Audio and Effects FAQ

Sound effects engineers decide what that Super Zazzobot Blaster Rifle sounds like and know exactly what the winds on Titan sound like. In this section you'll find the answers to the most common questions we are asked about the role of the effects engineer, as well as a list of suggested reading materials.

How do I become a sound effect engineer?

Like all the jobs in the video games industry you must have a true passion for playing video games. You'll also need a really creative mind to think up the magnificent sound effects that the games will need. It'll also help if you know your tools inside out - try and get a setup you are happy with and master it. Don't bother trying to be a jack of all trades and get every piece of software there is on the market, you'll just end up with a small amount of knowledge in each bit of software which is no good.

Send examples of your work to websites and magazines to gain yourself recognition, then send your work to publishers and developers around the world. If you really want to impress people then be proactive and go along to as many Expos, Conferences and shows as possible where the industry will be.

An excellent way of getting yourself noticed, and improving your skills in a productive environment is to work on real projects. If you know someone who needs some sound effects for a presentation, or maybe for a home video then help them out and spend some time making sound effects for them. This process will teach you how to work with other people as a team, very important in the games industry and when it's complete you'll have some work for your portfolio. Someone might notice your hard work and see how flexible you really are and that you work well in a team.

How do I go about creating my sound effects?

Sound effects can be created in a number of different ways. You can either use a sample from a sample CD and alter it in some way, you can record the sound you need with a microphone or lastly, create the sound from scratch on a synthesizer. It all depends on what the sound is and how you want it to sound.

If you are looking for a realistic sound, maybe a car engine, then go and find a car that you can take a recording from. Once you have the sound on disk you'll probably need to clean it up and make any necessary effects that it needs. From one recording of a car engine running you can produce the whole rev range by just altering the pitch for example, possibly much quicker that recording a car at all the different engine speeds. And if you keep increasing the pitch you'll find that it sounds like a Formula One car at max revs! With a bit of creative thinking you'll be able to make any sound you'll want.

Sample CDs can be great, a massive collection of sounds virtually ready to be used. It would be un-professional if all your sound effects came straight off a sample CD and into your project, use the samples to create the actual sound you are looking for. Mix samples together, add effects to the samples, whatever you need to make it sound right.

If you want a sound that doesn't really exist in our real world, then a synthesizer is a great help allowing you to create virtually any sound you could possibly imagine. Ideal for fantasy or science-fiction games.

What equipment and software do I need?

The most important bit of kit to begin with is your PC or Mac. Both are equally good and have all the accessories and software available to them to do the job right, so take your pick.

Your computer system should ideally have:

  • A high-end, prefessional sound card (SoundBlaster, Yamaha, Korg, Digidesign, etc)
  • A high-end PC (2 Ghz+)
  • Fast and large hard drive (200 GB, 7200 rpm or faster)
  • CD-R writer
  • High-quality 5.1 speakers
  • High-speed DSL/Cable connection
  • Synthesizer (and the requisite software)
  • Sampler
  • High quality microphone(s)
  • DAT recorder and/or minidisc

Now that you've kitted yourself out with all the essential hardware, you'll need some software to run on that computer. The most important piece of software you'll need is the audio editor. The audio editor will allow you to manipulate, record and mix sounds amongst other things. On the PC, two popular titles are Sonic Foundry's Sound Forge and Steinberg's Wavelab, while a cheaper option is Syntrillium's Cool Edit. For Macs, try Digital Performer or Peak.

You might find sequencing software useful so you can put all your sound effects to a piece of animation or video for instance. Cubase is a popular choice, available for both PC and Mac; so too is Logic Audio.

What will I get paid?

Even though you want to do this for the love of sound and games, it's still nice to know how much you will be rewarded. Talented and experienced sound engineers are usually very well looked after, with salaries over $100K. But if you're just starting out, expect to earn something much lower, such as $40K. Looking ahead, with the increasing demand for DVD, the need for more higher quality sound effects will increase along with the fees.

Where and how should I advertise my services?

You can advertise your services many different ways, so try them all!

As mentioned before, go to all the video game expos, conferences and shows. Meet the people in the industry, tell them that you exist and that you have something to offer.

Create a CD to demonstrate all your best work, and make sure it is your best work. It's better to put only a few of your best sample mixes than everything you've ever done. You'll bore the person listening if you include every single sound effect you've ever made; just let them listen to the best of you. Send this CD to all the companies you can think of.

Create your own Web site to promote yourself, and offer samples of your best work for download. Contact a programmer or artist, and offer to trade skills -- add your sound to their demo reels in exchange for their help.

Advertise your services on the Internet. There are many music and sound resources and communities on the 'net which you can advertise yourself.

Where can I download music software?

Not only can you find free software, but there will be all the links to everything mentioned on this page and more.

Software:

Hardware:


David Perry's Game Industry Map Game Design Book