The Making of Sound in Tibia
ound in Tibia? Wow! - A few words, yet they can express so many emotions. They pretty much sum up the initial reaction of most of us here at CipSoft when we heard about this ambitious plan for the first time: a mix of surprise and astonishment, of awe and respect, of unbridled curiosity, excitement and inspiring energy.
After 25 years without sound, we were faced with a courageous project, promising and amazing but also a bit frightening. We were ready to take it on. This is a glimpse into our journey.
How we approached this extraordinary endeavour.
Adding sound to a game with such a long and rich history was a formidable challenge for the Tibia team, and quite a new one at that considering that we did not have to incorporate sound into Tibia's development for almost 25 years. None of us had a professional background in sound design or compositions for video games. Luckily, though, we could draw upon the experience and ingenuity of Tibia's developers.
We were able to assemble a dedicated squad of people from Tibia's programming and game content design, the latter even contributing sound expertise in making music. Led and supervised by Tusius, one of Tibia's product managers, this ambitious troop embarked on the sound adventure in June 2021 with the goal to release sound in Tibia at some point in 2022.
Lionet, one of Tibia's game content designers, had already contemplated whether and how sound could be added to Tibia in the past. So one of the first steps at the start of the planning phase was to document his vision and then build on it from there. Tusius tells us that they also had to rack their brains on some fundamental questions first: "How to add sound in a reasonable, sensible and feasible way? Who do we partner up with for sound effects and music? What to include and what to exclude on purpose? How do we make sure that huge battles do not turn into chaotic noise? And naturally, the questions of what is the maximum that we can pull off within the budget that was allocated to this project, and what do we need to deliver to ensure that it appeals to Tibians?" Once we had found answers to these questions, the team was ready to roll and the actual development work started.
A vision to guide us.
To accomplish our mission of adding sound to Tibia we had a compelling vision to aspire to, helping and guiding us to turn this big and courageous endeavour into a reality. Our main goal and most integral to our vision was the burning desire to give Tibia, and especially the players, a sound experience worthy of their passion and dedication, while at the same time representing more than 25 years of game content and continuous development: "A classic, honest yet mythical and fantastical score to serve as a backdrop for the complex stories that have been carefully woven over time and those that have yet to unfold," Lionet says.
"We opted for a mature soundscape and a realistic approach to how the world should sound, accompanied by an often driving score to set the mood for adventure, mystery and every once in a while just a fun time in Tibia," he continues. "Another important aspect was to find the right tone - pun intended - to combine our vision of Tibia with the manifold ideas and imagination of our loyal community." Over the years, we had gathered feedback from different sources which we evaluated to get a deeper understanding of the community's various expectations and concerns in regards to sound in Tibia. Countless fan-made videos, custom Tibia trailers and even memes served as a sound buffet providing a spicy combination of the many different tastes among players, or to put it into Lionet's words: "We're glad to have been able to use this digital magnifying glass as a way to take a bit more than just a peek into the tonal heart of Tibians. And we're confident that we found the right tune for our community to join in with us."
Where to add sound, and where not.
Now let us talk about the sounds that were added to the game for they are massive: around 600 audio files, 75 different set-ups of ambient streams, roughly 1 GB uncompressed sounds with a total length of more than one hour and thirty minutes, 45 minutes of that being musical compositions!
A major part of Tibia involves fighting, be that against creatures or other players. For melee, sound was added to the attack source which means you hear the weapon strike instead of hearing your target shout in pain. For bows, you hear the arrow being released and also when it hits its mark. The gap between both sounds was set to a length that should fit most often. However, if the target is too close or too far away, it may feel a bit too short or too long in some cases. This is one of many examples which required us to compromise since it was not feasible to cover every specific scenario and situation accurately.
In general, each weapon type received a particular sound. Since Tibia has a myriad of weapons, though, it was not possible to give each weapon its own distinct sound. Tusius elaborates: "Variety was achieved, nonetheless, by giving each weapon type more than just one sound. In addition, sound pitching enriches it further by randomly making tones higher or lower within a certain range. As for spells, they were put into groups. The first step was to cluster attack spells according to their AoE size. This classification was then also used as a basis for spells cast by monsters. Other similar spells were put together to form groups: all speed buffs, for example. Certain special spells even received their own, particular sound to make them stand out and clearly recognisable."
Moreover, there are distinct sounds for eating food and drinking, and different item types make sounds when being moved around when you put them on the ground or in your inventory, for example. The sound intensity of fire and water sources changes depending of the amount of water or fire you can see in your game window. And of course, there are sounds for user interface actions such as clicking a button, for example.
A lot of effort was put into creating atmospheric ambient streams which string together sounds that represent the area around you. Tusius gives a little teaser: "All across Tibia, you can now also immersive yourself acoustically into a living and breathing world. In the jungle, you hear monkeys screaming. You hear crickets chirping when you walk across a meadow. And in a city, you can hear crowds murmuring in the streets or a hammer hitting an anvil. Sometimes what you hear even changes based on the time of day."
However, some tough decisions had to be made in terms of where to leave out sound. Tusius estimates that "the project would have taken another one or two years if we had tried to add sound for each item, object and interaction in Tibia. It was simply not feasible considering the large variety and complexity of such interactions in the game, a testimony to Tibia's rich history of 25 years." Thus, there are actions and things in Tibia which will remain silent, so to say. Footsteps, screams of pain, effects such as Criticial Hit or Momentum, content interactions such as pulling a lever or opening a door, and also mounts have not received sound.
In regards to footsteps, for example, it was mostly a pragmatic decision as Tusius explains: "Nowadays, a lot of characters in Tibia are very fast so a normal sound of footsteps would not really fit the high speed of many Tibians. Moreover, footsteps would have to sound different depending on the type of floor. We would need to cover stone, mud, snow, sand, carpet, and others. So after careful deliberation, we had to conclude that we would not be able to implement this to our satisfaction. Hence, we decided to leave footsteps silent. The same applies to doors. It wouldn't be enough to have two sounds for them, one for opening and one for closing a door. Just think of the many different types of doors you can find in Tibia which would also require different sounds depending on their material."
Anthem and signature tracks.
Lionet explains that the anthem of Tibia, the main theme, actually had to serve several purposes: "First and foremost, we wanted to evoke a true spirit of adventure. A sense of the mystery, exploration and action Tibia is comprised of, a fitting main entrance to our expansive universe. At the same time, and in the true spirit of an anthem, we wanted to include a nod to Tibia's history, to the retro nature of the game and its roots. To achieve that goal, an 8-Bit adaption of the Tibia theme was created and is played in harmony with the real orchestra that interprets the piece with classical instruments - something that has not been done before in a video game soundtrack."
The anthem is the first musical greeting you will hear when opening the game client, it rings in your next Tibian adventure. It was the result of multiple iterations. Many different versions were created by our external partner Dynamedion. We analysed each of them thoroughly and our partner then re-arranged and remixed the theme based on our feedback and wishes until we reached the final version. The anthem was then ready to be transcribed to be finally interpreted by a professional orchestra. You wonder how this sounds? Join its Youtube premiere on September 26, 2022, at 20:00 CEST, to hear Tibia's anthem for the first time.
"The anthem of Tibia is not the only piece of music that was composed, though. We also initiated 20 other compositions, each of them a musical representation of a particular area in Tibia," Tusius adds. "We wanted these pieces to capture the atmosphere of specific regions in Tibia, to tie in with their graphics and lore, to express the mood and the dynamics of feelings we envision for these places." To give our external partner a better idea, Lionet wrote descriptive texts for the selected areas and locations. They explained the mood and atmosphere we were aiming for, and highlighted important key aspects and characteristics we wanted to be elicited by what he named signature tracks. Here is a snippet of the description for Tiquanda's signature track, for example:
"Jungle, tribal sounds, drums, powerful yet not overly epic: The big river Mahaji runs through this roaring jungle, massive, ancient trees dominate the landscape, a forgotten city, ruled by ape people in the midst. A driving, native sound with drums and full of energy meant to make the jungle feel even more alive yet more threatening as well."
Each signature track is about 2 to 3 minutes long and it will usually start playing a few seconds after you arrive in the area it was composed for. A few places also share a track. In order to keep signature tracks fresh and special, they are not constantly looped in the background, though: it takes around 10 to 20 minutes on average before you hear a specific track again. This is also influenced a bit by whether or not you have a battle sign.
Make sure to listen to the jungle beating next time you visit Tiquanda after sound has been released! It is a great and very immersive experience. In fact, we are so excited about how these signature tracks turned out that we want to give Tibians the opportunity to listen to them whenever they want, even when not being online. Therefore, on September 27, when sound will be released, we will also add a special soundtrack section to the website. You will not only be able to listen to the anthem and all signature tracks there, you will also be able to download them to dive into the musical world of Tibia whenever you want.
How to actually implement sound.
Every area in Tibia is rich in lore, creatures and mysteries which together create a memorable vibe and atmosphere. These places will now also be adorned by a vibrant musical tapestry woven out of their specific signature track, ambient streams and sound effects. Lionet summarises how it was all put together: "After describing the area very carefully and as detailed as possible, working out a concept for the music and arranging enough sounds to have a rich palette of fitting possible effects, the process of implementing everything into the game started. Aside from local creatures with their distinctive sounds (e.g. spit nettles in Tiquanda, frost trolls in the Formorgar Glacier and so on), each area is also comprised of a variety of ambient sounds to create a diverse soundscape while players roam the land in search of treasure and glory. We designed and arranged them by hand with careful fine-tuning of all the parameters our engine can utilise. Pitch, volume and variations will be different each time you hear an ambient stream to create an organic and unintrusive scenery of sound effects. To finish and polish the impression, a signature track specifically composed for each major area will play from time to time. Written to fit the ambience and atmosphere of the location it accompanies."
To be able to give the world of Tibia its voice proper tools and features were needed. Tibia programmers not only provided those, though. On top of that, they made it possible that the game can actually play sound. You can probably imagine that the technical implementation for a game as old as Tibia was no small feat. Besides having to juggle 25 years of code and a complex infrastructure, it also involved a lot of research and thorough analyses to find the best solutions for Tibia.
Dadeagus Tyrixa, one of the programmers, shares a few of the many decisions and choices which had to be made before actually implementing sound: "We offer Tibia clients on various operating systems so we first had to find a proper library supporting each of them. And of course, we had to make sure that it offers what we need, such as allowing pitches to change tones for more variety. We also put a lot of thought into choosing the best audio file format for our needs. While WAV files have a great sound quality, they are uncompressed. They would result in huge files blowing up the client's download size and also memory consumption. After carefully evaluating our options, we went with the compressed audio format Ogg Vorbis for longer sound files such as music and ambient pieces. It is widely supported and enabled us to compress audio files significantly without having to sacrifice sound quality. Keeping the download size of the Tibia client below 300 MB was one of our goals and a challenge we had set for ourselves. And we are happy to say that we achieved that." Moreover, to prevent longer music tracks from clogging up too much memory, they will be streamed from your hard disk.
Another important technical aspect relates to the architecture of the game. Which component of the game actually knows the right moment when to play a sound? Dadeagus Tyrixa explains: "The game server knows when exactly a combat attack in Tibia occurs. However, this information needs to be send to the client via the internet before it can be displayed there for players to see, for example by showing an animation such as a flying arrow or a spell effect. Hence, the client also needs to know which sound to play at which specific point of time to ensure that animation and sound are in sync. There are other sounds which are only relevant for the client and which do not require information from the game server: pressing a button in the UI, for example."
The importance of sound options.
For 25 years, Tibia did not have any sound. Of course, many players are listening to their own selection of background music while playing. A lot of times, they also play without music, use voice chat or even play in silence, or everything mixed together. Tusius nods: "Now launching the client after so many years and suddenly hearing music and sound in Tibia can be overwhelming and also simply be too much - in general or especially in particular situations such as a hunt or a PvP battle. It was important to acknowledge and consider this since we do not want to force sound onto players."
Sound in Tibia was conceived as an invitation to explore this new side of a world Tibians know so well, and it is up to each player whether or not they choose to give it a try and take up on this offer. Therefore, players will be able to use a wide range of sound options to configure their own sound setting for Tibia. Just to give a small example: If you feel that healing sounds are to excessive, you can switch them off completely, or you can just switch off healing sounds coming from others, and at the same time still have ambient sound and music activated.
In Tibia, players often see and witness lots of different things going on at the same time in their game window. "Now, they can also hear that. It was important to make sure that it all blends smoothly so that even huge battles sound authentic," says Dadeagus Tyrixa. "Our sound focus here was to radiate a thrilling combat atmosphere instead of going for extreme accuracy with every clang and thrust." Tusius also emphasises the challenge of big battles in terms of sound design: "Do we have to prioritise certain sounds? Do we have to block out others completely to prevent noise? We were already far into the project when we showcased a massive battle scene for a larger group of colleagues for the first time. We used a special tool which automatically creates characters and pits them against each other and also against numerous monsters. You can probably imagine that we were very curious to see how our colleagues would react and, of course, we were also a bit nervous. But what a relief! The presentation was a success. It sounded well-balanced, we hit the mark and no major adjustments were needed. That was a big milestone for the project and we could continue as planned. We were on the right track."
When adding sounds, ambient streams and music via tools and simulations, the devs had to rely heavily on their intuition at first. However, in order to see, or better hear, the results properly, logging into a game client and experiencing it in the game world was crucial and of utmost importance. The internal development client for sound was excessively used by them to try out different scenarios and set-ups, often over and over again for hours, or even days, to check if it all lines up to create the organic atmosphere we were aiming for. A time-intensive and demanding process but it also helped us to iron out glitches and to smoothen edges during development already.
And sometimes, other collegues were part of this process: Early in spring, Mirade got the chance to log in and hear the roaring jungle of Tiquanda for the first time. She remembers: "The first moments were mind-blowing. I was speechless, something that rarely happens, just basking in the acoustic glory of the jungle and its multitude of sounds. It felt so vibrant, fresh and new, yet also familar. It was still the Tiquanda I knew and cherished, and yet I felt immersed like never before. Until, well, a few screaming monkeys suddenly turned into dozens, then hundreds and eventually thousands. Of course, their screetches were not meant to loop like that but I couldn't stop listening to it laughing for quite some time."
Cats and deer.
In order to gift Tibian creatures with sounds to recognise them by, they were put into sound categories. In autumn 2021, the team had started to group monsters that can share a sound due to their acoustic similarities, and those who need their own distinctive sound.
Tusius tells us that they had not yet considered docile creatures at that point in time: "Due to the pandemic, all CipSoft employees worked from home back then. Each colleague who had video calls with me knew my two rambunctious cats Ellie and Dina since they have a tendency to appear in the background or even right in front of the camera. And that is how the idea to record the two them as voice actresses, or rather meow actresses, for cat sounds in Tibia was born. In summer 2022, when meeting up in person was much easier again, Lionet visited us at home and we recorded different types of meows and yelps from Ellie and Dina. The quality of Ellie's recordings turned out best and thus, she became the 'Chosen One', and is now forever the cat of Tibia. Needless to say, that both Ellie and Dina were rewarded generously with treats and snacks for which they would probably do it all over again." On the picture to the right, you see the two notable newcomer stars Ellie (left), the cat of Tibia, and Dina (right).
There was also one particular Tibia sound which echoed through the halls of CipSoft's headquarters quite a few times during development. It was only drowned out by hearty bursts of laughter always accompanying it. Lionet narrates the story: "Imagine a deer: elegant and beautiful, it grazes majestically yet innocently on a quiet clearing in a tranquil forest. What sound does that deer actually make when disturbed? Well, it's LOUD, harsh and more reminiscent of a common cow than that graceful tender being you just envisioned. The sound is comparable to a stag in rut. We refined the sound to be as much toned-down as possible to make it work. Since Tibia sounds are less stylised and more leaning towards realistic effects, it's still pretty authentic, however. So let's say you are playing Tibia while close to a real forest with your window open - don't be alarmed if a stag suddenly drops by, trying to woo you." And of course, he also had to go through quite a few acoustic funerals: "Since all our creatures feature not only idle noises and attacks but also death sounds, I had to define sounds for those as well. Having to describe things like the screaming of a dying horse certainly was not something I imagined I would ever have to do - having to hear that sound afterwards for implementation and testing was an experience in itself. The final sound is 'convincing' let me tell you."
One of the goals of this project was also to make sure that we can maintain the current level of sound quality in the years to come. "We will, of course, continue to implement new sounds if we need them for a new feature such as novel spells coming with the skill wheel in the winter update, for example, or in case we want to introduce the 21st area with its own signature track," Tusius smirks. There are no plans, though, to add sounds to the aforementioned actions and things which were left out on purpose.
We hope you enjoyed the glimpse behind the curtain of this unique project which was such an exciting, intense and memorable experience for all of us. We put our heart and soul into it to create Tibia's own acoustic reality which hopefully feels genuine and at the same time can still surprise you with the unexpected and unusual every once in a while. Something Tibia is known and loved for and we wanted to pay tribute to that. Tibia and Tibians deserve nothing less.
Sound is an invitation to explore this world of magic and wonder again, to experience it in a fresh way. We hope you enjoy listening to the sound of Tibia.
Let new stories of adventure and discovery ring out loud!