BioShock Audio, Juxtaposing The Real And Surreal

Critics weren't shy with praising Bioshock or putting it on countless top 10 lists. But if there was one element that enough could not be said about, it was the audio. The dark, eerie sound design pulled us into a game that could have been just another scary FPS.

At GDC, Patrick Balthrop, Senior Sound Designer at 2K, explains what they did to make BioShock's sound just so haunting. So would you kindly hit the jump to read more?

Throughout the soundscape, the constant goal was to "juxtapose the real with the surreal." Take the security bots. On one hand, they featured accurate motor effects and when they crashed out of the air, it all sounded feasible to the listener. But to achieve that "unique gameplay experience" the BioShock team was after, accuracy or feasibility wasn't enough. So they took a turn to the exaggerated and beyond. In the case of the security bot, we see this turn in its "VO" (voice over) of R2D2esque beeps and blips.

In the penny-arcade machines selling power-ups, we see the same philosophy applied. The music started with authentic calliope recordings. Then to add character, 2K opted, once again, to use VO. But this time the VO would be quite literal. Remember it? "Welcome to the circus of values!"

The end result is an experience that doesn't seek to recreate what we've already seen, but reinvent that which we've seen to build a unique and rich world.

But despite the search for this original sound with each piece of the game, 2K actually did surprisingly little post-production processing to the voices in the game. The two exceptions were the Little Sisters and Atlas.

Balthrop played two clips to demonstrate what his team did to the source audio. The first was vaguely familiar—a crystal clear Little Sister recording...but it sounded like a typical little girl. But then this track was mixed with a duplicate track dropped a few octaves with reverb, the Little Sister voice is tainted by the demonic subtext, that unharmonious melancholy that sits in our ears to this day.

Now to replay BioShock...


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