Starfighter Inc.: Sound in Space?
Elephant in the room: Sound in space
Before I start talking about the audio, I need to address the elephant in the room. Scientifically speaking, there is no substance in space to propagate sound waves to our eardrums, so you shouldn’t hear anything. Fortunately enough, the corporations of tomorrow have realised that humans rely on audio cues to have a better awareness of their surroundings. For this reason, we have the audible part of the Decision Support System (DSS). The DSS creates an audible and visual simulation of the events that happen around you.
Inspiration and tone
One of our main inspirations are some of the great works by Ridley Scott - Alien, Bladerunner and Prometheus. Making every part of the game feel real is important to us. This extends to the ‘simulated’ audio. While things like the glitched and punch card-computer audio from Alien wouldn’t necessarily work in a world with holograms and augmented reality interfaces, they do serve as a solid inspiration to reinforce the presence and physicality of the world around you. There are also tons of other great works we tend to use for creative sparks - 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Expanse, The Martian, military sims and NASA design documents.
My personal touch
Added to that is my personal style, which I would describe as grim, dark and heavy. Things will feel heavy, things will feel real. Launching a shot from your railgun at 4 kilometers per second at a hostile shrike to completely wreck the internals will feel like an ominous force of death and destruction. The massive twin engines of your 2000 ton Pegasus will feel like a huge amount of thrust. Space is an intimidating dark place and the sound won’t make you feel safe.
As I touched on before, the main function of the DSS is to provide feedback to the pilot to enhance their combat awareness and thus their effectiveness. You will hear the railgun slug being fired towards you, giving you the split second that you could use for a maneuver to evade it. You will hear the missile that was on your tail exploding due to your countermeasures, allowing you to focus on new pressing matters without having to look or wait for other confirmation.
We are aiming for the highest possible information density while ensuring the utmost clarity. Our alarm system is a major part of that. Human eyes are less than ideal for 6-axis combat situations, so we must rely on other methods to provide information to the pilots. One of the ways the alarm system does this is through bursts of short and long beeps akin to those found in military aircraft. They will notify you, within a second or two, that a missile is on its way to blow you up or that the ship is running low on fuel or ammunition. To flatten the learning curve, these can be accompanied by written messages or AI voice overs. All of these parts can be turned on or off by the pilot at their own discretion so they can decide for themselves what makes them the most efficient mercenary.
Being a combat sim, we take special care in making sure these kinds of systems are modeled after their real-world counterparts. This means that they should be concise, coherent, and easy to identify. On top of that, there’s a system in place which arranges the alarms by priority in the event that multiple alarms would play simultaneously because an incoming nuke is more important to know about than your ship running low on propellant. This helps keep things as simple as possible so that new pilots don’t need weeks or months of training to start being proficient with these systems.
A downside of having to rely on these systems is that a well-placed shot can disable your DSS, leaving the pilot to fly blind and deaf. When the DSS is no longer functional, all you could be left with is the low-end rumble of your ship’s main thruster vibrating throughout the hull and the silence of space.
Systems like the DSS can be hacked. Would you settle for simply switching off the enemy’s DSS, or trigger random alarms and other simulated sounds, creating a distracting hallucination for the enemy pilot? You could even let the system play alarms and sounds in a more subtle way - creating distractions that your enemy might not counter but would draw their attention away from aligning the perfect shot.
We are aiming to give the pilot as much customization ability as possible. We will allow you to completely turn off your AI voice messages and turn up your alarm beeps when you feel you fully understand what each message means. That means that you can minimize the information given while maintaining efficiency. The more extra aid you turn off, the fewer bits of information you have to parse through, and the more focused you can be on completing your mission!
~ Dave van Wijk, Senior Sound Designer