Sound Effects for Indie Games: Interview with Sound Designer Alberto Sueri
“It takes a bit of time to get your foot in the door of the industry, but there are so many opportunities within the indie game sound effects world…For the last three or four years, it’s been a full-time job for me”. – Alberto Sueri
The world of indie video games is a vibrant and growing industry. Many freelance sound engineers have found active, exciting careers designing sound effects for indie games.
The indie game industry is more booming now than it has ever been, with the need for sound designers at an all-time high. To learn more about working in that world, we talked with Alberto Sueri, a sound designer for various indie game titles such as Ra Ra Boom, Steamcore and Legends of Venari.
Alberto told us about his transition into game sound design, his workflow and the importance of working in context when sound designing for indie games and collaborating with others in the indie video game industry.
Check out his sound design reel below, then dive in to learn more about the process of designing sound effects for indie games.
Indie Game Sound Design – Getting Started
Like many people in the audio industry, I started working in sound for fixed media and music for films. Then, I started collaborating with indie game developers, which allowed me to explore a wider range of music genres and creative sound designs.
I like to play around with sounds and create sci-fi effects. When I started working on games I soon understood that the video game industry is open for more experimental work. That’s what attracted me and finally led me to transition into sound design for video games.
It takes a bit of time to get your foot in the industry, but I think there are more opportunities within the indie game sound effects world. Once you start collaborating on different projects and get your name out as a video game sound designer, you start getting more consistent work. For the last three or four years, it’s been a full-time job for me.
I have worked on around 10 indie games, and I have three or four more in the making. Some of these are expansions of previously released games, so It’s been really good!
Designing Sound Effects For Creative Game Projects
In terms of creative freedom, I like the work I did for Ra Ra Boom. The game is not out yet but premiered at the Game Developers Conference and other media. It’s a mix of anime and multiplayer beat ’em-up games. Very dynamic, vibrant and colourful, where all the game audio design needed to be relatively short.
There are so many effects happening at once that you can’t have big, powerful, long, and reverberant sounds. That’s why the sound effects needed to be spread out across the frequency spectrum. It was important they didn’t clash with each other.
I also worked recently on a game called FIFA AI League. It’s a mobile game app in partnership with the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, with minion-like avatars playing football. For this game, I had the creative freedom to come up with the sound of the character’s special abilities. I didn’t need to stick to realism since it wasn’t a classic FIFA game. It’s something very different from what you would expect.
I used Weaponiser to design the kicks and the football sounds. I borrowed a ball that happened to be in my garden. I recorded it for two days, added the sounds into Weaponiser so I could get lots of variations. I added a sub layer to beef up the kick sounds, some impacts, and exported those, It worked great for this project
Steamcore is a sci-fi game where players start with the same weapon, but as they progress, their weapon gets punchier and heavier. The game’s audio design is very sci-fi, something that doesn’t exist in the real world.
It was very interesting to design the sound of this weapon since we had to split it into 10 different layers to sound more powerful every time the player progresses. I enjoyed that.
I’m currently working on Legends of Venari. It’s a game with a lot of creatures which makes it very challenging. I’m creating sounds for 60 or 70 creatures and they all need to have an idle sound, attack and damage sounds… and It’s not always easy to be organic with the way these creatures sound.
Also, they are not big, scary creatures which I think makes it harder to design their sounds. We are talking about smaller creatures that need to be very polished. The producers of the game are really interested in the cleanliness and the brightness of the sounds. I would say that the game sound design needs to be very dry, not reverberant and very hyper-realistic.
Game Audio Case Study: Ra Ra Boom
My approach to Ra Ra Boom’s sound design was a hybrid between classic anime sound effects and modern game sound effects. One of the references that I got from the producers for a specific effect was the iconic Dragon Ball Kamehameha sound effect.
I had never done something in that specific style which was really exciting. I wanted to make something that sounded fresh and not outdated.
The game needed to sound punchy, but not overwhelming. In the space of five seconds you would have 200 sounds playing at the same time. Every sound needed to be clean. I knew that a specific sound effect very rarely was triggered without something else happening simultaneously.
I tried to be precise with sound placement within the frequency spectrum and set up their behaviour in the game using FMOD*. That’s how I made sure they worked together nicely.
*(sound effects engine for video games)
The Indie Game Sound Effects Design Workflow
Pre-production is all about understanding what the game is about, what its style is, and what is needed from the sound to enhance the experience of the game. Having a couple of days of pre-production helps me to narrow down what I need to do and be more productive from that point on.
The way I usually start is by taking notes. I would read the game design document, have a chat with the developers, and then create a separate document where I keep track of all the keywords used for the game. This helps me to understand exactly what the game developers want and have a reference for the game down the line. This process is probably something I carry with me from working with film directors.
When working on films you usually spend a lot of time talking about the style and the context of the film and it can get difficult to remember everything when you are actively working on the project. Having this document helps me to keep my work aligned with the vision of the film. Now I try to do that thoroughly for indie game sound effects as well.
I also like to send a rough demo to the game developers at the beginning of the project to make sure that I got the style for the sound design right. Maybe things are not mixed properly or some effects are missing but it will tell them if I’m in the right direction. If they say yes, I keep going.
2. Designing the Sound Effects
I ask the game developers for a video of the gameplay, or I do a screen capture from Unity or the testst version of the mobile game. Working on linear fixed media is the best approach, because it provides a good understanding of how things work in the context of the video game. This reduces the risk of the sound effects sounding too powerful and over the top.
You need to ensure that you understand how a specific sound is going to be placed within the video game. The video is normally 5 to 10 minutes long and I synchronise elements as I progress. I prefer to work with MIDI because it’s easier to synchronise, which is a great benefit to using Krotos Weaponiser.
If afterwards I don’t like how a certain sound effect works, I can always swap it and the MIDI event will stay in sync with the picture.
3. Feedback and Revisions
After I finish sound designing the whole video I send it to my associate with whom I co-founded Møtif, Johnny Moutzouris. He does a first pass of revisions and gives me feedback as to whether the sound fits, or needs finalising later. It might sound unnecessary, but it helps me to see from a different perspective, and deliver a better-quality product.
Once I’m happy with how the video is sounding, I send it to game developers. They are the best people for feedback because they know the game inside out.
They will point out things like if I misunderstood the function of an action, or if a sound effect sounds too negative, whereas it’s a good action because it improves a player’s skill… That way I would have a deeper understanding of the mechanics of the game and review my work paying attention to those details.
4. Organisation and Delivery
Once the developers are happy with the whole sound design, I export the game sound effects individually, keeping the implementation system in mind: layering sounds, cleaning them up if necessary and adding or removing effects.
I keep two projects: one for the actual design, and one for editing the exported sounds. In the editing project, I trim silences, add fades, ensuring every sound starts where it should and carrying out any audio repair needed to remove artefacts that might happen during the export process.
Finally, I save each sound into folders and follow the naming convention to send everything to the game development team, or import them into FMOD myself. I also make a spreadsheet where I keep track of everything I do in the process: each sound location, Is it in FMOD, is it in Unity, the FMOD path, and if it’s the final version or not. That’s pretty much my workflow!
About Alberto Sueri
Alberto Sueri is an Italian-born composer and sound designer specialising in Video-Games. His strong musical background led him to seeking to apply technology to media, where he now works in video games, installations and linear media projects.
Read more about Alberto on his website.