'Black Ops 2' Sound Designer will interrupt his family vacation for your aural pleasure

Black Ops 2 Sound Designer Shawn Jimmerson turns dry ice and steel into the sound of a falling skyscraper.

The sound team has the best office in Treyarch. Clean wooden floors lead into foam-padded walls; it's one of few areas in the Santa Monica complex where you can stretch out and not hit a computer or another employee. Near the soundboard, Shawn Jimmerson, a skinny tall 30-something, fiddles with a plank of wood covered in wires, computer chips and coins. Sound was always a hobby for Jimmerson; now it's his life.

This contraption, he tells us, is responsible for a couple of sounds in Black Ops 2. It is the tangible result of dozens of conversations about what the year 2025 sounds like.

Audio director, Brian Tuey, a husky bald man who looks like the coolest metal fan you've ever met, and lead sound designer Chris Cowell, perhaps the most normal looking man in the room, flank Jimmerson. The three of them, part of a larger audio team, have the rapport of a vaudeville comedy troupe, always genially topping one another.

They want to tell us more about how they came to the sound for Black Ops 2, but they keep getting distracted by all the toys. The goofy noises are punctuated by bite-size facts.

The future setting, Tuey says, excited the team, but they came to realize future means something different to practically everyone. The first step was to create a style guide, the equivalent of an AP handbook for noise.

Their group determined the future sound needed to be divided into two pools: military sound and consumer sound. Military being blunt, intending to convey a message clearly; consumer sound being soft, putting form over function.

Everyone knows a military sound: the warning made by a semi in reverse, of an evelator announcing the floor number. What's less clear is a consumer sound.

Jimmerson cues a noise on the computer and beautiful 4-foot-tall speakers in the front of the room let out a round bloop, the sound of a stone dropping deep into the center of the ocean.

It reminds Jimmerson of the time he was on vacation with his wife. They were skipping stones and he had to record them. He often has to record things. On the way to work, a 30 minute drive, he'll listen to noises he made in previous days.

They get back on track. This is about the game after all.

Early, Huey says, we were shown a demo of Los Angeles being attacked by hundreds of drones, the destruction culminating with the toppling of a downtown skyscraper. Cowell loads up the scene, and asks us to listen carefully to the sound.

It's a terrible screech of metal and fire and electronics, I think. He then plays a video of the sounds source: metal being dragged along dry ice. That sample was slowed down, deepened and given some texture.

It doesn't sound like a real building falling down. It sounds better. "The reality of a sound isn't quite as compelling as you'd hope," says Cowell.

That's why Jimmerson is always ready to catch the next great noise. His wife is so unbelievable patient he tells us. "Before we go on a walk, she'll do ‘Do you have a hat. do you have a coat? Do you have a recording device?"

More from Polygon

Dark Souls 2: Crown of the Old Iron King Overview

  • Pillars of Eternity builds on role-playing classics

  • Tour the 1 KB hard drive built inside Minecraft

  • Diablo 3 - Xbox One vs. PC comparison

  • Enemy Starfighter: Homeworld from inside a fighter

Latest Discussions

Log In Sign Up

Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new Polygon username and password

As part of the new Polygon launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to Polygon going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new Polygon username and password

As part of the new Polygon launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to Polygon going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.



Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.