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Sound game design: making some noise

By - 20 February 2020

As part of G3’s ongoing series exploring the mechanics of game design, we quiz iSoftBet’s Lucian Doban about the functional and creative processes required in the making of a game’s soundscape, from instrumental noises, sound effects, reward alerts and background music.

Could you outline your career and background in sound design?

I’ve been the sound designer at iSoftBet for several years. Before that I was ears deep into trance and other styles of music, so a bit different from your usual background! I was lucky to be signed with various record labels from the UK, Italy, Germany, among others, before turning my attentions to the iGaming industry.

How did you become involved in sound design for games?

iSoftBet has been expanding for some time, and at one expansion point a friend of mine approached me and described the opportunity. I took the plunge and haven’t looked back since. It’s different from my previous music work, but it’s lots of fun!

Who do you admire in terms of great sound design and where do you seek your inspiration?

In terms of inspiration, there are so many people andcompaniesthatproducegreatsounds. It’s amazing how some sounds and music styles are still so iconic after so many years, and some are brand new and pushing the boundaries of innovation. It’s a very exciting sector.

Starting from a blank canvas, how and where do you begin the creative process of designing sound?

Our process is so well defined that it’s now a very smooth experience. As a starting point we go through the design and the specifications, then talk to the producers and review the artwork. Having information about the market, knowing what other games are popular in that or those specific regions, in that segment or mood area is all part of the job. So, to an extent knowing what we’re after is the hard part – the rest will come, once we know what type of sound design we are aiming for.

Do the sound and art departments work together throughout the process of creating a game? Do you work together from the initial concept stage or is sound design somewhat dictated by the artistic style of the game?

The artwork changes quite a lot before it is finally agreed. If we talk about a bigger title that needs more time in the sound department, we might approach it while the art is still in development, but most of the time we’ll handle the sound and music once the look and feel of the game is already established. With one element fixed it’s easier for us to create the accompanying sound.

Do you view music as a separate element within thedesignasopposedtosoundeffects?Are they two different things – and do you create them separately?

It depends. I work in parallel. Sometimes it’s just easier to start with some sounds that you know will work. Other times you feel that without a strong piece of music you can’t truly get a feel of the game. From title to title it is different as we create games from classic slots with three lemons, to fully immersive experiences with a lot of animation and mood that crosses over the screen.

What for you are the most important elements in creating an appealing game soundscape?

I think it’s best when you don’t notice the sounds or the music until late in the game. That’s a good sign the sound and the gameplay has managed to keep the player engaged. It’s very important to me.

How many sound design iterations do you have to go through before reaching the final concept?

You can get lucky at times and finish it in one day, or there are other times where a game will haunt you for weeks without managing to put everything together in a perfect fit. It really varies from game to game.

How do you target specific demographics through sound?

The demographics are targeted by the game idea first. We have talks between producers, graphics and sound and we review what the users like in each market – but we like taking risks and bringing new experiences to players. This sometimes means mixing the types one demographic likes with other preferences. There is no rigid formula for us.

Is there an iSoftBet house style? How would you describe the sound design signature of iSoftBet?

We create so many types of games it’s hard to say we have a style. We’re more faithful to whatever works for the game rather than to a style.

Do you take a wholly different approach to creating sound for Egyptian King, for example, as opposed to a game such as Wild Ape?

Absolutely. In the example given, both games are quite cinematic. Aside from the game themes, the game’s pace, features and volatility must all be supported with sound and music. Every game is different, so every game requires a unique approach.

How does the sound design process change when producing a branded game such as Paranormal Activity, as opposed to a game created in-house?

Any branded game comes with an easy part and a difficult one. For once, you already know the mood you want to get. On the other side, getting that mood right and working with the brand managers to have the game approved is a serious process.

How do you stop repetitive sounds becoming irritating to the player?

I doubt the repeating sound of counting coins during a big win will ever irritate a player!

Are there winning and losing sounds?

I guess there are, but they are different for each player. We try to stay away from negative moods – both sound and art, and we don’t create environments for negative experiences.

In your opinion, how important is sound to the success of a game?

In a cinema experience, you can watch a movie without sound and might understand what is happening, but with the sound added you are transported inside the movie. Within a gaming environment sound is that extra link that binds a gameplay mechanic with a core sensation.

I’m glad that users prefer to play our games with the sound turned on. Ultimately, sound is one important aspect of a much bigger design process, but if all aspects of the game design team are working well, we can create amazing things.

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