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Sound for a Global RTS?

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Hi all, I am working on a 'Global RTS' which is nearing the end of development. As always sound has been left to the end largely because I don't have the skills or imagination to do it justice. I have two questions for the forum: 1. What is the minimum amount of sound that a game can get away with? Is it better to leave sound out all together than do it badly? 2. What sort of sound-scape would work well for a Global level game? The following screen shots give you the flavour for the type of game we are dealing with. As you can see it is more Civilization than Total War, although it doesn't really fit into an existing classification and so we are free to define new conventions. The point of view is defined by a satellite, so the player is physically removed from the underlying action. Traditional approaches (like using the camera position to hear nearby units) don't make a lot of sense when the units are entire armies and the pov is 100 Km away. (but perhaps such a literal interpretation is what is causing my problems). Any thoughts?

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1) Maybe 5,10,20 years ago, you could get away without audio without much thought. But today, a game without audio will seem dry (because it definitely is) and uninteresting. Adding sound provides an extra level of polish and detail adding to the overall user experience. If you're selling your game, not having sound will definitely lower your conversion rate. Keep in mind, most of the reasons for having sound are psychological.

2) From the looks of your game, gameplay audio (i.e., UI actions, events, etc.) probably wouldn't work all that well. If this were my game, I'd have some sort of ambient background music soundtrack - nothing too edgy, but enough to keep users interested from the jump until exit. I'd use the music as an audible cue for whats going on in the game - e.g., wartime and peacetime. Different types of music could provide for different moods. Just make sure to let the user toggle the music.

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I am interested by "most of the reasons for having sound are psychological". Would you mind expanding. What psychological state should I try to evoke for a strategy game?

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I think it's good to have some basic interface feedback that let the user know at least when something has occured. Keep it subtle, but something as simple as a click or a beep as auditory feedback can be very helpful to the user.

Aside from that, just judging by the screenshots, I might be inclined to create some soft, loosely ryhthmic ambient soundscape stuff. I'd be glad to help out with this; there are a few other composers in this forum offering up services as well, but if you're interested in hearing a short demo-reel send me a PM.

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Quote:
Original post by slog
Traditional approaches (like using the camera position to hear nearby units) don't make a lot of sense when the units are entire armies and the pov is 100 Km away. (but perhaps such a literal interpretation is what is causing my problems).
What's wrong with that? The units nearest the center of the screen are the loudest, or even the only units you can hear. It's feedback to the player, not the ultimate example of realism. You have to convey some of the things through sound that you can't get across otherwise.

At the very least, skjin's advice is sound (dear lord I didn't intend for that to be a pun). Sounds based on clicks and user actions are a huge plus for any game. In fact, games feel surprisingly dull without these effects. I also agree with his musical asessment, though I feel you could go in almost any direction that you wanted.

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I agree totally with the user feedback sounds - it is an important queue to what is happening in the game.

Unfortunately I lack imagination on how the 'in game' sounds would work. I can see the need to give the player these signals, but can not think of an appropriate metaphor to employ. A 'realistic' approach does not seems feasible.

Visually we are going with a 'Mission Control' type overlay with simple geometric shapes and primary colours. What do you think is the audio equivalent?

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Mission Control, eh? Then you might want to consider radio chatter. Sure you'll need some deep space ambient music, but since the player is so "detached" from the actual action going on they may need more specific feedback as to what they've done, what's going on.

Think of a commander in a war room talking to generals. You'd have to give out orders and they repeat them. Like:

Commander: "Blue 30 Armada, full speed to coordinates xxxx, copy"

Armada: "Blue 30 Armada, coordinates received. Full speed, over"

Forgive my layman military speak, but that kind of feedback would be cool. It would really play off the interface and the gameplay well.

You may even want to consider mission control room ambience versus deep space ambience. That is, generic chatter and machines whirring about, occasional shuffling of feet.... I think that would be quite innovative.

Then you base your music off of that. Of course it's depending on period (present, near-future, future) but I would score the tension in the war room while eluding to the larger conflict globally.

Sounds like a fun project anyways. Lots of ideas to throw at it. It all depends on how immersed you want your players. If it's a casual pick up and play game, the whole theatrics of my ideas probably won't fly. You would definitely want to stick with beeps and clicks for actions and some basic ambient music in the background. If it is to be intended for retail and competing with other strategic war games then I would go all out with immersion and interactivity.

I know you're implementing sound at the very end of the project, but it could seriously compliment and enforce the gameplay elements you have worked so hard on more than anything at this point. So take it to heart.

I'm biased of course as an audio engineer. If you're interested in any of my ideas, PM me. I'm a bit swamped with projects at the moment, but once things clear up I could possibly contribute more, at least ideas.

Tony

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Based only on those 2 screenshots, and assuming its a near future war game, I think the best way to go is to use a mix of orchestral music with some synth sounds. Depending on the game situation this can vary from very relaxing but immersive music to inbattle music.

Anyways the only way to truly know what fits or not is to have a bit more data and screenshots of the game.

Also I think the music should fade out and fade in with diferent moods depending on the zoom you have on the map and what is in fact happening in that zoomed area.

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I'd say you really have to balance it on how long you expect a player to play at a time. Anything really extended upwards and beyond an hour should not have anything too harsh, abrasive, synthetic. The smoother warmer (dare I say analog?!?) sounds will entice the player to play longer or at least feel comfortable doing so. Anything too dynamic can cause ear fatigue, ESPECIALLY if it's one of the only sounds to focus on.

You see, our brains see one thing but they turn to the ears to decide how they feel about it. Movies know this and games are catching on to include emotionally persuasive themes and motifs. What do you want players to feel while they are playing it? Power? Chaos? Adrenaline? Those words are like colors to a sound designer/composer.

Tony

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I expect a level to take between 1 to 2 hours to complete. The demo half an hour.

I am new to this sound thing, but after thinking about it, the feeling I think most appropriate is 'responsibility'. Again I don't know what that sounds like, but if I could put it into words:

The weight of the world is on the players shoulders - they are responsible for fate of their nation. That on its own would be a terrible burden, but the player commands the power to meet that responsibility and so there is hope.

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Id like to say that I have been waiting for this game my whole life. :D

Soft little click here and there like you mentioned said would be good. Just to give the player a tactile sense. Some ambient music of the likes that have already been mentioned as well.

Your webpage shows images that make it seem that you can click on armies and cities. I’d simply give each of those a sound.

City sounds like: horns honking, industrial noises, loud background noises like speech (stand on the corner of 42ns street in Manhattan and you’ll know what I mean.)

Army sounds like: the movement of tanks, some general and generic orders being tossed back and forth, boots marching (the nazi goosestep sound).

Perhaps your army has 2 sounds. The one I mentioned for “movement” and one for when it is actually fighting another army. This one would sound like, tanks firing, “medic!”, men calling in for fire missions from indirect fire support (artillery/mortars) gun fire (several different calibers of course) lots of radio chatter etc etc etc.

That’s pretty much all you’d need.

Now that I think about it, let the player play his own music. Include an mp3 player. I don’t want soft ambient music while I conquer the world. Screw Yani. I want KMFDM playing “a drug against war.” Get me really pumped up.

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Pedro Camacho has been commisioned to help us out with Music and FX and hopefully once he has overcome the problems he is having with his setup we should have something to showcase.

After discussing it a bit further we opted to steer away from the 'Radio Chatter' type approach for the sounds. 1) Because they rely on language, and we would rather keep the game language independent to broaden the appeal. 2) Because you need a lot of different samples, otherwise it becomes repetitive and annoying 3) it denotes a level of involvement that the 'Commander in Chief' never experiences in this game. (units are entire battalions, rather than individual soldiers)

We are going to try to go with a more abstract - R2D2 type chirps which we can use to express, warnings or affirmative or negative. We feel it is more in keeping with the Mission Control type setting and it should work well with the music we have planned. It will still give the player the all important feedback and we can build up our own vocabulary.

[Edited by - slog on August 2, 2006 7:17:10 PM]

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That's definitely the safe way to go. What I had suggested is ambitious at best and overkill at worst. Hope Pedro gets his system going so we can check it all out soon. That's when you'll get the best feedback instead of random speculations!

Actually, to further that thought... I teach and produce game audio for a living. The teams I work with will usually go to Alpha with only placeholder sfx and music, spare a few custom SFX they ask me for. After seeing and playing the Alpha version I not only get a good idea of the scope and theme of the game (design docs only explain so much, the rest is gameplay and individual reaction) but I know what works and what doesn't work audio wise. That's when I get to work and have a deadline of getting all audio assets to them before Beta. By then you should all be in agreeance of what's best for the game. After that, it's all polish and gold-plating...hopefully.

So good luck to you and Pedro! I think you have plenty of people interested in this games outcome so that's a good thing!

Tony

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Pedro has been busy burning the midnight oil and has the first cut at the Title Music.

To my untrained ear it sounds fantastic. I am particularly happy with the tone that is set. I think that he has captured perfectly the conflict between Responsibility and Opportunity that defines the game.

I'd like to hear the communities feedback.
Global_title_beta.mp3


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It is the Title Screen music, where the main menu also shows up.
I am glad you liked the track but it still needs some work to be considered final version.

I don't usually post my work on forums but I will give you some 2 or 3 demo tracks for you to listen a bit.

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