uncharted sound design Asbjoern Andersen


‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’ is the final installment in the long-running Uncharted series – and it was recently released to universal critical acclaim (landing an impressive average score of 93 on Metacritic!). Senior Sound Designer Jeremy Rogers was on the sound team for the game.

And in this special A Sound Effect interview, he shares what it was like working on the game, his favorite Uncharted 4 sound moments – and a big audio tech advance that transformed the in-game weapon SFX:



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Hi Jeremy, please introduce yourself and the sound team on Uncharted 4:

My name is Jeremy Rogers and I’m a Senior Sound Designer. Sony companies run a lean ship when it comes to sound. Usually only a few people are on staff at each studio. They then hire out the internal Sony sound group, called PD Sound, to be stationed at a studio during development. Basically, PD Sound jumps from project to project (sometimes multiple projects at once). I’m a part of PD Sound along with 2 additional Senior Sound Designers, Erick Ocampo and Chris Clanin. Also, the Dialogue Coordinator Harrison Deutsch is a part of PD Sound.

At Naughty Dog, we have our venerable Lead Phil Kovats and Senior Sound Designer Rob Krekel. We also have our genius-in-residence Jonathan Lanier as the Audio Programmer. Rounding out the team, we have Warren Post as our Audio Implementor, Mike Hourihan as the Dialogue Designer/Integrator, and Ammie Puckett as our Localization Coordinator.
 

How did you get involved with the game, and what’s been your primary role on the project?

I’m a HUGE fan of Uncharted. It’s my favorite game series and I’ve been a fan of Naughty Dog along the way as well. I kept my eye on any openings at Naughty Dog, and when the chance came to work on Uncharted 4, I jumped at it.

At Naughty Dog, each sound designer plays multiple roles. I got to work on a variety of different sounds within the game, from puzzles to explosions to ambience and beyond. My biggest task was creating the ambiences in all the levels. Because it was so much work, it probably took most of my time.
 

For those who haven’t tried the game yet: What does players have to look forward to in Uncharted 4, in terms of sound?

Naughty Dog is known for pushing sound to the next level. With Uncharted 4, I believe we have achieved something truly special when it comes to sound.

Usually, in a game, you can tell when there is a cutscene with baked-audio in 5.1 – in this game, it is seamless

I believe the world we have created is more film-like and expansive than ever. The sound engine itself is incredibly advanced. Because of that, the audio experience is more realistic. Usually, in a game, you can tell when there is a cutscene with baked-audio in 5.1 – in this game, it is seamless. There are times where we bake the audio into the scene, and there are times when the audio is happening in the actual environment on the fly. You can’t tell the difference! It’s a really cool thing to experience as an audio nerd. Plus, just play the new vehicle in the game. Wow.
 

This is the fourth installment in the series – what’s been the most valuable lesson you and the sound team learned from working on the previous episodes? And what have been some of the most significant technical advances?

The great thing about working on a series is that you have learned SO much from the previous games. I believe the team learned from trial and error about what aesthetics work and don’t work. I think they figured out what audio engine features worked and didn’t work. There is a great history of previous Naughty Dog titles that they drew on to make this the best sounding Naughty Dog game yet! The most valuable lesson is just experience. For technical advances, wow, there are so many of them!

I think the biggest advance came from switching to Impulse Response Reverbs. This changed the way we did guns in a HUGE way.

I think the biggest advance came from switching to Impulse Response Reverbs. This changed the way we did guns in a HUGE way. No more baked gun tails that don’t fit the environment!

It’s an incredible collaborative technical advance that I think people will be blown away about!
 

What does the sound development process / schedule look like for a game like Uncharted? How did you start out, and what are some of the last things you got in there?

The development process is a interesting beast at Naughty Dog. The team prides itself on making the game better until the very last moment. Audio is the last step in the process, so the bulk of our work is at the end. In the beginning, we can do a lot of field recording trips, research and development, basic sound design for levels and various foley elements we know will be in the game. But, this is a very organic and creative company. To work on a Naughty Dog title, you need to roll with the punches and be able to pivot.

I started out doing a lot of field recording and ambience building for levels (getting air, winds, birds, appropriate animals, etc.). The very last things we were doing were tweaks on sounds implemented in the game that just weren’t perfect. I think the last thing I did was design some door sounds. I believe I checked in a door sound 5 minutes before we were locked out of doing anything more for the game.
 

Did you do a lot of custom recording for Uncharted 4 – and could you share some details from some of the recording sessions?

We did an incredible amount of custom recordings for this game. I was out recording almost every weekend for various things. I did two recordings in Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles. I needed some Island sounds and waves. I did a recording up at Kern River.

We did an incredible amount of custom recordings for this game

There is a vehicle that plays a large role in the game, so we wanted to get a whole new set of recordings for that. We did a Bullwhip recording session. There is a grappling hook in the game, and we decided that a bullwhip was the best and most diverse sound for this particular tool. We actually recorded multiple bullwhips with different materials to create the full grappling hook set of sounds.
 


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What’s been the biggest challenge in terms of getting the sound right for Uncharted 4?

The biggest challenge was tech and time. The aesthetic was pretty much defined from previous titles. We wanted to push the world of sound within games to a new level, and that just takes time. The tech challenges were huge. This is the biggest Naughty Dog game to date, and the sound grew in both size and demands. Plus, we didn’t have all the time in the world, the game had to come out! So the biggest challenge was figuring out what we could do to push audio in games to the next level, but also come out with a product in a finite amount of time. It was an interesting dance.
 

You’ve done several indie SFX releases yourself – any sounds from those in the game (or from other indie sound libraries)?

I used both! The indie sound libraries are an incredible source. I especially loved the diverse ambience libraries that are out there – it’s amazing what locales are being recorded! For my own SFX Libraries released, I definitely used them. The reason I started making sound libraries is because I didn’t have enough source in commercial libraries.

The indie sound libraries are an incredible source. I especially loved the diverse ambience libraries that are out there – it’s amazing what locales are being recorded!

Usually during a project, I’ll find that I’m missing something or wished I had something more unique, etc. That’s when I’ll start making a sound effects library. I’m actually currently working on a SFX library that should come out in the next month or so that came from a HUGE frustration I had in Uncharted 4 sound design. I won’t give it away just yet, but keep your eyes and ears open for that soon!

With my Punch Sound Effects Library I released, I used some of those punches to brighten up impacts in various places. For the Gore Sound Effects Library I released, I used that for various blood splats and gore sounds within Uncharted 4. I even used my Catalina SFX library on my website for Island sounds and wave sounds.
 

Video: The Sound of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End:

Want to learn more about the sound for Uncharted 4? Check out this great video from The SoundWorks Collection, featuring Audio Lead Phillip Kovats, Senior Sound Designer Robert Krekel, Senior Programmer Jonathan Lanier and of course Senior Sound Designer Jeremy Rogers:

Video Thumbnail
Any standout moments working on the sound for the game – and do you have any favorite sounds in there?

I love Uncharted. I also love all the puzzles in the various games, so one of the coolest moments was getting to work on some puzzles in this new game. I always had a smile when I was working on that! I also got to work on some of the big moments in the game. There is this section where something crazy happens and it’s classic Uncharted. I won’t give it away, but it was really fun working on that.

My favorite sound is actually a bird sound. It was an accident. I was working in Soundminer and had the pitch down 50%. I think I was previously working on something else that needed the pitch down. Anyway, I was searching through bird sounds and all of a sudden this amazing bird call came out of my speakers. I’m not even sure it was a bird, haha, but it was haunting. It totally made this one section in the game for me.
 

A big thanks to Jeremy Rogers and team for the insights on the sound for Uncharted 4!

 

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    Bonus – Forge Sound Design Tool Sample Map

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    KEY FEATURES:

    • Playable in real-time with instant auditive and visual feedback
    • Any length, tempo, pitch range and root note possible
    • Tempo sync or time (s) duration
    • Control key parameters independently or automatically (+ reversed)
    • Automation and modwheel (cc1) support for each parameter
    • 275 nifty presets included
    • Optional time lock and control lock to try different presets with current setting
    • High cut and low cut filters, reverb and delay
    • Lightweight plug-in, as it relies on synthesis
    USE CASES:

    • Build captivating uplifters, downlifters, drops, rhythmic, percussive builds and more effects out of the box
    • Any electronic genre such as EDM, Trap, Dubstep, Pop, Hip Hop, Drum’n’Bass, House, Techno, and more
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