Sound and Music

Powerful Audio Tips for Game and Multimedia Developers

By Michael Bross
October 31, 1997
Vol. 1: Issue 15
Want to make your product better? Don't treat your audio as an afterthought. It should be an integrated part of your product. The current state of games and multimedia demands professional audio creation and production. Too many developers don't put enough thought into their sound and music. As a result, the overall quality of their product suffers. Here are some tips to lead you in the direction of better audio, and therefore a better game:

1. When creating the design for your product, take your audio production as seriously as you would take your art or programming. After all, we are talking about "multimedia" here. Multimedia is just what the word implies…many mediums combined together to form a unified body of expression. Audio is just a part of what makes multimedia. It is not the sum, or the whole, of multimedia. It is a component but, like any other component, it is essential. In order to reach the maximum impact that multimedia can have, audio must be employed intelligently and skillfully. And that means planning it into the design from the start.

2. For your own benefit, become familiar with audio terms such as: MIDI, digital audio, sample rate and bit resolution, sound file formats, stereo panning, General MIDI, wavetable synthesis, FM synthesis, etc. Learning terms such as these will help to better communicate your needs to the audio producer and also to the rest of your team. As they say, knowledge is power!

3. Actually sit down in front of the computer and take a look at a slew of games. Ask yourself questions such as: Does the audio make the product more fluid? Is the sound annoying or does it compliment the scenario? Where is sound used in the game? Is the music intrusive? Are the music or sound effects appropriate to the scenario? How do the music and sound effects contribute to the scene or mood? How can the sound be better?

4. Don't put sound or music in just to cover up silent spots. A gluttony of audio can turn the user off. If you feel that you have to turn the music off in a product when using it, then obviously the music is not doing the job. At the same time, don't be too sparse with your audio. The same music and sound effects over and over again will drive anyone crazy.

5. Hire audio professionals with experience in the multimedia and/or games industry. Many audio producers who have never worked in your industry do not understand the technical aspects of software and interactivity, nor do they usually understand the special rules and limitations of audio for software.

Michael Bross has produced audio and composed music for over 35 games and multimedia products that have been nationally and internationally distributed, working with some of the biggest names around, including MicroProse, Take 2 Interactive, Byron Preiss Multimedia, I-Magic, National Geographic and numerous others. Products include: Ripper (starring Christopher Walken and Burgess Meredith) WAR Inc., Bill Cosby's Picture Pages, and Black Dahlia (starring Dennis Hopper and Terri Garr). He can be reached at [email protected]