Binaural World of Senua’s Sacrifice
Imagine a whisper in your ear when no one’s there. If you are curious about that tingling sensation, put on your headphones and take a look at binaural recordings of Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice.
Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice has won numerous awards including Audio Achievement (BAFTA Awards), Use of Sound (NAVGTR Awards), and Best Audio Design (The Game Awards). It has production quality that will surpass what comes to mind when you think of indie games. The game's developer, Ninja Theory, describes the game as "Independent AAA". The game offers portrayals of psychosis. It presents them so effectively that it may take some time to shake off the tension. On the official Hellblade website, there are phone numbers for social support lines from many countries in case you are negatively affected by what you see in the game or if you see someone who is affected, and it is stated that mental conditions such as psychosis are real, common, and treatable.
The game is made using elements from Scandinavian mythology and Celtic culture. The character you play, Senua, suffers from psychosis and believes herself to be cursed. The looting of her village and the death of her love cause her to blame herself. She sets out with the intention of searching for her lover's soul in the land of the dead, Hel. Senua is constantly hearing voices. These voices direct, reward and punish both Senua and the player. Reacting to the directives that come with the voices draws the player into the story. The voices speak to Senua as if they were speaking with the player. The binaural recording method in the sound recordings has been used to create this sensation.
Binaural recording is a method of recording sound using two microphones to mimic the way the human ear processes sound. To experience the 3D effect of binaural recordings, you need to wear headphones. You can listen to some examples here (1, 2, 3). While the binaural method may seem like a new and technologically advanced technique it has a long history.
Before binaural recordings, binaural methods were used a long time ago. In 1881, Clement Ader placed a series of microphones in front of an opera stage in France and broadcast the performances live over two stereo telephone lines. This can be considered one of the first binaural methods.
During World War I, both sides used horn-like devices and rubber tubes to collect sound to determine the direction from which aircraft were approaching. Finally, in the 1930s, the foundations for today's binaural recording approach emerged. Harvey Fletcher placed two microphones on a wax model of a head and called it Oscar, creating one of the first binaural dummies. When Oscar was talked to in a circle at the Chicago fair, visitors who listened to it with headphones were surprised to feel as if someone was talking to them from nearby. In the 1930s, the German company Phillips also made one of the first binaural dummies. Although there were subsequent attempts, there were aesthetic and technical problems with the perception. With the development of digital sound processing methods, binaural recordings have become much more optimized. Today, dummy heads, artificial ears (3Dio binaural mics used in the production of the Senua’s Sacrifice), and even binaural headsets (microphones for placing into human ears) are used in binaural recordings.
In addition to recording, there are also uses for binaural methods today in virtual reality (VR). Many software programs simulate binaural perception for VR. In VR technology, it is much easier to create a natural sense of directional sound with virtual methods because the player can move. Spatializer software is used to simulate directional perception and spatial positioning. These software programs are generally based on HRTF (head-related transfer function), ITD (interaural time delay), and ILD (interaural level difference) parameters. One of these software programs, Oculus Spatializer, is freely available to game developers, audio programmers and sound designers and can be added as a plug-in to Fmod, Wwise, Unity, and Unreal Engine.
Although real-time binaural recordings are rarely used in the audio industry due to their disadvantages, the audio director of Ninja Theory, David Garcia Diaz, and his audio team heavily relied on the binaural recording method when designing the sounds for Senua's Sacrifice. The whispers in your ear, the sounds that change position around you and many other auditory elements in the game strongly convey the impact of binaural recordings on the success of the game. The Ninja Theory team, which worked with people with actual psychosis and mental health professionals, tried to be very realistic in the presentation of psychosis. Today, Ninja Theory is working on the second game. The release date for the second game in the Hellblade series, Senua's Saga, has not been announced. Although Ninja Theory was taking a radical approach to “being independent”, they are acquired by Microsoft in 2018. It is expected that the new game will be released exclusively for Xbox and PC under Microsoft. You can watch the trailer for the second game here.