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Designing the Soundscape of Heart of Thorns

William Murphy Posted:
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Now several months beyond the launch of Heart of Thorns, the Guild Wars 2 team is shining a light on one of the more underappreciated arts of game development – sound design. To that end, we caught up with Jerry Schroeder and Drew Cady (Sound Designers each)  to talk about the behind the scenes work of bringing the Maguuma Jungle and its denizens to life.

Sound Design is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of a great game. Having great sound, sound that brings a world and its creatures to life, can create the kind of immersion players crave.  But at the same time, few critics and players really pay attention to it. I suppose, as Jerry and Drew put it, it’s because great sound design shouldn’t distract… it should make the world feel more alive.

I asked each of the gents to tell me what Heart of Thorns sound design was like, when compared to others games or projects they’ve worked on, and even the original Guild Wars 2 when it launched. With Heart of Thorns, Drew said it was a whole new game. They had to work all these new races and species into the game musically. The jungle and all its layers have such unique tonality to them – insects, wind, frogs, mushrooms, the vinetooths (vineteeth?) – it all had to work together as a sort of symphony.

Speaking of the Vinetooh, I asked the guys if they captured real life stuff, or if it was all done in a sound studio. On vacation, in the mall, just walking to their cars… if it’s an interesting sound, these guys will pull out a recorder and capture it for potential use in the game. Jerry even heard a particular awesome sounding door opening in Target, so he stopped right there and recorded it on the spot.

Still a lot of the sound you’ll find in Heart of Thorns isn’t real world stuff, but rather the result of a lot of experimentation and tweaking. Sometimes they’ll go into the studio with specific ideas, like rubbing balloons together, and it just won’t work right for the sound they’re aiming to emulate. But they never throw any of what they record away. What might not work for a Quaggan fart may be just fine for a Krait burp (my example, not theirs!).

One has to wonder though, does the sound design team work closely with the team behind the music of Heart of Thorns? With a soundtrack that quite possibly surpasses the original’s, you would hope so.  Indeed, both Jerry and Drew worked with a lot of the music team, most notably the designer/composer Lena Chappelle. By way of example, the Gold City was already working on a very chime-filled musical landscape, and so Lena and Drew came together to make a sort of harmonic resonance for both the ambient sound and the music. Now, when you play the meta events of the City, pay attention – you just might be able to pick out Drew smashing up a broken old toilet, mashing it together with sand. No, I’m not kidding. It gives a whole golden, shimmery sound to the landscape, and who cares what the methods are if they always produce such aural beauty?

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William Murphy

Bill is the former Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, RTSGuru.com, and lover of all things gaming. He's been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002, and you can harass him and his views on Twitter @thebillmurphy.