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10 Best Plugins For Game Sound Design
Article by George Spanos
I am often asked what audio plugins I use when designing sounds. My answer frequently includes some new plugin that I have recently discovered and have started using in my day to day work. Though, I must admit that I am not a complete plugin-aholic always searching for that "new best thing".
I do believe that there is a lot of room for plugin designers to create something new, and never before heard. I am always hoping when I load up a new piece of software that I will get the ability to create truly new sounds and be inspired. Unfortunately this does not happen too often. So I do find myself falling back on some perennial plugins that I know can get the job done.
So that leads me to why I compiled this list, and how you should use it. I often read about a certain new plugin that does not have a proven history or track record behind it. I thought it would be informative to list the plugins that I have used on pretty much every game release to date. These plugins have followed me through multiple releases, multiple operating systems, and many years. I have also tried to make it diverse so there is not too much repetition with plugins that achieve a similar result.
My studio setup is based around the Windows OS with Pro Tools. A couple of these plugins are very hard to track down because they are no longer supported. But I still cannot part with them. It is also worth mentioning that the list is not in any particular order. Also don't forget to tell us what your favorite sound design plugins are in the comments below!
1. Absynth by Native Instruments
One of my all-time favorites. I consider Absynth to be more of an instrument because I use it to create new sounds rather than altering a sound that has already been created. But the great thing about it is that you can load up a sample and mess with it to get a completely new sound.
My basic way of working with it is to browse through the pre-existing patches until I hear something that sparks my imagination. I then start to carve and sculpt it until it sounds the way I want it to. Any way you use it you are guaranteed to come up with a truly unique sound.
Uses: Sci-fi, ambient, weird, and unique sounds
Native Instruments Absynth
2. Renaissance EQ by Waves
Quite often when working on sound effects for games you want equalization that does not impart a lot of coloration. The REQ series lets me carve out the exact offending frequencies or boost only the ones I need to emphasize. It is also pretty light-weight CPU-wise so you can load a session up with them and not run into out of memory problems. I use some form of REQ on every session I work on... it's pretty universal in its application and it is quick and easy to get the results you need.
Uses: Any sound
Waves Renaissance EQ
3. Tapestop by TBT
A great free VST plugin that emulates the sound of a tape machine slowing down or speeding up. I use this when I want to gradually speed up a sound to emulate an aircraft engine starting up or stopping. Also perfect for breathing new life into static sounds without any movement in them. Believe it or not I have also used it in sci-fi weapon sound design. Full control of the speed and direction (wind up or down) of the sound is available.
Uses: Engine and weapon sounds
4. Morph by Prosoniq
This one was released around 2003. I don't think it is available for the PC anymore, but if you hunt around you can find the VST .dll's in dusty, forgotten places on the internet. I really wish Prosoniq still supported this plugin as a PC VST. But it is still, in my opinion, one of the best sound morphing plug-ins out there. I have yet to find anything else that can replicate it's simple, intuitive interface and fantastic morphing capabilities.
I use this plug-in when I want to create creature sounds. It essentially blends two separate sounds together into one new sound... pretty basic, really. But the possibilities are endless. Creating creature, alien, or any other type of non-human vocalisation definitely deserves it's own article (or book), but this plugin will get you running in the right direction straight off the bat. You will not be disappointed.
Uses: Creature, alien, zombie, and general vocalization sounds
Type: Sound morphing
5. Maxim by Avid
If you want devastatingly crushed sounds, this is a must-have. Maxim is a single-band limiter that can really hammer your sounds if you push it. I often use it as more of an effect rather than a traditional limiter to achieve that hard-limited clipping sound when needed.
Uses: Hard limiting as an effect
6. Renaissance Reverb by Waves
Everyone needs a great-sounding multipurpose reverb. RVerb is just that: a great, universal reverb unit that you can use on any sound when you need to add space and ambience. I find it to be pretty lightweight on CPU use as well, so throwing a bunch of these across multiple tracks in a Pro Tools session will not slow you down.
Uses: Traditional reverb effects
7. Avid Moogerfooger Analog Delay
Who doesn't love everything that Moog releases? Sure, delay is a pretty standard effect that many sound designers use. But trust me, this one is different from your stock delay unit. Like Maxim, I tend to use the Moogerfooger delay as a sound design tool rather than what it was most likely designed to be used as.
Cranking the 'Drive' and 'Feedback' parameters can create some truly great self-oscillating delay effects which can add that extra spice to magic, sci-fi, and otherworld sounds.
Uses: Magic, sci-fi, and different delay effects
8. Bittersweet by Flux
OK, so I lied a little. This plugin is relatively new to me but is destined to be one that I will be using for years to come. And the best part is that it is FREE. It even works as well as if not better than a number of it's purchase-only brethren.
So what is it? Bittersweet is a transient designer plugin that can accentuate the transients, or peaks, of a sound. It can also dull transients that are too sharp and stick out in a mix. It is a great tool for music use but it finds its home in sound design when you need to emphasize that "punch" and attack of a particular sound. I use it all the time when designing gun sounds because it makes the transient "pop" stick out in a sharp and powerful way. It often adds that extra layer of bite to a gunshot that is hard to reproduce by just using traditional limiters and equalization.
Uses: Weapon sound design
Type: Transient Designer
9. Massive by Native Instruments
Another great instrument plugin from Native Instruments. Much like Absynth, Massive is one of those tools that I know I can turn to when I need a great sound quickly. The sounds I seem to get out of it are often the more hard and digital sounding types, but sometimes that is exactly what you need.
Like Absynth, I will often start off by browsing the preset patches. I will hone in on the one that inspires me and tweak it until it sounds exactly the way I want. Quite often the resulting sound will be nothing like the preset because as I am designing I will often hear things and go down a path that I had not previously thought of. This a a fantastically great creative sound design tool.
Uses: Almost any high-tech sound you can think of
Native Instruments Massive
10. Eastwest/SoundsOnline StormDrum 2
This fantastic collection of drum hits, gongs, waterphones, ethnic percussion, and cymbal scrapes comes in handy all the time. I use this instrument's samples in everything from gun shots, to ambiences, to creature vocals, to layers in gigantic monster footsteps. Sometimes I just need that extra low thud layer for added impact in a sound or in a trailer, and I will often find something that will work from StormDrum.
Reversing and processing many of the samples will yield interesting sound design results that can be combined with other sounds from Massive or Absynth into completely new soundscapes or sweeteners. Some of the best recorded percussion samples out there. There is also a StormDrum 3 on the market now but I have not used it yet.
Uses: Impact sweeteners, trailer sound design
Eastwest StormDrum 2
What are some of your favorite game sound design plugins? Share in the comments below!