A little introduction into the magical world of sound production for video games.
We often talk about visuals in games and neglect another big part of any game production – sound. In this post Grey Davenport talks about the way you should approach sound production in games and speaks about the kind of effects you can achieve with the right sound effects and great music.
I’m Grey Davenport a music and sound design student at DigiPen where we learn how and work on implementing audio into student games projects. The game teams are formed of programmers and designers through our game classes and then these game teams hire on content creators for both art and sound. Being a content creator your roll is kind that of a contractor being hired on to supply assets which gives you the ability to work on multiple projects at once. In the past 3 years at DigiPen I’ve contributed sound to 31 game projects, 5 of which I am currently working on, some year long projects some smaller solo projects for other classes. As graduation is just a year away I look forward to entering the game audio industry either at an established company or finding some awesome independent projects to be a part of.
Approaching Sound Design in Games
The Importance of the Sound
Sounds in games whether you’re talking about music, sound effects, voice or ambiance they have always been there to help the player understand what is happening in the game or immerse the player in the experience. Sound for games is very similar to sound for movies how ever sound for games are more interactive. In a movie for example you might have a gun fight between to people and you’ll have the gun shots, the trigger clicks and maybe some reload sounds (though no one reloads in movies). Where in a game the player is going to be one of those people in the gun fight so they need to know a lot more information, like where someone is shooting from, often times you can also tell what weapon someone is using by the noise it makes when it fires, when someone reloads so you can move in with an advantage, maybe a low heath notification sound, the footsteps, the environmental sounds to tell you if you need to move. All this is needed and is something only audio can tell the player. This being so important to making a game fun and playable is often one of the last things to go in when making a game, something as a sound designer you always should be trying to pushing for getting in sooner. Though this conflict comes from needing a game before you can attach any sounds to it. There are a few exception games that rely so heavily on audio to tell their story, Papa Sangre or BlindSide, that they probably had a much different experience.
Approaching sound for a game almost always starts with what the game is trying to accomplish and how audio can help make that happen. So to start you should identify how the audio will be put into the game, whether it be through middleware like Fmod or Wwise or if it’s going directly into a game engine.
From there what I typically do is generate a list of what kind of assets the game is going to need and an idea of what the game is going to sound like. This typically goes through several changes throughout the process of making the game but a bases of ideas is a good place to start.
Then after creating an asset list you go into the creation stage for music, sound effects, ambiance or voice. There isn’t a particular order in which these go in this phase though I usually start with whatever I have the clearest idea for how it should sound. Then once the assets are made this is when you implement them in either into Fmod, Wwise or directly to the game engine. At DigiPen I haven’t had the opportunity to work directly in a custom built game engine but we do get a lot of experience working in Wwise and Fmod.
If you choose to use Wwise of Fmod you can continue to implement the events you made in them into the game engine which is something I’m currently working on for some of my projects working with Unity and Unreal. Once all of the assets and events are attached to the game that’s when you ask for feedback from the game team or from playtesters and take notes on what you should fix and when you have your notes you go back to the asset creation phase and start the cycle over again as many times as you can until the game ships or is completed to where you are happy with everything in the game. This cycle is how you make sure the audio fits with the art and the gameplay and this is where you find out what works and what doesn’t work.
To summarize the phases of game audio on a project are:
- Create a list and get an Idea of the game sound
- Create assets for the game
- Implement the assets in Fmod/Wwise and the game
- Test the sounds and collect feedback
- Repeat 2-5 for as long as possible
Creating audio assets for games can be done in a lot of ways. I’ve used LogicX and Protools for most of my audio editing and recording but you can even use Audacity to get basic audio editing done. Different Digital Audio Workstations, DAW’s, have their own pros and cons but what it comes down to when deciding which one to use is whichever one you are most comfortable with using. Fmod and Wwise are also tools to consider when creating your assets because they come with tools that allow you to manipulate the raw assets with in-game parameters. Say if you want to create an explosion sound but you wanted it to sound different every time the player hears it, you might record and edit some different takes in LogicX or Protools and then in Fmod or Wwise you would be able to randomize between those takes or add different reverbs if the explosion happens inside or outside or maybe you put a low pass filter on the sound the farther away the player is from the explosion.
Elevating the Game Experience
Great audio, music and sound design done well, in my opinion is audio you don’t notice. Where it sounds so natural you get sucked into whatever you’re experiencing. Movie audio has been known for adding sounds to make something sound cooler than it actually is. For instance if someone kicks a door down in real life it just sounds like a door being kicked with it swinging open maybe hitting the wall behind it. In an action movie though you might want that door to sound like its flying off its hinges so you can add an explosion sound to the impact and maybe some extra wood bracking sounds to emphasize what’s going on ect. but as long as it sounds natural to you shouldn’t have to notice it and to me that’s what makes great audio.
If you want to make sounds for your game whether it be beeps and boops or monster noises. All you need is a simple microphone and any digital audio workstation. The things to think about once you have those are, What do I want this to sound like? What sounds like this already? What can I do to this sound to make it sound better? Does this sound feel natural? Do people notice the celery sounds I used for these tree creatures? In the end it doesn’t matter how you get there all that matters is does it sound good.