Approaching Sound Design

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Revision as of 17:15, 22 March 2014 by David Stoffel (talk)
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Sound design seems to be to something that is often over-looked when it comes to adventure games & low budget indie games & possibly even in certain commercial games; but in my opinion it is probably one of the more important aspects of a game (besides the story, visuals & the interface, of course) as it can really help to set the overall mood, tone, ambiance & atmosphere of the game or a particular scene.

What perspective should I use when approaching the sound design for my game?

Characters perspective: a sounds volume & balance are determined via characters current position in each scene.

  • current character sounds such as footsteps, actions & speech should all be approx 100% volume & center balanced
  • environmental & npc character sounds should fade in/out depending on how close the playable character is to the sounds source & the audio balance should be approached in the same way. you have to calculate the x&y position of your character against the position of the sounds source to set the correct volume (I will not go into the calculations in this page) & the audio balance should be based on the playable characters x position versus the sounds source x position.

Camera perspective: a sounds volume & balance is determined via what the camera can see; based on the object &/or characters position in the scene.

  • current character sounds such as footsteps, actions & speech volume should be set based on current scale/size or y position
  • current character sounds audio balance can be approached in 2 ways:
    • current camera view determines left/right audio balance (neater)
    • whole scene width determines left/right audio balance (more complicated)
  • environmental sounds work in the same way as the character sounds; the current camera position & the distance from the camera determines the sound sources volume levels as the camera being centered further to left or right of a sound source determines the audio balance.

Environmental things to consider...
Something designers seem to ignore is how the environment affects sounds. What is the character currently walking over? grass? mud? stones? concrete? snow? a wet surface? etc ... Is the character in a cave/cavern or a large empty room? if so then you should consider creating variations of your sounds that are to be used in those types of areas with some reverb/echo & maybe a bit of filter manipulation to make them fit the current environment. In my opinion: it is pure laziness, if you are playing a game & you are in a large cavern & the characters are talking or even shouting in the same dull fashion that they would in a normal scene rather than having their voices echo off the cavern walls or at least reverberate slowly into nothing. Also another thing to consider is: is the character currently walking behind something? if so then character sounds should be quieter/muffled (maybe use a sound with some added filter cutoff) providing you are using the camera perspective approach to sound design.

Adding a bit of dynamic flair to your sounds
Dynamically approaching how you play a sound is a good way to create a more natural feel/tone to your game rather than all sounds playing at the exact same volume level. For instance: I would recommend creating a few variations of the same sound & randomly calling one of the variations & then using a bit of Lua trickery apply a slight random subtraction or addition value to the volume level of the sound; this is a great way of setting tones - in a music production DAW (digital audio workstation) this is referred to as "velocity" - quieter sounds are softer & louder sounds are harsher - I have used this method in a couple of dynamic sound scripts I have written.

A few extra things to take into consideration...
When recording sounds, you should really try to record all sounds at approx the same audio level or adjust afterwards to suit, especially sounds that belong in the same set. I would recommend - if possible - getting someone to professionally master your sounds & to sort out the levels. The reason I am mentioning this is because: it's not nice, nor very professional to have one sound that's fairly normal & another that is suddenly 20x louder blasting out at the person playing your game.

On a final note: I have written this article to try & help put into perspective, the important role that sound design can play in your games, & also to help you achieve a more polished & professional standard for your games in general.