Let’s look at Audacity effects!


This article originally appeared in Dev.Mag Issue 26, released in October 2008

Interested in making your own sound effects for videogames? This month we’ll be looking at Audacity and a few of the common effects that can be used to turn your humble blink-blonks into fantastic kaphwooms.

1_male, eh, Nandrew?

1_male, eh, Nandrew?

This article deals with a mildly technical side of sound production in Audacity, so it’ll assume that you already have a wave file loaded up and ready for priming. In terms of format, you may want to look for a file that’s based on the standard PCM WAV structure (it’s the most common WAV file format, so you’re probably using it already) with a 16-bit 44100Hz quality (these details will be shown in the info box to the left of the file when you load it up in Audacity). You can also opt for a stereo sound format, but mono means a smaller file size and will usually do the job just fine unless you specifically need two channels.

So, to clarify, you’ll prefer these in an input file:

  • PCM WAV format
  • 16 bit
  • 44100Hz (or similar)
  • Mono

Higher quality is optional, but isn’t always necessary.

If you really can’t find an input file to meet these requirements, no biggie – you can still try to convert them to the desired format by clicking on the filename in the left info box and selecting the necessary properties in the pop-up menu. Also check the Edit -> Preferences -> File Format menu to make sure that your uncompressed export format is set to the 16-bit PCM.

Export options

Maybe some of you remember that funky little sound idea thing back in Issue 24. If you haven’t checked it out yet, don’t panic – you’ll be able to understand this article just the same. But try have a gander at it anyway. Also be sure to grab your own copy of Audacity from here.

Right, now that we’ve got all the details out of the way, let’s look at the interesting stuff.

The Audacity effects

Select all or part of the file that you’ve loaded up in Audacity (this can be done by clicking and dragging the mouse over the desired file component). This is going to be the section of the file that you apply your effects and filters to.

Now select Effects from the top menu. You’ll see a whole list of neat things that can be done to the innocent sound file which is now under your control.

Effects menu

We won’t be looking at every effect that’s on display, but a few of the simpler ones will be covered. What follows is a description of several effects, giving you their job, their potential for game development and a few useful pointers to get you going in the right direction. Let’s go!

Change Pitch

  • Technical description: This effect alters, well, the pitch of the sound. How high or low the notes are, so to speak. You can plug in a spoken sentence and decrease the pitch for a deep, manly-man voice or conversely increase the pitch to make it sound like a chipmunk. Wheee!
  • Game use: This is one of the most commonly used effects to tweak sounds. You may want to change the pitch of an in-game explosion. Perhaps you have a piano somewhere in your game and you want to get several pitch variations of the same sound clip. Or you have a nice cartoony game where you want to take a standard set of sound effects and make them all cutesy by swinging the pitch up.
  • Hints: This filter is great if you want to speak in your game but need to mask your voice or simply make it sound cooler. Lowering or heightening the pitch just ever-so-slightly will greatly improve the sound in your own ears, and you could potentially voice several in-game characters simply by altering the way you speak each time and applying a pitch effect.

Change Tempo

  • Technical description: This is the counterpart of changing pitch. Do you want the same sound to play much faster or a little bit slower than the one you currently have? Tempo can make a bwooooooooooom into a bwumph, and vice versa.
  • Game use: Maybe you want a quick and tiny explosion noise but only have the Manhattan Project on your hands. Or maybe your character is using a weapon with a high rate of fire and you’ve only got sound effects which last for at least two seconds. No problemo! Increase the tempo until you’re able to justifiably go powpowpow for as long as your character needs.
  • Hint: By doing some extreme compression or extension of sound effects with the tempo changer, you’ll actually start hearing some very, very weird things. This can be rather neat if you’re looking for some exotic and/or sci-fi sound effects, so give it a shot.

Change Speed

  • Technical description: This function is the equivalent of changing both the pitch and tempo in one go. A higher pitch delivers a faster tempo, and vice versa.
  • Game use: If you’re going to be using both pitch and tempo change for a sound effect, this can be handy for doing it with one effect.

Amplify

  • Technical description: Increases or decreases the volume of the selected sound clip.
  • Game use: This is mainly to place emphasis on a certain portion of a sound. For example, if you want an explosion to start off big and trail off, you can use amplification to tweak various parts of the sound. You can also use it to get all the sound effects in your game on acceptable volume levels. There’s no point in your water sound effects drowning out the sound of loud bangs, after all.
  • Hints: If you’re recording your own sounds, don’t rely too heavily on amplify to fix your volume. Making sounds louder will increase the chance of background noise becoming noticeable. Conversely, screaming into the mike and then reducing the volume probably won’t get rid of the distortion that sometimes crops up. Use amplification for minor tweaking only. Also note that there are several more advanced amplification tools in Audacity (Normalize, Compressor, Equalize, etc). Learn to use these if you want to perform more fine-tuned or finicky volume tasks, otherwise you should be able to ignore them.

Audacity

Click removal

  • Technical description: This is the easiest way to remove that horrible crackly effect that one typically encounters when using amateur recording equipment. Make your sounds crisper and less “polluted” with this filter.
  • Game use: If you’ve got “clean” sound effects mixed with crumbly messes in your game, it helps to apply this effect to the culprits.
  • Hints: This isn’t a perfect effect, so try not to rely on it too heavily. Rather make an effort to generate a smooth sound before it goes into the Audacity editor. If you truly feel confident, try using the Noise Removal effect instead (this will require you to capture a separate noise profile and then use it to remove noise in other parts of your clip).

Echo

  • Technical description: Adds a basic echo. Duh.
  • Game use: Handy for dramatic announcements or sound effects in a cave.
  • Hints: Most uses for the echo will involve decreasing the default delay time. A high delay time may sound good in certain areas (experimenting to find exotic sound effects is great) but generally it just makes the effect rather confusing.

Audacity

Fade In / Fade Out

  • Technical description: Gradually brings a sound clip from zero volume to full, or vice versa.
  • Game use: A very specific effect which is probably most useful for tailoring background music or longer sound effects (power up and power down sequences, for example). Can replace amplify in certain circumstances.

Reverse

  • Technical description: Puts the sound clip back-to-front, so that the end plays first.
  • Game use: Can be used for a wide range of funky effects. If you’re keen to experiment with a sound, try reversing it and see how it comes out!
  • Hints: If you know how to use stereo tracks in Audacity (it’s a more convoluted process than you may experience in some other programs – check Audacity’s help file for more details), you can reverse one of the channels and leave the other one playing normally. This occasionally grants a really cool effect.

In conclusion

These are just a few of the simpler effects in Audacity. Fiddling with some of the more complex tools can lend you more interesting effects, but the point of this tutorial is to give you some of the basics to confidently tweak your own sounds and get rid of the more glaring problems in your files.

If you seriously want to go into sound editing and file fixing, it’s worthwhile to consider finding a more powerful and/or specialised application to do the job for you. Many programs come with sets of filters and tweaks that can offer you a wider variety of sound wizardry (useful in generating robot voices, impacts and other common effects). However, be sure not to underestimate the power of a well-recorded sound and a few choice effects – after giving it a shot, you’ll wonder how you ever settled for your database of 1001 Free Sounds for your day-to-day gamecrafting.


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About Nandrew

Rodain Joubert is a South African game developer based in Cape Town, currently working for QCF Design. He likes his job. He likes being opinionated on the Internet. He likes fighting evil with his heat ray vision. And he also likes cats. [Articles]