Eric Van Amerongen – Senior Sound Designer
The Challenge of Creating Hundreds of Unique Video Game SFX
I’ve been immersed in the world of a sci-fi alien shooter lately. The challenge of coming up with hundreds of unique, great sounding video game sound effects when you don’t have the budget or time of a huge Hollywood movie or big AAA game title can be very tricky. I’d like to share some of the broader concepts I’ve been utilizing to help me come up with some great sounds in a pinch.
Number one is that samplers can be you’re best friend. A good sampler like Kontakt or Shortcircuit can help you manipulate and mold your sounds to picture. Be sure to start with the highest resolution sounds possible because you might be manipulating the crap out of them. After you’ve got a healthy group of sounds, import them into whatever sampler you are working with and save them as a bank. Cue your event, I like to put it on loop, then play along and listen to what sounds work best. Modulating the Pitch, Cutoff and EQ can really add expression and impact to your game sound effects.
Learn a synth inside and out. Learning a synth inside and out can help tweak and manipulate your sound to the action on screen. Adding a subtle layer of synth under a sample can make it more “sci-fi” sounding. I’ve found it can really cover the low end nicely. Record key sounds your self. Take the time to think about and maybe explore any unique places or things in and around your environment. Just down the street from us is the Amtrak station. I’ve created a whole library of sounds by just spending a little time down by the tracks recording the trains and the various sounds they make all with my little H4. Many of these sounds have played key roles as the base to a number of events in the game I’m working on.
One last key point to remember is that “It’s all in the Mix”. I can’t remember where I heard that but it’s completely true. Without proper EQ, Compression and Volume control, all of your work will be for not. Mastering the mixing tools you have at your disposal can be one of the greatest tools in your toolbox. Learn how to make sounds “pop” or “hit” hard. Think about the texture of the event you are working on and then think, how can your sounds match and enhance this texture? It’s a combination of creative mixing and working with high quality sounds. Keep these tips in mind when creating sound effects for video games and you should be on your way to a higher quality video game audio experience.
Micah Groberman – VP Marketing
Casino Style Game Development Tips
One of my roles as VP of Marketing at SomaTone is to stay on top of industry news, new game releases and popular trends within the video game industry. One of these trends is the ever growing popularity of casino style games. Slot machine games, Poker games and Bingo games are climbing up the charts especially when it comes to mobile platforms. If you are developing a casino style game then these following tips are for you! I reecntly talked to our creative team here at SomaTone who have worked on numerous casino style games, as well as a few experienced game development partners and these are 4 of the best tips I received.
Casino Gaming Tip #1 – Audio
The Mix is key! Don’t trust global settings in your code to balance the levels of your music, stings, SFX, and VO. A proper mix of all audio assets requires a human touch and experienced ears that can properly balance all these competing sounds. Allowing global settings to mix your game audio will result is an unpolished and amateur sounding game, regardless of the quality of the individual music and sound design assets used.
Casino Gaming Tip #2 – Art
With the abundance of Bingo and Slot Machine games available in your favorite app store today, developers need to ensure their game is a cut above the rest in order to succeed. Aiming to visually capture a specific theme or themes is a good start. We’ve all seen Fantasy or Egyptian themed casino games for example. However, the most compelling games cleverly utilize all the visual elements in their tool kits to create something truly unique. When the fonts, interface, symbols, animations, background and textures work in tandem in balanced fashion to sell the theme, the user will be immersed, charmed, and delighted. The details will make all the difference.
Casino Gaming Tip #3 – Audio
When making a plan for audio in a casino game, particularly slot machines, it’s important to think ahead about how the background music and the musical stings will interact (such as “You Win” fanfare over background music). Graceful transitions between these types of events in a game are critical and can be achieved through proper coding in conjunction with music and stings that are designed to interact properly.
Casino Gaming Tip #4 – Art
It seems obvious to point out, but art and animation in casino games need to look and feel like “eye candy”. More than almost any other genre of game, it’s critical for the art to stand out and draw the user’s attention to the most critical elements on screen. For example, the symbols in a casino game require special attention on color choice, shading, and effects. Standing out from the crowd in this part of your game, will get users spinning the wheel again, and again, and again…
Matt Bruun – Sr. Sound Designer & Studio Director
Best Practices: How To Work With an External Audio Team
All video game developers are familiar with the following challenges in producing high quality audio for games… Whether you’re working with in-house or external sound designers, audio production tends to come late in the development cycle, often leaving little time to make sure that the video game sound effects are perfect. The sound designers will often need to work with finished animations so that they can get the sync right, and understand the full scope of the sound design needs. It’s not always completely clear what all of the audio needs will be until the game is playable and decisions can be made about how often certain sounds will be heard, and at what level of intensity they should be mixed. Because of this, some audio design elements will inherently need to be moved later in the game development cycle.
Now with that being said, there are certainly ways to get your external video game audio designers moving in parallel with the rest of the development team early on. For the video game composers, conversations about music direction can start as soon as the game gets into production and some concept art is ready. If you have ideas for how you want the music to sound, no matter how vague, that’s a good time to start telling the audio lead. The audio lead can then provide you with sample ideas for music direction, and work with you to focus in on the right music style and get that started. Sound design can start as soon as some animations or GUI elements are functional. You don’t necessarily have to wait until it’s all implemented, the sound design can start as soon as you can send .swf files or video of individual events. Getting the audio team involved early also gives them time to anticipate implementation needs. From our own experience, we’ve been brought in on a few games after the code was locked, and were not able to suggest simple changes that could make the experience better, such as ducking or fading music out for stings and bonus reward sounds to play. Getting your external audio team involved as early as possible will alleviate these concerns and will allow for as much time as possible to focus on the creation of a brilliant, immersive soundtrack.
While working with any external creative team has it’s unique benefits and challenges to consider, getting the results that you want when outsourcing audio doesn’t have to be any more difficult than working with in-house sound designers and composers. Getting the audio lead involved with the development team early on in the process, and maintaining good communication throughout, will go a long way towards having your finished product sounding great.
Jeff Troupe – Art Director
Utilizing Game Visuals in Mobile Apps
When creating visuals for a mobile application, the necessity for creating a crisp, clean layout free of clutter is paramount considering the limitations of the small screen. The user needs to be able to scan and navigate the content with few impediments as possible. Essentially, usability outweighs the need for detailed, playful graphics. When making games, the pendulum shifts a bit. Usability is still a key component, but creating interface visuals that immerse the user in the game world is a key ingredient as well. When a creative team can bring a game development mentality to building a mobile application, the results often can be unique and visually striking.
The trick to not overwhelming the user with visual clutter is to pepper more potent visual elements in key areas of the application. Icons provide an excellent opportunity to add color and illustrative custom graphics. Incorporating texture throughout your application is a nice way to add a tangible feel to text fields and feeds. Epic Win, a task management app is a nice example of this idea. The user begins by creating an RPG character and watches stats improve as the goal inches towards completion. The entire app has an aged parchment paper or scroll texture as its background. The header has a torn paper effect with gold filigree border. Even the cartoon profile characters are drawn in a stylized medieval manner. You truly forget that you are navigating a task management app on your phone.
Rewarding the player in games is a technique commonly used to retain players and keep them playing longer in individual sessions. This strategy can work very well in non-game apps as well and is especially effective when combined with a distinct visual element. Strava, an application that maps users bike rides and runs while tracking statistics, has an addicting way of rewarding users. You can compete with your friends and other Strava users for records on specific courses in your area. When a user achieves a course record, the title ‘King or Queen of the Mountain’ is earned which is accompanied by a cool crown icon. Ribbon and trophy icons are also awarded for personal records.
Mobile phone apps have become very useful tools to help manage our increasingly complicated lives. However, the utility of many apps has been the primary focus and the visuals tend to be utilitarian. Adding game-like visual elements helps break this mold and provides an avenue to entertain users who may not be expecting it.
Nick Thomas – CEO & Founder
Thoughts On Creative Leadership
As a leading provider of both audio and art for gaming, we here at SomaTone are constantly looking to improve synergy with our clients. Making games is a deeply creative and personal endeavor, and as any art or audio director knows, outsourcing the creation of creative assets is not something that is taken lightly. Yet, we all know it is impossible for one visionary to create all the content themselves, so delegating work to others is a necessity if game designers are going to maintain the schedules set by the Marketing Department, Apple, EA, Big Fish, or whomever they are beholden to.
“Leadership” within a creative services studio requires it’s own definition to successfully partner and assist in the realization of someone else’s vision. In many ways it’s a delicate balancing act, with misdirection or misunderstandings on one side of the line, and egocentric creative ambition on the other. How does one “lead” someone else’s vision? How does one nurture an existing concept and “lead” the visual or audio design without taking a bearing that may not reflect the lead designers concepts?
Working with an in-house team of artists or composers/sound designers is generally the preference for a game developer. However, budgets, bandwidth, talent availability, and deadlines often require the use of externalized resources. The solution to creative leadership may not actually live inside the creative process at all, but rather in the logistics of the relationship. For example, thinking about the friction points that might exist and which may impede a partnership, and then removing those blocks, is often key to creative leadership.
This all sounds well and good, but how exactly is that done? Again, by looking at what barriers exist when outsourcing, and removing them. For example, we noticed a growing trend in casual games as the market shifted from PC downloadable games to social, and then mobile/social content, that the development timelines and scope of work was dynamic as the game design evolved. DLC content support needs for mobile and social games also make it nearly impossible to scope out the creative requirements early in a products development.
So, we have developed a proprietary micro-currency, called AU’s (or Asset Units). In this way, our clients are able to engage with us by purchasing AU’s, and then redeeming these “tokens” for music, game sound effects, game Voice Over, or Concept Art, 3D Animations, 2D art production, Characters/Environment design etc, basically whatever they need, all with total flexibility and lack of constraints. By working in this way, we effectively become an in-house solution working in parallel with the internal resources and with the ability to scale up and down dynamically based on current sprint requirements.
While this has proved a great solution for simplicity of contract and accounting, the real benefit this leadership has provided game developers is that we are now able to engage early in the process and be contributing content from alpha, through beta, so audio and art support is imbedded in the development process. So, here for example, leadership has taken the form of removing the logistical barriers between developers/publishers and 3rd party resources, and the quality of the work, creative accuracy, and efficiency of these partnerships has been amazing to witness!
A Conversation with Craig Bocks, Expert in Video Game Art Services at Somatone
Producing a video game isn’t easy. Just ask anyone in the business. There’s the game mechanics, concept, storyline, sound effects, music, programming, and last and perhaps most importantly the art work.
We recently sat down with Craig Bocks, COO & Executive Art Director at SomaTone Interactive in San Francisco. He gave us a few tips on the world of art production for video games.
What is the biggest challenge in art production for video games?
Well, I’ve brought more than 75 games to market and one thing I can say about art production for video games is that it is always challenging to manage BUDGET vs QUALITY. Even as an award-winning producer, I have struggled at times to find good quality art and animation at an affordable cost.
In the past, it seemed there were two directions available to video game producers – create your art locally at a higher cost, assuming you’ll get a higher quality product, or outsource internationally and pay less for what many times turns out to be a lower quality product. Another challenge with outsourcing becomes managing the project from far away with a team that you don’t know.
What we are seeing these days is a hybrid version where local art production companies interact directly with game producers and executives, then directly manage their own offshore art teams. The end result is high quality art and animation, delivered at a reduced cost.
That’s what we do here at SomaTone. We have invested ourselves in putting together the best team, covering all aspects of the art and animation pipeline. Our communication and reliable process coupled with competitive rates are what positions Somatone as a premier art production studio for video games. We believe this is the best solution for managing both budget and quality and so far this model is working very well as we are getting a ton of amazing products out of our team.
Holiday Discount Offer!
The holiday season has come early! SomaTone Interactive is offering a 20% discount on all projects that utilize both our Art and Audio assets, until December 31 2012!
Grab a warm mug of coffee, a cozy blanket and your SomaTone Winter promo, sit down by the fireplace and relax knowing your Audio and Art assets are in great hands. With over 1000 games to our credit, our experience, reliability and quality are second to none.
Please contact us for further details. Email email@example.com and we’ll send you complete details for receiving this exclusive offer!
Officially Announcing The Grand-Opening of our World-Class Art Division!
SomaTone Interactive has expanded to provide 2D & 3D art and animation services, utilizing an art pipeline and production model that sets the standard for video game companies worldwide. We start with the idea that we are a creative partner, providing creative leadership and management to collaborate as an extension of your internal team, using the same best-in-class production process that’s been refined over the company’s nine-year history. STi’s art services cover the spectrum of 2D & 3D art, from concept and user interface to characters, environments and objects. We have recently partnered with developers including Gree, PlayFirst and Making Fun to provide high quality art assets.
Our world-class team will help put your title at the top of the charts!With over a decade of experience leading game teams and art production for video games, Craig Bocks brings his wealth of knowledge and talents to SomaTone Interactive as our COO and Executive Director of the SomaTone Art Division.
To set up a meeting with Craig and learn more about our Art Division, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to providing high quality Art and Animation for your upcoming games!
A Little Bit More About SomaTone
STi is perhaps best know for our work in the casual games industry. We have provided Music, SFX, and VO on over 500 titles in the casual gaming genre, from PC Downloadable, to Social, to iPhone, XBLA, and even console titles. “Casual” to us is defined by the family friendly genre and wide demographic of game players for whom these games are designed. Our Composers, Sound Designers, and VO producers have led the industry and helped define the sound of casual gaming. Big Fish Games, Imagine Engine, PlayFirst, PopCap, Zynga, Real, and THQ are just a few of the clients we work with, providing hit soundtracks on dozens of #1 games! We are also now offering ART Services and AAA Game Audio! Please check our portfolio for examples and contact us to find out how we can work together on providing high quality Art and Audio production for your games!