A Question On Sound Design

Recently I had one someone ask me about the nature of my sound work on Starbound and by the time I was done writing my comment, I realized I’d provided such a detailed answer that I may as well share it here in case it was of interest to anybody else.

“So, what kind of sound design do you do for Starbound? Just any random sounds that need to be made? It would be awesome to see a Starbound development video of you doing some sound mixing or whatever it is you do.

Also, why aren’t you a music composer for Starbound too? :3″
– Sol Ritzow

Right now, sound design is one of those duties I tackle whenever there’s a pressing need or can afford to spare the time to do it. It tends to be deemed one of the less critical areas at this stage of the game’s development, and I almost always have my hands full with a tasks that are critical to getting the game to a finished state.

As far as what my actual sound design involves; in the early stages I did a fair bit of voiceover for the monsters and player characters. Most of these were stripped back because we came to the consensus that they were more distracting than immersive, and didn’t really fit with Starbound’s aesthetic because many were quite guttural and realistic in nature (though some have been re-purposed in places).

I don’t have the luxury of a soundproofed room where I could record foley, so many of my samples are taken from royalty free sources (Soundsnap for instance is well worth getting an account for if you want access to a pretty sizeable database). Sometimes I’m able to find a sample that requires absolutely minimal changes to fit the intended use, but a lot of the time I have to get creative and combine multiple samples and effects to achieve a result I’m happy with.

A good example are the following two samples where I wanted to create a mechanical sounding door, but the sounds needed to be super short to line up with the animation.

Airlock Open
Airlock Close

These two samples were created almost entirely using office printer sounds (from three different types of printer). The sound of the door opening was the mechanisms of the printers grinding away, with a bit of pitch bending to help the player understand which was opening and which was closing. The door coming to rest was the printer paper trays being closed at various intensities. Once things were more or less sounding good, all I had to do was master the final mix with a bit more bass to give it some weight.

So that should give you a pretty good idea of what I do at a basic level. If the demand is there I’m certainly not averse to recording an example video me mixing a sample or two. Honestly I rarely know how much work a sound effect is going to require until I actually start working on it, though the game’s plasma weapons have pretty consistently been time-consuming to get to a place I’m happy with. If such a video is something you’d all like to see, feel free to shout it out in the comments or at my Twitter.

As far as why I don’t compose music for Starbound, while I feel like I’m at least decent at composing short jingle tunes, I lack the time and talent to do full length scores like the incredible Curtis Schweitzer (who just launched a fantastic new album called Rapture by the way). It’s only natural that there will be a marked difference in quality between the stuff I create for fun, versus a professional who makes their living composing music. In Curtis’ case, it certainly helps that he has accumulated a robust suite of high quality virtual instruments (they tend to be very expensive to buy), but it takes a lot of talent and hard work to use them effectively so I have great respect for the guy.

That’s not to say I never use my music-making experience for Starbound’s benefit. For instance one of the more recently-added objects in our game is a saloon piano, which I really wanted to play something fun when the player interacted with it. So I knocked up this five second take on Starbound’s main theme.

On the honky tonk at night…

In any case, I hope you guys found this interesting. Thanks for the question, Sol!

Posted in Design, Games, Starbound | 1 Comment »

One Response to “A Question On Sound Design”

  1. Sol says:

    Thanks for the informative reply, I really appreciate it! I wondered though what you meant by:

    “It tends to be deemed one of the less critical areas at this stage of the game’s development, and I almost always have my hands full with a tasks that are critical to getting the game to a finished state.”

    So I’m assuming this means you do level design most of the time and when there’s’ a new item you’re the one to create the sound effect for it.

    Also, I finally know why Mollygos’ July 2nd Starbound post showed the player mentioning the ol’ honky tonk 😛 I guess that means that if there’s ever some lively in-game tunes, perhaps being made by a band of NPCs, you’ll be the one to do the music for it because none of Curtis Schweitzer/Solatrus’ songs seem to be very lively or tune-y, they’re mostly atmospheric.

    Once again, thanks for the post!

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