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Game Sound Design Strategies

GSD Strategies

Check out the strategies when you are feeling creatively uninspired. Each random strategy will present you with a new avenue to pursue. Give them a try!

Game Sound Design Glossary

GSD Glossary

Our game audio glossary has all the sound terms you have been wondering about. Game audio can be confusing enough without having to deal with a new technical language. We are constantly updating the database with new terms that relate to not only game audio but game developer terms as well.

How To Overcome Sound Design Writer's Block

Article by George Spanos

Inspiration is a very mercurial event. One cannot control the moments of inspiration that occur or when those moments will happen. Some believe that with more work comes more inspiration but that is not the whole story. While hard work will make you a better game sound designer it can often burn you out, especially by the end of a project. You become so immersed in the task at hand that quite often you are not open to new ideas or are simply too bogged down to stop and think.


The key is to always be open and receptive. While we as sound designers are expected to function on two levels -creative and technical- remembering to think outside of the box is also crucial. But how do you force yourself to think outside of the box? Can the creative process be controlled? Or must one set up an environment for creativity to take place and hopefully inspire? There are many ways to jump start your creativity and we'll explore some of them in detail below.

Being Aware

To be a successful sound professional one must constantly be aware of the sounds that are happening in the world which will directly influence creativity. If you are constantly listening to the world around you then opportunities will make themselves heard. You have to be aware.

We, as humans, instinctively rely on our sight to inform us about the world that we are living in. At the very basic level we are conditioned to rely on our sight to aid in navigating the world. Reading, writing, driving, and walking are all examples of this. Our sight has become our ears in a way, in that we rely on sight and do not give as much credence to what we hear on a conscious level.

An interesting experiment is to just close your eyes and listen to the sounds that surround you. Seriously, try it. Once you have deprived your brain of sight information you automatically start to rely on your hearing to give you clues about your environment. One technique that I use quite often while mixing is to close my eyes and just listen. This works incredibly well and will often lead me to hear things that I have not consciously paid attention to before. Speaking of attention, closing your eyes during playback can greatly focus your attention to what you are hearing so much so that you will often end up with a better mix. Your brain will instinctively focus on the sound rather than letting visual cues get in the way of your perception.

So this is the first thing that every sound designer who is stuck for a new sound should practice. Close your eyes and listen. It's simple, yet often overlooked.

Random Sounds

Another way to kick start your creative thought process is to randomly play sounds out of your sound effects library. There are a few different ways of going about this and it really depends on how far down the path you are willing to go.

The easiest of course, is to simply load up your folder with sounds and randomly click on files. This can be especially productive if your files are only labeled with numbers and not descriptive words. Quite often pleasant sonic surprises will come about this way. All it takes is one part of a sound to spark creativity. The added bonus to this approach is that quite often a part of a sound will be more inspiring than the whole sound. For instance, the sound of a squeaky door closing before the actual close sound could provide an interesting basis for a mysterious sound in a creepy hallway. The sound could be stretched, pitched and reverb added to give it a very unique and disturbing quality.

Another, more complex approach is to create a random sound generator that will parse through your library of sounds and randomly playback files. This method can be extremely useful, especially if your sound files are labeled with descriptive words, and will not introduce any human bias into the playback... the software will be completely random in its approach to picking sounds and playing them back for you to hear.

Oblique Strategies

thoughts Back in 1975 Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt created a set of cards called "Oblique Strategies". The cards are essentially a way of generating ideas that would not occur to the user during normal situations. The user draws a card at random and reads the text which will hopefully provide a way of breaking the creative deadlock that has been encountered.

Influenced by this, we have created the Sound Design Strategies which can be found here. The idea is that you click on the button which will randomly pick from a list (which we are constantly updating with new strategies) and display the strategy for you to act on. The important thing to remember is that these strategies were designed to give you that "brain boost" and generate new creative ideas. No matter how far out and seemingly unapplicable to your situation the strategy may be, you should act on it. Often the journey to creating a sound will give you surprising answers that you cannot think of just by sitting and staring at your computer monitor. Give it a try!

Exquisite Corpse


The main concept of the Exquisite Corpse was to generate creativity and randomness between two or more artists. It can start by having an agreed upon set of rules that the participants must follow. In the case of drawing, one participant will start by randomly drawing whatever comes to mind. The next person will add to the drawing either having seen part of it or none at all (in this case by following a set of agreed upon rules), pass his contributions (with the first person's) on to the third, where the third contributor will add to the piece, passing it onto the fourth, etc.

So how can this apply to sound design? If your team happens to be stuck for an idea for a particular character's voice, say an alien's guttural mumblings, each sound designer could add their own sound effects or voice to a separate track. This could either be done by letting the second contributor hear part of what the first contributor has done, or not let the second contributor hear anything at all. This would go on until all contributors have had a chance to add their ideas to each track.

The process works especially well if each contributor has the opportunity to hear part of what the previous contributor has done. At the end of the exercise, at the very least, you will end up with a collage of ideas that have been produced through what is essentially brainstorming. At this point, all the sounds from each track can be played together to see if a completely new creative direction emerges and gives rise to a new way of thinking about the dilemma. One contributor might have added his own guttural voice to his track, while the next contributor may have added random animal sounds to his track, while the third contributor may have added metal screeches to his track.

To take the idea of the Exquisite Corpse even further, each contributor could build on what the previous contributor has made. Let's say the first contributor has added his guttural voice on his track. The second contributor would listen to the voice and time expand it, reverse it, and pitch shift it. The third contributor would listen to the combination of what the first and second person have done and cut the files up into pieces and re-arrange them while adding reverb to the track. This is just an example, but you can see that it can prove to be quite effective at generating new ideas.


There are also a multitude of random sound generating software options available. Some can manipulate internal oscillators and apply random pattern generators that will produce entirely new sounds. This type of sound generation can often sound very non-organic but one can simply add in an organic pre-recorded sound effect to the oscillator that is being modified.

A great piece of software for this type of application is Absynth by Native Instruments. What I really enjoy doing is calling up a random patch from the browser and then adding in my own organic sounds into some of the oscillators. This can be a great approach to creating completely new and other worldly ambiences.

Metasynth, which unfortunately is a Mac only application at this time, lets the user draw in sound via a GUI. The basic idea is that the user draws in a series of dots and lines which then get played back as an audio representation of what has been drawn. The user can choose from a host of different synths which will translate the drawings into sound. The software also includes a mixing and sequencing environment.

Another interesting piece of software is AudioPaint 2.1. This application will let you import a picture which it will then convert into sound. Good for short bursts of electronic sounding pieces. It will also enable the user to generate lines and dots of varying colors which it will translate into some very interesting sonic creations.

Thonk 2.0, created by Audio Ease is another random sound generator. Based upon Granular Synthesis, it will devise a completely new and random sound from a preexisting sound file that you load into it. Interestingly, the user has no control over the outcome so it can produce some very interesting sound ideas.

And Now For Something Completely Different

Sometimes it can be especially beneficial to step away from the task at hand and do something completely unrelated to sound. On the surface this may sound like a simple statement but it can work wonders for augmenting your creativity.


Listening to classical music can have a profound effect on your creativity. It will stimulate your thoughts and help you to think in non-conventional ways. It can be particularly effective if you don't normally listen to classical music. I personally find that listening to music without lyrics will often spark my creativity. The human voice commands attention so music with lyrics can interrupt the creative thought process. Whereas instrumental-only pieces will often open your brain to creative inspiration. If you are accustomed to listening to electronic try jazz, if you are used to listening to rap try world music. The key is to try something different so that your subconscious will reward you with alternate problem solving ideas that normally would not occur.

When faced with a particularly stressful deadline or when you just cannot generate fresh ideas, sometimes it can be really beneficial to step away from the problem at hand and recharge the batteries. Deep breathing and visualization exercises can really benefit your creativity. Relaxing the body by letting go of the frustration at hand can really help to improve your sound design when you return to the task at hand. Take 15 minutes, sit back in your chair, close your eyes and breathe in deep cleansing breaths to take your mind off your deadlock. Instead of banging your head against the wall by forcing creativity, try this method first.

In addition to the above examples, engaging in any other activity that is not directly related to sound can help. If you enjoy drawing, writing, or reading, these activities can help to stimulate your creativity in non-direct ways which will directly influence your sound design.

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