The spider's screech has been a water hose this whole time?
Ten yᴇᴀʀs lᴀᴛer, I sᴛɪʟʟ ᴄᴏɴsɪᴅᴇʀ Mɪɴecraft ᴛᴏ ʙᴇ ᴏɴe ᴏꜰ tʜᴇ sᴄᴀʀiest ɢᴀᴍᴇs I've ᴇᴠᴇʀ pʟᴀʏed—due ɪɴ ɴᴏ smᴀʟʟ pᴀʀᴛ ᴛᴏ tʜᴇ ʟᴏɴᴇly ᴍᴇloᴅɪᴇs thᴀᴛ fade ɪɴ ᴀɴd ᴏᴜᴛ ᴏꜰ ᴀɴ otʜᴇrwɪse ǫᴜɪᴇᴛ ɢᴀᴍᴇ ᴀɴd tʜᴇ drᴇᴀʀy moᴀɴs ᴏꜰ mᴏɴsters thᴀᴛ echo ᴛʜʀᴏᴜɢʜ ɪᴛs pɪᴛch ʙʟᴀᴄᴋ caves. Mɪɴecraft's ᴏʀigɪɴal sᴏundᴛʀᴀᴄᴋ, creᴀᴛed ʙʏ Dᴀɴiel "C418" Rosenfeld, ɪs ᴀɴ icᴏɴic compᴀɴiᴏɴ ᴛᴏ tʜᴇ sᴀɴdʙᴏx survival ɢᴀᴍᴇ, ʙᴜᴛ I've nᴇᴠᴇʀ sᴇᴇn tʜᴇ saᴍᴇ ᴀᴛᴛᴇɴtiᴏɴ paid ᴛᴏ ɪᴛs bizarre ᴀɴd unmɪstakᴀʙʟᴇ sᴏund ᴇꜰꜰᴇᴄᴛs.
That's exactly what the latest episode of Twenty Thousand Hertz, a podcast exploring the origins of the most recognizable sounds in the world, set out to do. Host Dallas Taylor spoke to Rosenfeld about his early work on Minecraft (way before it was a global hit) and how he made some of the game's most ubiquitous sounds.
At the time, Rosenfeld didn't consider himself a sound designer. He sourced sounds for Minecraft from Freesound.org wherever he could. Whenever he hit a wall with the limitations of the free library, he'd have to make them himself. And some of them, as it turns out, are pretty weird.
Listen to the full episode above.
Like, did you know that the spider's maddening screech is actually Rosenfeld's water hose pitched up in a synthesizer? "I was originally like, 'What do spiders sound like? They don't sound like anything,'" Rosenfeld said. It turns out there is one spider, the Camel Spider native to the Middle East (and apparently isn't technically a spider), that makes a rattling noise when threatened. Rosenfeld wanted to use that noise, but in "middle-of-nowhere Germany" he wasn't about to get a microphone near the real thing. So he made one up by sampling his hose, and now we have the sharp screech that makes me want to swing a sword whenever I hear it.
I was especially interested in Minecraft's distinctive dirt digging sound. That "crunch" you hear as the block finally breaks apart was originally the player's default footstep. "They were awful footstep sounds. Walking on grass sounded like eating Cheerios." You can hear this unpleasant old version in the episode. Eventually, the sound was sped up and shortened to produce the crunch effect and Rosenfeld found a less aggressive stepping sound. Digging still kinda sounds like you're chewing on rocks, but it's immensely satisfying.
It turns out the sickly moans of Minecraft zombies are more accurate than you'd think. "I had a horrible flu, my throat was shot. So I just gurgled into a microphone." Is this what it's like to be a sound designer—constantly thinking about how you can use the weird sounds coming out of your body? Well, it worked out. Zombies sound pretty gross as they meander by my front door.
Oh, and Creeper explosions? Those are pitched-down gunshots. "I didn't have explosion sounds, but a thing you can get on the internet very easily is gunshot sounds," he said. This one really threw me for a loop, but it makes total sense. Creeper explosions do sound pretty strange compared to a traditional kaboom. It has more bass, like you can tell it's not producing some big fireball. Gunshots are themselves micro explosions, so it's really an inspired solution.
I came away from the episode with a stronger appreciation for how hard it must be to make a game sound distinct when you're an independent creator with limited resources. Ironically, Rosenfeld's DIY workarounds for more traditional sound effects resulted in a unique soundscape that has stood the test of time. A decade later, there's still no game that sounds like it.
The episode is a pretty fun time, so I encourage you to give it a listen. Rosenfeld also goes in-depth into Minecraft's soundtrack and the awkward audio bugs that limited how it could be used in-game. Sprinkled throughout are extremely correct assessments on the game from Taylor's seven-year-old daughter, such as, "It is a world of squares totally."
Could not agree more.