Sound Design for Knight Defense iOS app

Dec 01 2010

I've recently teamed up with Milan Nikolic of Zebrica to assist in creating great sounding FX and music, as well as provide a pleasing overall audio experience for his awesome iOS creations. This last month I've been hard at work creating a whole new sound board for a very unique and original Tower Defense game that Milan designed called "Knight Defense". If you're not familiar with Tower Defense games, you can read more about them on the Wiki Page. I'll spare you a lengthy description of the game, which you can read more about on his website or through the actual app store on iTunes. But I do, however, want to touch on some details about how I approached the sound for this game in particular.


Approaching the sound for Knight Defense

With any game, sound effects play a huge role in the overall experience of the game. They give us auditory cues that trigger certain responses. They enhance the visuals/graphics that are displayed. They can bring on a variable plethora of emotions that enhance the feel of the game. Without these sounds, your game could potentially be pretty boring and we don't want that.

My first order of business when creating sounds for Knight Defense, was to sit down with the material, study it, and write out all the visual actions that need a sound effect or could potentially enhance the game by having a specific sound effect. This includes actions/functions/events that are already present in the game and actions/functions/events that don't exist yet.  For Knight Defense, these were things like: Unit movement, special ability sounds, rank up sounds, button sounds, enemy/player attack sounds, musical elements, etc...  Once I've compiled a list of potential sounds, It's time to put on my game face and play the actual game like the end user would. This is an important step in the process for me and is usually where I get my best ideas. It gives me a chance to write down any actions I might have missed, but have become obviously apparent through game play. It also provides me a chance to be the "player" and understand the game experience. While playing the game, 9 times out of 10 I will have a thought along the lines of... "It would be way better if this happened, and then this sound played." or maybe, "There needs to be some sort of sound cue for X, because I can't tell when X is about to do Y and that's important." For example, in Knight Defense, the enemies spawn out of teleports in waves. The waves come out at certain time intervals. In Milan's original sound board, there was no sound for enemies coming out of teleports, nor the intervals at which they were released. This was clearly an important event during the game. Without a sound effect for this event, you were forced to watch the teleports in suspense, focusing most of your attention towards them and less towards your own pieces and strategy. But once we added a "teleport release" and "next wave alarm" sound for those events, it created those very important auditory cues and all you had to do now was listen. Once familiar with the sounds of such an event, you don't need the visual cue anymore. The sound itself triggers your response. Think of it like your door bell. You don't know that anyone is at your door until they ring your doorbell. That gives your brain a cue that someone is at the door, and you need to go answer it.  Those types of sound cues are just as important in games and certainly just as important in a game like Knight Defense.

The next thing on the list,  is to come up with a theme for the sound board. This gives me a foundation for all the sounds I create.  Having a theme ensures that all the sounds go together well, and it doesn't sound like some hodge podge sound-scape you threw together at the last minute. This theme usually ties in with how the game looks and feels. With Knight Defense, and it's cool glowing graphics, the game felt very "Spacey", "Robotic" and "Futuristic" to me. - It really felt like a futuristic version of chess, and I felt that it was best to make the sound board reflect that kind of robotic futuristic feel.

Creating the sounds from scratch

Now that I've got my list of sound events, my sound theme (the overall vibe), it's time to start crafting some sounds from scratch. My favorite part! The key for creating good sounds from scratch, for me, is the layering of sounds I choose and what kind of fancy FX and filtering I apply to them. And while its not uncommon for me to use one sound (no layers), I usually have at least 3 layers playing that are all covering certain aspects of the sound. Most of my sounds are created through roughly 3 to 10 layers of sounds, grouped together, compressed together, and EQ shaped together. And while that's certainly not the magic bullet for all the sounds I create, it usually gives me that unified sound I'm looking for. Sometimes it doesn't, and that's when I reach for extra tools or another unique sound to add to the sound salad I'm preparing to fill it out. I really want those layers to sound like one sound, not 5 sounds or 10 sounds, whatever may be the case. With Knight Defense, the unique special abilities was a great place to start to build my foundation.

Sometimes I'm not actually looking to make a cool sound, but more of a musical element type of sound. A great example of this in Knight Defense, is the Bishops "Healing" ability and the Knights "Double Fire" ability. With the Bishop, I just thought about his special ability (healing), who he is and what kind of sound a bishop might make. The first thing that came to my mind was "Angels from heaven" coming down to bless your wounded heros. - OK, so that's easy.. I need some kind of triumphant major chord, a sparkly sounding effect like chimes, a choir with some "ahhhs" as if blessing you with life from the heavens, and a futuristic synth element to tie it all together. And what I ended up with wasn't so much of an obscure sound-scape of sorts, but more of a quick chord stab type of sound w/ perks. The Knights Double fire was very similar in that effect.

Let's take a listen to that "Bishop Healing" Sound effect and see how it turned out!

Pretty cool, eh?

So that's a little insight into the sound creation process for me. The latest version with all the newest sounds should be ready for download before Christmas. Until then, you can download the current version without all the snazzy new features and sounds on the iTunes App Store through your iPhone/iPod/iPad and look forward to an update for Christmas! In addition to Knight Defense, were working on a flute app similar to Ocarina - I'll post more specific details in the near future.

Happy Holidays!

- Justin

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