Let’s design a sound: Electric hammer!

Hey everyone!

In the next few posts I am going to share with you a few general audio tips, focusing on how I go about designing sound effects. 🙂

Today we’ll be looking at an electric hammer sound I had to create for the game Star Vikings (TBA), a crazy tactical mobile/web game where you lead a group of vicious space Vikings raiding a planet of giant snails! You can play the demo here: http://starvikings.com/

How does it sound?

How does it look?

The first thing you need to know when creating a sound effect, is if the object that is about to be “audified” has already been made, and if it has, if there is an animation or visual effect to help guide the sound. Of course, many times game assets change during production, so usually it’s better to produce their sounds when they are close to being finished.

For the hammer, the character and the animation were already done, so the only thing missing was the vfx. Our designer had already decided that the hammer would deal electrical damage, so I knew that the sound had to indicate that quality and the visual effect would have to follow the sound later on.

The second step for me, when there is an animation, is to record it and import the video into Cubase (I know it’s not so common, but I use Cubase for both music and sfx). After that I set markers at the most crucial points in the video. For the hammer, those were

1. animation start

2. lift arm

3. lower arm


No silence

When making sounds for games you always have to think about file size. The longer a sound, the larger the file, and this is especially a problem when working on mobile games, so you should always try to avoid silence at the starting and/or ending point of the sound effect. In this case, I realized through the video markers that there doesn’t really happen too much in between the start of the animation and the moment the character lifts his arm. When something like this happens, you should record the sound from where it actually punches in, and after you’re done, calculate the difference to the animation starting point. You will have to take that value and use it in the delay option of the respective prefab inside the game project.
Now on to design! 🙂

Grabbing sounds

When working on the hammer sound, I did everything in the order it happens in the animation, so I started with the lifting of the arm. I kept this totally simple, since the most interesting and important part was obviously the impact. So, that sound is just a natural whoosh I took from a sound library. Usually the whoosh happens at the lowering of the arm, but I decided to use that part to anticipate the electrical flare of the attack, as if the hammer was being charged. Since there wasn’t yet a visual effect, I had to imagine how things could look in the end. Like I said before, I usually find it better when the visuals dictate the design of the sound, but you can’t always rely on that.

Like the first moment of the sound, I also did the arm lowering part in a really simple way, in that case using just a snippet of an actual electrical crackle. Things only got more interesting when I got to the hit.

Creating layers

That part is actually composed of 9 different layers. There are, yet again, 2 real electric sparks/crackle sounds to take up the higher frequencies of the whole, and of course, to give the hammer it’s electrical quality. One of those is also the tail of the whole sound, giving it some movement after the hit. Next, there are 5 impact sounds. The first one is debris, to indicate that the hammer has hit the ground. The second a middle section of the sound of a firing tank. To enhance the bass I took an explosion, lowered the pitch a bit and took out the middle frequencies. Usually I would also beef up the really low end with a subharmonic effect tool like Waves’ Lo-Air to give it that cinematic oomph. But since the game is mainly for mobile, there is no need for that, because you won’t hear it anyway.
The explosion is joined by a fleshy smash sound, probably some kind of vegetable being slammed, and also a snare drum hit. These three sounds punch in after the impact; with that, you get more movement and you avoid clipping (distortion), because the peaks of the different impact groups don’t play at the same time.
These are all natural sounds, but since we are talking about Vikings in space, there has got to be some sort of scifi flavor! So, I made two short synth hits, one kind of electric sounding in NI’s Massive, and the other one a distorted stab in FM8.

Mix and Master

Once you have all your elements in place, you have to create a clean mix and then master it. I won’t go into much detail here, because mixing and mastering could never be explained thoroughly in some small article. You just have to keep in mind, that mixing means cleaning things up by adjusting volumes, positioning the sounds properly in a stereo/surround field (unless it’s mono) and by using plugins like equalizers and compressors. The mastering process comes after that, and it envolves making the sound become “richer”, “fuller” and enhancing it’s volume until you reach the same “perceived loudness” shared by the all the other sounds you made. This will help you later in the mixing stage of the game itself, because everything will be equally loud and you won’t have to compare everything to get a good mix.

That’s it, folks!

Here is how everything looks in Cubase:

screen hammer

Next time around we’ll take a look at a much more complex sound. Hope to see you then!

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Bruma: an unusual game needs unsual timbres

First of all, sorry for the delay, guys! These last weeks I had a lot of sounds and music to do. I’ll write about these projects once they come out!

As I mentioned in my previous post, this one will be about the last game that Critical Studio was working on, before we shut our doors. We all look forward, however, to getting back together and finishing it sometime in the future!

HelpingChar_02About the game
Bruma is a turn-based tactical and strategy game that is set in a dark low-fantasy world. Try to picture a combat system as in X-Com paired with a Civilization-ish socio-economic system and all of it taking place in a medieval and sinister, unforgiving world, like the one of Dark Souls, though with only a few, albeit decisive fantasy elements. I hope I’ve drawn your interest. 🙂

I won’t give away too much about Bruma’s mystery-filled storyline, so in short, you will lead a small group of nomadic people, struggling to survive in an unfertile land that is constantly covered in a thick supernatural fog (in Latin and many Romanic languages “Bruma”, hence the name). Your desperate search for food and shelter will have you face a group of strange beings in a fight to the death over the scarce resources.

First steps for the music
So what would be a fitting musical approach to such a premise? Knowing what the gameplay and especially the plot and the overall lore had in store for the player, I decided in the first place, that all instruments had to be natural, even if I should in some way alter them digitally afterwards.

As you may have guessed, the fog, the Bruma, is an essential part of the game, almost as if it was a character by itself. With that, the inspiration for my first musical ideas came up quickly, thanks to its haunting nature. I decided to gather dozens of glasses, cooking lids and bottles, and recorded a few hours of glass harping and bottle blowing. After throwing them all together and using a bit of reverb and delay, Bruma had come to life:

The rusticity of what I had already recorded made it clear, that it was the perfect opportunity to do something I had already planned to a few times, but had never really had the time for: building a new instrument. 🙂

The viojón
To make things short, the instrument, that had in some way to embody the player’s characters constant feelings of fear, anxiety, and forsakenness, became a mixture of a 12-string mandolin and a cajón. I call it, the viojón:


At this point, I’d like to thank the great luthier Wagner Brito from São Paulo, for carving the neck that was used for the viojón.

To be honest, since this was the first time I was creating an instrument, I wasn’t really sure if it would even make a decent sound when finished. But that was okay, I wasn’t looking for a replacement for my guitar, I was actually looking forward to something crude and different. In the end, the viojón was a positive surprise, because I really enjoyed the sound, and the fact that the large cajón body keeps the notes ringing inside for almost an eternity.

After recording a miriad of sounds with the viojón and playing around with them a lot on Cubase, these are a few examples of what came out:

The berimbow
To increase the palette of unusual timbres, I also added what I called the berimbow. It is simply the Brazilian instrument berimbau being played with a bow. Although this simply means playing a string with a bow, the wah-effect when the opening of the calabash is closed by your belly makes some interesting sounds. Here some examples (not processed):

The main theme
So, I had found a few textures that would represent different elements of Bruma, but what now? Where was the music? I knew that apart from my rustic sounds, I wanted to make use of medieval and orchestral instruments, but most definitely wouldn’t be looking into composing some epic run-of-the-mill fantasy soundtrack. The instrumentation had to be related, in our modern sense, to the historical setting in the game, but the compositions had to be about feelings, the usual fantasy/historic composition and orchestration tecniques kept aside.

With that in mind, I composed, what ultimately became the main theme of Bruma (this is NO final mix or master, only a mockup, best listened to on headphones):

Unfortunately, apart from the viojón chords, everything in this piece is played by virtual instruments. But should things work out and Critical Studio get back together to finish this project, we will do everything to have the soundtrack recorded live. 🙂


Concept art

That’s it, folks! I’ll be glad f you’d like to ask or comment anything! And to finish this post, here’s another track for Bruma. This one is a quick sequence of three important gameplay stages in the tactical phase; first, the heroes delving deeper into the fog, second, the moment they are seen by the enemy, and third, the enemy combat turn (this is also NO final mix or master, only a mockup, best listened to on headphones): 

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Coming back home…

After enjoying a fantastic, exhausting, surprising, wonderful, painful and yet all in all fulfilling time on a three year long emotional rollercoaster ride, I have returned home. Critical Studio has closed its doors, and I will be facing the challenge of surviving as a freelancer again.

But lo and behold! Not only do I already have two great assignments, but we Critical-people will do everything we can to bring the studio back and finish our latest project, which we are still very eager to launch. Know then, that my next blog entry will be especially about this game, and I have been allowed to disclose a lot of information about it. I hope you will become as anxious to see it being released as we are!

Until next time, take care!


Almost ready to go!

There is no creating games without working with tight deadlines. But every now and then you have to cope with some really REALLY devilishly tight deadlines. So what if you had to do everything from scratch to finish with a group of just 4 people and in no more than 48 hours? How would it be to produce all of the music and sound effects featured in such a project in the same time period? Former Critical Studio’s artist Erica Milhomem, programmer Caio Cesar Lima, game designer Mark Venturelli, and me banded together as Team Snail, and just recently found out.

Before knowing the theme of this year’s Indie Speed Run competition, only revealed to you the moment you activate your personal 48-hour countdown, we had already decided for ourselves, that our game would be both a shooter and a rhythmic game, besides featuring dinosaurs. Yes, that actually does make sense! We simply wanted to work on something we had never done before. (alright, we had a dino on Dungeonland, but just that!)

We hit the countdown button, and there it was… Theme: Cybernetic, Element: Vines. So a rhythmic shooter in a world of cybernetics, dinosaurs, and vines. Now that sounds like an indie game!

"It is the distant future: The yeat 2002."

“It is the distant future: The yeat 2002.”

Since we quickly ditched the idea of working with rhythm, it became much easier to think about the music and sfx. At first we had no idea about how the mood or setting would be, but I thought to myself, that having dinos meant that there had to be some kind of tribal drums. I started laying out a few African percussion loops to get things going and soon came up with an unexpected funky guitar riff. At that point it was already clear that the game would be sci-fi, so the music sounded totally out of place. But instead of trying to come up with a new approach, how about pulling things toward the music? The concept art was still in its beginning, since our artist had to leave earlier on the first day, so there was still time to think about its direction.

In the morning of the next day, I was sure that we could join sci-fi-ness and funky guitars by making the game feel like a cheesy 70’s space-adventure movie. This only crossed my mind after having the idea, that the enemies could play some big band brass falls in the tune of the music every time they were killed, sounding like the POW!s and SMACK!s in the classic Batman series.

From this moment on everything went really smoothly. I had to produce 2 songs, one for the menu and one as bgm, and 12 sounds, the most repetitive ones having 3-6 variations, making up a total of 38 sfx. I left the funky guitar song aside, and started working on a new one which would take up almost all of my time of the second day. Before having to spend too many hours on it, I took a drum and percussion sequence from an old song I never finished, and refurbished it so as to work in my new song. Hey, it’s only 48 hours! 🙂

The last few hours of that day were very productive, and I managed to produce most of the sounds, especially the most important and complicated ones like weapon shots, special  skills and pickups.

By the next day, everything was already coming to an end, and we had to race the clock in order to implement all art and audio, build the project and upload it to the website before 4 pm. Especially mixing was a problem, because our programmer had to create a little tool, so that I wouldn’t lose time going through code lines by myself. Until then I had some minutes to finish the few remaining sounds, and the funky song I started out with, which became the menu theme of the game.

In the end, we were doing the finishing touches literally 5 minutes before the countdown had reached 0, but apart from a few cool features, we thankfully managed to get everything into the game without breaking it. And thus, Dinomancer: Ghost in the Eggshell was born!

We’d love it, if you’d try it out sometime! Feel free to grab it at the following link:  http://www.escapistmagazine.com/content/indie-speed-run/?game=501

Until the next post, have a nice week!

Indie Speed Run 2013: 48h to create a game and its sound!

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Sounds and real-time mixing in Dungeonland

Strangers from distant lands,

welcome to this little corner of the internet about all things game audio! My name’s Raphael Müller, I’m a German-born composer and sound designer living and working in the crazy city of Rio de Janeiro. For the last three years I’ve been the all-around-sound guy for the local developers Critical Studio, and earlier this year we were happy to release the kraken on Steam when we published our ludicrous hack’n’slash/RTS-mashup called Dungeonland.

But this post isn’t supposed to be just an introduction, there are some goodies further down the page! 🙂

The video just below presents a bit of my sound design work on Dungeonland. By the way, a good portion of the insane monster screams you’ll hear were done by our multi-talented game designer, Marcos Venturelli.

Working on Dungeonland also demanded from me to delve into the game-specific topic of real-time mixing, and that was something that proved itself to be extremely difficult for me to achieve. Not only because I hadn’t worked with sound effects in a 3D ambient before, but because of the way the game itself is structured. When you play as one of the heroes, you experience the game as an isometric hack’n’slash-type. Since it is possible to play it in both singleplayer and local co-op mode, the camera may or may not center on your character and the audio had to take this into account. To make things much more challenging, Dungeonland also features the “DM-mode”, where you get to play as the evil overlord (kudos to Josh Tomar for brilliant voice acting) that tries to kill the heroes with traps and monsters set out all over his own deadly theme-park. As the DM, you see the events from a different perspective, since this mode works like a real-time strategy game. Ergo, a different camera position and therefore a new sonic center. The mix in itself is also different, since the sounds for the DM don’t have the same priorities as for the heroes.

But what about everday-Dungeonland events like a bomb expoding in your face, or a colossal yellow-purple worm rising from the ground and  trying to eat you alive? For those we had to create special sub mixes, that acted on top of the main mixes I mentioned before, adjusting the volumes for each sound effect category in real-time.

In the end, in some way, all of this had to come together in a blend of different but simultaneous gaming experiences. Well, it was basically a mixing-nightmare! But thankfully it was just a nightmare and we managed to shake it off and somehow get things to work.

Thank you for reading this first post, I hope you enjoyed it, and please feel free to ask anything related to the topic! Cheers!

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