The Sound Design of Ghost of Tsushima: Fake Birds

May 28th, 2021

The natural world we built for Ghost of Tsushima is one of the sonic highlights for me. The world is lush and full of so many different species of birds, insects, amphibians and mammals, many of which were recorded in Japan and most of which are native to Japan. It really creates this wondrous natural beauty for the rest of the game to sit on top of.

We had our friends at Japan Studio in Tokyo record a lot of ambience for us and I was fortunate enough to travel around Japan for a couple weeks and capture all sorts of wildlife. The ambience was one of the more time consuming systems in the game, but it was also one of the first to get solidified. We had good variety of wildlife species and the world felt rich, but as I explain in the video below, getting towards the end of the project they decided to add a few new specific species. We didn’t have time or resources to fly halfway around the world and try to track these specific birds down, nor could I find a library with them.

Fortunately, the Slack field recording channel was doing a bird crowdsource around this time, and while discussing our recordings, Alex Barnhart asked if anyone had tried pitching down real bird recordings, performing them, and then pitching them back up to see if you could replicate birdsong in that way. We all thought it sounded fun and cool and it was very shortly after this moment, that they decided to add 3 new species to the game, so I took this knowledge and went for it.

I went onto xeno-canto.org which is a fantastic website for information and birdsong and found some decent quality samples that I could use as reference. From there I tried pitching them down to various ranges from an octave to four octaves and everywhere in between, trying to find that sweet spot where it was in my vocal range and performable. After performing, and looking and sounding appropriately goofy, I was pretty surprised and pleased when playbacking the results. Once I put them in game, I knew this was going to work!

They even added a couple more species (a cormorant and a Eurasian sparrowhawk) that I was able to perform adequately. The one place I failed was when trying to augment our existing Black-naped oriole recordings. This is a really important bird in the game, as he guides you to your various objectives. I had captured one while recording in Sri Lanka, but my recordings were limited, so I hoped to bolster our content with some faked versions, but when playing a fake bird against a real bird, it becomes VERY evident which one is fake, so I abandoned it.

The results were so surprisingly decent, we played a game at work where the team listened to bird samples and tried to identify whether they were a real bird or me, and it was hard. Even I got half of them wrong! So here’s a video that goes into more of these details and also shows the process in action: