December 31, 2008

Breaking the Sound Barrier

Meridian will be my first game to feature audio.

When I made my previous games, audio seemed like a wholly unnecessary feature. I originally chose to include it just to get some practice and to give Meridian a consistent level of production. Now, after hearing the game in action, I'm starting to realize what I was missing; I'm starting to get why Greg Costikyan wrote that Asp's nonexistent sounds "are sorely missed".

The most immediate and obvious benefit comes with interface design. By using sounds for multiple events, I can indicate the connections between them. When a fleet enters a transportation gate, when a solar system spits a fleet out through a gate, and when the rally point for transportation changes, I use the same sound cue to show that it's really the same event (interstellar travel). Battles are easier to follow when there's a sound during each attack and upon retreat. When players select fleets by different means, the sound lets them know what's going on.

Then there's the background music. I spent some time looking through a few albums of Creative Commons-licensed music and found some great tracks. I don't know how they'll hold up over the long term, but just during the short games I play for testing I'm finding myself more and more engrossed. The atmosphere conjured by the sound effects seems to be just as important as the graphics'.

I'm applying the same learning process to Audacity that I used with GIMP: play with all of the options until stuff looks/sounds good. Hopefully I'll be able to do some decent audio editing on future games. Certainly anything I build beyond a tech demo won't be silent.

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