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June 23, 2021
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Shaking Oil and Opening and Closing a CD Case: Audio Experiments

by Doug Day on 06/29/15 01:49:00 pm

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.


Hi all. A while back, I quit my job to go indie. I was in the games industry years ago but it didn't really go that well (lots of stress and too many hours) but I've never lost my love of games and game development. As it's been a while, my intention is to create something small (and hopefully fun!) and try not to be too ambitious or get too distracted. I want to go through the process again of making a game and getting it out there for people to see - a learning experience that will hopefully help me improve for future, more ambitious, games.

Going indie was a tough decision and forces you to take on many different roles, some of which can be completely out of your comfort zone. However, it's the variety of these different roles that can also be the most inspiring, enjoyable and motivational - and some days you can find yourself doing quite strange things - Saturday was one of those days :)

At this time, I am still the sole person in my company so I am involved in all aspects from company admin to design and programming (I am a game programmer by trade.) I use contractors for the audio and visual design but I like to get involved in those stages as it's the design and collaboration that I enjoy the most. Incidentally, if you're interested in going indie yourself, one of the hardest things I find at the moment is the lack of day-to-day interaction and collaboration as I mostly work from home by myself. Having used to work in a open office, I miss being able to turn around to the team and chat, ask questions and collaborate (or even just have a laugh!)

This blog is about our experiments to try and create some sound effects (cheaply) - it is important to me that the effects fit in the world with the visuals - everything needs to gel together - everything needs to feel like it really belongs in the game world. The blog below was originally published on Tumblr.

Shaking Oil and Opening and Closing a CD Case: Audio Experiments

One of the things I love about game development is that you can’t beat the variety, especially when you are lucky enough to be involved in all stages of development, from legal to programming and design.
Dog Day Games’ first title will be a simple puzzle game for iOS inspired by an Amiga classic called Atomino (fan video on YouTube at The player’s objective is to make molecules by placing a variety of different atoms together on a game board of varying shapes. The larger the molecule, the higher the score but the higher the risk of running out of space on the game board.

At the weekend, we had our first audio design session. We’re still in very early concept stage at the moment so we’re experimenting with a variety of audio and visual themes. In this session, we decided to experiment with a liquid theme combined some classic arcade elements (the sorts of sounds that wouldn’t be out of place in an arcade). The intention of having a common theme for the audio and visual design is so that everything in the game feels like it belongs together - hopefully making the game feel more cohesive and aesthetically pleasing to the player.

Stew, my audio contractor, has an impressive sound studio with an incredible amount of buttons, sliders, computer screens and speakers. But how do we create bespoke audio effects just for this game? We didn’t want to use stock audio libraries so we started playing around with recording sounds ourselves. Here’s how we created a few of the effects.

One of the first things we wanted was a sound for selecting something, in our case, an atom. A neutral sound purely for feedback to acknowledge to the player that an atom has been picked up using the touch screen. We soon ended up opening and closing a CD case - holding it really close to the microphone as we did so. Repeating lots of times we were able to get exactly the one we wanted. Using audio software Digital Performer running on a Mac we were able to trim the recording to the right length and apply volume curves to fade the beginning and end to soften the sound.

It’s possible in our game for the player to drop the atom outside of the game board. This isn’t a valid move so in this case, the effect is letting the player know that something wasn’t right. Dropping the atom is almost the reverse of picking it up so we wanted the sounds to have some common ground. Reversing the audio recording actually produced quite a nice effect but it didn’t quite have that feel of reporting an error. For those familiar with the TV game show Family Fortunes and the famous X, you’ll know what we we aiming for with our error sound. This is where having a musician comes in handy as Stew was able to create the required note on the keyboard along with using software filters to merge with the reversed CD case!

The next effect was a little harder. We wanted to have a sound for successfully placing an atom on the game board. Going back to our original theme (liquid elements combined with arcade sounds) we wanted this one to have a liquid element but nothing too strong - placing an atom on the game board is effectively making progress towards making a full liquid molecule. When the player manages to create a full molecule, the sound should express a liquid success! Placing an atom on the board is more like liquidy progress - happy but not yet a celebration :)

For the underlying liquid feel, we tried varying amounts of water in an empty can but it was too tinny. So we tried a half-full bottle of water - better and less tinny but the sound still felt too watery. I wanted the molecule to feel like a thicker liquid - something with a bit more weight to it. And there comes in the half-full bottle of vegetable oil! By shaking and moving the bottle around we were able to get exactly the sound we had envisaged.

Stew came up with some happy musical notes to play over the recorded sounds - when you place an atom you get a nice, happy, positive musical flair - but the equivalent for when the molecule is complete, is a much larger expression of achievement and celebration - acknowledgement to the player that they have achieved something.

Thanks for reading! And thank you to Stew Sibley ( for his hard work so far on Dog Day Games first title (yet to be named).

You can follow Dog Day Games Ltd. at:


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