Overwatch is to big-budget release bonanzas what eclipses are to the rest of the sky. It’s a multi-million dollar production fuelled by laser-targeted marketing. Even Game of Thrones had to glom onto its underbelly to avoid being unceremoniously forgotten. Anyway, one of its most crucial sounds was made by a beer bottle.
I’m talking about the hit sound, the noise that lets you know your shot made contact. You can hear it a bunch of times in this video:
In the Overwatch Collector’s Edition Source Book (via Reddit and verified over email by Blizzard), sound design supervisor Paul Lackey explains where it came from and why it’s so dang resonant:
Another extremely challenging sounds was the ‘hit-pip.’ When you hit someone, you need to know you made contact. The sounds needs to cut through the mix but not feel like it comes from any hero. It went through tons of iteration. Finally, one night I thought, ‘It should be satisfying to hit an enemy.’ Just thing about what’s satisfying: beer. So I literally opened a beer bottle. Pssht. The sound is reversed and tweaked a little, but that sound is our hit-pip.
Foley artists in games, movies and TV shows often squeeze impossible sounds out of common household objects. In Overwatch‘s case, it’s especially interesting given how many roles the hit sound has to fulfil. It needs to be apparent, but not distracting. Satisfyingly powerful, but not overwhelming. And of course, it needs to be compatible with every weapon’s “feel”.
That’s a lot of weight to put atop one beer bottle, but it does the job nicely. Overwatch could use a bit more differentiation in sound between types of hits, but on the whole, the game’s sound design is phenomenal. You might wonder why it feels so intoxicatingly good to blast stuff in Overwatch. In large part, this is why.
It is, however, only a piece of the puzzle. Blizzard actually did a presentation about Overwatch’s sound design during GDC, and it’s something else.
Blizzard’s goal from the get-go was for people to be able to “play by sound”. No, it’s probably not a practical way to play, but it led to things like pinpoint directional audio and other cues that heighten player awareness so subtly that they might not even consciously notice. It’s also probably why I sometimes come away from Overwatch sessions with a hankering to play the original Thief.