Audio Design in Our Games

KakonComp

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Hello friends who dabble in the dark arts of game creation; I come to you wishing to discuss how everyone's games can be enhanced by various forms of audio, or, are there any sounds common in RPGs that may annoy you to hear if overdone/in general.

What runs through your mind when thinking of what you should use to set the mood; what sound effects should be used when characters move around and interact with the maps we've made?

Should we get creative with the surfaces of our worlds, with the sounds of player footsteps to match? What about music in a forested area; should the music be forgone altogether sometimes, in order to showcase the sounds of the forest, or should they both be used in tandem?

Obviously there's more than the above, but I feel it's a good starting point. I want to know what the community here thinks about when it comes time to using sound in their own projects.
 

Crusha

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I think answers to some of your questions are quite subjective -- the same with art, for example. An artist painting a picture of a pot with a flower in it might be the perfect art for someone, and maybe someone else wants a picture of a zebra to be their perfect art. Some people enjoy player footstep sounds in game, and others it might be a distraction. I think both can work, but it depends on the world you're creating for your game. Like in zelda, it works. But in a final-fantasyish style, it might be off-putting.

I think music in a forest, can go both ways also. Like Chrono Trigger has beautiful forest music; yet another game could create a very dark forest, and maybe have 0 music, and just owl sounds, crickets, etc.. It could set a very different mood. Do you have $5,000 to make a perfect Chrono Trigger audio?

In regards to repetition on sounds, just think of someone that's played many RM games. Often that'll be their first gripe -- 'my ears bleed -- default sounds everywhere'! Often it becomes very apparent what sounds are annoying, after you've heard them for a few hours. I think a rule of thumb is that high-pitch sounds that are called upon often, whether in menu's or as a skill or attack audio, can be the nail in the coffin on annoyance. I think it becomes very apparent to you as a Developer, whether the sound is annoying, based on testing your own creation for multiple hours. Also though, sometimes sacrifice (usually $$$ reasons) are necessary to move a project along, which can mean using a 6/10 audio which might get annoying after many hours, but you use it regardless because it's what is available, and although annoying after many hours to you, a new player hasn't heard it for as many hours and it might not actually affect them.

Best of luck out there.
 

KakonComp

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I do know it'll all be subjective, but I'd like to collect opinions all the same.

Speaking of system sounds, I personally think the defaults tend to be not only too high pitched, but too loud as well. I'd definitely go more neutral and lower the volume, especially for the cursor sound that plays whenever you move the select window any which way. Making it yourself only makes the cursor, confirm, and cancel sounds all the more apparent.
 

alice_gristle

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I usta play Fallout 2 a lot when I was a kid. I dunno if it's just my silly old heart flooded with nostalgia, but I think the sound design in that game was pretty neat... like, you had a "theme" for each town you visited, and the theme was like, a mix of music and ambient sounds. Like, there were sounds of wind blowing, distant gunshots, roofs rattling, people talking, stuff like that. And the music itself was very low-key too, like, you didn't notice it much. It just sorta blended in with the other sounds.

I dunno, like I said, maybe it's just the nostalgia talking, but that game was neat. :biggrin:

Otherwise, I guess it depends a lot on what kinda game you're making. I mean, if ya making something like The Last of Us, you need more sounds, like for walking and stuff... but if ya making a retro RPG, do you really need all that many sounds? Like, sometimes I'm all for "less is more" type of thinking. All you need is a nice tune for your level, and then maybe a hitting sound for your sword, and that about clinches it, eh?

So... yeah. I guess personally I want the sounds to sorta blend in. It's like dialogue tags with writing. You don't wanna draw the reader's attention to them. (Unless it's a special sound of some sort, but ya knew there was an exception to every rule!)
 

Crusha

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MV has sound problems -- this is very known. I don't know if it was laziness on their development end, or just unforeseen bugs, but the sound in MV has very real problems. Some of my sounds play perfect at 90%, others you have to reduce to tiny values like 5% or 10%. I bring it up because apparently the sound issues have been resolved in MZ. I can't be certain that's the case, but it seems others have talked about that and believe it to be true. There's also sound delay by multiple seconds in MV. It's certainly an area of consideration for upgrading to the 'more optimized' MZ. It does cost this thing called money though, lol. So some people may get what they need out of MV or previous RM's.

I do agree with your point in most regards about making it yourself will only make the sounds more apparent for things like cursor, confirm, cancel. Obviously big game companies have mastered those areas to not make them so noticeable, but it seems to be a very difficult task for people making their own games. I've never really looked into what available resources there are for those things; it's such a tricky balance. It's 1 of the easiest areas to notice 'something is off' if it's not done very well. And it usually leads to complacency on using something that you're not 'thrilled' about, but for the sake of the project, ya leave it to progress the project.

I've seen various games, some have respectable success utilizing default sounds, if their story and/or battle systems are done well enough. If ya use too much default RTP, it's usually a big turn-off for people. But not everyone would share that opinion. After-all, someone who takes 1 year to make a perfect game, might do much worse than someone who makes 12 very weak games over that same year using default RTP and sounds, etc.. Then you get into what you consider your 'ideal' approach. Yanfly talks about a certain book that gauges students ability to make pottery I believe. 1 group gets graded on the quality, and the other group gets graded on the quantity. It turned out, the group that got graded on the quantity, eventually was making the highest quality as well, by the end. With that said though, people might view you to be dishonorable if you're releasing low-tier games and flooding a store, getting more sales than 1 high quality game. But to digress, that gets very philosophical, because then it could involve 'PR', and changing peoples perception of your 'moral compass' all in the name of the mighty profit (think blizzard trying to sell the people a lie that Diablo on mobile is a great thing). Obviously an indie Dev isn't dealing with PR, but you should get my point. Enough bad reviews will take a game to its grave.

You make your own choices. I think the healthy approach is to make game/s that you enjoy. After-all, a meteor could hit the earth in a year, or this world pandemic could put people in their graves -- who knows. Find what you consider respectable and moral, and go with it.
 

Ace of Spades

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First off, great choice in topic! I think a lot of newer developers completely overlook the importance of good audio. As many have already mentioned, it is a bit subjective, so take the following with a grain of salt... these are guidelines, not rigid set of rules, so you'll have to tailor the sound design to the experience you're trying to create.

Volume control is a major missed opportunity for most users. For example, the default BGM is extremely loud when played at full volume. When balancing audio, it helps to have a good set of headphones. I usually start by listen to some music at what I deem a comfortable volume, then I'll go in engine and adjust the BGM tracks of my game accordingly. Right now I play my BGM at 50% volume in-engine, and have the Options menu display the volume controls starting at 80%, so they can be adjusted by the user from there.

Same thing applies for SE's. I actually use SE's quite a bit, but most of the sounds played are at very low, soft volume, so as not to be overwhelming. I'm using footstep SE's, but they're so subtle to the point where you wouldn't even notice them unless I pointed it out. They shouldn't be loud and jarring; I hate listening to footsteps where it sounds like someone is running in high-heels over a wood floor constantly. At that point, you're better off without them.

SE layering can also be quite helpful. My dodge roll SE is comprised of a couple sounds layered together to sell the impact of the roll and the 'whooshing' of his cape. I also often use multiple variations of the same sound, so it's not fatiguing the player to listen to the same sound constantly. For example, the sword swings use slightly different pitches, and my character has multiple variations of SE's that play when they jump, attack, etc.

Knowing when to pull back a bit is also important. My Overworld uses a 'heroic' kind of BGM theme when exploring, but when nighttime falls, the BGM fades out and I let the environmental BGS set the tone. You can hear the crickets chirp, the waterfalls and rivers flowing in the distance and really helps sell the dynamic difference between the daytime and nighttime when exploring. It also helps prevent that 'Audio Fatigue' I mentioned above, where it gets tiring to listen to the same soundtrack or sound effect repeatedly.

Hope this helped, I'll be interested to see everyone else's suggestions as well!
 

Kupotepo

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You can listen and listen and listen to music and think about what emotions you feel from.
I usually just let players turn off the sound if they went too. Some players have different tastes from us.
This forum will be populated with the music maker people for sure. It is really subtle and many people have a hard time picking up.

The sound of footsteps sounds interesting, but I used it for the outside of the snow tile. Because I can feel really irritated if I hear too much.

@KakonComp, you like to read. Some people like the read the dialogues quietly and some like the background noise while reading.
 
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RCXDan

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Interesting topic, let's see what I can add.

Hmm... I feel audio design is one of the most critical parts of making a video game, superseding all other categories barring gameplay, but even gameplay itself is greatly affected by it.

I say this because audio design indirectly shapes the player's experience. Here's a few ways how:

#1 - Cursor/decision/damage/death sounds. Generally, sounds that you'll hear a lot (like menu ones) need to be much more subdued than most others, both in volume and presence. Damage sounds for actors and enemies need to have meat behind them, a real oomph that sells the impact. If done poorly, even just menu navigation will get annoying after a while.

#2 - The use of silence. A game that gets this one right will instantly earn my respect because musical timing is key to influencing the player's emotions.

Silence is a powerful tool, especially when you're dealing with a game that has an otherwise happy/bright/upbeat soundtrack. When silence is brought in slowly, like shutting the music off for a dangerous area, it can increase tension. Likewise, stopping the music in the middle of a scene tends to be a wake up moment for the player, which can be good for comedy or shock value depending on its use.

Example: Character A goes to school, which usually has a happy song connected to it. Some time passes as they leave to do something else. They come back to school the next day and there's a puddle of blood in plain sight. The happy song is instead replaced by cold silence.

#3 - Not changing the music. This is more for games with combat focus. If there's a really badass/heroic/sad song playing on the overworld, keep it going even into the fights. Best example I can pick for this is the Undersea Palace from Chrono Trigger - it's a tense song for a tense situation, so the regular battle theme won't cut it.

Conversely, a bad example would be Midna's Lament from Zelda: Twilight Princess. Really sad song, it's raining, your friend is on the brink of death... but it will occasionally get interrupted by the generic enemy theme and completely ruin the moment.

#4 - Altering the music to fit the mood. If it's night-time, you should generally have a more mellow version of an existing song or replace it with ambiance. If a villain appears, the usage of their theme tends to influence players' impressions of them.

If their theme plays when they show up, then their villain-ness should be more or less obvious.

If their theme doesn't immediately play when they show up, that's grounds to have a more... subdued villain, since it means they're not showing all their cards right away.

You can twist this in any way you like depending on the kind of mood you want to inject into your current narrative point. There's a reason Dark Reprisals of themes (like shifting the song to a more sad version for a fallen hero, etc.) are so popular.

Extra - I would not put footstep sounds in my game unless they served a mechanical purpose like having to decide what tiles to step on so as to not alert enemies in the room. That or it's an auditory clue that you're not actually alone in a room.

--

It really is the attention to smaller details that make the difference. Even the default SFX of RPG Maker can be effective if used properly, so there's my piece.
 

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I've posted quite a bit on this over time, so sorry for anyone who is reading all this yet again.

If nothing else is changed in your game, I think you should at least change the most common SEs. Obvious candidates are cursor, transfer, item/skill select from the menu, sounds like that which the player will hear many, many times in a game. There are several sites with free SFX, and also a generator or two. Even if you are using the default battle animations, selecting a different SE can help to freshen it up. Oh, and the Inn ME - please change it. I can't bear to hear the default inn theme again.

Personal preference coming up (though one I've seen others expressing). Unless your game is 30 minutes or so, constant footsteps and/or that sound like a typewriter that accompanies dialogue can irritate players so much that some (including me) are likely to quit. The only time I've come across typewriter sounds which, imo, worked was a game with one computer which the player had to interact with from time to time. There it seemed appropriate. Other than that instance, I think it actively hinders immersion as you are being constantly reminded that this dialogue is artificial. It also makes a bit of a nonsense if the character is 'thinking' their dialogue instead of speaking it.

I agree wholeheartedly with the comments about volume. The only catch is that you can have no idea what volume level the player has set on their computer, so your careful balance can still go wrong.

Looking through the opening post, I think I've used all those variations at different times. Silence can be devasting if used in the right place. Turning off the BGM and just having BGS playing is great for highlighting something. For example, if there is rain and thunder, let the BGS speak for itself.

The map theme/battle theme issue is, I think, quite tricky. I have sometimes commissioned a battle theme to fit with the theme for a particular dungeon. Other times I have found a long track with both a quieter and a more intense section. I have separated them out, looped both and used one for the map and the other for the battle. I have played a game which only ever continued the map music in battle except for bosses. I don't think that quite works, it flattens out the experience, imo.

A track can also work as a 'foreshadowing' mechanic. For example, something happens in first 25% of the game, and the music there is quite distinctive. You don't hear it again until you're at 80% when it comes again, and so helps link what's happening now with what happened then.

Don't be afraid of using tracks in a way they were never intended to be used. You want something a bit creepy/disconcerting. Listen to some Sci-Fi tracks, even if that's not the genre of your game. You can find some excellent tracks that way. A good Game Over track might well work for the time your player walks into a scene of devastation. Just because something is called Battle Theme doesn't mean that you can only use if for that.

I spend a lot of time and energy on the audio side of my games, and I don't consider any of it a waste.
 

cthulhusquid

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Music is a really huge way to let players know what atmosphere you are going for. Obviously if it's just the RTP music people will think of all the other games that use RTP, and you'll have lost some emotional impact. I try to find unique music that fits the mood, which can be somewhat challenging.

For instance, in my game Battle Castle, there's a lot of jovial folk music in the beginning parts of the game and towns, showing a sense of newfound exploration. However, as the story goes on, it turns into dark ambient w/ metal battle themes, and then at the darkest/oppressive part of the demo uses dungeon synth, with straight-on rough production black metal for the battles. This musical descent showcases the tendrils of evil at work in the world, weaving surreptitiously in one place and painfully visible in another.

In The Wastes, I try to capture the post apocalyptic atmosphere with ambient and rhythmic noise tracks. It leans towards ambient at the beginning of the game, but as the game goes on the noise aspect will take over more to make things unsettling.
 

alice_gristle

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#3 - Not changing the music. This is more for games with combat focus. If there's a really badass/heroic/sad song playing on the overworld, keep it going even into the fights. Best example I can pick for this is the Undersea Palace from Chrono Trigger - it's a tense song for a tense situation, so the regular battle theme won't cut it.
Oh god, this. :biggrin: Had to go and listen to that track the moment I read this! Pure fire. Also a totally eggs-on way on making a level feel memorable!

A track can also work as a 'foreshadowing' mechanic. For example, something happens in first 25% of the game, and the music there is quite distinctive. You don't hear it again until you're at 80% when it comes again, and so helps link what's happening now with what happened then.
Hadn't thought about this, but what a cool way to do storytelling!
 

KakonComp

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In a similar vein, I've always wanted to make a game where two best friends share a theme that only plays when they're alone together, and said theme plays a decent amount of time.

Then something happens in the story and they're forced to fight one another, and at this point a much more aggressive version of that same song plays while they have a one-on-one battle.

These two tunes illustrate what I mean:
Event:

Battle:
Go to 1:58 to hear what I mean
 

Failivrin

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Good comments. I would add a very simple suggestion. The old FF games would sometimes start the music or sound to set the scene before play begins. Basically, you transition to a black screen, the music changes, and after a few seconds, the scene slowly fades in. In cases where a boss had its own theme, this could be used to create anticipation for the battle. The screen warps and goes black > the boss theme plays > the battle slowly fades in
 

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