Uncharted 4: Naughty Dog Talks Dynamic Soundtrack, "Hyper Real Pulp Sound," PS4 Technology and More

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End looks like a real joy for the eyes, but apparently we can also expect a feast for our ears, as described by Naughty Dog Audio Director Phillip Kovats and Senior Sound Designer Robert Krekel during a podcast by the Dolby Institute.

Below you can read a few extremely interesting pieces of information on how sound effects will work in Uncharted 4, on its dynamic soundtrack, the music, the PS4 tech that makes everything possible and much more.

  • The sound team can get feedback from everyone in the team, no matter the role. The same goes the other way. They can give feedback on gameplay and other areas of the game not directly related to audio. This is a result of Naughty Dog’s “no producers” policy. It’s “Pretty awesome” and rare in the industry.
  • Naughty Dog goes for a “hyper real pulp sound.” They love Indiana Jones, Star Wars and film soundtracks by Richard King. They try to keep things grounded where they need to be, but they’re not afraid to push when needed. Part of the magic is “to know when to flip that switch.”
  • They try to keep the focus on the story and in context, as “context is the king” and “story is king.” A way to describe Naughty Dog’s sound is “detail.”
  • The sound team is constantly trying to show directors, programmers and everybody else what can be done with sound.
  • Working with the directors from early on allows the sound team to “get into their heads,” know what they’re looking for, and try new things. They try to push not only sound, but also technology and new ways to solve problems.
  • Uncharted 4 composer Henry Jackmann is “awesome.” He loves the genre and the game. He works very well with the team and has a great relationship with Creative Director Neil Druckmann.
  • Jackmann delivers some cues, they’re played to the game and the team sees what works. Druckmann gives him direction notes and then they’ll finish the mix. The mix will be broken down into parts to make the music interactive, and then it’ll be worked into the music engine. Due to that, the music is really dynamic depending on gameplay and on the story.
  • The parts the music is broken down into are high intensity, low intensity and medium intensity. There are loop points so the parts can be stitched together depending on how the player plays. The music comes and goes “with intelligence.” A lot of technology and a lot of thought goes into that.
  • There are moments that the team knows the player is going to hit, and the music is keyed to those moments, that have a more specific sync with it compared to dynamic moments.
  • The sound team doesn’t just create sound effects. They create “sound behaviors.” The actors in the world and the items in the world all have behaviors, whether they’re just physics, foreground things to break apart, weapons, vehicles, AI enemies, or friendlies. They also all have context within the story. The team thinks “very intricately” about how they want the sounds to play.
  • There’s a system based on metadata for sound. Every sound has 50 to 60 points of metadata determining how it should behave. If the team sets things right, 80 to 85% of the game “kinda mixes itself.”
  • For Naughty Dog the home teater experience is the core experience. 5.1 is the target and 7.1 is supported, but they also test sound on headphones on TV speakers. Naughty Dog worked with Sony’s sound team in San Mateo to create dynamic speaker angles to provide an optimal listening experience for everyone. If you plug headphones in, the game actually notices that, and switches to the optimal settings. Naughty Dog drove this system, and the PS4 allows them to get the information necessary for it to work.
  • The sound assets used by the game’s engine are 96kHz/24 bit (which is better than many feature films). The output is 48 Khz with the “8-track-9” codec built into the PS4 that gives a really good compression ratio with “nearly lossless” sound.
  • Sound could use 10% of the 256 megabytes of system memory of the PS3 (about 26 megabytes). Naughty Dog had the same amount of memory to use from Uncharted 3 to The Last of Us, but they figured out new ways of encoding MP3, allowing them to have three times the amount of sound as before. With PS4, they have about ten times that amount, and this allowed them to include more and more detail.
  • There’s a “huge amount of variation” for Foley (everyday sound effects), and a new system Naughty Dog is using for Uncharted 4 is even more detailed than before. It’s based on velocity. How fast the player moves changes the character of the sounds that are going to play. Sounds for footsteps, cloth and more change depending on whether you’re sneaking or walking or running.
  • It’s important to the team to have this kind of detail and variation in order to tell the story in a more cinematic way.
  • Naughty Dog isn’t working on any kind of VR experience at the moment, but the sound team is still excited about it, especially about Dolby Atmos for VR.
  • The dividing line between cinematics and gameplay has “significantly changed” with the PS4 and with Uncharted 4. With the new game all the cutscenes are in-engine, and this has opened possibilities were cinematics don’t need to be as long and more of the story can be told in-game. There are storytelling moments in which the player still controls the camera and movement.
  • Most of the character dialog is “sandbox.” They’re lines that the player will hear if he happens to walk where they’re said or to trigger them. Also, the enemies all have things they need to say or can say depending on their AI, on how they react and work with each other. There are also lines improvised by the voice actors that the team found cool and got added in.
  • A lot of what Nathan Drake is as a character, actually came from Nolan North’s ideas while performing in past games. He and Troy Baker (playing Sam) love to play off each other in Uncharted 4. 95% to 98% of what is recorded is actually used.
  • At Naughty Dog the concept of having to get something done in a certain period, and if it isn’t done the game gets shipped without it, doesn’t exist. Things get put together to see if they work. They get played and focus tested. Then they might be thrown completely out and the process might start over, or just a few things might be tweaked. The folks at Naughty Dog pride themselves on polish and on being able to change their minds, even if it hurts or causes them to lose sleep. They will not stop trying to make a better game.

I don’t know about you, but March 18th can’t come soon enough for me. My body is ready, and my ears are ready as well.

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Giuseppe Nelva

Hailing from sunny (not as much as people think) Italy and long standing gamer since the age of Mattel Intellivision and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Definitely a multi-platform gamer, he still holds the old dear PC nearest to his heart, while not disregarding any console on the market. RPGs (of any nationality) and MMORPGs are his daily bread, but he enjoys almost every other genre, prominently racing simulators, action and sandbox games. He is also one of the few surviving fans of the flight simulator genre on Earth.

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