Ghost of Tsushima, the recently released PS4 exclusive, relies heavily on sound to guide players and flesh out its 13th century Japanese setting. As you might expect, getting the sound just right took a lot of work and tools–and the sound is even more important than you might realize while playing.
Over at A Sound Effect, the game’s audio director Rev. Dr. Bradley D. Meyer and its senior sound designer Josh Lord have delved into the game’s sound design, and how they captured the sounds of the era. They also explained how sound is used to guide the player through the open world.
Meyer reveals that the sound of the wind, which guides players, is even more intricate than it might seem. “We built a system where the sound travels on three splines pointing towards the player’s current objective, one centered over the player and one on either side spaced about 5 meters away,” he says. “These wind gusts are all reactive to the current environment the player is in. So if you’re skirting a grassland on one side and a bamboo forest on the other, the wind will sound like tall grass rustling on your one side and clacking bamboo on the other. This directionality helps players key into where they should be headed as they traverse the island.”
Meyer also reveals that the use of a Black Naped Oriole as the game’s “guide bird” is largely due to a spot of luck that allowed him to record the bird’s sounds. “It was chosen for three reasons: it could be found in Japan, it was visually unique, and I was fortunate enough to record one when I was on vacation in Sri Lanka in 2018.”
Meyer reveals that the sword noises were recorded using the same sword blanks that were previously used for God of War, and that he and Josh Lord “spent a lot of time recording them in all manner of ways from scraping them against each other, clanging them together, swinging them, suspending them from the ceiling and spinning them around to get interesting resonant tones, etc.” The team had custom-made katana and wakizashi, engraved with the game’s logo, to record sheathing and unsheating noises, plus additional sword noises. Recording sessions also involved using blades to slice through fruit, vegetables, and cloth–those are the noises you’ll hear when you cut through an enemy.
Various straw and bamboo mats, Japanese yukata, jinbei, and waraji footwear were all used in recordings. The team made period-authentic boiled leather armor and paper armor, too, which was used for recordings. Bamboo was purchased wholesale so that they could test out its sound properties in numerous situations.
One extra fun note: when you hear a Mongol sleeping in the game, you’re hearing game director Nate Fox snoring. “We shared a room at the Game Developer’s Conference once and when I came in one night, he was passed out and snoring LOUD, so, you know I had to do my field recording duty,” Meyer recalls.
The full interview digs much deeper, including anecdotes about recording animals, details about UI sounds, and discussion on the challenges of featuring both English and Japanese voice tracks. It’s worth a read if you want to know more about sound design at a major studio, or the specifics of how Ghost of Tsushima came together.
If you’re digging deep into Ghost of Tsushima right now, here’s everything you need to get the PlayStation Platinum trophy.