Ludvig Forssell on the Weird and Wonderful Sounds of Death Stranding
Death Stranding scooped a host of awards last year, and Ludvig Forssell is the brains behind the beauty. But how did he gather such an eclectic soundtrack?
Sony's Death Stranding released in November 2019, and before the year was out it would claim a host of awards, including three at The Game Awards: Best Game Direction, Best Score/Soundtrack, and Best Performance for actor Mads Mikkelsen.
Directed by Hideo Kojima, there was high-hopes around the release, and it claimed further accolades at the D.I.C.E Awards, the British Academy Games Awards, and the SXSW Gaming Awards too. There's also the 18th Annual G.A.N.G Awards coming later this year, in which Death Stranding has been nominated for several awards including Audio of the Year and Sound Design of the year.
Forssell, along with a crack team of sound designers from Sony and Kojima Productions, composed all of the music and sounds within the game. He himself claimed the award for Best Soundtrack at the Titanium Awards, whilst the iconic BB's Theme from Death Stranding won the Song, Original or Adapted award at the NAVGTR Awards.
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Speaking to Gamereactor about the game, and his role as composer, Forssell outlined a few of the creative ways in which he garnered some of the sounds and melodies that we can hear throughout Death Stranding:
"We spent a lot of time on those bike sounds, that was one of the biggest challenges. Early on we knew we'd be having electrical engines and it's hard to make sounds for electrical engines without it being like sci-fi or Star Wars," he told us in the extended interview that you can watch in full at the end of this feature.
One of the more popular aspects of the game is its electric bike. It works like a real electric bike - you have to keep charging it as the game goes on - but its sound is far from the cliche of Star Wars and the sci-fi world. It's its own thing.
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"I love finding new ideas for sounds," Forssell continued. "I was in an Uber going from somewhere in Los Angeles to somewhere else, and this car was going over these rumble strips - it made a really cool sound."
Rumble strips are the small, continuous lacerations on the side of highways and motorways that are designed to alert tired drivers when they're drifting off the road. They make a distinct, sort of buzzing sound and Forssell claimed he'd driven over these and recorded the sound to use in Death Stranding.
The game really is a musical masterpiece and Forssell has become a very well-known figure in the gaming community since its release last year. He's developed a unique soundtrack using unique methods, and here's another:
"One of the first sounds that I really liked and I think people notice it but don't really think about it as much was having the sound of Sam connecting into the BB pod, and the BB pod starting up was the sound of an old internet modem turning on."
A nostalgic sound for many, and it found its way into Death Stranding via the creative mind of Forssell. The game is rife with tidbits and novel facts like that, and another comes in the Vietnam sequence. Kojima Productions kept an eastern foothold in this game with the inclusion of the Vietnam sequence and it's one that fans loved, and that took a lot of thought from Forssell and his audio team.
"The US army during the war in Vietnam used this experimental, psychological warfare, where they played spooky voices over loudspeakers, pretending to be the ghosts of fallen soldiers calling out to their family members," explained Forssell. "We made our own versions of that and put it into the ambience of the Vietnam sequence."
This sequence is one of the most popular in Death Stranding, and it's the little details like the sound of forgotten soldiers crying out to their late families on the battlefield that make it such an impactful game. Forssell later said in the interview that the soundtrack for Death Stranding was inspired by that of the 2014 film 'It Follows', directed by David Robert Mitchell.
"Hideo gave me a CD of the soundtrack for the film 'It Follows' which is a very synth-based horror story, and I based what my music needed to be on that, kind of emulating techniques from that soundtrack," told Forssell.
Death Stranding was a huge success for Kojima Productions. It was the studio's first release following Kojima's departure from Konami after making Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain in 2015, and comes after the much-anticipated, and hugely disappointing cancellation of the Silent Hills game in the same year.
It's shot life back into what seemed like a fading Kojima dynasty and now fans are expecting even bigger and scarier things for his next mission. In fact, earlier this month he revealed in an interview with BAFTA that he wants to make a 'revolutionary' horror game - a horror game to end all horror games, so to say.
After the success of Death Stranding, Forssell's work will no doubt be integral to whatever comes next. This 'revolutionary' horror that Kojima talks about will no doubt be a different game to Death Stranding, but the sounds will need the same eerie and creative nature as before and Forssell has proven that he has the know-how to deliver that.
But for now, we can revel in the illustrious creativity and quality of Death Stranding, and all that comes with it. The soundtrack has been rightly hailed in the gaming industry, and we expect to hear a lot more from Forssell in the coming years.