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Shaping the Soundscape of the Cyberpunk World | Part 1

Game Audio / Sound Design

As an art genre with unique aesthetics, cyberpunk has evolved from literature to film, and eventually to games in the last half century. Cyberpunk film and TV works have alternative and pioneering sound design, which provides inspiration and insights for game sound designers. In my analysis, I explore the concept of soundscape and revisit the sonic elements in these works.

In this article, I review the current status of domestic and foreign research. This will clarify the concept of soundscape, basic elements, and application of the soundscape theory in games. Also, you will learn the essence of cyberpunk, the soundscape design, and the aesthetic design.

1. Introduction 

1.1 Background Info

In November 2019 Los Angeles, former police officer Rick Deckard is detained by Officer Gaff. Deckard, whose job as a "blade runner" was to track down replicants and terminally "retire" them...This is the apocalyptic fantasy of 2019 depicted in the sci-fi film Blade Runner. In reality, however, in 2019, the game Cyberpunk 2077 was announced at E3 Expo, and Tesla’s electric pickup truck Cybertruck prototype made its first public appearance. Nowadays, cyberpunk, which used to be a counterculture, is catching up with the mainstream under the influence of films and games.

This article is dedicated to exploring the sounds in cyberpunk games. Based on extensive theoretical knowledge and concrete practices, I reviewed a large number of literature. And, I found that more and more players want to get a truly immersive experience through the sonic elements in-game. And well-crafted sounds can amplify the sensory stimulation of players through auditory feedback, providing a deeper level of immersion [1]. Meanwhile, among so many titles, cyberpunk games have a distinct visual system and sound design. Based on this, I combined the soundscape theory to explore the sound design of games and conducted an in-depth analysis of the cyberpunk sound in-game, in order to reveal how to leverage the sound art and audio technology to create a more immersive gameplay experience.

1.2 Current Research Results

1.2.1 Studies on Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk takes its name from the combination of Cybernetics and Punk. It is a subgenre of science fiction. A typical trope in such work is a direct connection between the human brain and computer systems. In the 1980s, cyberpunk works extended from texts to pictures. From films like Tron, Blade Runner and The Matrix, to games like Deus Ex and Transistor, they all illustrated a strong contrast between high tech and low life. American writer Bruce Sterling once said: “Anything that can be done to a rat can be done to a human being. And we can do most anything to rats. This is a hard thing to think about, but it’s the truth. It won’t go away because we cover our eyes. THAT is cyberpunk.” The highly developed science and technology is like the sword of Damocles hanging over the king's throne. It brings more possibilities to human beings, but at the same time it also plunges the social order into a high degree of control and amplifies human beings' fear of their own insignificance and powerlessness. Cyberpunk works often deal with virtual reality, information space, urban sprawl and slums, bio-robotics, gene engineering, and environmental pollution due to war.

Cyberpunk has been studied from five perspectives: cyberspace, cyborg, sci-fi films, cyberpunk novels, and hippie subculture [2]. Cyberspace is a concept describing a widespread interconnected digital technology. It refers to the online world as a world 'apart', as distinct from everyday reality [3]. A cyborg is a being with both organic and bio-mechatronic body parts. It is widely seen in sci-fi literatures and films, such as the augmented-cybernetic human Motoko Kusanagi in Ghost In The Shell. According to researchers, this genre was born in the context of the rapid development of a series of new sciences (computer, Internet, information theory, biogenetic engineering, etc.) By exploring the potential influence of the development of new technologies on the world, it raises a concern for the future of humankind, and features some sort of anti-utopian and rebellious spirit [4]. Cyberpunk works always unveil the harsh reality under the prosperous life with their visual spectacles and unconventional imagination, overturning humankind's vision of a better future.

1.2.2 Studies on Cyberpunk Soundscape in Films

As a subgenre of sci-fi films, cyberpunk films share the same characteristics with other sci-fi films in terms of sound design. Their soundscape design originates from reality, then expands the imagination on this basis. This creates a fusion of artificial creatures and natural lives, and bridges the real and virtual world [5].

From interviews with sound design teams for cyberpunk works like Blade Runner 2049 and Ghost In The Shell, we know that the soundscape in such works focuses on creating a multicultural future information city. The audience can hear holographic advertising messages in multiple languages, mechanical noises from electronic devices as well as the sounds of flying cars and spaceships passing through the city. These iconic elements shaped the soundscape of the city with depth and density [6].

Musical sound effects are another feature of these kinds of films. From future vehicle engine sounds, non-narrative sounds to subtle ambient sounds in the films, they all have musical textures [7]. The sound effects and music overlap each other, rendering depressing emotions and creating an anti-utopian apocalyptic atmosphere.

1.2.3 Studies on Game Soundscape Theories

The term “soundscape” was originally coined by city planner Michael Southworth in his paper entitled The Sonic Environment of Cities, in 1969. It describes the sonic elements that connect people to the space in a city [8]. After this, Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer founded the World Soundscape Project and defined soundscape as a sound environment - either a real environment or an abstract environment such as music composition or recording clip [9] - and popularized the idea of soundscape by including soundscapes from Vancouver and Europe. In the international community, the soundscape theory has become a research hotspot in environmental acoustics. This research mainly focus on the theory frame, subjective assessment, influential factors, design planning and city soundscape recording [10]. The subjective assessment and design planning are the two most important aspects. Currently, the soundscape theory is mostly applied to architectural and environmental acoustics, as well as noise control in city planning [11].

While writing this article, I reviewed lots of papers, including The Research of Soundscape Design in Game Based on the Cognitive Theory of Emotion and Dynamic Enhancement of Videogame Soundscapes. These two papers combine soundscape theory with game sound design and production, exploring ways to make the audio and visual world created by new media more realistic.

1.3 Purpose and Significance of the Studies

These studies are very helpful to understand the characteristics of cyberpunk sound design in general. On one hand, this article combines soundscape design with the core elements and social context in cyberpunk works to explore the potential role of sound in cyberpunk games, in order to make the best of sounds in-game and provide creative insights for sound designers. On the other hand, it reveals how to optimize the game sound design through game sound engine and digital audio technology to create lively visual and audio effects for the virtual world depicted in-game and enrich players' gameplay experience.

2. Analysis of the Game Soundscape Concept

2.1 The Concept of Soundscape

Soundscape is an extension of landscape, which means "landscape captured by the ear" or "auditory landscape" [12]. It’s a combination of various sonic elements in the human environment.

Basically, the concept of soundscape has three origins [13]. It initially originated from the philosophical thinking on music. Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer describes soundscapes as “a macrocosmic musical composition[14].” Influenced by environmentalism that prevailed in North America in the 1960s, Schafer believed that the imbalance of the natural environment was flooding the world with noises. For this very reason, he founded the World Soundscape Project (WSP) and ultimately promoted the study and conservation of soundscapes in other parts of the world. M. McLuhan also contributed to the concept of soundscape. He believed that modern civilization focused too much on visual elements at the expense of other sensory elements, thus calling to pay attention to the reconstruction of all the sensory elements.

Based on Schafer’s research, the World Soundscape Project defined soundscape as “an environment of sound with an emphasis on the way it is perceived and understood by the individual, or by a society” [15]. In short, soundscape refers to a set of sounds that are produced in an immersive environment, which should be treated as a socio-cultural event.

Bernie Krause, a naturalist and soundscape ecologist, redefined the sources of sound based on three main components: biophony, geophony, and anthropophony [13]. Biophony refers to non-human, non-domestic biological soundscape sources of sound; Geophony refers to non-biological natural sources such as wind in the trees, water in a stream or waves at the ocean etc.; Anthropophony refers to all of the sound signatures generated by humans, whether coherent, such as music, theatre, and language, or incoherent and chaotic such as random signals generated primarily by electromechanical means. These objective and concrete sound events are objects of the soundscape. In soundscape studies, we need to use this as a framework for analyzing sounds. Also, we have to take into account how sonic characteristics affect the listener and the environment. For example, the impact of various frequency components on our listening experience, or the impact of noises on the natural environment etc. Only then can we design the soundscape effectively [16].

2.2 Basic Game Soundscape Elements

The soundscape theory can be used to analyze the relationship between the sounds, players and environment in-game, as well as the architecture of game soundscape itself. This offers a new design concept for game audio production. One of the most important steps in soundscape design is to specify the design goals and define the application scope and framework for the soundscape.

2.2.1 The Relationship Between Game Soundscape Elements

First, we need to understand the three basic soundscape elements: sound, listener and environment [17]. They are closely related to each other. As the object of the soundscape research, sound has two levels: the sonic environment, including the composition, structure and function of the sonic environment; the sound events that make up the sonic environment and their physical properties, as well as the listener's psychological reaction to various sounds.


Figure 1: The relationship between game soundscape elements

a.) Sound

Sounds can provide listeners with information about the material, size, and weight of the sound source. Broadly speaking, sound is not only a physical phenomenon and acoustic process, but it also features cultural, artistic, national, historical and other properties. Thus, how the sound is heard and what is heard determines the content and nature of the sound [18]. The classification of sound will be discussed in the next section.

b.) Listener

A crucial part of the soundscape concept is the listener's understanding of the sound in a certain environment. Sound is an objective existence, but its recipient is human. The listener's psychoacoustic perception conveys the power of sound as a communication medium. The social background and current status of the listener will affect his/her evaluation on the soundscape. Therefore, the listener is the subject in the soundscape and the direct percipient of the sonic environment. While evaluating the soundscape, the listener's psychological and physiological needs have to be taken into account [18].

In game soundscape design, the listener is the player in the game. The most elementary role of the soundscape is for players to perceive the physical properties of the sound event, so as to convey the information of the emitter and reflect the essence of the matter itself.

Also, the game soundscape should meet the aesthetic and cultural needs of players; that is, to communicate the emotion of listeners through the soundscape [18]. Qualified soundscape design should not exceed the physiological tolerance of the listener. It needs to create a specific atmosphere adapted to the environment according to the player's psychological state, and to enhance or reduce the impact of the environment as required. In a game, the soundscape influences the gameplay by creating the atmosphere, interacting with the visuals and conveying information about the environment to players. Therefore, game soundscape design should be player-centered, helping players satisfy their physiological and psychological needs. At the same time, it should create an appropriate atmosphere according to the game environment to enhance the gameplay experience and make the best of the sounds in the game.

c.) Environment

In soundscape studies, environment has two levels: natural environment and cultural environment. The natural environment consists of physical materials, entities and spaces [20]. For example, the terrain, ground surface, vegetation distribution in a forest. These factors will affect the propagation of sound in terms of absorption, attenuation and diffusion. They will change the physical properties of the sound, such as its loudness and frequency spectrum. In addition to the natural environment, the historical, cultural and social environments are also involved in shaping the soundscape, including the needs and influences that emerge with the development of society [19]. Soundscapes can be consciously designed by an individual or group of individuals, or be the byproduct of historical, political, and cultural circumstances. They arise through the interactions between external and internal forces within a community [20]. For example, acres of Brazilian rainforest have given way to cattle ranches and pastureland. The soundscape in this area then changes from insects and birds in the forest to pioneers and pavers in the field. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, Western pop music in restaurants and taxi cabs dominates soundscapes across the globe.

According to the Acoustic Niche Hypothesis (ANH) theory proposed by American musician and soundscape ecologist Bernard L. Krause, there is a clear voice bandwidth division in wildlife communities. Organisms in the natural environment will adjust their vocalization to compensate and equalize the frequency bands occupied by the sounds of other organisms. As such, each species evolves and maintains their voice bandwidth, ensuring that their own voices are not obscured and there is no competition between each other. In fact, soundscapes can help us understand the acoustic ecosystem in a certain region. A forest filled with many types of birdsong and other animal activity would indicate a healthy, diverse, and resilient ecosystem. Conversely, an ecosystem dominated by a single sound source illustrates a potential lack of diversity and resilience. The more resilient an environment is, the greater its ability to weather a significant disturbance without irreparable harm and change.

Soundscapes will evolve with the development and transformation of social, historical and cultural environments. During this time, we need to discover, preserve and record sounds with historical, regional and cultural connotations. Meanwhile, we should pay attention to increase the positive value of sounds, promoting a virtuous soundscape development, avoiding permanent negative impacts on the environment and ensuring that it does not affect the normal development of cultural, acoustic and social environments [21]. If the ecosystem is disrupted by human-generated noise pollution, the organisms living in it will be endangered. This principle can provide guidance for sound designers when designing game sounds set in a virtual or futuristic environment.

2.2.2 Categories of Sounds in the Soundscape

Based on features and roles, the sounds in a soundscape can be divided into three types: keynote sounds, sound signals, and soundmarks [21].

a.) Keynote Sounds

Keynote sounds do not have to be listened to consciously. The keynote sounds of a landscape are those created by its geography and climate: water, wind, forests, plains, birds, insects and animals. The keynote sounds of a given place are important because they help to outline the character of men living among them [22]. For example, in the game scenes within a city, the wind sound between buildings, the traffic noises on the street and the birdsong outside are the keynote sounds in the soundscape. As the background in a soundscape, keynote sounds are helpful to highlight other sounds. Also, they are important factors reflecting the characteristics of a region or an era. In coastal areas, the keynote sound is the sound of ocean waves; in urban areas, the keynote sound is the hustle and bustle of the streets. The sounds of traffic and advertisements became the iconic background sounds when cars became popular and consumerism prevailed.

b.) Sound Signals

Sound signals can provide an auditory cue to the listener, thus drawing the listener's attention. They are foreground sounds such as bells, horns and sirens. They are listened to consciously. Same as keynote sounds, sound signals also have regional differences and contemporary features. In addition, in order to strengthen the functional role of sound signals, people often use speakers or other devices to play them. In the end, however, they tend to be noises [23]. For example, the whistle of a train passing through the railroad crossing, the air defense warning, etc.

c.) Soundmarks

The term soundmark is derived from landmark and refers to a sound with unique characteristics of a site, which can either be natural or artificial. Soundmarks can be used to distinguish soundscapes and enrich the impression of the sonic environment. Schafer believed that “Once a soundmark has been identified, it deserves to be protected, for soundmarks make the acoustic life of the community unique [23].” In soundscape surveys, visual markers can be identified through on-site investigation, while auditory markers requires interviews with local residents or workers [23]. Soundmarks contain the most iconic sonic characteristics of a particular region or era. Therefore, it’s also "an important object to be preserved and revived in city planning and architectural design” [24].

3. Soundscapes in Cyberpunk Works

In the 1980s, Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott translated the abstract literal descriptions into visuals, which laid the foundation for unique cyberpunk aesthetics and introduced neo-noir elements in sci-fi films. In the same period, works like Tron and Akira popularized cyberpunk to the general public. The unique aesthetic design of these film and TV works has three main characteristics: technology, darkness and fusion [25].

3.1 Technology

Unlike other sci-fi works, cyberpunk works' portrayal of technology is mainly reflected in network and electronic technologies. On one hand, data are globally interoperable with the help of powerful supercomputers and artificial intelligence; on the other hand, as presented in Neuromancer and The Matrix, everyone can access their minds in the cyberspace through cables. At the same time, advanced human enhancement technologies have given rise to the emergence of cyborgs. As the main character in Ghost In The Shell, Motoko’s only organic body is her brain, all other parts are artificial; Rachael in Blade Runner is an experimental replicant implanted with the memories of Tyrell's niece; the game Detroit: Become Human is also based on highly-developed artificial intelligence technologies with an Android as the main character.

New technologies were also used in vehicles, such as the futuristic motorcycle in Akira and Tron: Legacy, and the flying car (spinner) in Blade Runner. The sound of these vehicles became a soundmark in the cyberpunk soundscape. Blade Runner 2049 shaped the sound of the spinner from multiple perspectives. In the first scene of the film, K flies a spinner over Los Angeles. The low-frequency sound comes in first, then the spinner enters the screen, adding another layer of mid-range engine sound with the trembling effect generated by the LFO. The growling sound and the dark color of the spinner mix together, which highlight the coldness of machinery. Then, the camera rises along the trajectory of the spinner. The visual movement and sound variation of the spinner draw the audience's attention to the distance, which strengthens the depth of the screen. On K's way back to the police station at the end of the mission, the screen shows a panoramic view of the spinner flying in the air. However, the detailed sound of the intercom inside the spinner is enhanced and the audience's focus is placed on K. Subsequently, several overhead pictures draw the viewer’s attention to the spinner. Along with the intercom soundmark, it immerses the audience in the future world. In the above two scenes, a large number of mechanical trembling keynote sounds create a cold post-modern atmosphere. Together with the soundmarks, they convey the environment information and demonstrate the social and cultural characteristics. This helped to satisfy the listener's perception and needs, and enhanced the feel of the advanced technology development and the coldness of machinery in the future world.

As soundmarks in the future soundscape, the sounds of flying vehicles should not only match the sci-fi features, but also have a sense of movement. Supervising sound editor Mark Mangini described: “For that we used the Doppler plugin, especially to create the pass-by effect. You want to induce that Doppler shift and damping effect...A general rule in sound design is that stasis is death. You always want movement in sound. We're always trying to induce that with plugins so that the ear doesn’t tire or get bored [26].”

image002Figure 2: The spinner in Blade Runner 2049

In addition to the vehicles, technologies were also reflected in non-narrative sounds. While writing the music for Blade Runner, Greek musician Vangelis also made some non-narrative sounds with synthesizers, and blended the sound effects generated by analog synthesizers with the futuristic electronic music. For example, when Decker and Rachael first meet, a subtle casual sound similar to wind chimes occurs in the soundscape. On one hand, this synthesizer sound with random pitch is similar to the sound effects of computer operation commonly found in sci-fi works; on the other hand, there are differences between this sound effect and real wind chimes. The real-life wind chimes are mostly harmonic waves. However, the sound effects in the film are closer to simple waves, which are more concise and grainy. They mix with the music and blend into the environment, as a response to the swift light on the walls. They also repeat at important points, such as when the owl gets off the ground and when Rachael makes her appearance. This draws the audience's attention to the actions of these two characters, which adds a layer of dramatic effect and sonic beauty.

Reverbs can add emotions to the cold synthesizer sound. The wind chime mentioned before has a large reverb, which makes the sound more ethereal and profound. The subtle chime, along with the hazy light, adds a sense of mystery to the space in the picture, which suggests that feelings will arise between Decker and Rachael. When the light in the room dims until there are only two beams of blue light, the wind chime rings again, overlaid with a layer of electronic noise, like the sound from a light control device. The special treatment of non-narrative sounds enhanced cyberpunk soundscapes and strengthened the narrative tension, which added a mysterious post-apocalyptic atmosphere to the film.

3.2 Darkness

The damp and oppressive rainy weather has become an iconic visual atmosphere for cyberpunk films, which uses artificial light sources for almost all of its ambient light [27]. The thick and somber tones add a sense of depression to the city. This comes from the great disparity between rich and poor and the anti-utopian ethos of cyberpunk works.

For example, in the scene at BiBi's Bar in Blade Runner 2049, the screen switches from the towering post-modernist building of Wallace Corp Earth Headquarters to the streets of Los Angeles like the Kowloon Walled City, and the soundscape of the previous scene transitions to the sounds of the advertising and the rain. This presents a striking contrast. It adds multiple layers to the anti-utopian vibe of 2049 Los Angeles. As the viewer's perspective rises from the ground to the air, it becomes quieter until the soundscape takes on a Zen-like calm, as we hear in the ambient sounds at the Wallace Corp. Such a design reflects a socio-economic situation - the people at the bottom are struggling, while the elites on upper floors live an extravagant life. Thus, when the scene switches from an overhead panorama to a flat shot, the dilapidated and moldy streets, the crowded vehicles and pedestrians, the holographic advertising in the middle of the road and the Asian elements on the billboards reveal how the people at the bottom of the society are living in slums.

In the soundscape at BiBi's Bar, the sounds of the rain and traffic, the music from distant stores and the cacophony of pedestrians create multi-layered keynote sounds. Sound signals such as traffic police whistles, vehicle horns and police sirens are released one by one in the soundscape. They compose a harmonious tone with the keynote sounds. This creates a dramatic sound space with vividness and clarity, which matches the crowded and dim picture and signifies a wet, rainy and noisy region. This anti-utopian social scene and overcrowding depression allow us to really get to know the Los Angeles of 2049.

The complex sound sources in the environment appear one by one in the soundscape. However, the level of footsteps is very low and almost only the footsteps of a few people in front of the camera can be heard. On a conscious level, the sound of the characters' footsteps is masked by the rain, which reveals the insignificance and powerlessness of human beings and implies a metaphor of losing one's own self; on a technical level, such a noisy environment needs to be optimized in terms of mixing in order to control the complex soundscape presented in the end. Re-recording mixer Ron Bartlett explained, “It’s about what we like to call ‘racking focus’ with sound. The goal is to guide you to what you should be paying attention to the most which propels the story [28].” The same technique is used to avoid noise-ifying the sound signals. The sirens and whistles in the soundscape do not stand out, but are mixed with the sound of rain. In this way, the viewer is made aware of the hustle and bustle of the city, while avoiding an overly cluttered soundscape.

In the gloomy environment, the neon lights in the screen balance the viewing experience. Naturally, the aural also needs highlights. For example, when K stands in front of Joi's electronic advertisement in contemplation, the keynote sounds mainly consist the noise of industrialized environment and the ambient sound of thunderstorm, which reflects the cold environment and renders K's indignant mood after losing Joi and learning his true identity. Joi's voice in the advertisement is just like the pink light mapped on K. The metallic high-frequency sound accompanying Joi's movements harmonizes the soundscape, which adds a gentle layer to the heavy, cold soundscape. And, the contrast between warm and cold makes the soundscape more layered.

3.3 Fusion

3.3.1 Cultural Fusion

Cyberpunk works are filled with multi-ethnic and multi-national cultural elements. Like other postmodern works, they feature a common "undifferentiatedness" between cultures [29]. The scene design is often based on urban spaces around the world. For example, the story of Neuromancer takes place in a virtual city called Chiba City in Japan. This city is filled with a mishmash of elements that attract all the senses: “Matrix gone, a wave of sound and color.... She was moving through a crowded street, past stalls vending discount software, prices feltpenned on sheets of plastic, fragments of music from countless speakers. Smells of urine, free monomers, perfume, patties of frying krill [30].” In addition, Hong Kong is a favored city for creators of many cyberpunk works. Hong Kong's noisy and overcrowded environment is filled with neon lights, billboards etc. At the same time, the collision of modernity and tradition makes Hong Kong the perfect model for a futuristic Asian city. Atsushi Takeuchi, the animator of the animated film Ghost In The Shell had the following to say about Hong Kong: “There is a sharp contrast between old streets and new ones on which skyscrapers are built. […] It is a situation in which two entities are kept in a strange neighboring relationship. Perhaps this is what the future is [31].”

One of the reasons for this fusion of Eastern and Western cultures is the highly developed information and transportation as well as the business globalization in the cyber world. Together, these contribute to the disruption of the original order of the world and the reorganization of different cultures [32]. This is particularly prominent in Blade Runner. The advertising displays hanging over the busy streets of Los Angeles in the film present a highly commodified society. Giant Japanese geisha billboard attracts people’s attention. Signboards in a mix of traditional Chinese and Japanese characters appear everywhere in the city.

image003Figure 3: The geisha billboard in Blade Runner

Blade Runner 2049 also inherited this style. In the scene at BiBi's Bar mentioned before, the high-density, multilingual advertising messages become the soundmark in the urban soundscape of 2049 Los Angeles. When the screen switches to a close-up shot of the vending machine, the volume of the music is reduced to leave room for the vending machine's sound effects. The voices of the commercials are also interspersed with multiple languages, and the characteristics of cultural fusion are further accentuated. Meanwhile, the advertising messages are set at a relatively high level and positioned more forward compared to other sounds. The multilingual advertising messages with varying reverberation and delay create a rich off-picture space and quickly immerse the viewer in the story. This allows them to hear the converging sounds that abound in this large and crowded city.

image004Figure 4: The oriental elements in Blade Runner 2049

3.3.2 The Fusion of Time and Space

In cyberpunk works, in addition to the sound of technology that takes place in the future, there is also a nostalgic and melancholic atmosphere [33]. In the animated film Akira, swing music popular in the 1930s plays on the pedestrian street in the future city crowded with tall buildings. In Blade Runner 2049, Joi listens to a jazz song and says to K: “Did you know this song was released in 1966 on Reprise Records? It was number one on the charts.” The song is Summer Wind sung by Frank Sinatra. Later in the story, when K comes to Las Vegas, we can see that the once glorious casino has turned into a crumbling wall, submerged in yellow sands. As he steps into the dance hall, holographic image intermittently plays clips of Elvis Presley singing the classic Suspicious Minds. Then, Frank Sinatra's song One For My Baby, released in 1943, is played again on the jukebox.

On one hand, these agelong sounds, which occur in the future, contain bittersweet memories of the past. They can quickly connect people's romantic memories with past time points. Also, they allow the future and history, imagination and reality to echoes each other. The contrast technique of cold and warm, new and old, awakes the audience's memories of the past. This creates an emotional passage in people's hearts across time and space, and adds a warm sound memory to the cold and distant cyber city.

On the other hand, the people in the story live in a society where high tech and low life are intertwined. The contradictions and conflicts in the environment trigger people's psychological defense mechanism - getting a sense of security and belonging through nostalgia [34]. Will the future world advance towards light or disappear in darkness? The nostalgic sound that appears in the digital world evokes the collective memory of mankind, pulling people back to the golden age deep in their memories to search for self-identity in the uncontrollable unknown. This makes the audience start thinking about technology development and human destiny in the post-apocalyptic landscape, giving the cyberpunk soundscape more expressiveness and depth.

Therefore, in game soundscape design, even if these sound sources do not appear in the player's field of view, designers still need to use multicultural, multi-temporal sound assets to create a highly commoditized future city with subtle links to the past world.



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Momo Zhao (赵茉茉)

Momo Zhao (赵茉茉)

Momo Zhao holds a Bachelor’s in Sound Recording from Beijing Film Academy and a Master’s in Audio Production from University of Westminster. Currently, Zhao is working on short film sound design and mixing, studying and researching sound narrative, surround mixing as well as game audio design and implementation.


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