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Blog: Blog2
  • Ryan van Eerde

A Sound Design

Introduction to Project 2

After finishing my first project, which was based around the creation of an Electronic Metal track, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at something different than just straight up music composition, but what else can be done in Audio other than just recording and composing music? The answer is Sound Design, which basically is the creation of audio for media such as video games, film, TV, and so on.

When you watch a film or play a video game everything you hear has been created by a sound designer, all the music, footsteps, birds chirping, distant thunder, gun shots, dialogue, zombie noises, eerie atmospheric sounds, dinosaur roars, I think you get the picture now. All the sounds have to be thought of, created, recorded, processed, implemented and mixed together in a way that makes the scene appear real and believable whilst also creating a mood and atmosphere.

The cool thing about sound design is that the audio you create for something that is happening on screen doesn't have to be recorded from its actual source. What does that mean though? If you wanted to make audio for rain or a fire you don't actually have to record rain or fire. Below is a video from a TEDx talk explaining how sound designers basically lie to the audience and make them think one sound is actually another.

He talks about for example that the sound of rain can be emulated by the sound of frying bacon, or someone being punched in the face can be emulated by stabbing a knife into a cabbage (which is probably better than recording the sound of some unlucky person actually being hit in the face). Its up to the skill of the sound designer to find ways of creating sounds and manipulating them in a way so they can fit into the film or game environment.

Another interesting sound design he talked about was trying to make the sound of a propeller for a submarine, which was created by someone doing a cannon ball into a swimming pool, recording the sound inside and outside the water, blending the sounds together, removing some high frequencies and pitch shifting the sound down a couple of octaves and then looping it. This honestly is a great example of how a bit of ingenuity and creativity can result in the production of a sound that was not viable to be recorded from its source, in fact the sound they made could have worked better and been more believable than is they did record a submarine propeller.

Where these sound design aspects make the movie or game seem real, music is used to create emotion or atmosphere, in games especially it helps to immerse the player in the environment and provide them with gameplay cues.

For my project I will be designing sound for game level/area which is set in a post apocalyptic Zombie environment. I have chosen to do this because I would like to expand my skills into areas of audio other than just music production and seeing as I had the opportunity to work on a project like this it would be rather silly to not make the most of it. The good thing about doing audio for a game environment is that I can both do the sound design and music production which provides me with a greater outlet of creative expression than if I had focused on one or the other.

What specifically is sound design for games

In a movie or TV show the sound designer just has to sync up the audio with what is happening on screen, the sound is static and doesn't change, the tricky thing with game audio is that its reactive and changes depending on what the player is doing.

The different sounds in a game have to be programmed and triggered in a way that makes the player feel like they are in the game and fully immersed in the environment. Some examples of how this can be done are,

  • Different footstep sounds for different floor textures (sand, gravel, mud, wood).

  • Different types of music that indicates the player will be entering combat or they are in a safe zone.

  • 3D sounds that get louder as you get close to them and pan in the stereo field according to the characters position to it (if you have a bonfire to the left of the character the sound would only play out of the left speaker).

  • Character sounds like breathing, grunting when jumping over objects, clothes rustling.

Below is a basic video providing and overview of how sounds can be implemented into a game level.

All of the audio that is needed for a level is put into a piece of software called FMOD which is a Digital Audio Workstation that is specifically built for game audio. FMOD can then be integrated with a Game Engine which allows the sound designs you have created be implemented into the game environment and be manipulated and triggered to make the audio react in the way you want. A game engine for everyone who doesn't know is software which can be used to construct games and game environments.

As I will be working on a project that uses the same game engine as shown in the video (the Unreal Engine), it provides me with a good starting reference point as how my sound designs will be implemented.

Inspiration and References for the Project

Another video that I will be using to help me construct my sound designs in FMOD is the Viking Village tutorial, see video below. Even though the audio is being implemented into a different game engine to what I will be using the sound design process in FMOD will be exactly the same.

Talking more artistically now with what I want the game level to actually sound like and what feeling and mood I want to create will be based around the 2010 horror game Amnesia: The Dark Descent.

I really like how the audio in this game puts the player on edge and adds to the already creepy and unsettling game environment which is the vibe I want to create with my sound design.

This game was also the artistic reference for the animators as well so it makes sense for me to use it as a guide for my audio. See video below for a short gameplay clip.

I will also be doing an analysis of the sound designs used in this video so I can better understand how all of the audio elements come together to produce an immersive horror environment.

The game has multiple sound tracks that help to produce the overall atmosphere which is what I will be using as a reference for when I start composing the music for the project. As I will be hoping to release the music separately from the rest of the project the track will have to be substantial enough to still be interesting and relevant by itself.

For the Zombie sounds I will be referencing some footage for the TV series The Walking Dead because I really like the sounds they have created and how they change in response to the characters. See video below to get an idea of that I'm talking about.

Most of what I will be doing is experimenting with different sound design concepts that will evolve as I do more research. With constant communication and testing with the animators I should be able to achieve the artistic goals set out by them and me.

Below are a couple of screen shots from an unfinished version of the game environment which provides a small insight into what the finished product will look like. The basic synopsis of the level is that the player character is slowly turning into a Zombie and he is walking around the aftermath of a Zombie attack and looking at the devastation as he becomes one of them.

Audio Assets Overview

After having a meting with the animators we have come up with a basic list of audio assets that will be needed for the project. The list so far is as follows.

Main menu:

  • Music- Horror ambient

  • Button Clicks

  • Menu transition sounds

  • Background Noises- Zombie sounds, Atmosphere: (Wind, foliage, birds, distant screams)

In game Music/atmosphere:

  • Horror (Amnesia as reference)

  • Electronic based

  • Synth strings

  • Lots of low frequency sounds

In Game Sounds:

  • Lights

  • Doors

  • Power generators

  • Ocean waves

  • Wind

  • Thunder

  • Zombies

  • Screams

  • Clive Palmer (speaker phone)

  • Birds (Australian birds)

  • Foliage

  • Object surface creaking (metal, wood)

  • Object rustling

  • Light switch lever

  • Fire

  • Human falling/splatter

  • Radio static

Character Sound FX:

  • Footsteps (different ground surfaces)

  • Breathing

  • Clothes rustling

  • Animated extra fx- Vomiting, coughing, expletives, groans

Additional Sound FX (Desierbles):

  • Gunfire 50cal

  • Knocking

  • Cut scenes sound fx

These are all the sounds we could think of for the moment and as the project progresses further more may be added to help the games horror environment but as it stands I believe these sounds are a good starting point and cover a good majority of what will be needed.


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