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“The real fun in the sound design is everything is, for the most part, natural. You know, it's all footsteps in the dirt. It's wooden and metal weapons. There are no electronics to speak of. ”
- Audio director at Bethesda Game Studios Mark Lampert speaking to Noclip about sound design in The Elder Scrolls.
A lot of detail goes into goes into designing the soundscape of a game, and in a recent video interview with Noclip, audio director Mark Lampert goes over the music and sound behind classic Bethesda titles from Fallout to The Elder Scrolls series.
Lampert discusses how the real fun in sound design on The Elder Scrolls came from taking audio samples from nature. Every chirp from a cricket, clash of metal, or spark of fire (with the exception of the magical kind) came directly from the environment. Everything, except for the UI.
"There are no electronics to speak of, and so for UI that's a hard one to because UI doesn't exist," Avellone explains. “There's no menu, you know? So what is a menu supposed to sound like?”
Lampert prefers sticking to natural sources as much as possible. In The Elder Scrolls, scrolling through inventory is accompanied by the sound of paper unrolling as a player goes through to equip or unequip items.
"Try to make it something that's related to everything else in the game, but still gives you that little bit of feedback you can feel yourself move through the menu," he says.
He then switches gears to Fallout 3, noting the shift in design approach from natural sources to electronic.
"Sound-wise, I've got this whole new palette of options open[ing] up," Lampert explains. "Now I can use straight up electronic sounds, things that are fuzzing out. I like the sound of old school stuff."
"Old school stuff not in the sense of an analog purist sound, but electronics that get hot when they've been on a while. Something that might shock you, because it wasn't built well or the wires had frayed through."
So how does he go from translating UI sounds from natural to electronic? In this case with the Pip-Boy, it's all about narrowing down. "Start with what's there. It looks like, in a nutshell, it's an old computer or an old television," he says. "There's a lot of good material out there for that kind of stuff."
He was speaking as part of a longer interview around sound design and his role as an audio director on multiple Bethesda titles, so be sure to watch the entire video over at Noclip.