Behind the Sounds: Creating Monsters

The second article of this series was about the difficulty of creating new sounds to bring science fiction games to life. For that genre, a lot of synthetic and metallic samples are used to give a futuristic feeling. Sound designers work extra hard when creating sounds for non-existent things, and that applies to creatures and monsters as well.

From fantasy to horror, the creatures we fight (or hide from) are what make or break the gaming experience. They have to be believable, but the sounds they make also need to give a clue as to what we are up against. If it’s large or small, growls, hisses, breathes fire or spits acid, sounds add to a designer’s creation. Each creature needs a sound for every behavior and action. While the base might be the same, the difference between a swooping attack, a roar, and the cry of defeat all need different final touches and additions.

Alien Isolation

Pinewood Studios has worked on projects for films like Harry Potter and games like Total War and Alien Isolation. The studio itself is filled with all kinds of foley tools in order to create organic sounds, but for the aliens, a lot of smaller objects were used. A sock filled with garlic and nuts squished around in their hands created the crunching layer of sound for the movements of the alien. For the iconic hiss of acid blood, they dipped a hot soldering iron into Coca-Cola. Although it was a fire risk, it made the perfect sound they were looking for. These kinds of creative solutions are what make sound designers’ jobs interesting. Their hard work on Alien Isolation eventually won Pinewood a BAFTA Game Award in the Audio Achievement category.

(The acidic hissing of Xenomorph blood.)

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns

The process of creating noises for monsters in Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns took several steps. The wyverns are one example of the amount of work that goes into creating a complete creature with sound. First, samples were recorded that could be used for different aspects of the wyvern. Using a bow on a single string on an upright bass made the chattering sound, and scraping a cardboard box was another base element. Recordings from the studio, along with other selected samples, are added to a library and edited, then given to the next team for mixing. This process makes sure that they sound good no matter the sound system players are using. Next, another team member decides how the sounds will be triggered and what effects should be added depending on the location and size of the creature. The final result is an epic battle that’s totally believable.

(Original wyvern recording samples followed by the final result.)

Dead Space

The Dead Space franchise is known for the terrifying sounds of creatures and the atmosphere. A lot of the horror relies on sound, or lack thereof for suspense, as players wander down corridors. You listen intently for any indication of being followed or what might be in the next room. This is where getting the monster sounds right is paramount, and if foley artists can’t find something that can make the noise they want, they’ll just make it themselves.

In Dead Space 2, the designers at Wabi Sabi Studios found a way to make creature sounds by layering and editing the voice of one of their team members. The giant Tripod may sound terrifying, but it’s really the voice of an ordinary person. When sound libraries fall short, voice acting allows studios to collect sounds to their liking. Plus, this added human element worked perfectly for the eerie, still vaguely humanoid Necromorphs. After applying live recording filters during the session, more edits and layers are added to create the final product.

(The unedited voice recording, followed by the filtered live recording, then the final product.)


Besides human voices, another type of audio sample sound designers use are animal sounds. Animal audio libraries have a vast selection to choose from. Even simple animal sounds in games and film are made of up several animals put together. When using samples from animals for new creatures, they have to be carefully chosen and processed enough so players won’t recognize the original animal that was recorded. Changing the pitch of animal sounds brings out hidden qualities that aren’t usually noticeable, which can even make a sea lion sound otherworldly or savage.

In Borderlands 2, the sound of the apelike Bullymongs is a mixture of different animals. The designers wanted a more primitive and guttural sound, so the animals chosen needed those characteristics. Samples from horses, polar bears, lions, and sea lions were used for this reason. The polar bear sounds support the lower frequencies and base sound, whereas the horse adds unique character to the roar. The nasal, scream-like sound of the horse sample used was barely edited, so you can hear it if you listen closely.

(Initial horse and polar bear samples followed by the final result for the Bullymong.)

Another unexpected animal used in Borderlands 2 was a small bird. The Rakk cry is made up of the songs from two different birds pitched down and processed. Slowing down or speeding up bird songs, as well as lowering the pitch, can change the way their oscillations sound enough to make them unrecognizable. This brings out a prehistoric quality and shows how something that is originally irritating can make you jump, given the right editing.

(Rakk sound before and after being pitched down.)

Creatures and monsters are found throughout all genres, and every studio has their own vision of how they should sound. Sound design for living things takes a lot of work because it’s more than a simple sound, it’s about breathing life into something. Every dragon has a unique personality and set of attacks. Aliens vary from hissing Xenomorphs to screeching Necromorphs. The process for each monster can take large studios or teams months to finish. However, it’s plain to see that even the roars and hisses of well-known creatures can have humble origins if edited properly. From soda to sea lions, sound designers and foley artists find inspiration everywhere. Any object can become fantastic.

The featured image for this story is a Guild Wars 2 wallpaper that can be found here

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