Moving Forward: Composer Aubrey Hodges on Doom 64's haunting soundtrack

Doom 64's composer reveals how the game's soundtrack was a happy accident, Taco Bell's influence on his work, and more.

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Midway's Doom 64 took Doom in a more horror-focused direction. While still heavy on action, it boasted darker visuals, a richer lighting system, and an eerie soundtrack that starts out low and eerie, and builds dread second by second, level by level. By the time you reach Hell, you feel as tortured as the souls of the damned wailing and moaning around you.

Aubrey Hodges, one of Midway's composers, wrote the fantastic soundtrack for Doom 64. As it turned out, however, I and countless other Doom fans came to his work in reverse. Hodges composed brand-new effects and tracks for the port of Doom that came to PlayStation One. Immediately after that project, Midway moved on to Doom 64, which combined larger levels with new visuals and Hodges' soundtrack, slightly modified to take advantage of the Nintendo 64's more robust hardware.

Hodges and I talked for over an hour about the creative process, how Doom PSX's and Doom 64's soundscape was something of a happy accident, the credit Taco Bell deserves for making the rogue's gallery of Imps, Pinky demons, and other horrors even more terrifying than they were on the PC in '93, home renovation, and more.


David Craddock: I didn't realize you live in Ohio. I'm about three hours away from you. People in the industry are always surprised when they find out I'm in Ohio. Like, "Who works in games out there?"

Aubrey Hodges: [laughs]

Craddock: But I guess today, in the world of remote work, there are more people out here than you'd think.

Aubrey Hodges: Yeah. I got tired of the high cost of living [out west] and decided I wanted to retire and build a studio out here, where the cost of living is reasonable. Now I don't have to worry about retirement as much.

Craddock: Yeah. I live in the Bay Area for four years. That's where I build a Rolodex of freelance clients and did interviews for box. Once I secured some remote jobs, my wife and I decided we should just move back home.

Aubrey Hodges: My brother lives in Cincinnati; another lives in Indianapolis; and my sister lives in Washington, D.C. I'm kind of right in the middle.

Craddock: My oldest sister is about 20 minutes away. My brother lives about five minutes away. And my other sister is about four hours away. It's nice that we're all relatively close to one another.

Hodges: I'm still renovating my home. I decided to do it by hand since I have these trade skills for some reason. Life is so weird: You end up building a home, and you help do the electrical work. Then you build another home and do the framing. You get all these skills. So I said, "I could buy an old house and renovate it myself." I didn't realize how much work it was actually going to be, but hindsight is 20/20.

Craddock: Have you found that you enjoy it?

Aubrey Hodges.
Aubrey Hodges.

Hodges: I enjoy the puzzle-solving factor. You look at an old home and see how they built something or [installed] something. You say, "Hmm. We don't have materials like that now. What can I get that will blend in them to feel authentic, but still be structurally sound, and meet code?" That's another thing: Some things they did [to my home] were fine back in the day, but today, with modern electricity... I mean, this place was built in 1870. So me going back and redoing everything, I have to be very particular to make sure it meets code, yet still feels like it maybe could have back then.

Craddock: Have there been any renovation projects where you haven't been able to do that for any reason?

Hodges: It was too expensive to get one of the chimneys that someone had concreted in. God knows why they did that. There were a million other ways. To try to restore that would have been cost prohibitive to the point of insanity, so I didn't do that. But generally speaking, I try to do kung fu with the wind, rather than against the wind. If I see the house as needing a certain thing, I kind of roll with that.

And in some cases, I adapt my thinking. For example, dry wall is a cool substance in a lot of cases, but it creates problems: When you're one person, it's hard to install unless you're a professional and know all the tricks. I went with tiled ceilings with this old, almost Victorian-era tile that you put on one at a time. The cool thing is, if there's a problem, you just pull down one tile, look in, and say, "Oh, there's a plumbing issue here. I can fix that." Rather than having to rip your drywall ceiling apart.

It's been an adventure, but it's tiring. From seven this morning until around 11:30, I was in the attic pulling out installation that looks like it was put in, in the '20s or '30s, and putting in new installation. That was a tiring, tiring job. But the goal is to create an attic space where I can store things. I have about a billion musical instruments and need someplace to put them, other than around the kitchen floor, which is where they are now.

Craddock: [laughs] I wondered. I see lots of guitars behind you, and I thought, The cases have to be around there somewhere.

Hodges: That's a tenth of my collection. I don't know how many guitars I have. I don't need as many because with today's technology and a couple of guitars, you can sound like almost any guitar. But some of mine are now hard to get, or special to me in one way or another. The Doom [PSX and 64] theme was done on the Ibanez [guitar] back there, so I keep that around. The Madden theme was done Brian Moore. So, you know, for various reasons I keep these instruments.

Craddock: I'm really fascinated by these extracurricular activities, and I hope I'm not reaching here, but you said one aspect of home renovation you enjoy is the puzzle-solving aspect. I wonder: Is that the case with creating music, and music for games specifically? Meaning, having to create a certain sound for a certain environment, mood, character, and so forth.

Hodges: Yeah. I think one reason I've been successful in the gaming space is because I'm a gamer. Not a one-dimensional gamer where it's like, "Oh, I play deathmatch and have good twitch reflexes." No. I'm a gamer in every aspect of my life. I play D&D and 50 other tabletop games. I play MMOs. I LARP. I love figuring things out and adapting, and using strategy. That's just how my mind works, even when I write music: I love to explore unique possibilities for things.

Hodges'
Hodges' "A" studio, one of two in which he works.

That's sort of how the new style I created for Doom happened.

Craddock: The motif for Doom's port to PlayStation and, later, Doom 64?

Hodges: Right. I was trying to go with the old feel for Doom [Bobby Prince's soundtrack on PC], but it was difficult because of my restrictions. I was having trouble making it sound badass enough, awesome enough, to be rock and roll. It almost sounded more humorous and comical, like a parody of rock and roll. That's one criticism of some people who aren't really a fan of the original Doom's [soundscape] used to level at it: Because of MIDI music—which is not Bobby Prince's fault—

Craddock: No, no. It was 1993. What did they expect him to do?

Hodges: Because of that, Doom's soundscape sounded almost funny rather than cool. And I was hitting the same damn walls on the PlayStation that Bobby had hit earlier. So I started experimenting: "What can I do the sounds I can squeeze into memory?" As I was messing around with stuff, I discovered the symbol in kanji for the root key. I didn't have an American version of the software yet because there wasn't one, so I was having to look at the kanji symbols and figure out what they went, and write a lexicon.

When you messed with that, taking it way down into negative numbers, the sounds were crazy. It sounded like my room was going to explode. I was thinking, Man, this is creepy stuff. It's so weird. What is this? I discovered patterns where the more complex the sound was as I lowered it, it became more deliciously weird and scary. Then I developed techniques to get the results I wanted as I lowered them.

Another shot of Hodges'
Another shot of Hodges' "A" studio.

It was very cool to hear, and something I felt could really lend some of the same emotional responses while playing the game as the more frenetic music did. Instead of pumping you up by getting your adrenaline flowing, I'm pumping you up with nervousness and twitchiness, and anxiety, based on fear—the horror genre approach. It still made you feel nervous and on edge, and that was the goal.

Craddock: I learned about Doom from a friend in Sunday school, which I guess was apropos. We're sitting in class and my church friend says, "Hey, you can kill demons from Hell!" I've played it since '93, and I love Bobby Prince's soundtrack. But from the moment I played the Doom port on PlayStation, that version became my favorite—even more than the original on PC—and a huge reason for that was your soundscape. So, I suppose I should be flabbergasted that that direction was a happy accident, based on your account, but that sort of thing does happen quite often in game development.

Hodges: Yeah, kind of. I always liked the feel of synthesizers for those weird, dystopian sounds. It always puzzled me that there wasn't a lot of that in gaming. I always figured, "Well, we can't do it because we're forced to use MIDI, and it doesn't really do that." But it kind of was a bit of a happy accident: Finding that sound that the PlayStation's chip could actually do, and was tiny enough in memory.

There's a 500K area on the PlayStation for sound. Everything had to fit into that: your sound driver, your MIDI file, your samples, and the sound effects. I only got about 180K for sounds and samples, and the MIDI file; I had to leave some left over for sound effects. That amount of memory is so minuscule. I had to sample at, like, 5K to fit anything in.

The interesting thing is if you sample at that size, you start lowering the bitrate, and it starts artifacting and making strange audio defects. But when you run it through the high-end reverb [reverberation effects] processor on the PlayStation, it makes your sounds sound like "lo-fi hi-fi." You've got this crappy source going through a really high-end processor. It was like, "Wow, that sounds really purposeful and awesome." Then I started combining different reverb—I think there were eight or 10—with different kinds of sounds, seeing how they responded at different settings for those reverbs.

The hard part was, tech and approach aside, when you start writing dark, ambient music, it's a very emotional and dark evocation from you in terms of your psyche, the mindset you have to be in to write like that. I approached it almost like a method actor where I tried to get into a dark mindset. You almost need therapy every time you finish writing a song. You're letting your emotions get into it, and letting [dark ambience] permeate every part of you.

It's emotionally tiring, but it's why each piece [of Doom PSX/64's soundtrack] is so unique. I throw myself into it. It's almost a sort of therapy—composing therapy. You should write a book on that and make some money.

Craddock: I did notice a progression to the soundtrack, such as this track for level 1, this track for level 2. Those early tracks were a different type of creepy compared to, say, five to 10 levels later, as you're getting closer to Hell: You're hearing what sounds like babies crying, all this wailing and these strange noises. My mindset changed over time; I felt more and more disturbed as I pushed into the game. It really changed Doom for me. Before, I just ran around and shot everything that moved.

Hodges: The difference is that previously, the music you heard in the original Doom was clearly a soundtrack. It was music being played over a game. That gives you some nice energy, but it doesn't immerse you because it's not diegetic. You can't imagine this music actually being played in the place you're in. Who's playing it? The Imps?

What I did was combine some aspects of traditional musicality—there are riffs and motifs with strings and other instruments that weave in and out. That suggests a soundtrack somewhere out there in the ethos. But the other sounds feel like they could be there: That's what you're hearing [in the space you're exploring]. Your hairs stand up because you're hearing cues like the babies crying. You're going, "What the hell? Are they torturing children somewhere?"

I tried to bring in these weird little cues that were as much sound effects and soundscape as they were score. It creates a combination of score and diegetic soundscaping that makes people like they're there; they're experiencing the Hell that is the levels as [players] progress.

Hodges'
Hodges' "B" studio, one of two in which he works.

Craddock: I think my first brush with your work on Doom was Doom 64. I played the PlayStation port, which shared your audio with Doom 64 much later. It was only then I realized, "Oh, Aubrey Hodges created all those sounds and tracks for this version first." Doom 64 was even darker and creepier than the PS1 port, since you all were able to establish your own art style. In some ways, did you feel Doom 64 was a better pairing for the sound you created, given that it wasn't someone else's game before it was yours?

Hodges: Not "better," but maybe more of a natural fit.

Craddock: More harmonious?

Hodges: All the lighting and that extra stuff helped [my soundscape] immerse you even deeper. The way we handled textures was smoother, so it just seemed a more high-end feel to me. What's interesting was, one of the tricks I was able to do was, because of the way memory worked on the 64, all of the sounds were basically in one giant pool, rather than having to be loaded individually as tiny packets.

I was able to make lots of different samples that could be used in all the songs, and then very carefully curate when, and which part of, a sample to use. That way it never became homogeneous; each level needed to be unique. It still let me use sound effects as musical instruments, per se, which was cool. In one instance I took the plasma gun—I can't remember which song—and [the weapon's laser-fire sound effect] is being played so low that it goes from boom-boom-boom-boom to booooooooooom, really low. I said, "Damn! That is wicked cool!" And it didn't cost any memory at all. I loved that about the Nintendo 64.

So, Doom 64 had darker theme and feel, and that let me take [my audio] even further. I would've done more if there'd been enough room, but there wasn't. Nintendo's cartridge-based system was so limited.

Craddock: I'm glad you brought that up. Part of me wondered, Since Doom 64 used the same soundtrack as Doom PSX, was implementing it into Doom 64 a matter of rearranging a few things and, presto, done? What was the process of scoping or rescoping the soundtrack for the 64?

Hodges: It was conceptually the same, but I used a different toolset. And it had different memory constraints, which were pretty heavy. I had to adapt my technique quite a bit to make it worked on the Nintendo. Even its reverb unit was different. Everything was different.

I approached it conceptually the same, and I had that in my back pocket: "Okay, I know this works. Let me see if I can make this machine do magic like the other did." It was just a more difficult process because of how the reverb worked, and having a very, very limited pool to stick everything. I think all the sounds and music, all of it, fit into one megabyte. I had to be very selective, very careful. Even the sound effects, I had to slightly shorten them all rather than gutting a few. I took the reverb tails off the sound, and used the Nintendo's built-in [reverb].

It was tedious. I just went and did all that work first so it wouldn't spoil the artistic part of [the process] when I got to it. I did all the stupid crap no one wants to do first to get it all out of the way: got the sounds to fit, got reverb working, all of that. Then I approached the songs as, "Okay, let me get one or two interesting flavors made just for this song. Then I'll add whatever's left." But I had to fit all that into memory, and how many levels there would be, and how many songs that meant I'd be able to do. That wasn't very fun.

But once the sounds were in, the instruments were loaded, and I knew what I wanted to do, I was able to just be creative with what I had. One aside to any musicians and composers who want to get into the industry: The biggest problem I see with younger composers today is to have too much at their fingertips. Too much choice. And it paralyzes them. Too much choice is a bad thing. It just absolutely cripples people. They go to work on a song, they pull up their samples, and they've got 820 different synthesizers, 50 samplers, and in each one they've got 600 base sounds and 5,000 drum sets.

Just, for fuck's sake, pick one and write. Pick one and go. Don't look over your shoulder, constantly criticizing and tweaking your work to death. Move forward, not backward. I've never doubted a damn choice I've made in my entire career. I pick one, say, "That's a nice-tasting base; I'll use that." I've got a guitar. I'll pull up a sound that sounds cool. Say, "Ooh, that's tasty. Let's write a song with that." Then I move forward. I get the song done, and then maybe on the next song I'll go, "Oh, I used my Ibanez on that song. Maybe I'll use the Brian Moore on this one. Let's see what that feels like." And I'll write a song with that.

People get so worried that there's a right choice and a wrong choice. There isn't. There's just the choice you make.

Interior of Hodges' home, before renovation.
Interior of Hodges' home, before renovation.

Craddock: I'm so glad you said that. As a writer, I have people say to me, "What program should I use to write?" I tell them, "That's really the least important decision to make." A lot of people love this program called Scrivener. It lets you organize your outlines and notes. But then I'll hear someone say, "I was traveling with my laptop, but I didn't install Scrivener, but I couldn't write." I'm like, seriously? A blank screen and a cursor should be all you need. Just go.

Hodges: One of my close friends is Bob Salvatore, the fantasy writer.

Craddock: I've talked with him a couple of times. I know him as well.

Hodges: Isn't that accent funny? [laughs] You never think of him with an accent. But the funny thing is, he liked to listen to me write when I was doing work on the game [Kingdoms of Amalur] for Curt Schilling. Bob liked to hear the composing process going on while he wrote on his laptop. I thought he'd have some crazy program. I went over, and he was using Notepad. [laughs]

Craddock: Exactly! And he's the perfect example. He worked in a factory before his writing took off. Bob's a guy I consider—and I mean this in the most complimentary of ways—he's what I call a blue-collar creative. He just gets in there and works. He's not waiting on a muse to show up. There is no muse. Just work. Just do it.

Hodges: Yeah, he just goes. It was fascinating that he didn't have [special software]. People ask me, "What software do you use?" Honestly, almost all of them. Depends on my move. The other day I was messing around in Acid because I felt like it. They released a new version, and I wanted to see what it was like. It's not about the tool. It's about you and whatever tool you've got. I've heard some badass music come off some [cheap tools]. This guy had a little keyboard with a tiny sequencer, but man, he can use that stuff.

Because I think that way, when I got my hands on the sound tools for Sony and Nintendo, I just used what I had. That's the tool I had in front of me.

Craddock: That's how the game industry worked, especially back then. A lot of the most creative solutions came from restrictions: no tools, shoestring budgets.

Interior of Hodges' home, after renovation.
Interior of Hodges' home, current state.

Hodges: Yeah, dude. I came from the era where the sound guy was the musician was the programmer was the tester. You did it all yourself. Nowadays it's like a music set: 50 guys doing this, 50 guys doing that. But the funny thing is, the worry of having to do it all made me, forced me, to be a very decisive creative. I make a decision, and I move forward. The decision's made; there's no going back. The game's got to get made, and when you look at your schedule of milestones, you're like, "Damn! That's coming up. I'd better go."

And this isn't even confidence in myself. It's confidence in understanding what's important from what isn't important. Younger composers may not understand that. You can do something incredibly intricate and amazingly detailed, but it could be the absolute worst thing for a game at the moment [your work] needs to go into the game. Maybe at that moment you need to underscore something in the game; it doesn't need to be, "Look at me! I'm a great composer!" You need to understand the emotional connection players are making at that moment in the game. What do the designers want the emotional connection to be at that moment in the gameplay? That's your responsibility is as a composer.

Craddock: You've mentioned differences in your process between Doom PSX and Doom 64. With Doom, you had a complete game to reference as you worked. For Doom 64, what assets did you reference as the game was coming together?

Hodges: On the PlayStation, I wrote music in these environments that had differing degrees of evil and twistedness to them. I classified them loosely as, "Okay, these are dark, but you're not in the bowels of Hell yet," and "These are dark, but the environment has just been ruined," like the command centers where you hear all the bleeps and bloops, but it's been fouled and ruined. Then there are places in and of themselves, like the Hell levels, that are innately evil. Those should come at you from an even more twisted place, like the crying babies and things like that.

Once I did that, I understood what music generally fit each kind of level. Then we had to do this memory exercise where we looked at how big the level we had to stream in [as players navigated through the game] was, and then how much memory we had for the reverb. The big space reverb was around 65K, which was pretty big. But the pipe reverb was around 8K. We almost had to pick which reverb [to use], and then which MIDI file to use: how long was the piece? can it fit into memory. We had to look at the level, the reverb, and the MIDI file, and then figure out which one of the six or seven pieces that were of the flavor we wanted could fit.

That's how we [matched music to levels on PlayStation. It sounds ridiculous, but it was the only way to fit all the music and get the levels to load correctly. There was a handful of cases where I might have picked a different piece, but it wouldn't fit.

Craddock: And Nintendo 64 was different, you mentioned, because of its memory specifically.

Hodges: Yeah. All the data was there at all times. That was way more fun: I could write specifically for the level.

Exterior of Hodges' home, before renovation.
Exterior of Hodges' home, before renovation.

Craddock: You obviously have a grasp on gaming hardware as a musician. I know Scott Patterson was the audio engineer on Doom 64. What did your collaboration with him entail?

Hodges: Scott was awesome. He sat two doors down from me. At the time I was the manager of the audio department, so he was writing the software that drove all this stuff on our side of things. There was the stuff Nintendo gave us, and then the stuff that needed to happen from our way of making stuff for the game and our connection to it.

Scott and I worked together all the time on making sure this all played and didn't have technical glitches. We had the same problems everyone has at first: little technical things where you get glitches in playback, missing voices. The stuff you get when you're making a brand-new system. Then there was the issue of how I interfaced with [the console hardware] and what I could and couldn't do. I wanted to make sure I had it write, because all of our instructions were in Japanese, which I didn't understand.

It was nice working with a guy who was very technical, and who also understood where I was coming from as a composer and an artist. I made sure I knew what the rules were: How much memory did I really have? There was a difference between what Nintendo, for example, says you have available, and what you can actually use once the drivers are all in and working. You don't think about that stuff, but then Scott's telling you that you do, and I'd say, "I guess I can't do what I thought I could do."

I had a good relationship with him, and with the whole team. It was a fun thing to work on, and a very meaningful project. Doom had such a big following. Everybody loved it, so we knew there were going to be a lot of eyes on [our work]. And ears. [laughs] We wanted to make sure what we were doing was going to be received well, especially since I was taking it in such a different direction.

Craddock: It's interesting, because Bobby Prince sewed some seeds for that horror direction. Most of his soundtrack is action-focused, but the sixth map of episode two, for example, "Halls of the Damned," is slow and creepy. So your direction felt natural in a way. Doom is action. Doom is horror. Doom is both.

Exterior of Hodges' home, current state.
Exterior of Hodges' home, current state.

Hodges: Yeah. It's hard to say how things would've gone if I'd have gone more in the direction of [action]. But there's a darkness to Doom. There are almost two aspects of the darkness to it: The Hell that wants to rise up, crush, and destroy; and the darkness of the violence you enact, a one-man wrecking crew on that Hell to smash it down. I think [Prince's] gut instinct was to push the, "You're the wrecking crew. You're a badass," rather than the Hell that's seeping in and trying to overrun everything. I wanted to blend the two and bring a darker foreboding out of it.

Craddock: Now that I think about it, the composers are this four-headed monster. You have Bobby Prince, who composed the original soundtrack. There's you, who steered into the horror direction. There's the sound team on Doom 3. Then there's Mick Gordon, who's really playing to, as you describe it, the badass Doom direction. We've reached a point where a Doom composer can say, "I know what Doom is and what it can be, so here's my interpretation."

Hodges: Yeah. I'm just happy to see people still playing it after all these years.

Craddock: On that note, Doom 64 will be re-released alongside Doom Eternal on March 20. What are your feelings on a new generation of players getting to experience your work?

Hodges: I think it's probably going to have a dual audience. On the one hand, you'll have the Doom audience who have loved [Doom 64] for years and are glad it's out again. But you'll also get a new audience, all the younger people who didn't play it back then. It's going to be interesting to see their reaction to that work. I played it not long ago just to do some comparative analysis on how the sound came out of the output [of the game] compared to my master files, to find out what I'd need to do to re-master that soundtrack. I got caught up in playing it, and realized I'm as bad as it now as I was then. It's hard!

Craddock: It is really hard. It's a different style of Doom in many ways.

Hodges: The [N64] controller was wonky. I never got used to those things. It just felt too mushy to me.

Craddock: I'd never ask you to pick a favorite song, but if there's a song that comes to mind when you think of Doom PSX or Doom 64, could you talk a little about the process of creating it?

Hodges: Some of this has to do with how I make music. At the time, I was really starting to get serious with my cello. I play a lot of different instruments, and the cello at that time was one that was inspiring me. It has a deep, rich timbre that is exciting to hear in just about any music. At the same time I was getting into that, some of the movies and music coming out, like Bram Stroker's Dracula had that deep, rich, instrumental feeling in the orchestra. I loved that tone.

Meanwhile, I'd just gotten my Ibanez. Its pickups were meaner, almost designed for heavy metal. It has this big, chunky sound, and it kind of reminded me of the cello a little bit. It had the timbre of the cello, but rock and roll. Then it was time to make [Doom PSX]. I thought of all the work previous, and the dark, ambient direction was fomenting. I thought, How do I blend the darkness of this weird, textural-based [audio] with a theme?

I started thinking in terms of playing riffs that feel like they stem from that. If it's just straight orchestra, that's cool. But too much in a movie way. If it's just rock, it's cool, but too much in a heavy-metal way. Blending so I get the strings, and the low incoming [audio], and building up with a guitar so it's like, BAM! Just smacks you in the face. That was the nice blend that felt good to me. I said, "Let's blend some genres, here." I'd done that in past work, in Quest for Glory years ago. I'd blended the sort of Transylvanian, Middle Eastern stuff, with stuff from Russia and that area, with rock and roll.

That was fresh in my mind, too: The idea that you could blend these styles to make a new style, a Doom style. I would bring in hints of technology to make it feel more futuristic. That main theme set the tone for the blending of styles and the darkness of it. I think it's in C minor, which feels suitably dark.

Following that, the dark and scary stuff such as "Lamentation," which is the track that has the crying babies—that has a similar flavor where I'm swimming around in a low to mid EQ [equalization] texture, that cello, almost bass range of notes that just feel delicious, especially when you add a little reverb. Then you throw in things way over the top in the higher range. It makes the juxtaposition unnerving. Then you add real sounds in and use them almost like a musical instrument. It makes your hair stand up, and feels stylistically in the same realm as the theme.

There were so many time and sample constraints, so I couldn't make the theme as big and awesome as I wanted. But I got it close enough. I got to a point where I said, "Okay, this is really cool, but I have a deadline. I'm moving on." I did the Doom 20th anniversary soundtrack, and the Doom 64 anniversary soundtrack as well, gave me an opportunity to re-hit those things with a modern ear, and some real instruments. I used my trumpet, and of course, my cello.

Doom 64's re-release features seven new levels.
Doom 64's re-release features seven new levels.

Craddock: I don't want to misuse the term "Foley," because it's so often boiled down to simplistic terms: "I'm tapping a pencil on a desk." But I loved the grunts and growls of the enemies in Doom PSX and Doom 64. How did you make them?

Hodges: Those started with a Taco Bell cup. I was out with some friends from the audio department, and we went to Taco Bell, or Taco Hell, as I used to call it. They had some special, and it came with the biggest cup I'd ever seen in my life. I swear to God, the top of it was huge. I was like, "God, that is the biggest cup." So I had to have it, and I used it for Mountain Dew.

But toward the end, it was so big that as I was talking with somebody, I had it close to my mouth, and [my voice] echoed. I thought, I could do some fun stuff with this. I emptied it, and when we got back to the studio, I said, "Hey, hit the mic. Turn it up and see what I can do with this thing." I took the cup and went: [growling noises]. It was like, "Wow, we can do crazy stuff with this cup."

After that stuff was recorded, I ran it through different things to make buckets of weird sounds and effects. Then I figured out which monsters they belonged to.

Craddock: Even back then, the "Doom" name carried a lot of weight. When you were coming up with new sounds for things like the shotgun, which was and still is iconic, was there any weight of expectation? Like, "This needs to be awesome because people love this gun."

Hodges: One tricky thing was I had to make sure every sound was not the original sound. Bobby [Prince had the rights to his music]. I don't know much about the situation, but I like him and I like id, and I didn't want to get in the middle of it. But id made it clear to me that I had to document every single thing I did. Where did I get the sound? Did it come from a library? Did I make it? Do I have the recording to prove I went and shot guns?

I also wanted to make sure I had enough of something that felt iconic. With the shotgun, it was the chick-chick. I had to make sure that was there in a form that had the right cadence, because that's what people were used to. I just sort of looked at it like, "Okay, I'll do every sound as close as I can to the spirit of the original game, but my own take on it."

The hard part was to pick and choose which [audio] was going to be 5K, or 8K, or 11K. The size was just a nightmare. A handful—maybe about 15 sounds or so, weapons being one of the categories—had 18K or 15K. Something where you had some detail. The boom, the explosion of the shot, I couldn't afford in memory, so I had to go back down to 5K or 6K. It was an interesting combination because what it did was it accentuated certain sounds, since the detail was there, so your ear picked up on it. And it diffused other sounds.

For example, when you shoot the rocket launcher, you get the, Pssshheeeeeew, right [after firing] that feels really high-end and nice. But when the rocket hits, you get [grainy explosion sound]. But that's cool because you can really go to town with that and trigger a lot of those explosions really quick; I didn't want [the sound] to be overwhelming. There were some interesting, nice things that happened because of my own limitations, and having to fit into RAM, so I tried to pick and choose which sounds needed high-end treatment, and it was mostly weapon sounds and a handful of sounds you'd hear a lot, like the door-opening [audio].

Rip and tear (and saw and carve).
Rip and tear (and saw and carve).

Craddock: Sounds you'd be hearing over and over, so they're not grating.

Hodges: Yeah, yeah. You hear them so much, like the little [item] pickup sound. It has to be good because you'll hear it a trillion times a map. I don't know how [Doom 64's] audio would feel now, not having those restrictions. It's the world I worked in, and I wanted to make it sound as cool as I could, and make the right tradeoffs so it was fun to play.

Craddock: Maybe that goes back to what we discussed earlier: If you were doing it today, you'd have all these choices and might stymie yourself. Whereas back then, you had restrictions, you worked within them, and you came up with something cool and creative.

Hodges: That's just it. You had what you had. Even something as simple as the guitar sound in Doom, in the theme: I had a Marshall preamp, I had a microphone... and a dream! [laughs] I just made that thing, and there it is. I didn't have any other stuff at the time.

Craddock: I mentioned Doom 64 being re-released. You talked about how long-time fans would play it again, and a new audience will experience your and Midway's interpretation of Doom. Since we've spent an hour looking back on it, what do Doom PSX and Doom 64 mean to you in the context of your career?

Hodges: It's a very, very special [project]. It was humbling and very fulfilling that id and Midway believed in me, and let me be creative for them. Not just do a job for them, but let me be creative and take them in maybe a very risky direction. They were great people, and gave me a lot of freedom to explore as an artist. That always feels fantastic.

The fact that fans reacted so well to it... I mean, here we are 20-some years later and I still get emails about it. I take that seriously. If someone takes the time to email me about it, I'll respond if I can. It's just nice to know that it meant something to so many people. It was a chance for me to really be creative and try things that were maybe hadn't been done before, and have it work.

It's that nice feeling you get when you have an idea that you can do something, and you're not sure how you're going to do it. So you try, and you get some support from people who encourage you—and then it works, and it has the result you intended. People say, "Wow. This is new and different, and we like it."

It's interesting. I didn't intend this, it just happened: Because it doesn't cleanly, neatly fit into any fad or style, it's lasted all these years. It still feels great; it doesn't feel dated, because it's not trying to be [part of] a style. It exists in its own little pocket. I've had the chance to develop the full feeling of projects, but it wasn't as dangerous. Doing what I did on Doom was a very risky [decision], and I'm glad I took the risk. I'm glad I didn't always play it safe. 

Long Reads Editor

David L. Craddock writes fiction, nonfiction, and grocery lists. He is the author of the Stay Awhile and Listen series, and the Gairden Chronicles series of fantasy novels for young adults. Outside of writing, he enjoys playing Mario, Zelda, and Dark Souls games, and will be happy to discuss at length the myriad reasons why Dark Souls 2 is the best in the series. Follow him online at davidlcraddock.com and @davidlcraddock.

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