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Game Development Dictionary


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  Term Name Description

Envelope Generator

In synthesizers, a device that produces a volume envelope. Some common types are ADSR and AR generators.

Vacuum Tube Amplifiers

An amplifier that uses valves (vacuum tubes) to make the signal louder. They add a bit of coloration to the signal, which is usually desirable, and sound very warm and rich when overdriven.

Solid State Amplifier

A type of amplifier that uses solid-state circuitry, or transistors, rather than valves. This form of amplification has a higher degree of linearity and is more reliable than vacuum tube amplification, though produces harsher tones when overdriven.


Musical Instrument Digital Interface. The interface between different sound hardware and software to pass on musicial information.

Drum Machine

A device that simulates percussion patterns. Used often when band members are short, for practice (to lay down a beat to use as reference), or in certain musical genres (hip hop, house).


A pre-amp is the first device in a gain structure. It is used to bring a relatively weak microphone signal up to line level. It is often found at the top of a mixing console or as a dedicated outboard device. In the mixing console, the amount of signal gain is determined by a "gain" or "trim" knob.

Soft Clipping

The effect on a signal typical of an overdriven valve. As opposed to hard clipping, which creates high frequency harmonics, it tends to eliminate these harsh, higher frequencies.


A repercussion of an insufficient bit depth used to represent the amplitude of a signal. Quantization may create frequencies that do not exist in the original signal. This is, however, occasionally used as a desirable effect.


The sine-wave modulation of a signal's frequency. Basically, it results in the warbling of the signal's pitch.


A subjective perception of a sound's fundamental qualities. Usually expressed in terms of 'harshness', 'smoothness', 'breadth' and so forth. Eg: A sawtooth waveform would be perceived as having a harsh texture, whereas a square or simple sine wave would have a smoother texture. A similar usage is often seen in discussions of music and compositions in general.


An effect where the original signal is repeated after a short interval.


Voltage Controlled Amplifier. In analog synthesizers, an amplifier whose magnitude of amplification manipulated through control voltage. With various modulators, it is possible to create a number effects with a VCA, such as tremolo (a low-frequency sine wave as the modulator).

Ring modulation

A ring modulator is used in analogue synthesis. A ring modulator takes two different tones, and plays the sum, and difference frequences of them both. Example: if you run a 500 Hz sine wave and a 600 Hz sine wave through a ring modulator, it produces two sine waves with the frequencies 100 Hz (600 - 500 Hz) and 900 Hz (600 + 500 Hz). With such simple ingredients it is not very useful, but using more complex tones, it generates more interesting results. Nowadays it is rather simple to produce digitally, but back in the old days when everything was analogue, it was a bit more complicated. The most common way to do it involves a ring of four diodes, hence the name, Ring Modulator.

Triangle Wave

A fundamental waveform that has very weak, odd harmonics (approximately 8/9 of the energy is devoted to the fundamental). Often found in oscillators instead of sine waves because a low-pass filtered triangle wave is effectively a sine wave.


The character of a sound. More formally, an instrument's unique set of overtones. It is timbre that causes a piano to sound different from, say, a guitar, and also what makes sine waves sound different from a pulse wave.


A component that attenuates certain frequency ranges. Various filters have different volume reduction slopes; the most common being 12 decibels per octave.


The act of conforming digital music information (MIDI) to a set tempo and time signature.

Subtractive Synthesis

A form of synthesis that is popular with analog synthesizers. It takes a complex waveform rich in harmonics (such as the sawtooth) and strips away parts, resulting in a simpler wave.


The fourth and final part of an ADSR envelope. The amount of time it takes after a key is released for the note's volume to drop from sustain level to zero.


An alteration of sampling rate without changing the pitch or speed of the sample.

White Noise

Noise with completely random amplitude across all frequencies. Also known as Gaussian noise.


A round connector with a number of pins. MIDI connectors are 5-pin DIN connectors.

Frequency Modulation

When a signal's frequency is altered by another signal's.

Wavetable Synthesis

Synthesis that digitally stores the waveforms in a "wavetable" and then uses them to create sounds. This method is capable of producing very realistic sounds.


As the third part of an ADSR envelope, the volume at which a note is held after the attack and decay until the key is released.