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