How God of War's World Serpent Got Its Voice

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.

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.

Caty McCarthy

Senior Editor

Caty McCarthy is a former freelance writer whose work has appeared in Kill Screen, VICE, The AV Club, Kotaku, Polygon, and IGN. When she's not blathering into a podcast mic, reading a book, or playing a billion video games at once, she's probably watching Terrace House or something. She is currently USgamer's Senior Editor.

Related articles

NPD: PS5 Sets New US Console Launch Records While Switch Holds Strong

A strong debut for Sony hasn't stopped Switches from flying off shelves.

The Last of Us Part 2 Takes Home Top Prize at The Game Awards: Here Are All the Winners

Hades, Final Fantasy 7 Remake, and Among Us did get some well-earned love too.

Marvel's Spider-Man: Miles Morales Receives a Surprise Ray Tracing Performance Mode Update on PS5

Can't choose between 60 FPS and ray tracing? There's a new mode for you.

Immortals Fenyx Rising's Depiction of Greek Myth Shrivels in Hades' Shadow

Hades' writing has raised the bar up to Olympus and beyond.

Need help?

GTA 5 Cheats

Discover all the GTA 5 cheats with this handy GTA V cheats PS4, GTA 5 cheats Xbox One, and PC guide for free GTA money and more. Plus get all the Grand Theft Auto 5 cheats for Xbox 360 and PS3.

Red Dead Redemption 2 Best Mods That You Should Download Now

RDR2 just released for PC players and that means more and more mods are coming in every day. Here are the best mods available right now for Red Dead Redemption 2.

10 GTA 5 Secrets That You Won't Believe

GTA 5 is a massive game, filled with brilliant secrets and Easter eggs. We've rounded up the 10 most amazing GTA 5 secrets.