The ABC of Game Audio to Get Started
Several decades have passed since the first video games appeared. Back then, the sound that accompanied them did not come close to the complexity of a Pinball machine. Despite that, the number of bits increased and video game programming systems and engines evolved to works in which the players’ attention makes them completely lose their notion of reality. At this point in history, we all identify the music of the first version of Super Mario Bros, and by now all gamers understand what it means when Tetris music speeds up. Sound design and engineering have always been fundamental to the world of gaming and its soundscapes.
Today, sound production for video games can be as complex, if not more so, than film production. The big difference with respect to cinema or television is that the game industry does not seek to produce a visual experience but an interactive one in which the focus is on the players and their decisions. This is the first key to take into account: everything must be at the service of the gameplay.
Although sound and music are not the first elements that come to the mind of a videogame designer, they are still essential aspects (the same happens with movies or TV series, by the way…). In addition to complementing the entire visual aesthetics of a video game, sound plays a critical role with respect to the narrative itself, as well as its emotional content. Music and sounds form the basis of what the player understands and feels in the middle of the interactive experience because, among other things, they provide the player with the notion of time and space, thus placing him within a story or a context. As for emotions, sound can manipulate feelings in several forms. It is virtually impossible to think of a horror video game like Silent Hill with music from The Sims, so to speak.
A player can change the course of the story just by feeling afraid to go somewhere in the game or by hearing a sound in a certain place. To this extent, it takes a tremendous sense of strategy to know when, where, and how to introduce a sound or a piece of music so that it fits in with the rest of the story. Let’s think of the moment when a player must face the final boss: music must be well chosen to manipulate emotions, like tension, right? In games like World of Warcraft or Skyrim, each world, each environment, each town, and every single space, entails different music and sounds. In some games there are hundreds of different bullet sounds, or footsteps on the pavement, or cars passing by, or birds singing; therefore, the second key to game audio is to always count with a wide variety of sounds and background music. For this, there are sound banks (some of them free), as well as music banks, such as Open Game Art.
Also, dialogue has become an important aspect of the video game experience as it relates directly to the storyline. For dialogue, voice actors are needed, and both a recording studio and specialized software are needed to capture and process those voices. The most recommended software in these cases is Reaper, Pro Tools, and Logic Pro.
Dialogue in a video game is as complex as any other artistic creation. It is not only written but played, recorded, edited, processed, and then sent to the implementation and mixing department, and then to the programming department which places it in the right environments and moments of the game, through reverberation techniques, level control, spatial location, etc. The production of a video game’s dialogue can be complicated since each production phase is pivotal and can become even more complex in projects that require certain demands. For this reason, do not hesitate to contact experts like Enhanced Media to achieve a clean and professional sound.
In many cases, the production of video game dialogue can be complicated as each phase of production is key, and it can become even more complicated in projects that require certain demands, some of them directly related to programming issues. At this point, it is important to talk about middleware. What’s that? Well, basically, it’s about how to put the music into the game without knowing about coding and programming. A common middleware tool is FMOD or Wwise. These offer the audio creator advantages such as ease of event implementation, sound testing, real-time modification, and above all, time-saving. Thanks to these, you will not need to know programming languages because it is quite intuitive. After using any DAW, you will be able to handle them easily.
A fourth principle is related to the gameplay of the video game: the sound volume should not be too loud and should not distract the player from the interactive experience. Sound complements not steals the show, so music should be instrumental (with due exceptions, indeed). Remember that the vast majority of players use headphones for games and the volume should not be too distracting as it is an accompaniment. Adapting volume increases are necessary as long as they return again to a stable volume that remains in the background when returning to the main plot.
Finally, for marketing reasons, the music should be original. It is fundamental to create a characteristic component that differentiates one game from another. We are referring to creating a brand sound that, together with the plot and graphics, gives personality to your game and allows the user to remember it when he listens to it.
If you want to learn more about the dynamics of game audio, take a look at this video: