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

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


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Zoom Handy Recorders

Zoom recently flipped the portable recording scene on its head with the release of the H6 Handy Recorder ($499), the first handheld 6-track recorder, which also supports four interchangeable input capsules: X/Y mic (included), MS mic (included), shotgun mic and dual XLR/TRS input.

Zoom Handy Recorder H2

Zoom Handy Recorder H2

The H6 is too new to have made an impact yet, but there is a convincing plurality of game sound designers who choose either the H2n ($349) or H4n ($549) as their field recorder of choice, never leaving home without one. It’s a combination of construction, sound quality and ease of use that has made Zoom the commonly heard brand name in game audio over the many competing handheld recorders. It’s not at all unusual for a Zoom unit to handle the bulk of the Foley work on professional game audio projects. However, when they need a more high-end portable recorder, game designers tend to prefer the Sound Devices 702 ($1,975) or 722 ($2,595).

Zoom Handy Recorder H4n

Zoom Handy Recorder H4n

Camel Audio Alchemy

When you’re faced with hundreds, if not thousands, of original sounds to create on a deadline, you want an environment where you can create and modify new sounds fast, as well as keep them organized. Camel Audio Alchemy ($249, Mac/PC, AU/RTAS/VST) rates highly among all virtual instruments for its five types of synthesis, including a virtual analog engine, and for its deep programming.

Camel Audio Alchemy Version 1.5

Camel Audio Alchemy Version 1.5

Yet game sound designers in particular see Alchemy as an oasis of possibility due to its sampling capabilities that let you import your own sounds and then develop them with one of four types of re-synthesis: granular, additive, additive + spectral, and spectral. With those endless options, designers can import their banks of Foley, voiceover and other sounds to create instruments out of vocals, for example, or to transform simple instruments, such as an acoustic guitar, into an angelic cosmic echo twinkle. The options are staggering, but creatively liberating.

Alchemy comes with 5 GB of samples and more than 1,000 presets, with bundle options to add up to 26 more sound libraries for more than 4,000 presets. When you add that to the thousands of new sounds that a game designer will likely create, it’s a good thing that Alchemy also boasts one of the the most sophisticated sound browsers in the business. All the presets are labled by category, genre, articulation and timbre, so it is quick to find a sound according to those tags. You can rate sounds and then search by rating, or add your own tags to search by project name, client name or whatever you like.


Prized for their clean, simple interfaces but more importantly for their outstanding sound, both Decapitator and Crystallizer ($179 each, Mac/PC, AU/RTAS/TDM/VST) feel a lot of love from the game sound community. Decapitator models many types of vintage gear to mix up an analog saturation effect that reacts to the dynamics of the input signal.

SoundToys Crystallizer

SoundToys Crystallizer

SoundToys based Crystallizer off the Crystal Echoes preset from the Eventide 3000, which ruled radio in the late ’80s. How about a little granular reverse echo slicing combined with vintage, glitchy pitch processing? That’s why you insult Crystallizer by using it for basic delays. SoundToys also polished it up with MIDI sync, Gate/Duck control and filters. Crystallizer’s bizarre reverse delays make it perfect for the fictitious worlds of videogames.

Moog on the iPad

In our day, you coudn’t buy a Moog synthesizer for 30 bucks! You had to mow lawns in the snow for three years just to save up for a half-working monosynth from Radio Shack. Well, thank God those days are over. Moog has brought its two most famous legacies, its filters and synthesis, to the iPad in wonderfully modernized apps. The polyphonic Animoog ($29.99) represents the proud debut of Moog’s Anisotropic Synth Engine (ASE) optimized for the iPad’s touchscreen with an X/Y space for controlling its dozens of timbres. The sound lives up to the lofty expectations of the Moog name, and there’s professional modulation and filtering options, as well. Sound designers love the convenience of this handheld Moog synth. You can record your creations, and there’s an optional 4-track recorder, as well.

Moog Animoog

Moog Animoog

For Moogerfooger lovers, Filtatron ($7.99) delivers a similar experience on the iPad or iPhone. Its processing suite includes a modeled Moog filter, envelope follower, LFO, overdrive and delay. You can record the result of effecting loaded samples, the built-in oscillator or the input from the iPad’s mic, making it great for spontaneous Foley sessions in any location.

Ina GRM Tools

Resulting from years of study by a French musical research group, the effects of GRM Tools Complete Collection 3 ($800, Mac/PC, AU/RTAS/VST) now shows up in the sounds of a great deal of videogames on the market today. The 15-plug-in suite comprises three smaller bundles that go from basic to mild. Besides a good collection of filters, delays, EQ and a crucial Doppler effect, the most characteristic plug-ins of GRM Tools radically and dynamically effect the sound by shifting and rearranging frequencies, evolving resampling, modifying spectral resolutions and more.

Ina GRM Tools

Ina GRM Tools

GRM’s unique sonic outcomes have made it a staple of the sound design scene. In one notable example of its use, Benjie Freund, as a challenge to himself, designed the sounds for the popular Tribes: Ascend game using only simple signal generators in Pro Tools and the GRM Tools Collection.

Steinberg Wavelab 8

While there is hot competition for the audio editor of choice among game sound designers, both from the industry standards like Sony Sound Forge Pro 11 and from the inexpensive upstarts like the Cockos Reaper DAW, the recently updated WaveLab 8 ($599, Mac/PC) editor and mastering program has a strong cross-platform following, as well as the features and performance to back it up.

Steinberg WaveLab 8

Steinberg WaveLab 8

The most ardent game sound designers in the Wavelab camp sing the praises of its batch processor, its smooth VST integration, auto-cutting of certain files, the convenience of handling marker placement, and many other features. While some editors prefer the destructive editing of Sound Forge to retain the same file name quickly, Wavelab sticks to non-destructive editing.

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