I had a fun idea for a space simulator game I'm working on from a lore standpoint. We all know that there is no sound in space due to it being a vacuum. The lack of sound would probably leave pilots (and players) feeling uneasy. So, my solution is one that kind of makes some sense realistically and gives me something to work with from a design standpoint.

These fleets are throwing around all of this high energy consuming technology; railguns, lasers, plasma, magnetic/plasma shielding, engines, etc. I would imagine some, if not most, of this stuff will probably produce some kind of distinct electromagnetic noise that a computer can pick up and sort through.

The thought is that the ship computer takes in all of this EM noise and translates it into an approximation of what the battle would sound like, giving the pilot (and player) audio context to what they see around them.

Are there any holes in this idea that I'm missing?

EDIT: Clarifying things a bit. The system is not playing back the EM noise to the pilot directly. It samples various EM noises then translated them to known sounds. If an enemy fighter flies by, they hear an approximation of what it would sound like if it passed them in atmosphere.

  • $\begingroup$ Are you talking about devices on your own ship? I think that is very reasonable from a science perspective. In fact, on the ISS, they have to work very hard to keep the noise level low. There have been complaints of hearing loss on the ISS due to all the noise. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 24 '17 at 20:18
  • $\begingroup$ Is that more from them being adjusted to the quiet? What I'm describing here is more to make it so there is less adjustment needed for pilots between space and atmospheric flight. $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 24 '17 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ The ISS was quite loud. In working areas, it hit 72-78dB sustained for a while. That's comparable to a vacuum cleaner running constantly in your house. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 24 '17 at 21:03
  • $\begingroup$ Okay. I see that now. I don't imagine the shipboard computer making the simulation sounds that loud. Just loud enough for a pilot to hear and be able to discern direction and sort out individual sounds. $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 24 '17 at 21:12
  • $\begingroup$ Have you noticed the “room sound” in ST:TNG? $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jan 24 '17 at 22:53

I wouldn't think so. Assuming that various technologies have relatively unique EM "signatures", you'd just need a library in the ship's memory of known approximate EM signatures and what sounds they correlate to. Sounds could be further correlated to the strength of the EM noise (closer ships are louder, etc.) and doppler effects applied to simulate the phase shifts seen when ships or ordinance are passing by. It's fairly similar to how a digital synthesizer works.

This does open you up for an enemy with unknown weapons or engines - if your ship doesn't recognize the EM signature, it may not give you any audio indications, leaving you to fight with only your sight and visual readouts.

  • $\begingroup$ Or the system could have a special set of sounds that correlate to unknown craft or technology. $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 24 '17 at 21:50
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    $\begingroup$ That would plug the hole. It also sets you up for ship systems designed specifically to mask or alter the EM signature of weapons, engines, and shields, tricking the computer in other craft into thinking you're either weaker or stronger than you are. $\endgroup$ – Chris M. Jan 24 '17 at 22:06
  • $\begingroup$ That is a good point. I had been meaning to have a few ships that could trick sensors like that. Just masking the EM signature would make a ship appear different before visual confirmation would be made. I didn't want every stealth ship to have a cloaking device, so this works really well. $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 24 '17 at 22:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Arvex This is a good answer too. It could open the door for an upgrade system that let players catalog the a ship once its been met. Computer: 'Unknown EM signature detected' Player investigates and discovers its a freighter. Computer: 'Arvex class freighter EM signature added to database' $\endgroup$ – Tim Jan 25 '17 at 14:46

What you describe, especially in your edit, is situational awareness. It's the ability for a pilot to be aware of what is going on around them, not just what's going on directly in front of them. It is a key skill and having the computer assist them is a good idea. This could be sounds, a heads-up-display, or one of any other number of options.

One challenge would be choosing good sounds. You will never hear an enemy fly by you in space. If they got that close, you're already dead. Space combat distances are huge because the relative velocities can be huge. Accordingly, you wouldn't necessarily want to sample the sound of an enemy aircraft flying past you at 100m, and play that same sound for an enemy space craft going past you at 1000m or 10000m. That could actually be confusing if the pilots are also trained in atmosphere. That sound may give them the false impression that the enemy was closer than they really were!

One interesting solution might be to use the EM sounds directly. NASA at one point released "the sounds of the planets," which consisted of EM radiation in the 20-20000Hz range (audible range), converted from radio waves to audio waves. The sounds are... eerie. Similar EM radiation from other sources may yield very useful situational awareness sounds.

  • $\begingroup$ The idea of the system was to give that situational awareness assist, as well. The words just weren't there at the time I was typing that. The idea would be the sounds chosen would be approximations of what the same scenario would sound like in atmosphere. Game mechanics wise, I'm just going to use the same sounds for both and, if Unity supports it, apply some kind of effect during run-time to the sounds when they're supposedly generated by the ship to make them sound synthetic. I'm just looking for a good lore reason for the game to have sounds in space that both the player and character hear $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 24 '17 at 22:12
  • $\begingroup$ Personally, I find realism in space games is overrated. Unless you're making an add-on to Kerbal Space Program, I'd say just go with what you think sounds good as an artist, and never look back. Realistic space combat is boring! Go with what sounds cool! $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon Jan 24 '17 at 22:19
  • $\begingroup$ I'm already kind of breaking away from realism by having fighters in the first place. I'm really just looking for a logical reason/explanation to why pilots/players are hearing sound in atmosphere and space. $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 24 '17 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ Sadly no-one picked up on the EM radiation audio conversion. My first thought for an answer to this question. Very eerie, indeed! That would be the perfect sound of space. Plus one from me. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 25 '17 at 5:59
  • $\begingroup$ The reason I'm not going that route is two-fold. First, as a game developer, that means I have to double the number of sound effects I make. Since I'm making this out of my pocket and in my free time, that doesn't go well for me. Secondly, as cool as it would sound, a lot of it would bleed together and just confuse pilots/players. I might make it so some unknown ship causes the system to just play straight EM radiation as sound. $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 26 '17 at 4:21

The pilot would hear the sounds from his ship. Sound is just vibrations. Presumably his ship would have some vibrations, and these would get passed along the ship until they rattled the air in the pilot's helmet. But you're talking about "simulating" sounds of things outside the ship based on their EM emissions. I'm not sure this would be helpful (since it would be a bit like listening to a radio station full of static), but yes, you could easily map EM frequencies to audio frequencies. Someone already mapped sound to light and light is just a thin slice of the overall EM spectrum.

I'm thinking it would be a lot more alarming if I were cruising around space in my ship and all of a sudden I get a loud burst of sound as some undetected missile ripped into the hull of my ship, but that's just my $0.02.

PS - Apparently its a little disconcerting to the astronauts on the ISS too!

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry for deleting my last comment, sent it early trying to separate paragraphs... Anyways, yes, I was intending for this to be for sounds beyond the hull. However, the system would not be directly playing back the EM noise to the pilot. It would translate it to an approximation of what it would sound like in atmosphere. $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 24 '17 at 20:37
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    $\begingroup$ If its a casual game, use what ever sounds you want. If you want it to be vaguely realistic, include operational noises from the pilot's ship (eg, acceleration causes bits to vibrate more thus being noisier), but nothing from exterior sources. But wait there's more! A laser heating up your hull would cause it to warp, which could make for some strange popping noises. projectiles hitting the ship would cause vibrations. Air leaks could set up a resonance that would be deafening. You have lots of fun options that are realistic. $\endgroup$ – Tim Jan 24 '17 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ I'll keep some of those sounds in mind when I want to start simulating ship damage. I'm aiming for realistic, but have to surrender some realism in the name of keeping the game from getting too complex and because of my still developing coding skills. On a side note, an undetected missile tearing into your hull is pretty alarming by itself. At that point, I think the sounds generated by the shipboard computer are no longer a concern. $\endgroup$ – Arvex Jan 24 '17 at 21:11

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