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How The Sound Team Behind ‘Diablo IV’ Brought Hell To Life

the sound team for Diablo IV needed to determine what a Treasure Beast might sound like. In the fiction, it’s a massive, taurus-headed behemoth—complete with rows of yellowed porpoise-like teeth and a cudgel the size of a small town. It looks like something Jabba the Hutt might keep as a pet, or one of those elite mobs roaming the wilderness that you know, in the depths of your soul, cannot, and should not, be soloed. How do you honor the Treasure Beast’s majesty? How do you make it sound huge and menacing, something not to be taken lightly? By delicately fondling an iron chain in front of a microphone.

Courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

You can see the action in the clip above. That’s senior sound designer Kris Giampa sitting on his knees in front of a dense, comprehensive record collection. The mic is uniquely sensitive and designed to absorb a sweeping range of sound waves—most of which are well beyond the range our feeble human ears can perceive. 

Yes, the harvested audio will be imported onto a computer and deepened, sculpted, flayed, and spliced until it fits the unforgiving grim-dark horrors of Sanctuary, but Blizzard still takes a distinctly classical approach to the aural aesthetics of Diablo IV, one that resembles the practical Hollywood filmmaking of the 1950s and ’60s. The marauding demons are programmed with dangling bike chains, molten candle wax, and crushed fruits and vegetables, all of which is captured tangibly, without resorting to the freeware clips bobbing around the internet. It adds insult to injury. Not only did you wipe on the Treasure Beast, he crushed your head like a melon—literally. 

“When we’re recording, the last thing we want to do is break out into laughter. But it is super fun, especially when we’re playing with food. We have plenty of moments where we’re squeezing a fruit and it splashes and hits us in the face. We have to hold for a second, because we want to get that sound, that perfect take,” says Giampa. “It’s a blast, and I’d never change my career.”

Giampa has worked in video game sound design for over two decades, which has given him an acutely tuned ear for artificial gore. On an average day during Diablo IV’s production cycle, Giampa and the rest of the team would roll through a grocery store on the lookout for any produce that seemed like it might make an evocative noise when maimed by a knife or a hammer or a blowtorch. (Blizzard tends not to work with meat, adds Giampa, for health reasons.) 

Afterwards, it’s off to the hardware store for the tools of destruction. “We’re looking for pipes and tubes and plungers,  anything you can manipulate food with,” he says. In the booth, they’ll prod and smash their aural salad, with hopes of identifying a few moments of expressive bludgeoning and disemboweling that could meld with the aesthetics of a darkened, sword-and-sorcery action RPG. They record for hours on end, even though only 10 percent of the material might make the final cut. The joy, says Giampa, is in the discovery.