The Noise Arcade: Tools That Game Sound Designers Can’t Do Without

Sep 1, 2013 9:00 AM, Mix, By Markkus Rovito

Polls


Education Guide

Mix is gearing up to present its longstanding annual Audio Education Guide in its November 2014 issue. Want to have your school listed in the directory, or do you need to update your current directory listing? Add an image, program description, or a logo to your listing! Get your school in the Mix Education Guide 2014.

One of the things that is so amazing about modern video games is the voluminous amount of talented and dedicated people it takes just to help 13-year-olds fall short of their potential.

Kidding aside, though, videogame sound designers take on special challenges that don’t come up when sound designing for linear video. For games, the sound designer has to create sounds without knowing exactly how far away the sound will be from the character when it plays, not knowing the ambient environment the sound will be in, whether there will be obstructions between the sound and the character, and often not having any visual reference before creating the sound.

Nonetheless, game audio designers have the same tools to work with as other producers and sound designers, so the criteria for their gear may differ a bit. We talked to a number of sound designers and combed over the opinions of game audio professionals in articles, interviews, and online forums and sites such as Gamesounddesign.com to come up with some of the most beloved tools on which this singular niche of audio shapers relies. True consensus in such subjective matters may never be achieved, but this collection of mostly software products would delight any game sound addict, at least until the release of PlayStation 11.

Keep in mind though that while the following tools are certifiably awesome, one recurrent theme in the game audio community kept popping up in our research: You don’t need a million bucks to sound like a million bucks. Don’t get too hung up on gear, because technique and hard work trumps fancy toys every time. Practice, practice, practice, and you will find your sound.

Waves Sound Design Suite

Waves Doppler

Waves Doppler

No, no, no, it could not be that easy. You mean to say a game sound designer can just go to one of the one of the most renowned plug-in makers in the history of sound itself, pick the box that says “Sound Design” in the title, and be squared up? That may be an insult to the intelligence of sound designers if it didn’t happen to be so close to the truth. Loaded with compressors and EQs, the entire GTR3 suite of guitar amps and stomp boxes, and plenty of radically creative effects, Waves Sound Design Suite ($1,400 Mac/PC) bundles 36 monster plug-ins into a package compatible with all the major formats and DAWs.

Waves Enigma

Waves Enigma

Game sound designers go particularly ga-ga over particular offerings such as MondoMod, a multi-type chorus effect with LFOs, for the ability to take rather mundane sounds and drastically alter them. The same goes for Enigma, a multi-layered modulation effect with BPM sync that stacks filtering, LFO modulation and delay feedback modules together for sound-obliterating results. These effects go far beyond basic modulation to allow designers to input one sound into a mixer track and come up with spellbindingly different and infinite results out of the other end.

Waves MondoMod

Waves MondoMod

Considered practically a must-have for games, Doppler applies the sense of movement to sounds with a highly tweakable Doppler effect useful for vehicles, bullets or any sound that a character in a game can move toward or away from. It includes adjustable reverb and different modes for one-shot or continuous cycling.

Waves Renaissance Equalizer

Waves Renaissance Equalizer

On the more meat-and-potatoes side, game audio nerds love the sound of the look-ahead brickwall limiter and level maximizer series of the L1, L2, L3, and L3-LL Ultramaximizer plug-ins. These allow the designer to set-and-forget a limiter on the master output while they go sick on their twisted audible creations and yet maintain a controlled output. Finally, the Renaissance Equalizer effectively carves out unwanted frequencies and boosts where needed without coloring the sound. It’s also prized for its low CPU load. Although packed with audio-shaping power, the Sound Design Suite still doesn’t include all of the Waves plug-ins that game sound designers crave, but it’s the highest concentration of such tools in one bundle-priced collection.

Native Instruments Komplete 9

Another bundle too big to cover entirely, Komplete 9 ($559, Mac/PC, AAX/AU/RTAS/VST/stand-alone) includes the three Native Instruments programs that game sound designers find the most salivating at a price much lower than buying even two of them individually. Sure, if you wanted to shoot for the moon, you could drop the extra cash on Komplete 9 Ultimate ($1,099, Mac/PC) and walk away with a hard drive full of sounds and some other extras. Either way, you’ll capture the videogame world’s most wanted NI tools.

Native Instruments Absynth 5

Native Instruments Absynth 5

The software sampler Kontakt 5 dominates the field, which heralds this extremely deep program for its all-in-one sound-design potential. Designers often have the ability to do all their sound editing, effects processing, pitch-shifting, etc. entirely within Kontakt 5, saving them time when a deadline looms. They can build up libraries of sounds beginning with just raw waveforms, or load samples and use the instrument as a “virtual Foley stage,” where they sufficiently alter and then play back the sounds for recording.

Native Instruments Kontakt 5

Native Instruments Kontakt 5

Beginning with more than 2,100 atmospheric presets, Absynth 5 lets sound designers combine aspects of one patch with another in the Sound Mutation module or get deep into the semi-modular architecture, where FM, subtractive and wavetable synthesis combine with sampling to create Absynth’s signature otherworldly sound. Of the staggering amount of soft synths in the world, game audio designers name-drop Absynth the most. It seems tailor-made for all the alien creatures, ships and environments that are so prevalent in sci-fi and adventure games.

Native Instruments Reaktor

Native Instruments Reaktor

No sound design studio would be Komplete without Reaktor 5.8, considered an obvious choice for professionals because of its fully modular synthesis structure, where there are infinite possibilites for creating new sounds and even new instruments. It offers more than 70 core instruments out of the box, with thousands more available from its online user library. Game folks revere it because it inspires creativity, leads to unexpectedly awesome results, and because, again, you can potentially take a design project to completion using only this instrument.

iZotope

Among iZotope’s strong lineup, a pair of programs have stood out in the game community. As either a stand-alone editor or plug-in, RX 2 ($349, Mac/PC, AAX/AU/DirectX/MAS/VST) or RX 2 Advanced ($1,099) frequently save the day as a spectral audio repair tool with batch processing. Game publisher staffers frequently have thousands of Foley sounds from the field or dialog files to clean up, and RX can remove noise, hiss, pops, buzz, etc.; restore clipped audio; perform leveling; and so much more before batch processing them with a sound that many prefer over other pro editors. The advanced spectrgram allows you to “see” problems in the audio, as well. RX 3 was released in September—just before press time—offering cool additions such as reverb removal, real-time dialog processing and more.

iZotope Spectron

iZotope Spectron

Audio geeks love their spectral displays, and Spectron ($129) earns a spot in game sound designers’ hearts for its access to the sound’s spectral domain and dynamite string of effects that can mangle the original source into something completely new. With 64-bit internal processing, Spectron includes frequency-level effects chains including delays, chorus/flange, surgical panning, and the Morph module, which lets you modify the spectrum of one signal based on the spectrum of another signal in real time. Users note that Spectron appeals to those with a love of experimentation; the journey may take awhile, but the destination sounds fantastic.

iZotope RX 2

iZotope RX 2






Acceptable Use Policy
blog comments powered by Disqus

Mix Books

Modern Recording and Mixing

This 2-DVD set will show you how the best in the music industry set up a studio to make world-class records. Regardless of what gear you are using, the information you'll find here will allow you to take advantage of decades of expert knowledge. Order now $39.95

Mastering Cubase 4

Electronic Musician magazine and Thomson Course Technology PTR have joined forces again to create the second volume in their Personal Studio Series, Mastering Steinberg's Cubase(tm). Edited and produced by the staff of Electronic Musician, this special issue is not only a must-read for users of Cubase(tm) software, but it also delivers essential information for anyone recording/producing music in a personal-studio. Order now $12.95

Newsletters

MixLine

Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine takes you straight into the studio, with new product announcements, industry news, upcoming events, recent recording/post projects and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

MixLine Live

Delivered straight to your inbox every other week, MixLine Live takes you on the road with today's hottest tours, new sound reinforcement professional products, recent installs, industry news and much more. Click here to read the latest edition; sign up here.

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

The Wire, a virtual press conference offering postings of the latest gear and music news, direct from the source. Visit the The Wire for the latest press postings.