It is standard practice in the game industry, as well as TV and film, to create and produce music scores electronically using Digital Audio Workstations (DAW). These electronic scores are often used as the finished master recordings for the games' soundtrack. But when the audio budget allows, the music score can be taken to a higher level by bringing in live musicians to record the material.
In this case, the electronic score is used as temp music for the game and can easily be changed to suit any changes that occur in game design. Once the game design is "locked," the recording sessions can begin.
The cost of live recording depends on the number of musicians needed and the size of the studio required to record them. If you are looking to hire an orchestra, it's highly recommended to book them through a musician's contractor who will handle all of the hiring details for the recording sessions.
The terms "sound design" and "sound effects" (SFX) are often used interchangeably. In most cases, the "sound designer" is the person who is responsible for multiple audio elements that provide the overall sound of the game. That definition aside, we can break down the various methods of creating or acquiring SFX.
"Custom SFX" are created specifically for one project and are usually created on a buyout basis. The cost is calculated by the number and complexity of SFX multiplied by an hourly rate that is appropriate for the project. Source material for custom SFX can include field recording, foley, electronic synthesis, or elements from SFX libraries that the sound designer has built up over time. These sources are then edited, processed, mixed, etc., to create original SFX that fit into the games' specific requirements. Atmosphere is always created using this approach.
"Stock SFX" can be purchased from Sound Effects Libraries and are usually in the form of multiple audio CDs or data files on DVDs. In order to streamline the production process, all SFX should be transferred to hard drive and some type of database needs to be created to search for sounds using keywords.
While these libraries advertise that they are "Royalty Free," you must read the fine print in the licensing agreement. There could be extra charges associated with releasing a widely distributed game. Just as production music is liable to pop up in other places, so will these SFX.
"Downloadable SFX" can be purchased online individually. This is great when other source material just isn't filling the need, only a few SFX are needed, or when time is of the essence. These SFX are usually royalty free, but again, read the fine print in the licensing agreement.
During the development process, it's common to have temp voiceovers recorded by the team as proof of concept. It's also tempting to leave those in because you have gotten used to them and the team members feel good about contributing to the game. But just like any other form of acting, voice acting requires talent and experience to do well.
Voice Talent. Professional voice actors may be members of a union. The two unions that serve voice actors are AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) and SAG (Screen Actors Guild). There are also talented actors who choose to work without the benefit of a union affiliation. There is a misperception that major market voice talent is automatically better than minor market talent. Both the union/non-union and major/minor market issues are moot points when the right actor is cast for the role.
Professional actors know how to make characters constant across a wide range of emotions, volume and intensity. This has an intangible effect on creating an immersive experience for the player. You want to hire someone who can take direction. This will save money in production costs.
Voice talent is usually hired through a talent agent who will supply the developer with auditions from various voice actors from which to choose. In a typical voiceover recording session, the actor is booked for a period of two to six hours and performs from one to 10 different characters. More information is available on the AFTRA and SAG web sites.
Recording Sessions. A commercial recording studio is the best environment to capture great voiceover performances. The talent, directors and engineer are all comfortable and confident that the sessions will proceed without problems or distractions. At the very minimum, a professional recording engineer and equipment is an absolute necessity.
A lot of money is spent on these sessions and you need to ensure that the results are going to be worth that investment. The biggest factors that affect voiceover recordings are room acoustics and quality of the recording chain (microphone, mic pre-amp, recording media and recording technique). No matter where you record, if the recording sessions are broken up over several separate sessions, be sure to use the exact same recording engineer, equipment, equipment settings and conditions in order to maintain consistency throughout the entire recording process.
Voiceover Editing. Voice recording usually takes place in a linear fashion. Once levels are set and the session gets rolling, the record button stays on. This eliminates distractions and makes it easier to capture great performances. But since games are non-linear, the best take of each line needs to be extracted from this source recording. Those individual files are then edited into their final state. A talented sound designer can make these files sound great using a minimum amount of professional equipment. But because there could be thousands of voice files, the process can be lengthy.
Localization. When a project is released worldwide, there will be multiple language versions of the game. Localization is a highly specialized field because of the creative, interpretive and linguistic processes involved. The voices need to reflect not only the language spoken, but also the culture from which it is derived.
There are very few companies who specialize in localization and the full scope of this subject is best left for another article. But the resulting voice files from localization will still need to be edited and processed exactly the same way as the "native" version. The same voiceover editing methods and rates would apply to these files.