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Darkness Revealed Update 35 - The Sounds of the Ocean

Hello, everyone! How's it going?

Recently we talked a lot about Last Dive's UI design. We covered dialogue boxes, the title screen, and the main menu. Now it's time to change the subject once again!

Being stranded at the bottom of the ocean can't be easy. The otherworldly deep sea life, the clumsiness of the old diving suit, the insurmountable amount of water in every direction... As sweet as good graphics may be, it is audio that really conveys this sort of feeling.

Our vision for Last Dive is one that can't be imagined without closing your eyes and imagining the sounds around you. For this remake, once the gameplay groundwork was done, we immediately felt the need to start tackling this most important aspect of production. So today we will show a bit of how we do sound effects. Let's get going!

Pixel Cows' Sound Design Pipeline

For those wondering, a 'design pipeline' is just a fancy way of referring to a given sequence of steps that are taken to perform a task. This is what we do to design and produce our sounds:

  1. For any given sound effect that we need, we start by trying to imagine as closely as possible how that should sound like.
  2. Then we search through our company's sound libraries and some royalty free repositories for sound samples that are close enough to what we want to create.
  3. We then mix with other audio samples as needed, and alter it with effects that change the pitch or create a reverb, or an echo. Sounds propagate differently underwater, in a way that we only hear sounds of a lower frequency when compared to the air. This is what makes stuff sound "muffled" underwater, and we emulate that by adding a low-pass filter.
  4. Find a way to test if that sound fits and, if needed, adjust / remake / start over. Otherwise, move to the next sound.

These are the basic steps. Now let's talk a bit about our audio setup. We are true workflow maniacs here at Pixel Cows, so we always make sure we have an efficient way of creating the sound FXs we need and quickly testing it with other audio samples to see if it fits.

Hearing a sample while watching the event that triggers it or seeing how it mixes with the other sounds playing at the same time is an essential part of proper sound design. We only know for sure if a sample is working if we have some sort of visual feedback to go along with it. Adobe's Premiere Pro (image above), despite being an editing software, has been working really well for us. It has all the audio tools and effects we usually use as well as being good for mixing sounds together, and bunching them up with video clips to give us a feel of how it'll play in the actual game.

Creating an Atmosphere

We started the audio development by creating Dave's basic movement sounds, such as jumping, walking, and falling from big heights. These were some of the main sounds in the game and the ones our players would be hearing the most, so it was important to get them right. 

Our next step was to give them some sort of context. The original Last Dive had a constant atmospheric underwater sound going on (what is sometimes called a soundscape), and it helped a lot with the game's mood and immersion. It has the goal of holding all sounds together. If this looping sound isn't in the game, everything feels a bit disconnected. Notice the discrete, but essential, atmospheric audio of the ocean in the background of the video below. 

This deep sea atmosphere is our main looping background sound and will be present in most of the game, but it wouldn't fit well in the introductory coral reefs. For those, we made a new soundscape. You are a lot closer to the surface in this level, so we added wave crashes and seagulls muffled by the water. 

What do you think of our sound effects production process? Got any suggestions on how we can improve? We'd love to hear! We are always hanging out on Twitter and Facebook, so feel free to say hello. Or, if you want to receive these updates complete and before everyone else, sign up for our Golden Chest

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