep punches that consist of only few layers (compared to other punches).
    Punches “Xtra” – Punches without Arm movement/scuffle/whoosh – just a hit that you can layer with your own woos/scuffle
    Skull crashes – Gory, slimy skull crashes and splits
    Swooshes, whooshes snd scuffles.

    SOURCE CONSTRUCTION-KIT 192/24 (600 SFX)

    Scuffles, arm movements and whooshes – Cotton, denim and nylon.
    Snaps – Leak snaps
    Flesh drops – Dropped oranges
    Cotton transients – Cotton hoodie hit with a soft drum mallet
    Real chest punches – Closed fist
    Meaty punches – Beefy, organic punches (punching beef steaks).
    Lettuce punches and smacks – Deep, wet lettuce punches plus exaggerated transient sounds.
    Real chest smacks – Open fist
    Meat movement – gory, slimy, beef movements.
    Meat Slaps – Beef steaks dropped on a tile floor with pronounced transients
    Small crack – cracking eggshells
    Bell pepper rips – Tearing, ripping apart Bell peppers for crunchy snaps and cracks
    Whooshes and swooshes – Airy whooshes
    Fabric Movement – random, cotton cloth whooshes and multiple swishes.

    325 designed sound effects will get you started right away and save a lot of time when cutting fight scenes.
    600 high quality source recordings will allow you to design all kinds of punches, bone brakes and gore sound effects from scratch, exactly to your taste.

    All sound effects are highly tweakable. You can fine-tune them to your liking; pitch them up/down to remove/add weight whilst retaining details and clarity.

    Download includes:
    96-192KHZ 24BIT version (925 SFX/562MB)
    44.1KHZ 16BIT version for Unreal Engine (925 SFX/264MB)
    192KHZ 24BIT BONUS source recordings (58 SFX/30MB)
    RECORDED WITH: Sound Devices MixPre 6 + Sennheiser MKH8040 + Sennheiser MKH8060
    EDITED AND MASTERED WITH: RX, Pro Tools, Brufri, DMGAudio, Sonnox, Fabfilter

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576709999
    Add to cart
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Electro-Mechanics Toolkit 2 Play Track 860+ sounds included $67 $53.60

    The “Electro-Mechanics ToolKit 2” Sound Effects Library features a wide range of versatile electro-mechanic motors, engines, tools and toys.
    All waiting to be cut up, layered, edited and mangled with FX to become spaceship engines, robot movements, sci fi doors, weapon mechanics.
    This library is not meant to be a comprehensive tools library but rather a composite toolkit to bring futuristic electro-mechanic machines, devices, weapons, vehicles, … sonically to life.
    All cleaned and edited for direct use in your upcoming projects.

    All sounds have embedded BWF Metadata.

    Categories:

    Air Compressor • Angle Grinder • Band Saw • Belt Sander • Bowling Alley Machinery • Buffing Machine • Turning Lathe • Buzz Saw • Chop Saw • Doors & Shutters • Electric Drill • Electric Screwdriver • Electric Wood Plane • Evacuator • Film Projector • Fine Blanking Tool • Fretsaw • Grinding Lathe • Hand Blender & Mixer • Hoist Industrial • Industrial Vacuum Cleaner • Jigsaw • Mechanic Toys • Metal Saw • Milling Machine • Stationary Drill • Strimmer • Toy Helicopter

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
    Add to cart
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles RC Cars | Reely Core Buggy Play Track 170+ sounds included $35 $28

    Looking for sounds of a remote controlled car? Here you go: This sound effects library features 170 sound effects of the Reely Core RC Car. You get several on-board and external driving sounds, pass-bys, close-up steering mechanics and idling mixtures, and of course some crashes. All sounds are edited and cleaned for direct use in your upcoming sound design projects. All sounds contain detailed BWF Metadata.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
    Add to cart
  • Foley Crockery & Surfaces (Empty) Play Track 64 sounds included $20 $17

    A library containing a number of objects being picked up, put down and moved around on a number of surfaces including wood, glass and metal.

    15 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
    Add to cart


Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

 

On a more technical point of view, how was audio optimisation handled? Did using procedural audio improve CPU/Memory usage?

PW: VocAlien is very efficient and on average our CPU usage is low. However due to the nature of the game, where we can’t predict the range of creatures or sound emitting objects on a planet, the voice allocation can jump around substantially. We have to use a lot of voice limiting based on distance to constantly prioritise the sounds closest to the player.
 

What would you think is the best use of procedural audio? Would it be more adequate for some types of projects or sounds than others?

PW: Procedural audio, according to my suggested definition above, only makes sense if it solves a problem for you that would otherwise be difficult to resolve using conventional sound design.

There are complex qualities that we instantly react to with natural sounds, it’s a lot harder to do this with synthetic sound

It’s still a poor way to create realistic sounds. I’m not generally in favour of using it to create wind or rain effects for example. As a sound designer I find this a very functional approach to sound, ignoring the emotive qualities that natural sound can have. Wind can be cold, gentle, spooky, reassuring. There are complex qualities that we instantly react to with natural sounds, it’s a lot harder to do this with synthetic sound.

No Man's Sky game audio

Finally, NMS’s audio is of a such greatly varied nature and represents a massive achievement overall, do you have a few favourite sounds in game?

PW: Thank you, I’ll very gratefully take any compliments. Although it started off quite incidental, I like how we’ve managed to insert so many different flavours of rain into the game. I thanked Sean recently for letting me make SimRain, the game itself is incidental.

What gives me pleasure is knowing the everyday items that make it into the game, such as an electric water pump, vending machine, garage motor. I’ve included some examples of the raw sounds that were used as source material below.
 

Big thanks to Paul Weir for this interview and his insights on procedural audio!

 

Please share this:


 


 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
  • Animals & Creatures Amazon Jungle Play Track 49 sounds included, 357 mins total From: $95 From: $66.50

    Amazon Jungle is a collection of unique ambiences recorded in the Amazon rainforest on the border between Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The library was recorded during the rainy season when birds are vocal and humidity is at its highest. These recordings feature species such as the Screaming Piha, Toucans, Howler Monkeys, Trogons, Tinamous, Owls, very vocal Bamboo Rats and a multitude of insects and frogs.

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576537199
  • Foley Footstep and Foley Sounds Play Track 812 sounds included $10

    Footstep & Foley Sounds contains 511 high quality professionally recorded footstep sounds. Surfaces included: concrete, dirt, grass, gravel, metal, mud, water, wood, ice and snow. Plus 141 Foley sounds covering a variety of character movement sounds. A perfect addition to add realism to your footstep sounds.

    This pack also includes a variety of 160 bonus sounds effects from our full library Pro Sound Collection. ALL sounds from Footstep & Foley Sounds are included in Pro Sound Collection so if you need more sounds be sure to check it out before purchase.

    Add to cart
  • Environments Quiet Spaces Play Track 47+ sounds included, 139 mins total From: $25

    In films and documentaries there are often images of people in spaces speaking to other people, who are listening attentively.

    The recordings of the person doing the talking are pristine from the set. The recordings of the rest of the room don’t exist. Room tones of empty spaces don’t possess movement and life that your soundtracks require for these situations.

    Quiet Spaces is a collection of recordings of people gathered in rooms of various sizes and not talking

    Libraries are a natural place to capture these environments, and so a high quality stealth kit made from a pair of Sanken CUB 01s discreetly placed from a backpack onto empty tables in various libraries. We also got access to a university campus right at the end of finals week where we recorded out in the open with a pair of MKH50s in ORTF. We captured an entire class taking a test, as well as various other lightly and sparsely populated spaces in and around campus.

    Locations captured include:
    • 5 different public libraries
    • multiple perspectives per library
    • 6 locations on the UNT campus
    • 1 class quietly taking a written test

    The end result is a beautiful set of recordings of quiet spaces that are still filled with texture and movement.

    Available in two versions:

    Full version:
    • 24 bit, 96 kHz stereo wav files
    • soundminer and bwav metadata tags
    • photography
    • 4.8 Gigabytes of sound
    • 139 minutes of sound
    Lite version:
    • 16 bit, 44.1 kHz stereo wav files
    • soundminer and bwav metadata tags
    • photography
    • 1.48 Gigabytes of sound
    • 139 minutes of sound
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Weapons Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds Play Track 800+ sounds included $80

    Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds is a sfx library recorded for police / military related film or video games. Recorded at 24/96,(real guns and soft/air guns) with 3 microphones (omni, cardioid and shotgun), you can use one sound or mix the 3 layers together for more impact!

    Key Features:

    Library ships in 96kHz, 24bit
    408 files, more than 800 sounds
    Effective workflow: well-grounded Soundminer Metadata
  • Foley Lethal Blow Play Track 983 sounds included $49.99 $34.99

    Lethal Blow is a collection of high quality fight sound effect. It features 925 sound effects; 600 source recording and 325 designed sound effects. It comes loaded with all sorts of sounds – from simple punches to multi-layerd crunchy blows and and meaty hits.
    All source sounds ware recorded with top tier microphones; Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH8060 at 192kHz/24Bit with a Sound Devices recorder.

    Collection consists of two main categories:

    DESIGNED 96/24 (325 SFX)

    Bone Breaks – Crunchy breaks, snaps and tears.
    Grabs, throws and blacks.
    Bright Punches – Punches with meaty bottom and pronounces “beef slap” transients.
    Crunch Punches – Punches layered with bone breaks and cracks .
    Dark punches – Punches with more of a deep, organic, thump-y sound.
    Rips and tears – Fatality-like, gory tears.
    Simple Punches – Organic sounding, deep punches that consist of only few layers (compared to other punches).
    Punches “Xtra” – Punches without Arm movement/scuffle/whoosh – just a hit that you can layer with your own woos/scuffle
    Skull crashes – Gory, slimy skull crashes and splits
    Swooshes, whooshes snd scuffles.

    SOURCE CONSTRUCTION-KIT 192/24 (600 SFX)

    Scuffles, arm movements and whooshes – Cotton, denim and nylon.
    Snaps – Leak snaps
    Flesh drops – Dropped oranges
    Cotton transients – Cotton hoodie hit with a soft drum mallet
    Real chest punches – Closed fist
    Meaty punches – Beefy, organic punches (punching beef steaks).
    Lettuce punches and smacks – Deep, wet lettuce punches plus exaggerated transient sounds.
    Real chest smacks – Open fist
    Meat movement – gory, slimy, beef movements.
    Meat Slaps – Beef steaks dropped on a tile floor with pronounced transients
    Small crack – cracking eggshells
    Bell pepper rips – Tearing, ripping apart Bell peppers for crunchy snaps and cracks
    Whooshes and swooshes – Airy whooshes
    Fabric Movement – random, cotton cloth whooshes and multiple swishes.

    325 designed sound effects will get you started right away and save a lot of time when cutting fight scenes.
    600 high quality source recordings will allow you to design all kinds of punches, bone brakes and gore sound effects from scratch, exactly to your taste.

    All sound effects are highly tweakable. You can fine-tune them to your liking; pitch them up/down to remove/add weight whilst retaining details and clarity.

    Download includes:
    96-192KHZ 24BIT version (925 SFX/562MB)
    44.1KHZ 16BIT version for Unreal Engine (925 SFX/264MB)
    192KHZ 24BIT BONUS source recordings (58 SFX/30MB)
    RECORDED WITH: Sound Devices MixPre 6 + Sennheiser MKH8040 + Sennheiser MKH8060
    EDITED AND MASTERED WITH: RX, Pro Tools, Brufri, DMGAudio, Sonnox, Fabfilter

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576709999
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Electro-Mechanics Toolkit 2 Play Track 860+ sounds included $67 $53.60

    The “Electro-Mechanics ToolKit 2” Sound Effects Library features a wide range of versatile electro-mechanic motors, engines, tools and toys.
    All waiting to be cut up, layered, edited and mangled with FX to become spaceship engines, robot movements, sci fi doors, weapon mechanics.
    This library is not meant to be a comprehensive tools library but rather a composite toolkit to bring futuristic electro-mechanic machines, devices, weapons, vehicles, … sonically to life.
    All cleaned and edited for direct use in your upcoming projects.

    All sounds have embedded BWF Metadata.

    Categories:

    Air Compressor • Angle Grinder • Band Saw • Belt Sander • Bowling Alley Machinery • Buffing Machine • Turning Lathe • Buzz Saw • Chop Saw • Doors & Shutters • Electric Drill • Electric Screwdriver • Electric Wood Plane • Evacuator • Film Projector • Fine Blanking Tool • Fretsaw • Grinding Lathe • Hand Blender & Mixer • Hoist Industrial • Industrial Vacuum Cleaner • Jigsaw • Mechanic Toys • Metal Saw • Milling Machine • Stationary Drill • Strimmer • Toy Helicopter

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles RC Cars | Reely Core Buggy Play Track 170+ sounds included $35 $28

    Looking for sounds of a remote controlled car? Here you go: This sound effects library features 170 sound effects of the Reely Core RC Car. You get several on-board and external driving sounds, pass-bys, close-up steering mechanics and idling mixtures, and of course some crashes. All sounds are edited and cleaned for direct use in your upcoming sound design projects. All sounds contain detailed BWF Metadata.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
  • Foley Crockery & Surfaces (Empty) Play Track 64 sounds included $20 $17

    A library containing a number of objects being picked up, put down and moved around on a number of surfaces including wood, glass and metal.

    15 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
 
FOLLOW OR SUBSCRIBE FOR THE LATEST IN FANTASTIC SOUND:
 
                              
 
GET THE MUCH-LOVED A SOUND EFFECT NEWSLETTER:
 
The A Sound Effect newsletter gets you a wealth of exclusive stories and insights
+ free sounds with every issue:
 
Subscribe here for free SFX with every issue

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.