Audio Design

image079Audio design, both sound effects and language, is also a part of character design. You will need to work with your team's audio director—and sometimes defer to her experience—to find the right effects and voice for your character.

Sound Effects and Music

The sounds a character makes tell us something about her personality, even if she doesn't speak. Sounds—anything from a gunshot, to a shouted "Hi-yah!" accompa­nying a karate chop, to a verbal "Aye, aye, sir"—confirm acceptance of the player's command. Sounds also signal injury, damage, or death. The sound of a punch that we're all familiar with from the movies is in fact quite unrealistic, but we're used to it and we know what that THWAP! means when we hear it. Likewise, drowning people don't really go "glug glug glug," but that's what we expect. Much of sound design involves meeting psychological expectations. Deep sounds suggest slow and strong characters; high sounds suggest light and fast ones. The tone of the sound a thing makes should confirm and harmonize with its visual texture: metallic objects make metallic sounds. As usual, however, incongruity can be funny, so you can mis­match sounds and visuals on purpose for comedic effect. As you define your character's movements and behaviors, think about what sounds should be associated with her.

As the audio gear in computers and home consoles has improved, game developers have begun to create musical themes associated with specific characters, just as the movies have for decades. John Williams is a master at creating themes for film char­acters and situations. Everyone remembers the themes from Star Wars: the Imperial March that accompanies Darth Vader, with its harsh, discordant trumpets; Princess Leia's love theme; the main title theme that represents the Rebel Alliance generally. Even Jabba the Hutt has a theme. This book can't teach you music composition, but you should be aware of certain common techniques. Evil or bizarre characters often get themes in a minor key; good or heroic ones get themes in a major key. Instruments playing in unison, especially to a monotonous rhythm, suggest enforced conformity, another characteristic of the Imperial March. These are, of course, traditional Western notions; music for an Indian audience would be different. However, Western domi­nance of the video game industry has meant that even games made in Japan follow similar rules. The music from the Final Fantasy series has become particularly popular.

If you're involved in designing the game sounds and their technical implementa­tion, be sure that you keep music, sound effects, and dialog or spoken narration in separate sound files that the game mixes together during playback. This is impor­tant for two reasons. First, if the game is ever localized into another language, it will be necessary to replace the spoken audio. If the dialog is already mixed into the music, the sound files in the new language will have to be remixed with the music before they can be added to the game. It's much easier just to drop in a new file of spoken audio and let the game mix it.

Second, the music and sound effects should have separate volume controls in the game for the benefit of the hearing-impaired. Players with a condition called tinni­tus find that music prevents them from hearing the sound effects properly, and that makes it more difficult to play the game. Keep the two separate so the players can turn the music off if they need to. For more on music and sound effects in video games, read Game Sound: An Introduction to the History, Theory, and Practice of Video Game Music and Sound Design, by Karen Collins (Collins, 2008).

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