A handy guide of tools for creating quality sound and music in games
As developers aim to immerse players in brand new experiences on mobile, new generation consoles, PC and beyond, audio is playing an increasingly important role in captivating audiences.
To help audio experts create the best music and sounds for games, Develop has uncovered some of the top tools to ensure your game sounds as good and clean as possible and lives up to consumers’ consistently rising expectations.
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Company: Firelight Technologies
Firelight Technologies’ audio tool suite FMOD Studio is widely used in the games industry. In recent times it has been used in Supergiant Games’ Transistor, Turn 10’s Forza 5 and in Evolution’s upcoming Driveclub.
The tool is used for creating sound generators and effects, among numerous other uses. The recent release of FMOD Studio 1.4 also added extra platform support and enhancements to the profiler to feature live game output recording, playback and scrubbing, as well as support for a host of new data tracks including per event instance, voice, CPU, parameter values, 3D values and instance tracking.
Firelight also recently introduced a new free licence for indie developers with budgets under $100,000. Previously the tool had cost as much as $500 per title.
One of the most popular audio tools used in games, Audiokinetic’s wwise suite has been built for both indie and triple-A developers to use.
The tool can be integrated into a number of engines, including Unity, Unreal Engine 3 and 4, CryEngine and development toolset Marmalade, and supports 14 platforms in total. The tech features HDR audio, a number of built-in effects and has a series of plug-ins available, including SoundSeed, which we have also profiled for this guide.
Recently the tool was made free to indies via a limited commercial licence, which allows devs using less than 200 sound files in their wwise project to use it at no cost.
Miles Sound System
Company: Rad Game Tools
The Miles Sound System has been around since 1991, and is still being used by developers today. In fact, to date it has been licensed for more than 5,200 games across 14 different platforms.
The audio toolset integrates sound authoring with 2D and 3D digital audio, and features streaming, environmental reverb and multistage DSP filtering, as well as optimised audio decoders for MP3, Ogg and Bink Audio.
The latest features in version 9.3 include a completely redesigned toolset designed around iteration and soundscape debugging, allowing designers to capture a game’s sound event stream and replay it as many times as they choose. It also includes editing for audio pre-sets, events, environments, filters, and mixing.
The Miles Sound System supports a range of gaming platforms including iOS, Android, PC, Mac, Linux, PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, 3DS, Vita and also the powerful new generation consoles Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One.
Fabric is an audio toolset built by Tazman-Audio for the Unity game engine that offers a number of features and custom user interfaces to create audio directly within the tool itself.
Sound designers can make complex audio structures and use the event-based system to reduce the dependence on programmers. The tool allows the design of multiple types of audio behaviours, and all the game audio assets are located under one hierarchy, to help make it easier for users to manage and locate assets.
Fabric is written entirely within Unity’s scripting language, meaning external native plug-ins are not required and it can support any gaming platform that the engine itself does.
Other features included with Fabric are a custom user interface, an event system, a VolumeMeter component to measure audio levels of a specific node and the ability to use the Unity engine’s object-based hierarchical structure to build complex audio behaviours.
GenAudio’s Astoundsound for gaming tech gives developers the ability to control sound movement in real-time to help present a realistic 3D sound field through placing and moving sounds around the listener.
Plug-ins are available for Audiokinetic’s wwise, Firelight’s FMOD Studio and Microsoft’s XAudio2, in addition to allowing for custom integration into proprietary audio engines, ensuring a flexible tool, whatever a developer’s pipeline.
There are three AstoundSound 3D audio spatialisers, including the mono to stereo 3D audio processor 3D real-time interface, multi-channel to stereo fold-down processor FoldDown and stereo expansion and enhancement processor Expander.
These spatalisers are scalable to different platforms, from mobile devices to high-end PCs, and help provide precision 3D audio spatialisation using XYZ coordinates of game sound objects, and are compatible with any stereo output during gameplay. Licensing options are available on a per title or per-platform basis.
Company: The Audacity Team
Open-source, cross-platform audio software Audacity is free to use, and developers can harness the tool to record and edit sounds.
The tool can be used to record live audio, record computer playback, edit WAV, AIFF, FLAC, MP2, MP3 or Ogg Vorbis sound files, cut, copy, splice or mix sound together and also change the speed or pitch of a recording, plus a number of other useful features.
Audacity supports 16-bit, 24-bit and 32-bit samples, and tracks with different sample rates or formats are converted automatically. Built-in effects are also available, including echo, reverb and reverse. It is available for use on Mac, Windows and Linux, and can be used in a large array of languages.
Company: Steinberg Media Technologies
Cubase is a digital audio workstation that offers dedicated tools for designers to record, edit and mix audio.
The audio engine behind Cubase delivers 32-bit floating-point resolution and 192 kHz sample rate. It supports both small and large recordings, and its user interface uses customisable track views and custom colour schemes for tracks to differentiate types.
Users can also integrate VST Expression into the tool, which offers a way of working with instrument articulations, dynamics and multiple controller values. Other features include the Instrument (t)rack, which supports multi-outputs and multi-inputs and merges the instrument tracks with the Instrument Rack, LoopMash FX for real-time breaks, tape-stops and stutters and remote recording plug-in VST Connect SE 2.
The tool is used by a number of developers, and has previously been used in games such as Pokemon Black & White and Tron: Evolution.
Company: Two Big Ears
Built by Scottish outfit Two Big Ears, 3Dception is a real-time,cross-platform binaural engine designed to make it possible for users to hear sounds at specific in-game locations.
It is currently available as a plug-in for Unity on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS, with more platforms to be announced in the near future.
The tool simulates the way humans hear and how we can find the location of a sound in the surrounding environment. It does this by making calculations in real-time to filter the sound in a way that makes such an effect believable. Its creators tout the tool as ideal for virtual reality games.
As well as developing wwise, Audiokinetic has also built a useful plug-in for its audio toolset in Soundseed, a family of interactive sound generators.
Synthesised sounds can be used alone or combined as a layer on top of other pre-recorded sounds to generate audio. SoundSeet Air can be used to create “infinite” variations of wind and whoosh sounds that can change based on what’s happening in-game. SoundSeed Impact meanwhile uses modal synthesis to create variations in the resonance of a base sound.
Licences for SoundSeed cost between $750 and $5,000, with further costs for each extra platform the middleware has been used for.