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I'm not a sound designer, but I need sounds in my indie game.
by Jesse Attard on 07/16/13 12:39:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


This post originally appeared at

This is part 1 in a series of articles describing how I approached each aspect of creating Immortal Empire as an independent developer. You can read the whole backstory here.

When it came down to adding sound effects to the game, I started down what seemed like the most logical path for someone who is not a sound designer.

"I have the power of the internet. Everything is on the internet! I'll just snoop around and download royalty-free sounds," I thought. Sure enough after hours of searching, I found very few useful sounds even in paid catalogs.  The style and timbre of the sounds were inconsistent, sometimes too long, sometimes too short, sometimes just not the right type of effect at all, and it took forever to sort through miscellaneous bits of audio.

So what now? The internet has failed me. Well, I did what I must. Time to try making the sounds myself! I borrowed a Zoom H4N hand recorder from a friend, and was introduced to the fascinating world of foley art. Put simply, it is recording yourself banging stuff around until it sounds like you want.

It sounds (hoho - pun) like it would be more work, but for me, this was actually much easier and a lot more fun. I was astonished at how simple objects just lying around my house could be used to create the sound of equipping weapons, or throwing a dagger. Recording the audio myself, I had full control over everything. I could do as many takes as I wanted, get the right tone, length, volume, and keep the audio style consistent.  It actually worked out really well.

Of course, I filmed some of my adventures.

If you watched that video, I know what you're thinking. "You use Cool Edit Pro from the year 2000?" Why yes, yes I do.  If you didn't watch it, to summarize the video, here's a few things I found very useful when recording my own audio.

  1. Keep trying stuff.  Sometimes what you pick up at first might not work. But, you'd be surprised how easy it is to just grab 20 objects, try them all, and find a great, useful sound you weren't even expecting. I picked up a stainless steel pot for armor sounds, but found it could very easily make sword sounds as well.
  2. Do lots of takes. Hit the objects differently. Holding longer, scraping sideways, hitting harder, rattling it a bit, things like that. I did about 15-20 takes per type of sound. It's simple to just listen to them and pick the ones that turned out best.
  3. Combine sounds. The bow equip sound is me dropping a wooden dowel, while plucking an elastic band, and ending with a thump from a wooden block. Blending sounds together, including directly overlapping them, is a great way to get a different overall sound. I can't tell you how often I blended in the sound of me punching a phone book into other sounds to give them more "oomph"

A note on the audio for spells. Some of the more physical-based spells were recorded using the above process, but the more magical ones often required tones I wasn't able to produce with household objects. In these cases, I called upon a gigantic library of samples I have been collecting over the last 20 years for the purposes of writing MODs (and their various successors). That includes a mixture of ripped stuff, some downloaded samples, and sounds I recorded from various synths I've been fortunate enough to use over the years (A Roland Juno-2, Yamaha PSR-300, PSR-730, and CS6X)

I mention in the video that I didn't create all the sounds myself, and that's true! So I want to give credit where it's due. My friend George Spanos is a professional sound designer and author at He's who I borrowed the hand recorder from (I have since bought my own) and he also contributed a lot of fantastic audio for the project, in particular for a bunch of the monsters.  So while this article is about doing things on your own, which is often necessary for an indie, it is of course incredibly helpful to have a few friends that can assist you with your project. Thanks George!

Hope you enjoyed the article! Myself and any readers I'm sure would love to hear your experiences with sound design, so go ahead an comment below!

To try out Immortal Empire, visit the website, or play on Kongregate.

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Jacob Van Rooyen
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Neat article Jesse. Nice to see that you've gone indie, I think you'll do well!

Matthew Burns
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Nice article. In my first game, I made a lot of the sounds myself. It was a great experience. However, on the game I am currently developing, I am using more professional resources (software, people). I hope it will give it a more polished look.

Michael Santora
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That's a really good approach if you find that the lower-cost online audio libraries don't quite do what you need. The team I'm working with did both. We're working on a mobile title and my working assumption as the producer was "the majority of the world plays mobile games with the sound off". So we did a 'best pass' estimate from a local audio house and with a sub-$100 budget, got all the sounds in our game, and we're quite happy with them.

Later on, we decided that when our artist was playing his ukelele to relax one afternoon, that music HAD to go into the game. So we took over an empty room, and used an iPhone to record him playing a little song.

Audio is important, but there are so few 'experts' in audio that it can be daunting to dive in and make it all happen.

Tom Todia
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Great article, thanks for sharing your insights. As to Michael's point "Audio is important", I could not agree more. As far as there being so few "experts" around, I would have to differ. There are so many up and coming audio designers that can raise the quality of your production for such a small amount of money its unbelievable. Anyone can feel free to contact me directly if your looking for a young audio developer who is really good and easy to work with. I will gladly hook you up with whatever you need in terms of Sound Effects, Music, Audio scripting, etc.

Greg Smith
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Synths and found objects. Well, my secret's out. Now I'm out of a job. :D

Jonathan Daley
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I'm currently developing a mobile game for iOS, and am also creating my own sounds. I've used a mix of the loops and synths in Apple's GarageBand, and then edited the audio in Adobe's Audition CC. I honestly had not thought of turning to foley as an additional source of sound effects. Thank you for the post!

Jason Lee
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I've had similar hit-and-miss experiences in finding sounds from the internet. Good article and thanks for shedding light on such an understated piece of game development.

Kevin Fishburne
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Good article. I feel you as I went through virtually the same experience these last few months. I used a $100 M-Audio Producer USB microphone to record the first batches of effects for my game. For environmental effects I build a mic platform with a bath towel covering it at a 45 degree angle to prevent rain from dripping on the mic. For other effects I was either banging things in my basement or building layers of ground from leaves, pine straw, rocks and sand for footsteps. Here are the results (all public domain) if anyone wants to listen to or use them: