Culture  /  Origin Story

A History of 'Hup,' The Jump Sound in Every Video Game

You can hear it in your head: the grunt your character makes when hopping a fence or leaping into battle. Its sonic roots trace all the way back to 1973.

The first-person shooter was born in silence. Before Sega’s Heavyweight Champ would spawn the fighting genre or an Arpanet contractor and outdoorsman would invent the text adventure, networked, multiplayer matches took place in the barren halls of Maze War, bounded by vectors, given form only in the imagination of those with access to a terrifically expensive PDS-1 computer. Updates eventually added spectator functionality, computer-controlled enemies, up to eight simultaneous players, and a level editor—essentially everything that would come to define the deathmatch. The year was 1973.

Few people today remember, let alone can claim to have played, Maze War. But you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who hasn’t heard of Pong, which came out the year prior, and despite its considerably less impressive graphics and features was among the first games to include sound. Its chirps and bloops—themselves the result of hardware limitations that did not permit the arcade cabinets to mimic a cheering (or booing) crowd, as the story goes—nonetheless lulled players into a trance. Many factors account for the grander legacy of Pong, not the least of which is that it was explicitly made for mass consumption rather than a limited number of eggheads working as government contractors. But hacked-together audio feedback certainly accounts for the game’s triumph over the Magnavox Odyssey’s Tennis, which it shamelessly copied. As for why Atari’s Allan Alcorn chose the specific tones he did, according to researcher Tom Langhorst: “They sounded about right.” What was then a marvel in player feedback Alcorn achieved in less than an hour by determining what the sync generator could already produce, with seemingly zero iteration. “That's the way it was left,” he told IGN in 2008, “so I love it when people talk about how wonderful and well-thought-out the sounds are.”

John Romero would eventually be credited for coining “deathmatch.” And he and his cofounders at Id Software are rightly canonized as instrumental in the formation of the modern FPS. But through an Alcornian combination of intuition and circumstance, Id is also the likely culprit behind a once-ubiquitous but largely invisible sonic sensibility of the genre: the hup.

The hup, as it’s sometimes known, is the onomatopoetic vocalization of effort given by the player-character when initiating a jump. While a gleeful bloop traces back to Donkey Kong (if not earlier), and Z-axis movement dates to the vehicular combat sims of the mid-’70s, a human character jumping in first-person perspective wouldn’t be achieved until 1992’s Ultima Underworld: the Stygian Abyss—released two months before BJ Blazkowicz would begin clearing bunkers full of Nazis with both feet firmly planted on the ground.