Imagining it may be difficult, but the first-ever shooter game was played in silence – there wasn’t a single grunt, hup, or other sound effects to be heard. This was in 1973, and the game was Maze War – a now largely forgotten shoot-em-up that was only available to those who could afford the hugely expensive PDS-1 computer. So how did we get from there to here, in terms of game SFX? Let’s find out below.
While character noises started to be heard more frequently in video games as the ’80s progressed, an early example being the bloop sounds of Donkey Kong, it wasn’t until the ’90s that hup became the standard noise of effort a character emitted when jumping, for example.
Before this, other SFX were being incorporated – shotgun blasts and groans of characters sustaining damage were both being widely used before hup came along. These noises were perceived as having a more practical value in the game, imparting useful information to the players, and helping them to find their way around its imagined landscape. It’s also important to bear in mind that a character jumping from a first-person perspective didn’t appear in a game until the ’90s, and so the hup SFX was not necessarily needed until this point.
Introduction of the Jump Hup
It was the 1996 game, Quake that first introduced the hup sound specifically as being linked to a character jump. This particular SFX has now gained iconic status; and yet, when asked about its conception, John Romero, the game designer, has admitted that not much thought went into the noise – it was added, as other SFX were – very early in the game creation process. Romero has said the hup just “felt right,” little knowing that the sound would be the forebear of the hup that gamers know, love (and expect to hear) today.
Trent Reznor, from the band Nine Inch Nails, was asked to provide the soundtrack to Quake. Like Romero, he, too, recalls the addition of sound effects to the game as being something of an afterthought and one that not too much time was spent thinking about; Reznor remembers the noise as being a natural reaction to gameplay – the sort of sound you’d make yourself as you navigate your character around the landscape of the game.
American McGee was the sound producer for Quake and has also spoken about how the original hup came into being. In previous interviews, he has spoken about how the influence of the over-the-top horror and slasher films of the ’90s played out in terms of game development. McGee has described how the sound effects in gore-out movies like Evil Dead were such an important part of the production that they were almost like characters in themselves: and when the hup sound was tried out, it was immediately apparent, to McGee, that this was the sort of meaty, larger-than-life effect that would be perfect for the game.
The Psychology of Sound
In games that, at the time, often had very little storyline or character development elements, SFX served another important function: the noises that characters made could hint at personality, helping players to fill in the gaps with their imagination and therefore experience a richer form of gameplay. In Romero’s own words: “every single sound you enable in a game is a giveaway.”
While SFX, including character and action noises, have developed and become more sophisticated in the years since Quake was released, the original hup will always have a place in gaming history – and it’s making a resurgence.
The game Dusk, released in 2018, deliberately sought to harken back to classic shooters of the mid-’90s in its SFX, citing Quake specifically in this regard. Dusk developer Dave Szymanski has spoken of how the hup used in the game was modelled on the earlier shoot-em-up, suggesting that it adds the sense of “immediacy” to play that the designers were keen to create.
Prodeus, a game released in 2020, also made intentional use of the vintage, Quake-era hup. For developers, this was down to a desire to make the game “less serious” and represented, perhaps, general disillusionment with modern shooters and a nostalgia for the more tongue-in-cheek sensibilities of games from previous decades.
Other games have followed in these nostalgic footprints: HROT, Cruelty Squad, Nightmare Reaper, and Hedon are just a few recent releases that have embraced the old-style hup.
The Future of Hup
The extent to which the original hup from Quake was a happy accident or a deliberate SFX creation can, perhaps, never be fully known, but what is clear is that this iconic noise has proved to be more than the sum of its parts. It represents not just a concern to flesh out the visceral world of gameplay but, now, a drive to return gaming to a form that reflects a less serious type of play. And, with the world such a volatile place right now, it’s maybe not surprising that designers are deliberately seeking less realistic SFX in games that depict violence.