Quick Tips for Mobile Game Audio Success
Audio is a critical component in video games, and often good audio feedback and immersive music and soundtracks can really add a lot to the game experience. But what about mobile games? Most people keep their phones on silent when they are out and the vast majority of mobile apps are muted, so many developers wonder if audio is really that important for mobile.
Sound effects and music can really help to bind the entire experience together. Even a basic sound effect can often make an animation or interaction come to life. Sounds make mundane tasks like collecting quest rewards feel more rewarding, and they can also add surprise, tension, or conflict to an event or scene. Good audio makes your game stand out from the pack, and its often the difference between good and great, and take the experience to another level.
Here are a few easy tips for anyone jumping into audio for the first time.
1. Research and plan your soundscape
Most developers work on Audio last, almost as a footnote, and they aren’t exactly wrong. It can often be hard to visualize what types of sound effects or audio you need when you don’t have any animations, buttons, or characters in your game. But it’s also important to do some research on what types of sounds you want early in the development process.
For Butter Royale, the team had an overwhelming amount of ideas on how the audio should sound like. Some people in the team wanted the game to have a cute, pop-music like vibe, while others wanted a soundtrack that was electronic or chip-tune like. We knew the game was centered around a game show, so we did research on what are some sounds or music associated with game shows, and for the soundtrack, we eventually played around with and went with a surf-rock vibe.
There were some objections to this initially, but the design team put together a solid list of music and effect references, and we briefed our external audio team on what we wanted. Because of the clear references and research done, they were able to understand what we wanted to achieve and created the tracks smoothly and nail the brief. The team loved the final soundtrack and it has resonated well with the players.
2. Less is More
It’s useful to start with less audio in the game and work upwards, finding places in the game where it feels awkward or weird to not have a sound effect. For example, you might realize that you need to add a different sound effect for walking into a bush, or that you’re missing some feedback when collecting items or rewards. It’s easier to spot these gaps if you have less sounds to begin with.
Its also important to distinguish which sounds are important to the player, and when they should be highlighted. When too many sounds are playing at the same time, it can be hard for the player to focus and sound overwhelming.
We also try to follow a rule of thumb for most of the sounds: KISS. Keep it simple and short. For most effects, we avoid long trailing audio and we try to keep audio short. This helps to prevent audio overlapping with one another in the game when many actions are being done at the same time.
3. Mix well, and check on device
It’s a good idea to keep most in game audio at a low volume when you export them. When imported into the game engine and played one on top of another, sound effects will stack up quickly and it can be hard to tame the overall mix. A good trick is also to listen to the complete mix at a low volume, so that you can pick out sounds that are too loud and lower them accordingly.
Make sure to test your audio mix on the device itself, and not just in the editor. Most developers have good audio setups in the studio or at home, and the audio mix can sometimes sound crystal clear and perfect when authoring on these setups.
However, mobile phones have much lower quality speakers, and the quality of these speakers can vary greatly from device to device. Also, players have the option of using headphones, so it’s important to test your game’s audio mix across these various use cases.
Typically, mobile phone speakers have problems with sound effects that are heavy on bass, so pay special attention to important sounds to make sure they can be heard on device.
4. Animate First, Audio Second
When deciding on what sound effects you need, particularly for things like weapons or power-ups, it’s a good idea to complete and animate the effect before working on sound. It’s much easier to time and sequence your audio effects after than to stretch or delay sounds if you decide to change your the animation at the last minute
5. Don’t annoy your players with short looping music
Many games loop their music in the background while the player is going through a level or menu, and if the music track is too short, this can get really annoying, really fast.
While developing World of Legends, we knew that players would be spending a long time on the world map. During the first pass of our music, we had a track that was about a minute long and it looped about 10–15 times per session. The team quickly started to hate the track, and many members of the team started muting the audio altogether. We knew we needed to do better in the final game. We worked with our external audio team to develop a dynamic music system that randomizes the background music to make it sound
The system was simple — every piece of music in the game would be broken down into 4 pieces: an intro sequence, and 3 separate sequences which could be played in any order and lead seamlessly into one another. When a player entered a level, the game would play the intro sequence, then randomly pick a sequence to play next, and queue up another sequence once the previous one was done. This meant that we could have players staying on the map for a long time without feeling that the track was looping continuously.
Polished game audio and music can elevate your already great game to the next level. Building a consistent theme and idea around your audio can help prevent your game from sounding fragmented and unpolished. Good mobile game audio gets out of the way of the player, and if done correctly, disappears into the background and doesn’t annoy. Even better if players start asking you for the soundtrack of the game!
Much like the art style in your game, consistency in your audio will help bind the entire experience together. The goal should be that players can identify and remember your game just from an audio effect or a piece of music from the game.
If you’re interested in learning more about Mighty Bear Games and how we work, here are more articles you might be interested in!