Sound Design in AppUp Games and Apps

by Matt Fox

When we set out to make G: Into The Rain, we came to understand that sound design was an area we did not want to neglect. This is not to say that we were immediately aware of the importance of having good sound. In fact, to be honest, we knew that G was going to be first deployed on the iPhone. The on-board audio playback hardware on the iPhone is not exactly high quality – unlike the netbooks which we eventually ported G to late in 2009. During the development, we started to realize that we weren’t necessarily tied to one platform, and that devices like the netbook could impart a much richer game play experience in terms of sound.

In the early conceptual phases of our development, we decided to have a look around at the games that we all liked. Sound design wasn’t something that jumped out as a priority. Frankly, the first non-visual game element that most people notice is music; and while we were blessed with a very talented composer for the musical score of G, that is a topic for another post. Sound, as a game element, is often overlooked. If you ask many people what they enjoyed about a particular game or application, more often than not you will hear about how they liked the gameplay, or that the art was stunning, or that the storyline moved along really well, or that they really liked (or hated) a particular character. Sound design, or rather good sound design is not something that is in your face. It’s subtle, and most often it’s only really noticed after the visual. For instance, when you walk into a room, unless there’s a buzzsaw running, most likely the first thing you’ll notice is what it looks like. We are visual creatures, and hearing most often is employed after sight.

Now I don’t want to convey the idea that because we’re primarily visually oriented, that good sound design can be left for the back burner. Quite the contrary. When we looked around at the games that we all liked to play, we started to catalog and attempt to define what it is that we enjoyed about those games. Eventually, we began to pay close attention to the sound design. In doing so, we had to look beyond the iPhone, and plan accordingly. We came to the conclusion, that one of the reasons we liked the games we did was because of the sound. In most cases, it wasn’t an obvious, in-your-face sort of revelation. Sound was used here as a way to augment the look and feel of the games. Looking ahead, we made the choice to take sound design seriously – which is especially vexing considering the less-than stellar (external) speakers on the iPhone. But if we had taken the approach that “nothing will sound good on the iPhone” and had half-hearted sound design, then G certainly wouldn’t have sounded as good as it does now on a netbook.