Friday 7 June 2013

How to get sound effects in your indie game without being a professional.

I'm not a sound designer, but I need sound in my game.

This is part 1 in a series of articles describing how I approached each aspect of creating Immortal Empire as an independent developer. You can read the whole backstory here.

When it came down to adding sound effects to the game, I started down what seemed like the most logical path for someone who is not a sound designer.

"I have the power of the internet. Everything is on the internet! I'll just snoop around and download royalty-free sounds," I thought. Sure enough after hours of searching, I found very few useful sounds even in paid catalogs.  The style and timbre of the sounds were inconsistent, sometimes too long, sometimes too short, sometimes just not the right type of effect at all, and it took forever to sort through miscellaneous bits of audio.

So what now? The internet has failed me. Well, I did what I must. Time to try making the sounds myself! I borrowed a Zoom H4N hand recorder from a friend, and was introduced to the fascinating world of foley art. Put simply, it is recording yourself banging stuff around until it sounds like you want.

It sounds (hoho - pun) like it would be more work, but for me, this was actually much easier and a lot more fun. I was astonished at how simple objects just lying around my house could be used to create the sound of equipping weapons, or throwing a dagger. Recording the audio myself, I had full control over everything. I could do as many takes as I wanted, get the right tone, length, volume, and keep the audio style consistent.  It actually worked out really well.

Of course, I filmed some of my adventures.

If you watched that video, I know what you're thinking. "You use Cool Edit Pro from the year 2000?" Why yes, yes I do.  If you didn't watch it, to summarize the video, here's a few things I found very useful when recording my own audio.
  1. Keep trying stuff.  Sometimes what you pick up at first might not work. But, you'd be surprised how easy it is to just grab 20 objects, try them all, and find a great, useful sound you weren't even expecting. I picked up a stainless steel pot for armor sounds, but found it could very easily make sword sounds as well.
  2. Do lots of takes. Hit the objects differently. Holding longer, scraping sideways, hitting harder, rattling it a bit, things like that. I did about 15-20 takes per type of sound. It's simple to just listen to them and pick the ones that turned out best.
  3. Combine sounds. The bow equip sound is me dropping a wooden dowel, while plucking an elastic band, and ending with a thump from a wooden block. Blending sounds together, including directly overlapping them, is a great way to get a different overall sound. I can't tell you how often I blended in the sound of me punching a phone book into other sounds to give them more "oomph"
A note on the audio for spells. Some of the more physical-based spells were recorded using the above process, but the more magical ones often required tones I wasn't able to produce with household objects. In these cases, I called upon a gigantic library of samples I have been collecting over the last 20 years for the purposes of writing MODs (and their various successors). That includes a mixture of ripped stuff, some downloaded samples, and sounds I recorded from various synths I've been fortunate enough to use over the years (A Roland Juno-2, Yamaha PSR-300, PSR-730, and CS6X)

I mention in the video that I didn't create all the sounds myself, and that's true! So I want to give credit where it's due. My friend George Spanos is a professional sound designer and author at He's who I borrowed the hand recorder from (I have since bought my own) and he also contributed a lot of fantastic audio for the project, in particular for a bunch of the monsters.  So while this article is about doing things on your own, which is often necessary for an indie, it is of course incredibly helpful to have a few friends that can assist you with your project. Thanks George!

Hope you enjoyed the article! Myself and any readers I'm sure would love to hear your experiences with sound design, so go ahead an comment below!

To try out Immortal Empire, visit the website, or play on Kongregate.


  1. Good info! I was in the same boat on my game. I never did SFX before so I bought a recorder and just started hitting everything in my house against everything else.

  2. Hilarious article, but also really good info. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great advice, I'm about to do the sounds for Mammoth Gravity Battles, so I'll give this a go. I'm wondering how I will make Woolly Mammoth sounds...