Battlezone: VR for Your Ears

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Battlezone: VR for Your Ears

Creating the music and sound effects for Battlezone was both an honor and a treat for our Audio Lead Graham Gatheral. The 1980s was a formative time for him, and he and the audio team are still very much into video games, music, and film from that era, such as Blade Runner, Tron, and — of course — the original Battlezone.

Battlezone, PS VR

Graham remembers playing the Atari 2600 port when it first came out. As it is for many of us at Rebellion, the original Battlezone was one of the first video games he played. Needless to say, he was delighted to be given the opportunity to work on this project!

So we asked Graham: What was your approach to the sound and music in Battlezone?

“The pitch was fairly simple: we wanted to pay homage to the music and sound of the 1980s, but stay in line with the updated visual aesthetic of Battlezone on PSVR, and the modernity of virtual reality. In practice, it wasn’t that simple. A lot of research, experimentation, effects processing, and iteration was required to capture that warm, nostalgic feeling of the 80s, suited and booted for 2016.”

The Influences

We feel our art team has done such a great job with the retro-futuristic look of Battlezone, with its neon world and bold, blocky shapes. With that art style, the source DNA and the short, sharp nature of the missions, Graham had a clear idea of how he wanted the music to sound.

“I began revisiting a lot of the stuff I listened to from the era — 80’s electro, Detroit techno, things like Cybotron and Model 500. I wanted Battlezone to feel pumping, arcadey — capturing the atmosphere of the lit-up cabinets, and the bright action flickering across rows and rows of displays.”

Let’s do the time warp!

“Walking into my studio at the moment is like stepping into the 80s! There is a bunch of equipment in there directly from the era, mostly stuff I’ve acquired over the years. The TR-606 drum machine, for example, was released in 1981 just a year after the original Battlezone. You can also see the Roland SH-09 analogue synthesizer in these photos — that’s actually from the same year as Battlezone.”

“I used the synthesizers and drum machines as raw material sources. I would make a pattern on the SH-09 and TR-606 — think of that as the raw, authentic 80s material — and run it through a bunch of modern plug-ins, adding effects, reverbs, tape delay… all kinds of sound mangling to bring out that iconic analogue warmth and energy.”

Here’s a bespoke piece we created for one of the game’s early trailers, based on the music of Battlezone:

The process of creating authentic yet modernized material went to another level with the sound effects.

“In 80’s games, sounds were typically generated using dedicated synthesizer chips. The sounds were generated on the fly, rather than being played back like modern sample-based SFX. That distinctive low-res, 8-bit sound is a key component of our nostalgia for that period.

“I thought it would be cool to, wherever possible, use 80s technology to generate SFX in Battlezone. HUD and GUI sounds were particularly good candidates for this — the front end menu sounds, for example. Using a chip emulator — a piece of software that can emulate the SFX of 100s of arcade cabinet and console chips — we created digital reproductions of SFX from the era. We then combined this source material with other, more spectrally rich synthesizer recordings to create sound effects that retained an 80’s authenticity, yet with a modern twist.”

To give you an idea, listen to a few example effects created using this process in the playlist above.

VR for Your Ears

Of course, our audio team was creating sounds and music for a brand new platform, and the immersive nature of VR required a new approach in our sound strategy.

Battlezone on PlayStation VR

“Battlezone uses binaural processing to position sound effects 360 degrees around the player. It’s a highly accurate technique for 3D audio and it’s absolutely perfect for virtual reality, because it delivers a level of immersion in the audio that’s consistent with the graphical output of PlayStation VR.”

Of course it is a bit more extra work to make it all gel, but we hope you’ll agree it’s been worth it!

The End Result

“I’m really proud to be a part of this team, it’s the first VR game we’re putting out, and it’s an exciting new frontier with new challenges!”

When you play Battlezone, we hope the music and SFX play a part in making the game world as stirring and immersive as possible. We hope you’ll feel like you’re back in those dark, neon-lit arcades, with all the excitement of playing the newest cabinet. Except this time you’ll really be in it, right inside the tank, shooting down enemies and saving the world, all to a cacophony of beeps, bloops, and beats!

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4 Author Replies

  • Would you say the best listening experience would be with those fancy new headphones that were just announced?

  • I think Binaural sound is one of the essential elements that really makes VR work. It’s very refreshing to see so much love and attention to detail being paid to Battlezone VR. I think it’ safe to say that the spirit of Battlezone is alive and well in Battlezone VR. I would love to see Ed Rotberg playing Battlezone VR.

  • Got a chance to play this at the PSVR demo at my local Best Buy – I was very impressed. My first trip (a few weeks prior) I tested the Eve Valkyre demo and that was really neat (and I was already convinced that I wanted the PSVR) but after playing Battlezone I knew this kit was going to be a winner. Its just going to be a matter of sorting through the junk titles (cashing in on VR buzz) and good titles when it launches (and hopefully theres enough and steady stream of content supporting VR).

    • Glad you had such a great time with Battlezone! We’ve really enjoyed getting all the feedback from the retail demos, and it’s been great to see so many people excited for Battlezone and PSVR.

  • Looks (and sounds) like an amazing game.

    Has there been any news on when and where we will be able to pre-order the physical disc copy of this?

    Also, I’ve been noticing that European gamers seem to be getting physical PSVR copies to pre-order while we in the US are not.
    Games such as Hustle Kings VR & Until Dawn™: Rush of Blood. Why is that?

    • Thanks! Please keep an eye on retailers for news on physical pre-orders, but just to confirm, Battlezone is getting a physical version published by our pals at PlayStation.

  • Damm, that must of been a ton of work, the sfx sound legit, and the music really represents the mix between retro and mkdern, also really awesome track. I love when people put effort on the soundtrack of the games, and you did, cant wait to listen to the rest while playing!

    • Thank you so much! I can’t wait for people to play the game and hear the full soundtrack, because there are so many killer tunes in there and Graham has done an absolutely amazing job. I’m a child of the 80s too so that kind of retro-modern mix is an absolute winner for me. Not too long until everyone gets to hear his work on October 13th :)

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