Did you hear that? It's time for another addition of Design Table, this time with composer and sound/voice producer extraordinaire James Spence! He will share his tips for creating great quality audio for games, even with a minimal setup.
To talk about audio, I will split the audio into three parts that I would call:
- Passive audio
- Active audio
- Click sounds.
- Short sound effects repeated over and over.
These are the sounds that you don’t really notice, but not being noticed is very important in a video game. Imagine an explosive click sound effect, now imagine it being played over and over. That’s when it becomes annoying.
The key to passive audio is to be un-intrusive, minimal, something that you could play on loop and not get annoyed with. But on the other hand, you want a little level of character, enough for a gamer to notice the difference between clicking a button and clicking an error. Listen to these two sounds and choose which one you’d rather be clicking over and over again?
- Important non-repeating sound effects.
Making an active sound isn't just about finding a cool synth or making a recording, it's also about getting the right EQ and effects. I have made sound effects from headset mic recordings and very basic synths, just by adding the right effects afterwards.
Here is an example recording from a professional microphone and even this needs tweaks. I recorded a single voice sample of myself. The first part is without any post-production, then the second part is with some EQ changes and noise-gating.
Notice how the annoying background noise goes away. Even simple changes make big differences. Listen!
Great video game music can be heavy, minimal, groovy or abstract. It doesn’t matter what genre you go for. But what is important is mood.
In some cases, your music may have to fit a wide spectrum of gameplay situations. I don’t just mean a casual part and an action-packed part, but the parts within those parts.
Let’s say you need music for just casually walking around a city. You don’t know what item the player will find or who they'll talk to, so the music should be consistent, sustaining a mood. Don’t think that this restricts the music, on the contrary this makes the music flexible for the game.
Whether you want your background music to just loop one riff or develop into different melodies and instruments, that’s all OK, as long as the mood is consistent. Here is an example of how it can look and sound.
This short track has two distinct sections, but they both keep the same dark yet casual mood of a sci-fi game level.
Design Table Inbox
Q: Do you need to know how to play a lot of instruments to be able to work as a Audio Developer? - Linn
As long as you have a good ear for things, making audio is very easy, especially with the accessibility of amateur audio editing software these days. You can find samples for all kinds of musical instruments online if you want authenticity, but most music-making software comes packed with MIDI instruments, samples and loops for you to play and compose with. Furthermore, clicking in notes with a mouse and keyboard is how I write most of my game music.
Q: I'm an amateur DJ and love 8-bit music, how can I get into game development? - Xi
One place to start is, of course, getting online. Use websites like Soundcloud to post your tunes online for easy access for others. You can then link to them from your online resumes or applications.
Don't be afraid to apply for jobs online. Composer jobs, whether it be for games, TV or short movies, may show a brief paragraph about their story or setting in the job description. Use this to your advantage! Don’t just send them some random unfitting music you composed, write a sample to match that description. Extra steps like this can be appealing and might land you your first audio developer job at an employer. And if you don’t get the job, well, that’s another sample you can add to your library for further applications.
Q: We have been making smaller games at university and have had difficulty setting a theme for soundtracks. How is that done? - Peter
Finding the mood of the game is important. If you can get hold of screenshots, storyboards, even basic ideas for the game’s story, setting or characters, this definitely helps you as a composer. I sometimes like to compose while looking at images, so I get a visual sense of the mood along with the music.
Another tip would be to build a palette of sounds that you think would fit the game, like you would colours for a painting (I got this idea from Mike Shinoda when he co-composed The Raid.) Collect MIDI instruments and samples and stick them in a folder so you can quickly access them. Not only does this help you develop a theme of music, but it also makes it easier and quicker to compose tracks for your game. Once you start composing the music, you may find yourself tweaking or even adding more sounds to your palette as new ideas arise.
If you are completely stuck on what music to use, try searching the internet for music and play it over your game/screenshot/storyboard until you find something that seems to click with the game. Then apply the basic mood of that music (Don’t copy of course!) to your soundtrack.
That's it for todays edition of Design Table. Next week, we will focus on the topic Soft Coding. I would like to finish the question session with thanking todays participants for the questions. If you would like to send in questions or write us feedback on todays session, you can either do it via Twitter, Facebook or email and we will possibly make them part of the next series.