Rift Core 2.0 Dev Diary #3: Immersive Audio Design

Oculus Blog
Posted by Tom Smurdon, Michael Bross, Pete Stirling, Peter Giokaris, and Laurent Betbeder
January 4, 2018

Last month, we released the beta of Rift Core 2.0, which includes the completely redesigned Oculus Home. Designed to be more personal and expressive, Oculus Home introduces a persistent environment complete with customizable objects and interactive gizmos. Central to the immersion of this new space is the original music and sound created by the Oculus Audio Design and Engineering Teams.

In our first two Rift Core 2.0 Dev Diaries, we heard from Oculus Head of Rift Nate Mitchell and Rift Core 2.0 Product Manager Brandon Dillon on the origins of the redesign and what it means for the future of Rift. Today, we dig into the audio techniques that bring your new Home to life.

Designing for Comfort
As the jumping off point for everything on the Oculus Platform, Oculus Home is central to our community’s VR experience. Our goal was to make the space comfortable, immersive, and personal, while also reflecting the creative freedom introduced by the redesign. Home is where you start your day in VR. You might open Dash immediately or rearrange some furniture. It’s got to be a place where you can spend a lot of time without being distracted—unless you want to be.

For the sound design, this meant lots of realistic audio and a ton of music to personalize your Home. Whether it’s the crackle of your fireplace or the hum of a futuristic space heater, the sounds should reflect the world you’ve created. Are you on the seashore with waves crashing as pirates suddenly attack? Or are you in space as giant ships float by? We applied this same principle to the new UI audio design—minimalist, but ever-present.

As you navigate Dash, note how sounds correspond with gestures in a way that’s gratifying, but not intrusive. We wanted your interaction with Dash to sound as good as it feels.

Crafting Collision Effects
We’ve been playing with sound physics for a while now, beginning with the Toybox demo. To allowing people to personalize their space, we added many different physics objects in addition to hundreds of textures, which meant many, many collision sounds. We found that the more realistic the audio sounds, the better the immersion. So when it came time to make something as physics-based as the new Rift Core, we wanted to crank it up and go full-out!

We used thousands of sounds with multiple variations for each object on each surface type—in other words, each object hitting every other object. It’s important to have many variations to avoid repetition, which can make these effects sound artificial—a fact even more true in VR where the immersion factor is much higher than in traditional media forms. For example, if you drop a ping pong ball in Home, you’ll hear the correct sound when you drop it on wood, on metal, on glass, etc. In fact, we have over a dozen surface types per physics object.

This all amounts to variety that puts you squarely in the world of your own creation. Nothing sounds generic, and there’s nothing odd or out of place to pull you out of your immersion.

Coming Soon: More Music
In a future update, we’ll introduce a music system. Just like you might turn on the stereo in your living room, you’ll be able to change the background music in Oculus Home to make it feel like your own space. Right now, you have a different song per outdoor scene. And soon, you’ll have over 50 minutes of original music to choose from, with a selection of modern tracks that run the gamut of electronic, orchestral, ambient, downtempo, and atmospheric rock.

Our composer Michael Bross recorded the music for Oculus Home with a live orchestra in Budapest. All the music is mixed in an ambisonic format so that it will surround you no matter where you go in your Home.

“We wanted to create something special for the new Rift Core, so I spent a lot of time crafting music that would be a fitting undercurrent for the experience,” Bross explains.

We’re excited to share more as we move toward the full release of Rift Core 2.0. Be sure to send us your feedback and suggestions of things you’d like us to add—and stay tuned to the blog for more behind-the-scenes looks at the Rift Core 2.0 development process.

— The Oculus Sound Design and Engineering Teams