Metroid Prime
Image: Nintendo

Podcaster Reece Reilly – AKA: Kiwi Talks – has been discussing the development of past Metroid games with the people who made them for some time now, having previously chatted to the likes of Mike Wikan and Bryan Walker. More recently, he sat down with Clark Wen, who was Audio Director on Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2: Echoes.

As you can imagine, there's a lot of ground to cover, because the Metroid Prime trilogy has become very influential when it comes to shaping the soundscape of the entire Metroid series. Wen reveals that almost all of the soundtrack was done using synthesizers, while elements such as the Morph Ball and Echo Visor were inspired by magnets and sonar respectively. The Space Pirates, on the other hand, originally spoke in Russian, but Wen eventually settled on Yorùbá (one of the principal languages of Nigeria) and reversed the dialogue, as well as emphasising syllables.

One element which proved to be particularly tricky to nail down was the voice of Samus – well, her grunts, to be specific.

Wen explains:

I think voice was kind of a touchy thing with Nintendo, because originally we had done some recordings for Samus' voice, more like a temporary kind of placeholder sound because we really wanted to make sure the impacts when Samus took damage was recognisable in the gameplay. So we got one of the designers to do some placeholder grunts and screams. It was never meant as a final audio pass, but a few weeks after we got them in the game, we heard feedback from [Nintendo] EAD about Samus' voice, and they were saying it was too sexual and too sensual sounding. [laughs] They're very, very particular about vocal sounds in general, so I was happy to let them take the reins and they ended up recording several actresses for Samus' vocals, and we got them back a few months later and we ended up picking out the voice we thought worked best.

Wen also discusses whether or not it is Jennifer Hale (of Mass Effect fame) who supplied Samus' grunts and sighs in the Prime games. Hale never received credit for the role, but many fans think it is her vocal talents we hear in all three Prime games, as well as Metroid Prime Hunters. Wen admits that he's not completely sure that's the case (he's 90 to 95% sure), as the only initials on the audio files were 'JH'. The death vocal, he reveals, was recorded by a different actress (with the initials 'VM'), due to the fact that he wanted it to sound more akin to the sound in Super Metroid.

It's interesting to note that although Nintendo clearly had the most say in the direction of the game's audio, Retro Studios was able to push back when it had to. Metroid composer Kenji Yamamoto pitched a soundtrack that was very guitar-based – something Wen describes as "Steve Vai meets Sun Ra". Retro Studios rejected this initial pitch.

Wen now runs his own award-winning audio studio Exile Sound and has worked on the likes of Guitar Hero and Call Of Duty in recent years. When asked about his reaction to the latest Metroid entry, Metroid Dread, Wen admits that initially, he thought the audio and sound design was "terrible" but after playing it for a while, he came to realise exactly what the team was aiming for, and now feels the end result is more agreeable.