When it comes to making the unmistakable sounds of Halo Infinite, 343 Industries has always taken an unorthodox approach. “If it’s super dangerous you can always just do it outside,” senior sound designer Jomo Kangethe tells us jokingly. 343 Industries is no stranger to using bizarre and dangerous methods to create sounds for the Halo universe – they’ve done so since taking over production of the series on Halo 4.
Whether that’s shooting off rockets in the Oregon desert or giving a pug some delicious treats and recording the results, there’s nothing 343 won’t try in the sound design process – and that’s one of the reasons Halo Infinite sounds so damn good. We sat down for an exclusive chat with lead sound designer Kyle Fraser and senior sound designers Jomo Kangethe and Robbie Elias to learn a bit more about it.
If you had no context for 343’s past audio work on Halo titles, you might be a bit confused if you saw one of its Audio Field Recordings on YouTube. Rockets firing in the middle of an open field, dry ice being dragged across a grand piano, the assembly of an Xbox controller – it seems like a random amalgamation of sounds, or some kind of bizarre ASMR supercut. The team, admittedly, did some “sketchy” things in order to record sounds for Halo Infinite.
That includes attempting to strap down a rocket and setting it off to see if it made a cool stationary sound. Ultimately, it “wasn’t as interesting as actually launching the rockets, or having the rockets pass by us in a very sketchy and dangerous way,” admits Elias. The idea of trying to stifle the trajectory of a launched rocket for the sake of a sound bite isn’t all that radical for 343 – after all, this is the same team that shot at a container filled with a highly combustible chemical compound called Tannerite.
“So thermite or Tannerite?” Fraser interrupts as the trio discusses their most surprising sound effect tests. “Tannerite,” Kangethe confirms. “Funny that you got confused by Tannerite and thermite. Because we’ve done both sketchy things,” Elias laughs. “We’ve still got like, thirty pounds of that we need to get rid of,” Fraser says, trailing off as if he’s imagining what the team can do with thirty pounds worth of explosives.
Knowing 343, there’s a lot they can and will do. After all, the sound team has been working this way for a while, and its bizarre process has become something of its own hype machine. “Since Halo 4, we’ve always documented and videotaped everything we’ve done. And that does have a ripple effect, where it creates buzz and excitement around it,” explains Elias. “Over the years that has allowed us to build trust, to allow [the higher-ups at 343] to have faith that we’re not just doing this because it’s silly and fun. But we’re doing it for a reason. It’s deliberate.”
Whether it’s the roar of a Warthog engine or the shatter of Needler fire, the sounds of the Halo franchise are iconic. 343 knows the expectations of such an iconic soundscape going into the production of Halo Infinite, and wrestled with balancing old school sounds with new school technology. “I think that’s always one of the biggest challenges we have. Because you really kind of want to respect the legacy, and you really want to respect the fan base as much as possible. And you want to be able to bring in those elements that people are very familiar with so it’s not too jarring,” says Fraser. “But at the same time, we always want to try to push the envelope and kind of take it to the next level. It’s a balancing act.”
Halo fans are quick to point out when something doesn’t sound right – especially when it comes to classic franchise sounds. There are countless videos of sound breakdowns, whether it’s comparing the Halo: Combat Evolved Needler to the Halo Infinite Needler (opens in new tab), or just comparing sound changes made between the first and second Halo Infinite technical previews (opens in new tab). While this certainly puts a lot of pressure on the dev team, it’s also helped them fine-tune their work.
“Halo fans are super vocal about what they like and it’s taught us a lot of stuff,” says Elias. “I’ve worked on several Halo games now and I think I really learned more about the design aspect of sound design, where you’re not just creating a cool sound but you created a cool sound that fits a specific style. And I learned a lot just by taking feedback from what [fans] liked and what they didn’t like, and adapting to fit that style.”
There’s a reason why Halo sounds are so memorable and why fans pay such close attention to perceived changes. This is a beloved universe made with love by a developer unafraid of experimentation, whether that’s firing an automatic rifle into a pond or overfeeding a wheezy pug. Whatever 343 Industries does next, you know it’s going to sound good.