Today I'm sharing my process for how I devised the audio direction for Letterhead and other video games I've worked on. I've even shared the documentation that I created for each step of my process! Let's begin:
Establishing the Audio Pillars of the Game
I start with the audio pillars first by scoping the game. I look over any documentation about the game, playtest it, and ask the team lots of questions. We usually create a Miro board where we share ideas too. Here are some I’ve asked in the past: A) What is the tone of the gameplay? B) How can we support environmental storytelling and world-building with the audio? C) How are the player’s faction and their enemies different? D) How do you want interacting with X to feel? E) What do you want this group of sounds to communicate to the player?
Creating the Asset List
Scoping the game and determining the audio pillars gives me the information I need to create a thorough asset list. The sound list includes the following: Class, Sub-Class, Action/Name, Priority Level, Design Status, Implementation Status, Event or File Name, Notes, and Hook/Reference. Priority and the statuses are good places for dropdowns to save time. It’s natural to add to this list and to remove sounds while you’re in development since a lot will change.
Making Rules for Groups of Sounds
The classes in my asset list are my overarching groups for the mix and which frequency bands to aim for. They’re separated this way to minimize frequency masking and to be immediately recognizable by the player. If you come from film, remember to test how your sounds interact in-game since they may overlap in an unexpected way that warrants re-doing one of them. These early-game decisions are part of macro-mixing, as Alex Riviere explains in his Game Audio Mixing book.
Forming the Game's Mixing Pillars
Finally, the mixing pillars are established so that I can decide which sounds should be prioritized in certain locations or game states. These are entirely dependent on gameplay. Mapping out the priority-level of each sound group with a white board informs my decisions about which LUFS categories to export each sound in a specific group at too. There isn’t a single standard for loudness in gaming, but Sony has a loudness standard of -23 LUFS. I aim for that too.
The documents I created for each phase of Letterhead's planning can be viewed here:
Planning out the audio direction of games encourages a cohesive soundscape, a clear mix, and open communication channels among team members. Let me know what you learned and whether you need more clarification on anything.