Sound Effects - Don't Fear the Synthesizer
Sound design is perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of video games. Is that an overstatement? Possibly, but let’s talk a little bit about it. Sound effects are rarely ever the focal point of a game. When they are bad, it is painful and people do notice. But when they are good, players usually don’t even think about it because the in-game actions and sounds are working together to be convincing. I know I am not a great sound designer yet, but I am doing my best to learn and grow, so hopefully there is something in this blog post that is useful for everyone.
Our game uses about 31 sound effects in total. Finding, creating, and mixing these sound effects took a lot of time and care. Most of the sound effects in this game started as raw sounds from online libraries, but sometimes it made more sense to create them from scratch using virtual instruments or synthesizers. I want to go over some of our virtual/synthesized sound effects today (made with FLStudio).
These sound effects are:
- Clicking menu buttons
- Rotating the game’s puzzle pieces
- A generic “this thing is now ruined” sound for when game pieces get infected by rats
- Musical chords for animations in the post-game score screen
Buttons tend to feel best when they give you a bit of a “let’s go!” feeling, so this time, I gave the menu button sound effect a pretty high starting note, then quickly jumped up from there and gave it some delay (an echoing effect). The pitch might be a little too shrill, but it still sounds pretty cool to me:
(The play button is at the top left of the linked page!)
Getting a good puzzle-piece-rotation sound to fit the game was a lot of trial and error. I ended up using a noise channel (think Atari sound effects from the 80’s) and scaled the sound 2 full octaves during the short audio clip. This sweeping motion felt like a decent fit. Clockwise got a sweep-up sound and counter clockwise got a sweep-down sound:
In, Roustabout, when a rat touches its target, the cargo is ruined and you must toss it overboard. The goal of my sound here was to clearly let the player know that the item is now “bad”. Slowly sliding a note down achieved this effect pretty easily:
Score Screen Chords
After each level, the player can get a rating of 1-3 stars based on how much cargo made it on the ship. They also can get a special stamp if they kept the bonus cargo aboard too. Our score screen creator made a cool animation of the player’s star count and bonus stamp tallying up on screen. There was some obvious room for cool sound effects here, so I put together some chords that built up to a perfect score. The player only hears the biggest chord when they achieve the perfect level score (and they get a drum too!):
Once the sound effects are created, there is still more work to do. Getting each sound effect to play at the right volume in-game is another important battle that takes time and effort. This becomes especially challenging when the music is playing alongside the sounds in the final game. To tweak and tune this delicate balance, I use FMOD Studio! It is a very dense audio integration that takes some time to learn, but I won’t make a single game without it. It is that good.
Thanks for reading! I hope you found this interesting. If you want to hear the full game’s sound effects and also hear them alongside the main theme song (written/composed by me!), go play Roustabout!
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