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Project and Portfolio II - 'Underworld'

This month for Full Sail's Project and Portfolio II course, we tackled a sound design project in the gaming medium. Working with a completely soundless level, I was tasked with creating the eerie and atmospheric sounds for a game level where the Player Character has fallen down a hole into an abandoned cavern - well, mostly abandoned. 

Please enjoy the highlight reel below.

This project was interesting as it ventured from Sound Design, to Recording, to even voice acting, and pushed me into wild new territory using virtual instruments outside of musical applications. Overall I learned a great deal and had an absolute blast getting this game level to sound moody and unsettling, and there are a few subtle things buried deep that help to create the unnatural and unnerving elements found in the Underworld. 


The cavern's torches started as a library sound of a crackling campfire - this layered with crinkled plastic wrap and static processed through a noise gate comprise the basis of the sound, and layered beneath these is a subtle hum from a pad sound generated by Native Instruments' Absynth 5 - a simple dual saw wave run through the synths 'aetherizer' effect - to add a barely audible layer representing whatever supernatural force has kept these torches lit all of these years.


The passive groan of the cavern's portal was crafted with synthesizers and samplers. Kontakt instruments Etherial Earth and Analog Dreams each playing a minor chord and EQ'd to mesh together are met with a soundscape drone from Massive X that's a semitone lower than the aforementioned chord's root note, creating an atonal, spectral hum that intensifies as the player approaches the portal. Upon passing through, a percussive one-shot reverberates throughout the cave, layered from sampling a water droplet and layering this with a single hit of 'Bhang Drum' preset in Kontakt's 'Kinetic Metal' instrument. 


Layering downloaded library sounds created the framework for the natural cavern ambiences, however I really wanted to create an even darker, scarier mood than the imagery itself conveyed. With this in mind I turned to my own sample library, gathering a series of tonal drones from a horror-themed sample pack I own. Using EQ to strip elements from these horror samples, I weaved them in to the natural cave sounds to create a subtle but noticeably oppressive ambience that makes you feel you've entered a bad place before even the first stingers play.


This concept of hyper-reality is explored further in the crystal chamber - the ambiences detailed above now have software instruments in the mix, with Absynth 5 and Reaktor Prism providing a midrange hum of power and a high-pitched ghostly shimmer, and a layer of crumbling ice mixed low into the soundscape alludes to unseen crystals cracking in the distance as they pulse with their strange occult energies.   


One of the most interesting hidden sounds is in the floating crystal itself. Inspired by Trent Reznor's musical score for the ID Software game 'Quake', I recorded a long sample of myself screaming, held as long as I could. I trimmed this and made a seamless loop from it, then ran it through various processing like the XLN Audio RC-20 Retro Color for some warble and distance, then a harmonizer, then an aggressive compressor. All of this was EQ'd and lowered behind the combination of synthesizers and samples that make up the main crystal loop to create a subtle undertone. While the effect is barely audible, it makes for an interesting element as you place your ear to the floating crystal and hear the screams of the souls trapped within...

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