How to Make Sound Effects for Video Games

Sound effects are vital for any audio product. Video games, films, and TV require good quality sound effects which you can create by yourself or buy from a sound effect library online on a monthly subscription or pay per sound service.

To make sound effects for video games use elements from your house or real sounds from nature spots. Record individual sounds with a cardioid condenser mic. For outdoor settings (urban areas, crowds, natural spots) use a stereo mic. Finally, apply effects in your DAW until you get the sound effect you want.

Sound designers, voice acting directors, and sound editors work on listing what effects need to be in high-quality audio (mainly for AA and AAA games) and what others can be  8-bit sounds. 

High-budget games may need original sounds and effects, that would need to be recorded from real sounds like living beings (baby animals), nature sounds (water flows, streams, air, sea waves)

In this post, I present:

  • How Do Video Games Find Sound Effects
  • How Do You Make a Sound Effect for a Game
  • How Do You Add Sound Effects to Audio
  • How Do You Make Online Sound Effects
  • How to Make Sound Effects on BFRX
  • How Do I Practice Sound Design for Games
  • Recommended Books to Learn Sound Design
  • Recommended Sound Design Online Courses
  • Recommended Youtube Channels to Learn Sound Design

How Do Video Games Find Sound Effects

When a game is designed and developed, there are two main tasks to comply with: sound designing and sound editing. Once the full story is presented to the developing team, sound designers start identifying what specific sound effects the game will need. 

The voice director in charge of getting the best performance from voice actors can also contribute with ideas to make each character unique.

Now, in matters of time-budget efficiency, the sound designer decides which sound effects are feasible to be created by the team in charge or if the desired effects are already available for purchase on SFX platforms online.

In my post about How to Get the Best Sound Effects Libraries, I present the sound libraries I find the most useful for personal and commercial use. Just go and check it!

The following advantages are the main reasons for me to buy SFX online:

  • Sound effects paid libraries will give you peace of mind in matters of professional audio quality
  • Many of these SFX online platforms work with awarded sound designers and engineers in the entertainment industry
  • Using online SFX libraries helps you save tons of time so that you can focus on creating sound effects that need several layers of sound 
  • You can find famous sound effects from films and TV series, which can grant a positive impact on what the audience perceives (gamers, moviegoers, audiobook lovers, etc.) 
  • Their pricing can even be very affordable when you get them on a monthly payment pack

Then, sound editors mix the original recording, the effects, and the necessary equalization and compression. On many occasions, a sound effect is made of several different recordings that are mixed together to get the desired effect.

How Do You Make a Sound Effect for a Game

To make sound effects for a video game you can use virtual instruments, mainly synths, and sound expansions.  You can also record ordinary elements around your house and apply effects on them to get the effect that you want. Combine multiple sounds and effects to create unique effects for your game.

Consider using two of the best sets of virtual instruments in the market, mainly the synths and sound expansions included in Reason (Propellerhead), Komplete 13 (Native Instruments), especially if you’re working on AA or AAA games. 

Record ordinary elements around your house and apply effects on them to get the sound effect you want. Use the appropriate type of microphone pattern to get the best results (cardioid for single sounds indoors, stereo for outdoor sounds).

The most common sound effects for video games are 8-bit sounds (like the intro music and “waka-waka” sound in Pacman), whooshes, shots, steps, bombs, guns, jumps, chainsaws, chest opening, radio static, machine sounds, fight punches, and kicks, vehicle collisions, car crashes, explosions, bells, rings, and many more (read how to make these effects with free tools in subheadings below).

You can get a lot of effects on standard music keyboards, in the sections dedicated to percussion sounds and sound effects. Just connect your keyboard to your audio interface and record them on your DAW.

If you use synthesizers, you can find a huge amount of effects at a high audio resolution (as well as 8-bit sound). That superb sound quality is needed for indie AA and AAA games. These are my recommended synths: Novation Ultra Nova, IK Multimedia UNO Synth Pro, Yamaha MODX8 88-key Weighted Action Synthesizer.

To make a sound effect, choose one effect from a keyboard, record it into your favorite DAW, and apply several effects such as reverb, reverse, pitch change, delay, distortion. Those are just a few options among dozens of possibilities.

  • If you decide to record effects with a microphone, use a cardioid condenser model, and record directly to your DAW. Apply as many effects as you want until you hear the result you want.

Then, if none of the above strategies is suitable for the needs of your game, according to the sound designer, that’s when using a sound library online can save the day.

How Do You Add Sound Effects to Audio

If you want to add sound effects to an audio track (maybe from background music) in your favorite DAW,  follow the steps below:

  • Import the audio track (music or sound effect)
  • Import the sound effect(s) 
  • Use equalization to make sure that the important characteristics of each sound are not masked by the others
  • Use compression to avoid distorted audio sections
  • Make sure the audio levels never surpass 0dB in your master volume meter 
  • Import the recorded sound

How Do You Make Online Sound Effects

You can make sound effects with a free online DAW like LMMS. You can also use online software like Leshy Labs, Jsfxr, Twisted Wave, and Audio Mass. These SFX are available at 8,000 – 11,025 – 22,050 – 44,100 – 48,000 kHz. Apply some EQ to lower sample rate sounds (8,000 or 11,025 kHz) before you add them to your game. In most generators, 22,050 kHz effects and above provide nice sound quality.

  • One of the greatest advantages of using online tools to make sound effects online is that you can work on the effects wherever you go and on any kind of device. 
  • You can perfectly start working on a video game sound effect session on your desktop, and then continue exploring and generating more effects on a tablet or smartphone.
  • Then you can import the work made “on the go” to the main session on your desktop, and get the best out of your available time.

These are the most popular audio editors and online 8-bit SFX generators:

BrandResource TypeWhat You Can Do with It
LMMSFree download DAWUse the default sound banks and apply effects
Audio MassOnline Audio and Waveform EditorImport your files and apply effects
Twisted WaveOnline Audio Editor and Free open-source softwareUse the sound generator by clicking on each preset, change the settings, and download it as a Wav file
Leshy Labs SFDesignerFree open-source softwareUse the sound generator by clicking on each preset, change the settings, and download it as a Wav file
JsfxrFree open-source softwareUse the sound generator by clicking on each preset, change the settings, and download it as a Wav file
  • This is Leshy Labs SFDesigner visual interface on 
Common tips when working with Leshy Labs SFDesigner –
  • This is a screenshot of JSFXR
Visual interface of JSFXR –
View of the code generated in “Serialize”, JSFXR –
  • This is Twisted Wave
  • Audio Mass
  • LMMS

How Do You Make Digital Sound Effects

If you want to make digital sound effects you need to use virtual instruments (VST), online sound effects generators, and computer software. Then, apply additional effects (reverb, delay, reverse, distortion) to the audio track containing the sound effect. With these tools, you can create user interface sounds and SFX for every action in the story.

You can try higher quality virtual instrument synths (rather than 8-bit sounds), like Massive, Absynth and Kinetic Metal (Native Instruments), Reason’s Subtractor, and Thor (Reason Studios). 

Useful tips to work on professional virtual instruments: I like very much both Native Instruments and Reason Studios’ virtual instruments, and sound expansions. They are the two main tools that I have used since I became an audio engineer, and they immediately made me fall in love with the world of sound designing and sound effects.

  • Get the free trial month from Reason+. Explore all the synths’ sound effects and experiment with the different settings available

How to Make Sound Effects on BFRX

BFRX has become one of the most renowned free 8-bit sound effects generator software for macOS and Windows. To make sound effects on BFRX you need to download the program and run it from your desktop computer. 

Each time you click on a pre-set (on the left) you create a new sound –
  • Explore each pre-set and experiment with the available settings to create suitable effects for your games.

  • Not only BFRX but also Leshy Labs’ SFDesigner and JSFXR work in a very similar way: they are sound generators that allow the user to change the pre-set settings by increasing or decreasing certain parameters such as attack time, sustain time, decay time, compression, frequency, vibrato, harmonics, pitch shifts, type of wave, low or high pass filters, among many others. 

  • Remember that each time you click on a pre-set sound, it generates a similar one, and creates a new file (below the main menu on the left). Then, you can decide which files suit your project. All downloads are only available as Wav files.

How Do I Practice Sound Design for Games

If you want to practice sound design for games you can start by learning by applying critical listening to different basic, AA, and AAA games, by playing the games and watching videos from experienced sound designers. You can read books in the field and take some online courses. Cinematic sound effects are also common in high-budget games.

The key to learning from critical listening is to pay detailed attention to every single sound and the parameters that it comes with:

  • The sound of a gun: loading the weapon, explosive attack, the reverb of the shot in the setting, delay and reverb sounds from previous shots, etc. 

These are my recommended books, online Courses, and Youtube Channels to start practicing sound design for games:

Recommended Books to Learn Sound Design

Designing Audio Effect Plugins in C++: For AAX, AU, and VST3 with DSP Theory 2nd

The Sound Effects Bible: How to Create and Record Hollywood Style Sound Effects

Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema

Recommended Sound Design Online Courses

Get all the details from the Best Video Game Sound Design Courses in my blog. You will find the most relevant universities, colleges, and online platforms that offer professional training for sound design. 

All the data in every table is up to date (2022): places, length, fees, free resources, and the most used bibliography used by the top institutions in their programs. This will help you make a decision on which path is more suitable for your specific goals to become a sound designer.  

If you really have your heart and soul set on making music and sound effects, consider enrolling for a bachelor’s degree in the US or Canada.

Recommended YouTube Channels to Learn Sound Design

One of my favorite YT channels is Marshall McGee’s. He warns exactly what a person would do to find details on how to make high-quality sound effects. In each video, you can learn a lot, as he is also a big fan of learning from critical listening, like me. Just to paraphrase some of his realistic comments:

  • Searching on the internet for interviews about how a sound designer managed to get SFX, turns almost no result.
  • Sound designing is not a well documented profession yet. And it’s true. You can find very few YT channels and websites about the field.
  • Developers don’t get into the same (passionate) detailing about sound effects, the way they do it with how they made the graphics.

You will find great information and techniques in every single video of his channel. Take a look at one of them:

Pro Sound Effects also provide very good info about sound effects and music for games. They make professional SFX (great online monthly-payment sound libraries) with award-winning designers and engineers. So, it´s really worth watching and learning from them!

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