Blog 500: The Sound of Y4

Project Y4 has really been coming together recently. Everything converging on the mystical end point which, though undefined, seems somehow within reach now.

But one of the major factors I’ve been looking at over the last couple of weeks has been sound. And my, what a difference sound makes.

The Sound of Silence

I don’t want to belittle the phenomenal amount of effort I’ve put into the visuals for Y4 (like them or loathe them, I’ve still done the time) but I have to say it: the sounds have really brought the world alive. Maybe it’s more obvious because there’s no music and no voices yet, but the sounds somehow emphasise the fact that things are actually happening.

Sure, before now I had been surfing along on a very few cheap exploits made from General MIDI samples and the odd left-over existing WC3 sound, but I knew this was ultimately untenable. So I looked to the internets to provide free-for-non-commercial-usage sound effects.

My primary resource is flashkit.com, which has a wealth of free sound effects on offer that cover all the explosions and gunshots I could ever want (and plenty more that I don’t), supported by occasional forays into soundbible.com (which tends to trump flashkit in average quality, but has a much smaller database). Finally, and thundering in from the wings to save the day by providing the most important but elusive metal clonks needed to give the AP-AM’s blades the right sound, there is soungle.com.

The Shape and the Power of the Voice

The edge that very quickly follows the sweep of sound effects is the matter of voice acting. For good or ill, I am determined to have Project Y4 voice-acted, by myself and whomever else will lend their vocal cords (and probably Microsoft Speech API too).

My worry here is mostly about access to microphones. Sure, most people own a cheap webcam with a microphone in it, or a phone with a cheap microphone in it, or a stand-alone cheap microphone. But as previous experiments have indicated, this method produces weak audio that doesn’t lend itself to being smothered in effects.

So I need to invest in a half-decent microphone.

Problem is, I know Sweet Female Attitude about microphones. I don’t want to splash too much cash because audio will never be a primary focus of mine, but I don’t want to splash too little because I want Y4 to sound good (enough). Presumably I’ll continue to make other projects that may require voices, so getting a half-decent microphone shouldn’t exactly go amiss in the long run. I mean, when I first got Paint Shop Pro 7, I could never have imagned what I’d be using it for these days, so maybe getting a real microphone will unlock the magical floodgates.

Sounds Like a Melody

Of course the big hole in my plan is, and probably always will be, music. The one developmental aperture I have been steadfastly unable to insert myself into (and not for wont of trying).

I’ve got WavePad Sound Editor, ModPlug and SynthEdit; I can assemble samples and instruments and set down tracks to play them. But what I’ll never have is the flair it takes to home in on a good melody, an appropriate bass line or an atmospheric percussive track. Even the traditional iterative development strategy has failed me (the fifty-billionth version of Enola Gay can testify to that) — I know what sounds good, and I most definitely know what sounds bad, but I’m damned if I can get my things to move in the right direction. It’s pure floundering.

I suppose, with the new emphasis on sound effects, there is always the possibility of going totally musicless: layer on ambient noise and hope for the best.

But I love music, and it would sadden me deeply if I couldn’t at least scrape together a secret disco ending.

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