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While The Last of Us Part II delivered an amazing story, people might not realize that aside from the plot, the game had excellent visual and audio design as well. The Clickers, which is the game’s version of zombies, had new variations in the game, and one of these is the Shambler. Curious how The Last of Us 2 Shamblers audo work was made? Read on.

Over on Twitter, Beau Anthony Jimenez, Sound Designer at Naughty Dog gave a long and detailed explanation of The Last of Us 2 Shambler sound design. We’ve compiled the tweets (25 of ’em!) into one easy to digest read below.

#TheLastOfUsPartII’s Shambler Sound Design Thread!

A summary outlining my journey concocting the sounds of the Shambler.

The Shambler was an exciting endeavor, as it was a completely new Infected type in #TheLastOfUsPartII, which gave me the creative freedom to make a fresh, new imprint on the Last of Us universe.
(02/25)

Early in the production phase, I absorbed all of the lore, concept art, design prototypes and motion capture animations I could to get a full picture of exactly what I was dealing with.
(03/25)

After some digesting, I hit the lab!
I began recording sounds that could capture the essence of this bizarre, sickly looking Infected type.
(04/25)

[ The Clicks and Bark ]
All latter-stage Infected are blind, and the Shambler is no different. This meant that unique clicks would need to be created to differentiate it from other Infected types.
(05/25)

Using a microphone that captures ultrasonic frequencies, I propagated palatal clicks through a vinyl tube into a padded bucket. Sticking the mic in the bucket gave the sound a tubby quality while the transient clicks (inherently a full-frequency burst of sound) …
(06/25)

… retained their high-end presence when the recording was pitched down. This source, with processing, gave a fresh, unique interpretation of what an Infected click could sound like in this universe and was perfect for the guttural & gross sound of the Shambler.

[ Explode Attack ]
The Shambler’s AOE Explode attack is a unique concept that needed some serious sound love.
(09/25)

Because the attack is coming from a messy, organic entity, I imagined there would be a couple ‘pre-fire pops’ before the big explosion, so I collaborated with the particle fx team to make that a reality.

After some back & forth, we created the pre-fire you see in-game!
(10/25)

The sound of these zitty bursts were made mostly from grapefruits and other various gore source. The base of the main explosion was a CO2 canister blowing up a life jacket. It had a beautiful, high-amplitude release of sound that had lovely movement.
(11/25)

This base needed some texture to reinforce the grotesque visuals of the Shambler’s pustule pops.

This explosion creates a persistent acid cloud that damages the player over time.
The most integral and interesting part of the cloud’s sound is a recording of ice being warmed by room-temp water.

[ Vocal ]
Alas, the vocal element!

A sound designer’s own voice is one of the most important tools for creature sound design. We’re able to perform a host of emotive sounds on a dime to get an exact sound dwelling in our heads.
(16/25)

Most of the more creature-y & inhuman sounds of the Shambler was my pathetic, wheezy old-man voice with various wet, mouth sounds.

It sounded terrifying: breathy & phlegm-y, with a strong focus on the fact that it was a more pathetic, shambling evolution of the Clicker.

But this wasn’t enough!

It sounded like an interesting creature, but didn’t sound like there was a tortured human under all that crust and sickness.

So we casted two stellar voice actors to help drive home the Shambler’s vocal: Raul Ceballos and Steve Blum.
(19/25)

Raul produced vocals that incited strain, pain, and raw human agony. He also had a unique, fluttery inhale that almost sounded like a pigeon from hell, which worked wonders as it sounded immensely natural, yet somewhat alien and unnerving.
(20/25)

Steve produced sickly grunts and snorts with stomach-turning vocalizations that helped glue the Shambler together.
(21/25)

Thank you for reading and being interested in the mysterious world of sound! I wanted to shout-out our Shambler VAs, Raul (@RaulCeballosVO) and Steve (@blumspew) as well as my leads and directors, Rob (@robkrekel), Neil (@Neil_Druckmann), Anthony (@BadData_) … (23/25)

… and Kurt (@kurtmargenau), who pushed me in the right path with a lot of these sounds. Also to fellow game designers Andrew Frost (@crookedspin_), Matthew Gallant (@Gangles) and particle fx artist MJ Whiting (@maryjanewhiting) with whom I worked very closely … (24/25)

with to get the Shambler to sound true to the pixels. And thanks to Mike (@Niederquell) who provided the stunning Shambler photos for this thread!

(25/25)

Another Naughty Dog developer by the Twitter name of Anghil also broke down the whistles used by the Scars.

First, a big thanks to @neil_druckmann and @robkrekel for giving us complete creative freedom with these, and to @X144 and @m1keadelic for guidance and support throughout the process. 2/25

Talks about the whistles began long before I was brought back to work on TLOU, but production on them didn’t begin until early 2018, when we needed to have them ready for the E3 demo which revealed the scars. 3/25

There was some discussion about adding a second layer to the Scars’ coded language, rattling, knocking on trees, but that would have added further work to art, animation, and sound design. 4/25

We initially referenced whistle languages from Greece (Sfyria) and La Gomera (Silbo Gomero) These are direct analogs to the spoken language of their region, they were a good launching point for our own whistles, but were more sophisticated than we needed/wanted for the scars 5/25

We worked with the very talented professional whistler on our first pass. These whistles were beautiful and very birdlike, blending in with the surrounding ambience and natural fauna. Unfortunately they were too delicate and natural for our purposes. 6/25

We needed something that was startling, disorienting, and shrill. They needed to have a weight behind them all while having a creep factor. With actual dialogue, you reveal your intent and numbers. With coded whistles it’s far more difficult to discern that information. 7/25

My supervisor, Maged @X144, and one of our UI artists, Maria, @ReflectionFox, stepped up to temp some louder, stronger, whistles. These are the kind you get when you use your fingers to create more air pressure. They recorded about an hour of whistles for processing. 8/25

From that hour of whistles, I cut up and organized 14 “phoneme” groups based on tone, intensity, duration, and trill. 9/25

I worked closely with @X144 and @M1keadelic to figure out what needed whistles and what didn’t. Which lines would a group of stealthy hunters want to keep hidden from their own enemies? 10/25

The most obvious were lines that would clue in an opposing force that the Scars were aware of their presence. Lines like “I thought I heard/saw something”, or “Checking over there”, Scars wouldn’t want an enemy to understand. 11/25

Other lines a group might want to conceal from an enemy are check-ins and other call and response phrases. The clincher for us, was the fallen ally. That one absolutely had to send shivers down players’ spines the first time hearing it. It’s loud, shrill, and haunting. 12/25

With the lines we wanted as whistles sorted I began building the whistles themselves with the phonemes. Loud staccato whistles, wavering whistles with a note at the end, questioning whistles awaiting a reply, I played around a lot to get the feel right. 13/25

These were all made as temp whistles, not just to test them out in context, but to provide a sample for the professional whistlers to eventually mimic. With that in mind, the whistles needed to stay grounded, they couldn’t be impossible to perform. 14/25

After tons of iteration and feedback from Mike and Maged, we settled on 26 unique whistle categories. Because each of these covered a more broad set of information, some would be used to cover multiple lines that the WLF would otherwise shout. 15/25

Once they were hooked up in game, and the IR was applied to the space, it really brought the whistles to life. Instead of just hearing the direct source of the whistle, you could feel it around you, and that made them all the creepier. 16/25

With the whistle sounds locked in, we cast our professional whistlers. @ComicStevieMack and Lisa Marie absolutely killed it, giving us exactly what the samples sounded like and then some. 17/25

To add further variety to the whistles, so that players would hear repeats as little as possible, our professional whistlers recorded each set in three different styles. The first being the best quality, the second having a looser tempo, and the third a “sloppier” tone. 18/25

After playtesting the whistles in game, we performed some fine tuning and clean up. We noticed that the fallen ally call felt a little lacking. We played around with it and came to the conclusion that as a distress signal, this whistle needed to reach everyone… 19/25

…On its own the whistle tells the player what’s going on, but what about the enemies out of earshot? They need to be informed that one of their own has died. Mike made some changes so that the whistle propagates, informing more distant allies of their loss. 20/25

With everything in place, the final step was subtitling the whistles. We knew we wanted to provide the same experience for deaf and hard of hearing players so that nobody would miss out on the mystique and learning process of the whistles. 21/25

We iterated on various options for subtitling, trying to describe the whistles in the most concise manner possible. But we quickly realized that because we weren’t the target audience for this specific feature, we needed to bring in someone who represents that community. 22/25

We brought in Morgan Baker @momoxmia As an advisor to help us represent the codified whistles as best as possible in subtitle format. We wanted the nuance of the whistles conveyed, but still require the player to learn their meanings. 23/25

What you see in game, if you turn on subtitles, is the result of that work with Morgan. 24/25

If you’ve already completed the game, play through again and see if you can notice, and understand, all of the whistles. Shout out to our entire audio team for being so much fun, and so inspiring, to work with! Every single person on the team is supremely talented. 25/25

Who knew something as simple as whistles would take this much effort, right? Then again, this is why Naughty Dog is Naughty Dog. For more on The Last of Us 2, make sure you read our review. If you’ve already finished the game, I suggest reading up on our excellent feature on why “there are no heroes” in the game.

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Alex Co

Father, gamer, games media vet, writer of words, killer of noobs.