My previous efforts in making audio assets for a game were pretty successful and I was fairly content with the quality of audio I was able to produce. However, I noticed that I had taken a few short cuts and otherwise didn't put the maximum effort into some of the assets in terms of my processing and recording. I think of a lot of it came down to the fact that I left a lot of things to the last minute when it came to recording, and wasn't really too concerned with doing anything to out of the box (as most of the sounds were fairly easy to reproduce).
I've now taken on the responsibility of producing some professional quality audio for a friend of mine's upcoming mobile game. This game puts you in control of a bee, roaming various areas in search of resources for your hive in the form of pollen and other collectables. There's a sort of sweet and innocent feeling around the game, which encourages the player to take their time and enjoy buzzing around and collecting pollen. Even with the added challenge of having to complete some tasks to a timer, playing this games till feels relaxing and therapeutic. This is of course something that needs to be portrayed in the music, but I want to also make sure this feeling is communicated equally in the sound effects. Getting the implementation right also means I would need to stay in regular communication with the developer about how Unreal Engine (which this game is being built in) works.
Using My Musical Background
I am fairly experienced in writing music for my own work and for others, often having to fit a specific aesthetic. So I feel as though I should use this to my advantage when it comes to some of the other sounds in the game like the UI sounds or the game play interactive sound. One way I could integrate a musical element into the collection sounds is by making the sounds tonal in some way and making them fit with the key and timbre of the music being played in the background. For example; I could write some very ambient and almost "wandering" guitar to be played in the background, while the collection sounds would play more precise notes that will easily fit because of how non-specific the background music is. This would give the user the feeling of satisfaction as they almost write their own music as they play the game. Doing this would require a change in brief and some further discussions with the developer around whether or not we could achieve the tonal changes for collection in the game engine or if I would need to create dozens of different notes to randomise the order of.
I've spoken recently to the developer about this idea and he's one board with it; he was also able to make some suggestions as to which way we should approach this.
The idea that we settled one was that each group of plant (e.i. Herbs, Flowers, etc.) plays a different kind of instrument when you pick it up, and randomly selects what note within 3 octaves of a particular key it's going to produce. There were two ways we could implement this into the game engine. One is by having one sound file that plays a note at a randomly chosen pitch each time a flower is collected, however this poses a couple of issues; One note stretched out over different pitches can sound jarring and unnatural, for the engine to select a specific note we would need to set parameters in the pitch control precisely tuned within a key, and all of the processes that go into making this happen could be labour intensive for the engine. So with that idea gone, the other solution is to record each note within the desired key, within a 3 octave range, for each instrument needed. This sounds rather labour intensive of my end but I imagine it will be a lot simpler than I think once I have written the background composition, because once I have that written I can work out the scale for the key I have written in and then record one track of each note played with enough distance in between so that I can cut them all into separate tracks. The other issue we thought about was file sizes, but we then discovered that 1 minute of a 44.1, 16bit WAV file is about 10MB, and seeing as quality isn't a huge issue because it's a mobile game, I can keep these individual files under a few seconds and have no real problem with files being too big. So the plan is; record 2 decent sized loops of ambient guitar (acoustic or clean electric) with no chord changes and then decide on what scale I can record notes in for different instruments.
Other than this, my other thoughts are based mostly around what kind of theme I'm going to go for with the UI sounds; are they going to be similar to the rest of the sounds in the game? Are they going to reflect the environment around them? Are they going to be basic or are they going to be tonal and complex?
The UI sounds should also be satisfying and appropriately fit the aesthetic of the rest of the sound. To me, this should also incorporate a smooth, tonal element to fit the rest of the soundtrack and in-game sounds, maybe something like a piano or synth patch based around sine waves. This would be kind of difficult to achieve with only menu sounds, as they are usually non-invasive, easy to understand and uncomplicated sound, but the UI sounds in this game filter into the hive construction menus as well, so they can be part of the actually game play.
The list above contains all the sounds you would hear in the HUB/Hive world (shown in the screenshots above), and as you can see, only 2 or 3 of them are actually menu options. It's very likely that I could make these assets basic a-tonal menu sounds that are still pleasing but do not fit the key of the background music, mostly because it would be difficult to portray things like "Error Message" sound as a sort of negative sound and still have it within the key of the rest (e.g. an Error Message would be a typically negative response sounds so it would need to be in a minor key, while the background music will most likely be major).
To portray particular sounds in this list, like "Picking up Pollen" or "Picking up Larvae", I think it would be best to include some kind of playful squelchy sound alongside a tonal response, or in place of a tonal response. For example, I am imagining a sound similar to the "Grubs" in Half-Life 2: Episode 2 for the "Picking up Larvae" sounds;
(At about 9:20 you can hear the sounds the grubs make when you squish them)
((Please ignore the annoying play through dialogue))
Sounds like "Picking up Honey" would follow a similar vein in terms of the kind of textural sound I am thinking of. Essentially, most of the sounds within the HUB/Hive level should be based around what the player is experiencing (e.i. actual buzzing sounds for bees, squelching sounds for textural elements), but I have to make a decision on whether or not they will also contain a tonal element. I think it would suit the aesthetic of the soundscape to include some kind of basic tonal element in these sounds, but I may exclude it from anything that could be considered an indifferent action. A majority of UI or interactive menu sounds should reflect what the user should be feeling about their action; was it a positive or negative action? Which is best portrayed with a tonal element (either a minor or major/ascending or descending note), so this list should be broken down into which sounds should be textural and which should be positive/negative.
My Next Steps
In order to build an aesthetic around the sounds in this game, I think I would be best to start working on the foundations, and to me that would be the level music. The level music is the most important music in the game as it is interacted with by the player, and so it should dictate the over all feeling of the other sounds. If I write the loops for both levels first, I can then move on to making the HUB/Hive music, at which point I will have two foundations to start building interactive/UI sounds off of.
Step 1. Write music loops for levels
Step 2. Write music loops for HUB/Hive
Step 3. Decide which pollen sources should play which instruments
Step 3.1 Record 3 octaves worth of notes within the key of the level music
Step 4. Create HUB/Hive sounds
Step 4.1 Create textual sounds for Hive interactions
Step 4.2 Create tonal sounds for interactions that have positive/negative reaction
I will follow this up with blogs about my process/planning for audio in the Level and HUB/Hive.