The Last of Us games are outstanding productions not only in terms of visuals and voice acting but also their sound design. In this interview the sound designers at Naughty Dog reveal many details about their work on the second installment of the game.
We are very fastidious about keeping a recognizable and coherent overall sonic signature for each of our games.
Some of them are really amazing. For example, there are three different types of backpack in the game, and each one have its unique sounds. They also sound different when hitting the water or other surface. Furthermore, the sound team designed the sounds of every weapon being holstered and put into the backpack. For the bow and arrows there’s even a different sound whether you already have one, two or three arrows in the inventory and you are adding another one.
Another interesting thing is the so-called surface awareness. Basically it means when an object hits a different surface, a different sound is played. Whether the character wears gloves or not, the sound of grabbing the weapon is different. When the character crawls face to the ground, the weapon they carry also makes a different sound. The backpack is also surface-aware, like I mentioned above.
Whether the player steps into the water or blood, the splash sound differs. There is also a wet socks sound effect after stepping out of the water. The water sound effects are also available for horses and dogs. The sounds are different regarding the depth of the water. For the snow, the sounds of fresh snow, icy snow and packed snow were recorded.
For the first time in our games, water is “depth-aware.”
The footsteps were recorded on 40 different surfaces. They also recorded dog paws and horse hooves on six surfaces. According to the sound designers, on many levels more than a half of the in-game memory is used for the foley, which sounds impressive.
Another interesting aspect is the whistling code language of the enemies called Scars/Seraphites. The audio team was inspired by a documentary about a Spanish island, where the whistling language really exists. Originally, they recorded a professional musical whistler but the sounds he made were too melodic and blended with the in-game sounds of the birds.
So they decided to record the whistles on their own and then used them as an example for the other professional whistlers they hired. The whistles were perfectly staged by the professionals from the “perfect whistler” to the “less than average whistler”. That made it more realistic and depending on the person who actually “whistles” in the game.
The sounds of breaking glass are also remarkable. Breaking the glass in this game is very enjoyable for the players. The effect was separated into layers that made it realistic and enjoyable. Also it depends what type of glass the player breaks, and walking on the shattered glass makes also a very realistic sound. The following thread gives more details about it.
To make the player feel immersed in the post-apocalyptic, abandoned world, the sound designers recorded an old mine shaft and other abandoned places to make the proper ambience. The sounds of the Infected enemies were also redesigned, including the Bloater sounds which the devs wanted to sound more human than in the first game.
We believe that foley, uniquely, invisibly, and intimately connects the player to the character.
But the most important thing from my point of view as a gamer with disabilities is the fact that The Last of Us Part 2 can be completely played through sound, by using the audio indicators in every aspect: searching, picking up objects, moving and what is most important, fighting. This game is a milestone in video game accessibility.
The work the audio team did for The Last of Us Part 2 is truly amazing. There is so much detail in the soundscape they created, that for me it is the best game sound design of this year so far or even one of the best ever.