Case Study - Bees in Games

Updated: Jul 30, 2019


 

I'm about to start work on the sound and music for a my friend's Untitled Bee Game, and while I already have a few good ideas and scratch recordings for the music, some of the character movement sound is something I'm struggling with. I know it has to sound like a bee, pretty obvious, but it has to be something you can listen to while you play the entire game without becoming annoyed by it. By looking at some other examples of how sound designers have approached the sound of Bees in video games, I should be able to form an approach of my own that appropriately conveys the purpose and feeling the user should have for the Bee they're playing as. I may as well also look at the way the Bees in these games are shown to interact with their environment and how this is reflected in the sound design as they might reflect an appropriate vision for the sound design within the environment in UBG.


 

Bee Simulator

The most obvious choice to begin with here is the new game Bee Simulator, which aims to educate people on the importance of bees and highlight the catastrophic nature of the impending destruction of their species and place in the ecosystem. During a few talks with the developer of Untitled Bee Game, Travis Zschech, he mentioned that his original idea for the game is almost entirely reflected in this new release and while he did express his content in not following this idea and becoming a potentially undermined clone of this new release, I think it's an obvious first choice for examination.

The first thing I notice about this game is the absolute subtly of the sound for the bee. Rather than it sounding like a regular bee, I suppose the perspective drastically changes the way we hear the sound, as the buzzing we usually hear is their wings, for lack of a better term, flapping, more rapidly. Because we're so close to the bee in this game we start to perceive the sound of their wings from their world perspective, which is more of a flutter almost like a cicada. If you turn the volume up quite a bit however, you can still hear the faint buzz that we're used to. In regards to the way the sound behaves, it seems as though the fluttering is on some kind of loop, but doesn't really sound repetitive. This could be because they're using maybe smaller loops of the fluttering sound and then having it randomize during gameplay, and is something I am now considering as a technique I might use. The buzz itself isn't necessarily quiet because it's been taken down in level, but mostly because the "hum" and low end of the buzz is more prominent than the higher content that makes up a majority of the intelligible part of the sound. This is more than likely because the fluttering sound is taking authority over the buzz, and so the mid to high end content is more important. I like the way this game approaches the buzzing sound, and the fluttering approach might be something I can work with to achieve the sound I'm after. In terms of the environment, a lot of the sound comes from the bee, the music, and the collection sounds.


My approach to the collection sounds has been to have a guitar note played every time you pick up pollen, and this guitar note plays in the same key as the background music. One particular issue we have come across is that it doesn't really register to the user as a collection sound, while it does sound nice in amongst the music. Turn down the music, and it becomes too apparent and doesn't gel with the music anymore, but with the music at an appropriate volume it all just blends together. It's important that the sounds accurately reflect their purpose, that is, to tell the player they've picked something up, rather than focusing entirely on their musical value. If I was to use a similar collection sound to this game at the beginning of the guitar notes, we might be able to keep everything the right level, but still highlight the collection sounds for the purpose they serve.


 

Super Mario Galaxy - Honeyhive Galaxy


(From 3:22 and throughout)


Nintendo are undeniably brilliant at making the sound in their games excite and satisfy the user, making their fun and bubbling soundscapes come to life. They're also fantastic at using nostalgic elements successfully in their games, taking sounds from their past games and recreating them for their newer titles. In Super Mario Galaxy, the sound Mario makes when he jumps and hovers in his bee suit is something I've definitely heard before, and I wonder if that's why it seems to work so well. I jumped onto the fan made Sound Effects Wiki to see if I could find a list of the sounds used in Super Mario Galaxy and where they came from; sure enough the sound is taken from a library made by Sound Ideas' Warner Bros. Sound Effects Library, and was used in one of my favourite games, Spyro on PS1.

In this clip (at about 5:10) you can hear the sound used at varying pitches for Sparks when he collects gems and other items around you.


It doesn't necessarily reflect accurately the sound of a bee, but the satisfying part about it is more than likely due to the fact we've heard it before, but I can't deny that it does fit perfectly into the world presented. Maybe the strategy here is to not get caught up in trying to emulate the sound of a real bee, and instead utilise something that fits the world and again, it all comes back to perspective. If we look at Super Mario Galaxy's list of sound effects, and also listen to the entire soundscape of the game, we can see pretty clearly that they were trying to adhere to a more cartoon inspired, playful atmosphere, as there are a load of sounds used from the same Warner Bros. library. You can also kind of hear this sound changing timbre slightly depending on whether or not the player is making Mario fly upwards or letting him float down, which is a good way of making the sound dynamic while also reflecting user input.


They've also made their own contribution to this sound by adding a bubbly sound over the top that kind of relates to the fun and cute aspect of the world around. There's tones of other colourful and vibrant sounds going on in this clip that each have their own place, but successfully fill up the soundscape of the level without becoming over whelming. There's something to be said for making sure each sounds fits into it's own place and compliments one another.


If I could take anything from analysing at the bee sound used in Super Mario Galaxy, it's that I should take the sound I'm trying to create too seriously. If I can achieve a sound by creating a patch on a synthesizer then that's great, as long as it sounds good and fits the aesthetic. Also the way it's only been used to represent


 

I could look at a number of video games that use this kind of sound and analyse them like I have Bee Simulator and Super Mario Galaxy, but I think these two offer two distinct and almost opposite approaches to the kind of sound I'm looking for. The both work well for the kind of world they're a part of, and both for different reasons. The sound used for the bee in Bee Simulator is subtle and pleasant, accurately representing the perspective sound of the bee and remaining subtle enough to not be annoying to the player. Super Mario Galaxy is an exaggerated depiction of a bee which fits perfectly into the vibrant and colourful environment around it, and because it's not constant it also isn't over barring and annoying. Similar considerations should be made with the sound I'm going to create in order to avoid creating an annoying buzzing sound that pulls the player out of the pleasant landscape of UBG. I think creating a soft and subtle sound is something I'll attempt, but I don't think the perspective of Bee Simulator works in my situation, so a more colourful approach to the sound design, like that in Super Mario Galaxy could work for me. This biggest thing I need to consider is the dynamic nature of the sound; it needs to have some tie to a particular mechanic in the game that's going to have it change volume, pitch or timbre enough to not be annoying.

 

Super Mario Galaxy Sound List:

https://soundeffects.fandom.com/wiki/Super_Mario_Galaxy

Super Mario Galaxy Bee Sound Source:

https://soundeffects.fandom.com/wiki/Sound_Ideas,_CARTOON,_BEE_-_BEE_BUZZING_AROUND,_FLY,_INSECT

Spyro Sound List Including Bee Sound from Mario Galaxy:

https://soundeffects.fandom.com/wiki/Spyro_2:_Ripto%27s_Rage!