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SYFY WIRE Halo Infinite

Watch Halo Infinite devs wreck an old-school piano to achieve those next-gen sound effects

By Benjamin Bullard

How’s this sound, Halo fans: taking a hammer and other wreckage-wreaking tools to a perfectly good upright piano — all to wrest some gnarly, one-of-a-kind sound effects to boost the mood for Master Chief’s hugely anticipated next space quest.

Piano purists will wince, but that’s the idea behind 343 Industries’ latest delightfully destructive mission to obtain next-level ambient noises for Halo Infinite, due later this year. In the same blog post that waxes rhapsodic about the “mature” piano nuance of composer Gareth Coker’s score, the Infinite devs go on to describe how they struck on a completely different way to give “tickling the ivories” new meaning: beating the ever-loving stuffing out of a poor unsuspecting piano, and putting 11 microphones near all the splintery carnage.

Major trigger warning for anyone who can’t stand to see a good musical instrument go to spoil: The clip below climbs a crescendo of brutality on its way to turning the keybed into 100 percent certified rubble. But close your eyes, listen twice, and an ovation’s in order...because there's no denying that the sounds the development team tortures out of this ill-fated upright are undeniably awesome.

Beethoven probably had a different kind of hammer in mind when he wrote the Hammerklavier sonata, but who’s really keeping score? History’s most majestic musical minds are famous for their stormy tempers, but the Halo team’s satisfyingly cathartic, controlled Foley room tantrum runs circles around composing three-movement masterworks by candlelight.

There’s no way we can describe what 343 is up to better than Kyle Fraser, Halo Infinite’s lead sound designer. In the team's latest far-ranging update, Fraser described how it all came together (or should we say, ahem, apart) after the team acquired “an old upright piano” from a friend. Golf clubs, spinning drills, dry ice, and (of course) hammers: If it could tease a unique-sounding scream from an inanimate object, it was all fair game.

“[W]e took objects like bats, golf clubs, hammers, and rocks to its armor revealing its inner workings,” wrote Fraser, after narrating some more conventional sound-collecting tasks involving the resonant oomph of a vibrating subwoofer.

“The violent act on the piano gave us some really nice beefy impacts, with some satisfying debris. Once we opened it up, we took some electric bows to the strings to get some interesting tonal source. Next, we snapped its strings then took a Dremel to the ones that remained. Lastly, we busted out the dry ice and applied it to everything that could possibly resonate, which yielded a large offering of singing, bellowing, screeching and everything in between.”

If all this feels like adding insult to musical-instrument injury, we can at least reserve judgment until the finished product arrives. Sure, the piano probably deserved a pardon. But if Halo Infinite ends up playing half as great as its ambient effects already sound, we’ll be first in line to pardon the game’s dev team for going full fortissimo on the little piano that saved its most rousing performance for last.

Halo Infinite is slated to launch later this year for Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, and PC.