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The Sound Design of Journey

October 10, 2012 Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

'Sup, internet. I'm writing to tell you a bit about what went into the sounds of a beautiful little game called Journey. I was the sound designer on the project, working with ThatGameCompany part-time start-to-finish for several years from my office at SCEA Santa Monica, just a few blocks away from them. People seem to really love the game, and I figured there are too many stories in these sounds for the world to never know, so I thought I'd share them with you in this archive of industry love, Gamasutra.

Beware, though: spoilers lurk below

Song Talk

The singing in the game is of four types: a light quick button press for a "coo", a hard quick press for a "chirp", a reasonably-held press for a "call", and a long-held press for a large "shout".

They are a combination of re-pitched and processed birds, along with musical elements provided by composer Austin Wintory himself. Austin made musical parts for each type to compliment the score in each of the levels, and when close to another player, there are falling variations from your character, and rising variations from your companion.

The buried vocal is Lisbeth Scott, the singer of the final credits track, who is also the main element of the angelic white ancestor figures.

Singing in Barrens level by Journey Sound Design

We considered mapping different calls to different buttons or the D-pad, and even a sort of wah-wah to the right analog stick, but one button was just better -- like the simplicity of the one button in Shadow of the Colossus. The call mechanic is more context- and distance-based in that game, and we wanted to give more control for co-op expression, but I'd still consider Shadow of the Colossus very much an inspiration.

Living Sand and Cloth

Most of the sand sounds were recorded in my room at Sony, in a low 3' x 3' cardboard box filled with dirty sand I got from Venice Beach. The sand waterfalls in the game were made by pouring the sand from a couple feet high into the box, filling my room with dust. (Are there long-term health effects?)

There are large sand waterfalls made from a lot of sand poured from a recycling bin, and there are small, thin versions made by pouring sand through a poster tube. For the large ones there is a washed-out distant perspective layer and a brighter, rumblier layer when you get close.

Sand Waterfalls by Journey Sound Design

The walking and running sand steps were a combination of jabbing the sand with my fingers, cloth sounds, and recordings made on an early research trip to Pismo Beach with Thatgamecompany. The steep sand climbing footsteps are mostly the socked feet of art lead Matt Nava on a steep Pismo dune. Left steps were distinguished from right steps for a back-and-forth sound.

Sand Footsteps - Normal and Steep by Journey Sound Design

The footsteps on stone came from a hacky sack that sits on TGC designer Nick Clark's desk. The footsteps on metal were made by tapping the side panel of a PC case held loosely against the grated shelf of a mini-fridge.

Stone and Metal Footsteps by Journey Sound Design

All of the player's main robe movement sounds are from a military jacket that got me through Chicago winters -- a gift from a girlfriend. The standing-up-in-sand sound was that jacket half-buried in sand, lifted out of the sandbox. The sounds of walking through a sand waterfall are scoops of sand tossed at the jacket. For standing under a waterfall, it's the sound of sand poured on it.

Standing Up - Walking Into Sand Waterfall - Sand On Player by Journey Sound Design

Article Start Page 1 of 4 Next

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Bryan Melanson
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Now those are beautiful sounds. Fantastic work!

Idan Egozy
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Inspirational stuff, thank you.

Sean Hogan
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Very very cool!

Marcelo Martins
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Amazing article. Thanks for sharing!

Alexander Brandon
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What I like about the game, Austin's excellent talk at GDC and your article here is how music and sound interacted much more closely than they do in most games. Depending on the genre / style / mechanics, a lot more games should do the same.

Michael Theiler
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I find inspiring how creative you were with what you recorded. Great ingenuity in the sounds recorded!

One point you make that I think is very important for games trying to breath life into their worlds; if ambient creatures are added to the world, they are perceived as dumb if they don't react to the world in any way. These reactions can be simple audio elements that are triggered at logical times to denote emotional responses from these creatures, and immediately give the game-world more believability. I think this is a trick that could be used to great affect in many games.

Kenan Alpay
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Thank you so much for taking the time to write this up... too bad I can't see those Maya screenshots :)

Scott Petrovic
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Thanks for posting all of your experiences and design with these sounds. Great job...I'm so jealous!

Daniel Hug
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Wonderful work, congrats! Too bad none of it gets mentioned on the website of TGC. There is even no credit for "sound design"...

Alpan Aytekin
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Thanks for this great article. I am experiencing problems in looping sounds like surface slides, because there is a certain amount of phasing going on, and whenever the the sample loops to the start, you can notice the discontinuity. I try to cope with that by duplicating the audio and reversing the duplicate in the time domain. Any suggestions would be deeply appreciated.

Rodney Gates
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Excellent work, Steve!

Rikard Peterson
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Thanks for the article! A very interesting read.

Matthew Turner
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Everything I love about sound design is in this Article.

Ken Zachrisson
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This is what sound design is about. Creative processes and weird solutions :) Great read and great inspiration. Thanks!