Sound design is an unsung hero in videogame development, a wallflower lingering in the background while the visuals and gameplay take center stage. Acting as an integral but invisible element punctuating every movement and action, it subtly sets a game’s emotional tone. While sound designers have many tools at their disposal, one of the most accessible is their own mouths. In the following five games, we look at how several creators are creating these unique “mouthcrafted” soundscapes.
First up, we have the puzzle game Katamari Damacy. Tasked with rebuilding the stars (after its accidental destruction by the King of All Cosmos), you play as the Prince rolling a magical ball to collect things and people in its path. The game is charmingly bizarre as the ball grows larger and larger with all the mishmash of things you’ve collected. For such an unconventional game, sound director Yuu Miyake told VGMO that they wanted to create memorable music that harken back to the early days of Famicom: “I wanted to have something like the iconic music of the past, where just hearing it brought back memories, and made you want to play it again.”
With this desire to create a signature score, Yuu and his team decided on a soundtrack with “the strongest of all instruments, the human voice.” Following in the game’s own magical katamari, the human voice becomes the centre point as each song taps on a mix of genres. “I wanted to use all sorts of different genres, so that people would find something to like, whatever their taste,” said Yuu. “I thought about what kinds of situations and gags we could get by combining the game with various graphics, music, vocals, and lyrics.”
Burly Men At Sea
Burly Men At Sea is a whimsical storybook game following the three titular characters in their seafaring adventures. Here, sound design studio Plied Sound created sound effects vocalizing things like the flapping of birds to the “ching” of a hammer hitting the iron. Brooke and David Condolora of Brain&Brain, the studio behind the game, point to Hayao Miyazaki’s film The Wind Rises as their inspiration behind this technique. They were, however, worried about its effects: “We didn’t want to make it too obvious you were hearing mouth sounds, [we wanted] just enough to give it a human touch,” says Brooke. “We had [also] worried that it might be construed as cheap sound design, but players really seem to respect that it’s handcrafted (or mouthcrafted, I suppose).” In the end, these effects mixed in with the game’s folksy soundtrack create an organic way of reinforcing the game’s storybook feel: “It’s reminiscent of a storyteller acting out a tale around the campfire, or a parent reading at bedtime.”
Hidden Folks is an upcoming hidden object game where you find a person or an object among its illustrated and interactive world. Created by game designer Adriaan de Jongh and illustrator Sylvain Tegroeg, the game also uses mouthcrafted sound effects to highlight all of its interactions from the “zip” of a tent to the grunt of a car. While Burly Men may have been more subtle, the mouth effects here are more overt though it works well in giving the game a touch of rawness, humour, and playfulness. When asked how the sound came about, Adriaan confesses he regularly uses sound effects in his own conversations. When the time came to do the sound design, it seemed only natural to infuse the same kind of silliness to the game.
Another game that showcases these mouth-made sounds is Amanita Design’s Botonicula. It’s an adventure game that follows five creatures in their quest to save their tree from parasites. DVA, a Czech-based band, was hired to compose the nature-inspired soundtrack and sound effects. As described in an interview with Wired, the band wanted to initially record real nature sounds but hit a roadblock while recording certain sounds like that of a mosquito. Unable to capture these sounds in the wild, DVA found a homemade workaround. From the “pings” of a springy creature to a parasite buzzing, DVA ended up creating the majority of these effects using their own mouths.
Eggggg is best described as a platform puker, similar in style to classic platformers like the Super Mario games. In this game however, the player moves by puking, propelling them like a jet pack. Adding to the already ridiculous premise of the game is the sound design mouthcrafted by Bendik Høydahl. Are Sundnes, Eggggg’s creative director, says they gave Bendik free reign on the design with only a goal of making it “fun and quirky but not TOO disgusting.” From the plop of the footsteps to the splash of the main character’s wall sliding, Bendik’s mouth sounds fit seamlessly with the game’s weird and humorous style. “I…wanted to create a consistent sound style that matches the visuals,” explained Bendik. “The sounds should all feel like they originate from the same world.”
Nicole Pacampara is a storyteller, game maker, and dreamer. She loves to explore the way we learn, play, and interact with our environments. She has written for Kill Screen, Ookpixels, Unwinnable, among many others. You can follow her on Twitter.