Game sound design: soundtrack, sound effects and how to combine them

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Game sound design, audio recording and setup

Sound design is a very important part of a game. Game developers agree that music and sounds are powerful emotional drivers. And our goal is to fully use the sound to make the game even better.

Sound design is a complicated thing because of the difficulty of maintaining the same sound style. Every sound must be recognizable and hearable, give satisfaction to the player and meet his expectation. It’s hard to do properly, but sound designers have one privilege no other artist has: sound isn’t limited by hardware. And sound design itself has a greatest scope for creativity in the whole game developing cycle.

sound design

In this article we will tell you why sound is so important, how we produce sounds and soundtrack for games and how to make a good sound design.

Why the sound design is important for every game

We have 5 basic senses: sight, hearing, smell, touch and taste. Smell and taste can’t be used in games, and touch is sometimes used by a controller’s vibration. What is left are sight and hearing.

Sight is our main sense: we get around 90% of information about the world with our eyes. But sight is limited by angle of view (AoV). In many games you can adjust your AoV up to 180° or even more to see what is happening on your flanks. But still you can only see and perceive a small portion of information. For example, if you are focused on the center of the screen where the crosshair is, you may have missed the enemy peeking in the top right corner.

Our ears do not have those limitations. We can hear anything around us and reasonably clean define the direction of sound. And our ears are so good that they can filter ambient noise and accurately notice a particular quiet sound. Even more: our brain is processing the signals from eyes and ears in parallel threads so we can see and hear at the same time.

sight and hearing

Game developers use sound for these purposes:

  • to set a mood;
  • to deliver specific information to the player;
  • to give a feedback.

It is a bad choice to release the game without music or sounds. The gamer just won’t accept it.

How to use sounds in games

These uses are easy to explain. Music, ambient or sound characters can express emotions and make the player feel how the game developer wanted to. For example, every horror game has a scary soundtrack and sounds like creaking doors, silent sobbing or loud screamers.

Here’s relaxing ocean sounds:

Information delivery is like app notification. The game just notifies a player with sound when it even happens: gunshots, low HP warning or footsteps behind him. Also we can use music to signal to the player that he is in combat or in a safe area.

how music sets the mood

A feedback helps the player to understand how the game reacts on his actions. It is close to information delivery, but not the same. While information delivery serves the purpose to give the player information about everything in hearing radius, a feedback gives him information about his actions only. For example, if you shoot at the enemy and hear some ticking sound or his “Ough!”, you surely know that you hit him.

The goal of sound design

Based on this, every sound must serve a purpose and every action must have it’s sound, just like in real life. But there are differences between what we hear in game and in real life:

  • the game audio must be well balanced so the loud sounds does not deafen the player and quiet ones still will be hearable;
  • the game sounds must be more expressive, than the real ones, so the player can differ them easily;
  • the sounds the playable character makes are always louder than any other sounds.

Why it is difficult to create sound for a game

The main difficulty of sound design is to make everything sound alike. You don’t want to hear the soldier in exoskeleton jumping with a sound from Mario Bros:

audio waves

The second difficulty is to guess the length of every separate event in the game and limit the corresponding sound effect to it. That’s why sound designers are always in touch with animators and game designers.

And the third difficulty is to explain sound with words. You can’t write in a concept document that you need ten “pschh” and one “tss” effect. Sound designer must rely on his flair and communicate with the team.

To produce sound effects sound designers often use libraries: thousands of short samples. They edit those samples and mix them to achieve needed effect and mood. The first goal is to produce handful of sound effects to accompany main game mechanics. This is vital to deliver a playable prototype or vertical slice of the game.

Music production for games is the composer’s task. Game music differs from ordinary music by its mission. Common songs are composed to entertain listeners and evoke emotions. But game music must serve as a background of gameplay and to place the player into the needed mood. At the same time the game music must not distract the player from the gameplay and he must not be bored from listening to it for a few hundreds times.

composing music for a game

The next step is to make sure that sounds do not blend with the soundtrack and are recognizable with low volume. To achieve this game composers are rarely using songs with lyrics. They can add a vocal part to increase the emotional charge, but only in the cutscenes or dramatic parts.

Adding the sound to the game

The difficulty of this step depends on the game’s genre. For example, we don’t need to precisely locate the sound’s source for hypercasual and casual mobile games. It gives the player no additional information, so there is no point in this. But if we are developing FPS or slashers we must add a possibility to locate the enemy by it’s footsteps or gunshots. In this example you can clearly hear that shot was fired from a far distance:

To add sounds to the game we simply attach them to specific events. We need to regulate loudness and pitch in such a way so the loudest part will align with the specific part of animation. It will help the player to better understand the gameplay and react to ingame events.

sound design inside the game engine

To make the common sound effects more variable we can use specific tools: randomization, variations and layering. By using them we can make every shot from the same weapon to be similar, but not identical. The same thing we can do with footsteps, landing sound, car’s engine roar and much more common effects.

And the last thing to add is a soundtrack. Soundtrack can be plain or dynamic:

  • a plain soundtrack means that every level or the location has it own music which doesn’t change whatever happens on screen;
  • a dynamic soundtrack means that the music or ambient changes under some conditions like a fight or a boss battle.

Dynamic soundtracks need more talent and resources to create, but the players like them more. To be honest, mobile games don’t need dynamic soundtracks because of their simplicity.

Conclusion

Sound design is a complicated and worthy process. Do to it properly we have a professional designer and composer with all needed devices and special software.

Sound design is important and can cost up to 5% of game budget. But you don’t want to read reviews like: “Meh, the minigun sounds like a toy, 1/5”, aren’t you? So if you are willing to order game development from scratch or just looking for someone to make your game sound good — contact us.

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