Writing sounds for a game can basically be split into 2 tasks – game sounds (such as foot steps, gun shots, someone talking, a gas pipe hissing as you walk by) and music (such as a back ground song for the level, or a little jingle for when you pick up a token that gives you an extra life).
What you need
Don’t have any musical theory background? You need Fruity Loops. Don’t have any electronic music creation knowledge? You need Fruity Loops. Don’t use a PC? well you’re on your own – maybe get Logic or Reason. Fruity Loops is a great little tool for creating simple loops and jingles. It’s not necessarily great for creating a big pop song or Dr Dre’s creamy beats but it will give you the basic knowledge you need to create a catchy jingle.
Unless you are familiar with some other kind of sequencing software (and there are plenty), start with Fruity Loops. It’s intuitive, simple and perfect for making your first electronic sounds and it only costs about $100.
Sound effects you can generally get off the net for free. People compile massive sound packs full of all kinds of sounds. freesound.org and soundcloud.com have some decent stuff that I’ve used before, but to be honest, if I was making a game I’d try to record the sounds myself if I could (obviously something like a gun shot is going to be a little harder). Recording your own means you’ll need a microphone and a media to store the sound on. I’d be comfortable using a Zoom H2, but if you want to go a bit more high tech, maybe a condenser microphone and an MBox2 and use Pro Tools. If you have a massive budget and want to go the whole way check out this – ask for Felix. ProTools and a condenser mic is probably going to give you the cleanest sounds and would be good for something like foot steps and other ‘soft/quiet’ sounds, gun shots would require a dynamic microphone and a Zoom would be good for recording in a ‘hard’ location (eg. For recording a stadium crowd roar – it’s going to be hard to setup a computer, sound card and microphone while you’re in the mosh pit – but it would be interesting giving it a go!)
Fruity Loops. Where to start…. Fruity Loops is basically a sequencer – it puts sounds into a sequence. It’s best to start by trying to create a simple rock beat. For this you really only need 3 tracks – a bass drum, a snare drum and a high hat. I wont try to hard to explain how to do this in words, its best just to fiddle. There are plenty of online tutorials.
When you press play in Fruity Loops it is basically a loop that has 16 ‘check boxes’ as the cursor moves through each one it plays the track’s sample if the check box is checked. If the tempo is set to 100 beats per minute (bpm) then this loop will go for (4/100)*60 seconds. But you don’t need to know much about that, just know that the song will go faster with a higher bpm. Once you have a decent pattern, clone it and alter it slightly (eg. Add a little bass). Then use the Pattern editor to sequence each pattern. Basically you are creating small loops then placing them next to each other. A quick tip – do everything in 4’s. Put 4 loops in a row, then put 4 different patterns in a row, then go back to 4 of the original pattern.
Writing a simple song with Fruity Loops is easy, but writing a good song takes patience and vision. “But I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”
Once the song is written you can do one of 2 things – export it to WAV/MP3 or export it to MIDI. Both have their ups and downs. A WAV/MP3 file is a large static file that you can play with almost any music player ever. But once you’ve created it you can’t change anything about it. If you want to use a different kick drum, you have to go into your fruity loops project and change the sample then export it again. A Wav/mp3 is also fairly expensive to decode in terms of CPU cycles – which is important in gaming. A MIDI file is tiny (its like the text file of music) and can also be played by just about any operating system, HOWEVER, it is up to the program that consumes the midi file which samples to use – this means that you’re song may sound COMPLETELY different on different computers – still recognisable – but still very different. But to play a midi file is very very cheap in terms of CPU cycles.
Personally I’d go for a WAV/MP3 and keep the song short. MIDI is good for somethings, but you really want to have total control of the sound of your game, even if it means the user needs a bit more grunt in their CPU and hard drive space – both are fairly cheap these days. That said, if you can write a catchy jingle using the most basic samples, MIDI will make you’re game smaller and smoother.
Background songs for games are best kept very simple. Some guidelines I would stick by are
Vocals distract users from the game. Front men and lead singers are always the centre of attention of any band for a reason – humans are attracted to vocals. In a game you want the background music to fill a small gap, create a bit of a mood, guide the tempo of the level – but not attract the user’s full attention. They do this in movies all the time, you know when the police officer is slowly climbing the stairs there’s a slow paced timpani building up the tension, then a built up snare roll that crescendo’s when the killer jumps out and stabs someone. Nobody notices the music, but everyone feels the tension and shock.
Less is more, short is long
If you can keep the jingle short and catchy and loopable you’ve got a winner. Think about Super Mario Bros. The song only goes for about 20 seconds max, then it loops. If it were a song on an album you’d throw it out after listening to the same thing repeat for 15 mins, but in a game it’s timeless!