How God of War's World Serpent Got Its Voice

We recently talked to God of War's director and sound designers about how the memorable World Serpent's voice was created.

When you first meet Jörmungandr the World Serpent in God of War, Kratos looks ready to rumble, as if all the dastardly boss fights across the series facing gods 50 times his size have him primed to anticipate when danger would strike. But the World Serpent ends up not being a threat of that magnitude; the big pearlescent snake is instead a friend. And when the intimidatingly large serpent speaks, it shakes the world.

Backstage at the DICE Awards 2019, I spoke with lead sound designer Mike Niederquell, dialogue lead Leilani Ramirez, and director of God of War Cory Barlog to get to the esophagus of the World Serpent's realm-shaking voice. The voice, not so surprisingly, has peculiar origins.

"Cory came to me and he said he wanted it to sound like a Tuvan throat singer, with like," Niederquell demonstrates a guttural "uhhhhhhhh" sound of its harmonic, overtone singing, "It kind of stemmed from there, and trying to recreate that with what he wanted and carve it to where we felt we were happy. That's where that came from. When it spoke, he wanted it to be like something you've never heard before and impactful because this thing is so alien, so big, and it's an ancient tongue, as they say in the game, so he wanted it to represent that."

The World Serpent is always a nice friendly face to see in the distance. | Caty McCarthy/USG, Sony Santa Monica

Of all the sounds in last year's God of War, the voice of the World Serpent is perhaps the most memorable. When it speaks to Kratos, Atreus, and the disembodied head of Mimir, it is at once incomprehensible, intimidating, but also kind. You know immediately that the World Serpent bears no malicious intent, but instead the opposite.

"Honestly, we messed around with the World Serpent's voice for almost a year, just trying to figure out what it was and then at one point, [Mike] just said, 'You know what, just go away. I'm just going to figure something out. I've got an idea,'" Barlog says. "He mixed a little bit of the Tuvan throat singing, but he found all these programs and he used his own voice to test out and do this stuff, and I think in the end it's actually his voice that is doing the thing because it was just so good. His first sort of pass when he clicked with all these different ideas, it was just amazing. They have like 30, 40 thousand dollar speakers in the sound pod, so the walls were shaking and rumbling, I can see his keyboard rumbling, and I was like 'Okay, this is right. That's really good.' It was cool. It was a very neat moment."

The final sounds that ended up making the World Serpent were dominantly sourced from animals, according to Niederquell, with a lot of layering to create the memorable voice. But as with all sound design, the voice was just the tip of making the World Serpent not only look alive, but sound alive too. "There was a lot of dragging objects along the ground and messing with frequencies to make it feel larger than it actually is," says Niederquell. "There's like rock debris when it moves against the mountain that you pitch down to make it feel larger. Its voice has a lot of mouth squishes and movements to get the jowls of its jaw to make it feel really big. There's a ton of layers that go into the sound of the World Serpent."

For some of the other creatures in God of War, Ramirez says Old Norse language was a key inspiration too in the decision making of which creatures would speak, such as the serpent, and which wouldn't. "In general with all the creatures within the game, there was back and forth talk about which creatures actually speak," Ramirez says. "That was a continued conversation that we would have with Cory and the design team in general to figure out." Even substantially smaller things, like Kratos walking on dirt in his signature moccasins, took a lot of iterations.

Niederquell emphasizes that the sound design of God of War, which took home the night's Outstanding Sound Design honor at the DICE Awards, was a tremendous team effort. "Leilani gives us feedback, and everyone plays the game and they tell us how they think it sounds and what they think it should be, so it's the sum of its parts for a game team," he says.

So the next time you hear the World Serpent's Midgard-trembling voice, you can picture a team of sound designers wrestling with animal yelps, Tuvan throat singing, and the sound of Niederquell himself, all helping make it all come together.

Tagged with Action Adventure, Cory Barlog, Feature, PlayStation 4, Sony, Sony Santa Monica.

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Read this next

Sony to Create Films And Shows Based on PlayStation Catalog of Games

PlayStation Productions will work to bring Sony properties into new media.

Here's a Two Hour Documentary About Sony Santa Monica's Struggle to Revive God of War

Raising Kratos is a full-length film about how God of War was made.

The 25 Best PS4 Games: Now Updated for 2019

Our rotating list of the best PS4 games, now updated again for May 2019!


WoW Classic vs. Modern: What Has Changed Over the Past 15 Years

With WoW Classic's beta in full swing, we take a look at the early leveling experience in beta and the current WoW.

Technicolor Dystopias: Why the Colorful Wastelands of Rage 2, Far Cry New Dawn, and Fallout 76 Are Suddenly Popular

We talk to the developers behind these colorful post-apocalypses and explore the history behind the trend.

5 Cool Retro Castlevania Facts You Didn't Know in Honor of Castlevania Anniversary Collection's Release

What NES sprites have to teach us about the darkness in men's hearts, and more philosophy delivered in 8-bits.

More on PlayStation 4

No Balance Changes Planned For The Division 2's Raid, Says Ubisoft

Other changes will hopefully tune the raid's difficulty on console with a lighter touch.

Team Sonic Racing Characters - Characters List, How to Unlock More Characters

Team Sonic Racing features a huge roster of iconic Sonic Characters for you to choose from. Here’s who made the cut.

Dauntless Monsters List - All the Dauntless Behemoths and Their Weaknesses

This is our guide to every Dauntless monster, including Behemoth weaknesses, locations, and more.

Lego Batman 3 Codes and Cheats - Lego Batman 3 Beyond Gotham

Here’s all of the Lego Batman 3 Beyond Gotham Cheats and Codes you’ll ever need to know.

Fortnite Fortbytes List - All Fortbyte Challenges and Rewards

Fortbytes are brand new to Fortnite Battle Royale for Season 9, and there will be new Fortbyte challenges available to find every day.

GTA Vice City Cheats - Unlimited Money Cheat Code, All Weapons Cheats PC, PS4

We’ve got all the GTA Vice City cheats, from tanks to weapons and beyond. PC Cheats, PS4 Cheats, PS3 Cheats, Xbox, Mobile, iOS, Android.

Dauntless Best Weapons - Swords, Axes, Repeaters, Chain Blades, Hammers, War Pikes Guide

Our full Dauntless weapons guide, containing information on swords, axes, chain blades, hammers, war pikes, and the best weapons in Dauntless.

More Action Adventure Games

The Last of Us Part 2 and Death Stranding Still Coming to PS4 Despite Impending PS5 Transition, Sony Confirms

Despite next-gen rumors swirling, Sony is still bringing big games to the PS4.

Watch the PS5 Crush the PS4 in Spider-Man Load Time Demo

Zipping around New York is going to get a whole lot faster.

Is There an Avengers Endgame Video Game?

You’ll no doubt have seen Endgame by now, maybe even multiple times. If you’re looking for more, perhaps you’re wondering whether or not there’s an Avengers Endgame Video Game. Let’s find out.