Meet the team: Duncan Mackinnon

Reminder: You can vote for Duncan, and the rest of the audio team, to win at the Golden Joysticks for their amazing audio work on the game.

Duncan Mackinnon
Senior Sound Designer

What does an average day at work look like for you?

Cornflakes, a double espresso and building the latest code/resources are the first things to do. While my build’s chugging away I’ll normally tackle some smallish, fun sound design task, like making some blips for a new GUI element, or doing some tidying up in the Wwise project.

Then I’ll spend the rest of the morning working on noises for whatever big feature I’m doing – at the moment it’s the Skimmers. It doesn’t take long to create the sounds I’m after and get ideas into Cubase, but it takes much longer to get them to work in-game. Sometimes a new gameplay element will need some code support, so I’ll call on our audio coders Yogi (Johannes Klatt) or Steve (Hollis). The afternoon will generally be spent iterating and tweaking, developing the sounds and getting them to sit right in the mix.

Once I’m happy with something, I’ll generally get Jim (Croft, Head of Audio), Joe (Hogan, Lead Audio) or Matt (Senior Audio) in and we’ll have a chat about the sounds, and how well they are working. Sometimes things are bang on, and they just work perfectly. Other times something won’t be working, and it can take a second set of ears to help pin down the issue.

What aspect of the game have you worked on that you are most proud of?

Mining. I wanted the mining sounds to be satisfying and physical, but also imbued with a sense of fun. A lot of Elite is very serious and epic - for example influencing societal changes on a galactic scale - so it’s often nice to park up in a belt and relax with a brew while chipping tiny bits of rock off another relatively tiny bit of rock.

Mining was made even more fun when we added the collection/prospecting drones. I wanted them to sound blissfully happy as they zip about doing their masters bidding. They’re like space dogs. What happens to them when you jump away without them, though? :-)

Also, I’m responsible for the occasionally terrifying sounds that come out of the Hauler. Apologies for your space-nightmares, Commanders.

What's your favourite thing about Elite Dangerous?

To quote Douglas Adams: ‘The Universe, the whole infinite Universe. The infinite suns, the infinite distances between them, and yourself an invisible dot on an invisible dot, infinitely small.’

What was the biggest challenge you came up against during game development?

The biggest challenge is that this game can/will be so many things. We started off with the relatively simple constraints of a spaceship, floating in a void, with no top or bottom, no friction or atmosphere and no earth, and we created sounds to describe this universe.

Now we can land on planets and in many ways the opposite is true. It is a massive challenge to describe friction, and gravity having lived without them for so long, and describe them in the same language and style as the sounds that came before. But the team on this game is unreal, and we will create something totally fantastic. I’m excited to hear and see it.

What have you learned from working on Elite Dangerous?

Frontier is my first in-house industry job, and working here has taught me everything I know about how to make video games. Jim has created a very nurturing environment in the audio department, where everyone’s ideas are considered, and where we can develop and hone our skills both independently, and with the support, feedback and encouragement of the team.

It’s also amazing to see how massive the reach of this game is, and the weird, unexpected places you find cropping it up, like in a pub in deepest Wales, or in the New Scientist.  Also, Elite Dangerous fans are the best. I love seeing all the bonkers things you people create, from posters to cockpits to three-screen wonder-rigs.

I’ve experienced working on something that I truly love. It's not like being at work at all.

Federation, Empire, or Alliance? And why?

Morally questionable lone trader/assassin who takes whatever he can find. When it comes to galactic conflicts or picking sides, you cannot lose if you do not play.

Tell the community a fun fact about yourself

I was so obsessed with Frank Zappa that I drove across Europe with some pals for 2 weeks to go to a tribute festival. When we arrived, the locals were so surprised that we had bothered to come that far that we made it into the local newspaper. Of course we bothered to drive that far, Napoleon Murphy Brock was playing.

If you could ask the community one question, what would it be?

What music do you listen to now that people will still be listening to and arguing about in 3301?

Answer Duncan's question on the forum thread.