Game audio tips Asbjoern Andersen


How do you make a game sound its best - and how's everyone else doing it? Recently, sound designers and recordists Matthew Marteinsson and Gordon McGladdery kicked off an insightful series of game audio tips on Twitter, and soon, many others from the community joined in too.

There are some real gems in there, and to make it easier to put those tips and ideas into action, we've compiled this special overview for you.

A big thanks to everyone who've shared their game audio tips - hope it comes in handy!


Compiled by Adriane Kuzminski. Features tips from @_decibella, @almutschwacke, @AShellinthePit, @carlyenyte, @ColinNorthway, @drenmc, @edsounddesign, @markkilborn, @mattesque, @megancomposer, @toggleModal and @tporter64
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Sound Design:

Vocal Processing

When making [organic] creature sounds, less processing is often more. Performance over plugins. You’ll get better results faster with simpler tools: pitch, reverse, EQ, & compression with a good performance than tweaking a huge chain.

“Performance” here can be a vocal performance, SFX recording performance (metal wronks, cinderblock scrapes, etc), animal source. What I mean is that your job will be easier if the core emotional thrust exists in the pre-processed source material.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


Revisions

When working on revisions, sometimes the ~best~ thing to do is save as, delete everything, and start from scratch. You’re not throwing anything away, you’ll take those lessons learned…

Original Tweet by @carlyenyte


Second-guessing

I use Audiosuite processing in my design a lot. Biggest reason for this is to commit and move on. Don’t need Pro Tools and Audiosuite to do that. Can waste a lot of time second-guessing yourself. It’s often better to just run with something and see where it goes.

You can always revise once you’ve committed and got something in game. You can’t when you’re still tiptoeing around if you should eq a layer or not.

Original Tweet by @mattesque


Experimentation

For new/unique/unrealistic sounds, experiment. Seriously. When I’m building realistic stuff I’ve kinda got it down to a science, but when I’m doing weird designy stuff, I don’t know wtf I’m doing most of the time.

Original Tweet by @markkilborn


Worldizing

Suitcases of all kinds are excellent resonating bodies to attach to a thing that you’re creating a sound with to alter the character and size of that thing’s sound.

Original Tweet by @almutschwacke


Take It in Stride

You’re more likely to get called out on bad audio than praised for good audio. Take this in stride, but also don’t suck.

Original Tweet by @tporter64


Failure

Leave yourself room to fail. Some of your best design decisions will come from crazy ideas that might not work. If you don’t give yourself the time and space to try those you might not hit your most creative strides.

Try out the crazy things but plan so you’ve got time to do the safe thing if it fails. Some of my best sounds have come from trying something where I didn’t know if it was going to work. And sometimes it didn’t. But that was ok cause I planned for that possibility.

Original Tweet by @mattesque


Reels

(Nod to @sebvandenbrink): Curate your reel/portfolio for who’s seeing it. I had a commercial reel, a music reel, & a sound design reel. Could’ve been even more granular. Make sure people see what is applicable to *them*.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


Plugin Sales

Don’t get worked up over sales on plugins/software. If something will pay for itself on sale, it’d sure as hell better pay for itself when it’s not on sale as well.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


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Implementation


Smart Randomizing

Randomize in small increments but at multiple levels to keep variation strong on footsteps/general locomotion—actor-mixer gets a randomizer, random container gets a randomizer, event gets a randomizer, you get a randomizer, and YOU get a randomizer!!

Original Tweet by @_decibella


Seek Actions

Wwise users! Seek actions are a great way to add some finesse to your looping SFX. Super-basic setup in your event—Play, target the looping sound object. Seek, target the same object. Set Seek type to “Percent” and its randomizer to Min 0/Max 100.

Original Tweet by @_decibella


Keep a Log

Update: my lead workflow doc is 15 pages long and still living. WRITE. DOWN. EVERYTHING.

Original Tweet by @_decibella


Spreadsheets

Learn some Excel/Google sheets. Good for asset lists, budgeting, tracking hours…SO MUCH. We even do automated implementation from them.…

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


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Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

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Mixing


Kill Yur Babies

“Kill Yur Babies”. When a sound/song doesn’t work, revise/rework it! Don’t get caught up that your creation is so special that it can’t not work. Don’t get hung up on things like how much time you spent on it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

Regardless of how much time it took to create it. And don’t forget, more often than not, you’re not the one whose opinion matters most at the end. We’re usually all work for some other lead that’s making the final call. Serve the game and serve their vision.

Original Tweet by @mattesque


Did Timmy Fall Down the Well?

Early access. Players are great sources of pointing to where’s wrong but not necessarily what’s wrong. If they’re complaining about an area or HUD sounds or what not really have a look at that area but not what they’re saying to fix.

Original Tweet by @mattesque


Misophonia

Early access (but regular releases too). I’ve found players more perceptive of sounds that are too loud more than sounds that are missing. Worry more about the mix then coverage if you have to prioritize.

We’ve had lots of people ask for volume sliders/toggle to turn off specific sounds and that they hate a given sound. When the sound in question just needed to be turned down (sometimes a lot) and objects/creatures that went out with no sound they swear sound was there.

Original Tweet by @mattesque


Don’t Wait to Mix

Mix as you go. It’s rare that projects have time in the schedule for a final mix at the end. Even AAA projects. Mix as you go and protect it. Change it if necessary, but once it’s established, everything that goes into the build should be implemented in a way that fits with the mix.

Original Tweet by @markkilborn


Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

Another tells you to get imperfect content in and iterate from there. Very solid advice. Once you’re iterating, create a “beautiful corner” (art term). One section of the game, one character, one or two weapons, make it sound ready to ship. Then use as reference.

We do this in Call of Duty. We get a weapon or three, a grenade, a couple of footstep materials, all sounding finished. Then we polish up a section of a mission of the game, and a single multiplayer map, and make them sound done and ready to ship. We then reference those as we do the rest

Original Tweet by @markkilborn


Smart Complexity

Consider the level of complexity something needs. A 2D platformer doesn’t need 5 randomized layers of foley (did this for Fossil Echo, oops). Music doesn’t always have to be dynamic. Complexity should enter only when necessary, not to flex.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


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Freelancing


Contracts

General freelancing rule, but for the love of god don’t do ANY work on large projects until you have a contract in place. ESPECIALLY with friends. All assumptions & expectations must be squared away before a project gets in too deep. This can go wrong for malicious & non-malicious reasons.

Non-malicious: people (often friends) working together, both assuming they will be treating each other fairly, but when it finally comes to talk $, they have wildly differing opinions of one another’s value.

Malicious: this happened to my wife when she was starting out. A filmmaker put an extreme deadline on her & would feed her enough money to make her believe they had the funding they said. They used this pressure & appeasement to keep deferring the contract she was asking for.

When they never got their funding, the project was cancelled & she was stiffed to the tune of tens of thousands. It was a brutal lesson in putting one’s foot down. There are people out there who know they can exploit others’ passion & eagerness but also their fear of conflict. If you find yourself working without knowing clearly the financial details, STOP WORK NOW. Have the money talk. Clear up any & all assumptions on payment & responsibilities. Not doing this is IMO the biggest freelancing mistake one can make. It shatters relationships.

Also, for those of us hiring contractors, in most places we have no right to use someone’s work until it is signed over in writing. You could find yourself having paid someone thousands & without a contract they can turn & say, “Actually, naw” & take your money & their work & leave. There is potential for exploitation on both sides. Contracts, people. Get’em.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


Taking the Plunge

Be cognizant of your support network/escape plan before going full-time freelance. I cannot recommend someone go all-in if they’re gonna wind up homeless/hospitalized if things don’t work out. This is a competitive, unstable & high-risk industry.

I think everyone should Chase Their Dreams(TM) at some point bc one will always regret not *trying*, but to ignore the fact some folks have a less privileged/forgiving route into a fulltime freelance world would be naïve. One must ask oneself “what happens if this doesn’t take?”

Things to consider (not all are needed):
-How long can you live off savings?
-Working partner/spousal support?
-Do you have a pre-existing fallback career?
-What is your healthcare situation like?
-Parents/family to catch you if it doesn’t pan out?

My situation was pretty privileged. I started with:
-supportive (but also newb freelancing) partner
-parents who with resources to [reluctantly] bail me out if desperately needed
-a country with universal healthcare
-white male privilege
-work experience in other careers

I am by no means saying folks without these life perks shouldn’t try, but I am saying *be aware* & plan & compensate accordingly.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


Taking Breaks

Take the weekend off. Or whatever days you want if freelance. But take breaks. You need to recharge.

Original Tweet by @mattesque


Mature Criticism

Don’t judge someone’s overall quality of work because you checked out something they worked on & didn’t like it. You do not know the circumstances they were under. They might not be happy with it either.

I recall being pretty judgy out of school because I’d spent the last year on projects I had all the time in the world to polish. Once I had a handle on what real-world schedules are like & the sacrifices & decisions that have to be made, I became a lot more forgiving.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


The Budget Standoff

The “what’s ur rate?/what’s ur budget?” standoff is dumb & shouldn’t exist. Quotes can’t be responsibly given without detailed info on the project. Imagine how silly this would seem between a homeowner & a housepainter.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


Knowing Yourself

Women constantly, CONSTANTLY undercut themselves and undervalue their work. I made a habit of getting the client to make me an offer first because it’s almost always higher than what I thought I would get.

Original Tweet by @toggleModal


Knowing Your Worth

Bit the bullet and straight up doubled my rate starting with my latest project. The client negotiated me down a bit, but I’m still making much more than I would have if I’d quoted my original rates. Do it, kids! Raise your rates to the point where you feel a bit ridiculous!

Original Tweet by @megancomposer


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Communication

Have a Vision

Learn how to communicate your wants and needs clearly. Your team cannot support you if they don’t know what your vision is or what you need to achieve it. Professional relationships are very much like romantic ones, communication is key if you want it to succeed.

This takes practice, especially if you’re new and might not necessarily understand your role fully. But you’re there for a reason, and your voice matters. So learn how to use it, your work (and life) will be better for it.

Original Tweet by @edsounddesign


Don’t Be Timid

If you need material/updates/approval/etc. from a teammate, keep asking until you get it. Don’t be timid about communicating what you need in order to do your job. This DOESN’T mean be a jerk about it, there’s a difference between being clear & being rude.

Early predisposition to this timidity is more common for women & other underrepresented people—we run a higher risk of being labeled negatively for being persistent. If you’re part of the majority, a basic way to be inclusive is to appreciate & address clear asks from us 🙌

Original Tweet by @_decibella


Cold Calls

If you are emailing devs cold looking for work then for God’s sake do some research first! If you show me you put work in then I will engage with the email. If not I won’t even read it.

Audio people, I’m mostly talking to you since you send the most cold emails.

Original Tweet by @ColinNorthway


Synergy

Make friends with the animators. They can tell you when animations get updated to help keep your audio from going out of sync. They also probably have video captures of everything you need already in some approval folder. They’re also pretty cool folk. Get to know them!

Original Tweet by @tporter64


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Advice to Other Departments


Creating an Asset List

Devs: To achieve an OK level of polish, your game probably needs 100-400% more audio events than you think. This has been my experience comparing dev-made asset lists to ones we make based on auditing builds.

A general guideline for making a high polish asset list:
-a sound (or more) for every animation
-a bed ambience for every environment
-multiple spot ambiences for every environment
-a sound for each different UI function
-bespoke movement sounds for each important character
-a footstep & bodyfall set for every different surface
-a physics impact set for every type of physics object & surface
-a sound for everything a character interacts within the game
-a set of sounds for every game mechanic
-HUD sounds, tailored for function
-“tell” sounds for enemy/boss attacks if your game has that stuff
-different music for every game state, or no music when not needed. Dynamic when beneficial.
-VO is basically its own category, see: expanded thread

tl;dr #1: if you’re having an artist do something, your sound people probably have to do something to.
tl;dr #2: ask yourself, “Could a visually impaired person play my game?” Games with carefully crafted, communicative soundscapes are playable by people who can’t see.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


VO Budgeting

VO budgeting: IME recording takes ~1.25mins line, so book your VO artist for [lines]*1.25 mins. A pro should be able to cover ~300 lines of varying complexity (this would include single word lines, etc.) in 4 hours.

A pro will be $350+ per hour. You audio team will need 3-4 hours per studio hour. So if you have 900 lines to get through (for one character) you’ll need to book your actor for 3 4-hour sessions, let’s say at $1200 per session. Your audio team will need 36 hours to edit, process & implement.

VO talent budget: $3600
Audio team budget (assuming hourly contract at say $60/hr): $2160.
Total: $5760
This is for 900 lines. For perspective: Mass Effect Andromeda had 65,000!

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


Don’t Forget Audio

Yes, your sound designers are majestic creatures who are a boon to this great earth. No, most of us are not clairvoyant. Please tell your audio people when you add new visual assets—our Spidey Senses only work when there are sound waves involved.

Original Tweet by @_decibella


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Other Words of Wisdom


Ch-ch-changes

No matter if it’s your first or your thirty-first title, no two projects are ever the same. Your team will change, the system will change, your hours will change, SOMETHING will change. Change with it!! You might surprise yourself.

Original Tweet by @_decibella


Trying to Recreate the Wheel

Don’t spend too many cycles trying to solve things others have already figured out. Don’t complicate things that are simple. And RTFM.

Original Tweet by @tporter64


Work and Play

Dedicated recording trips. After doing it a long time it has become harder for me to take my recorder with me everywhere I go out of a need to separate leisure from work. Organizing a trip categorizes it as work. More organized & easier to edit.

Original Tweet by @AShellinthePit


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And a special mention from the first of the #gameaudiotips:


Coffee vs. Tea

3rd night running I’m going with green tea instead of espresso – seems like a smoother buzz, getting more done #gameaudiotips

Original Tweet by @drenmc


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