Restrictions. Usually it’s a bad thing. Something we fight against and
work around. I certainly look back at the restrictions of old consoles
with no fondness. But then you look at what The Beatles did with a 4
track (well a couple of 4 tracks and some bouncing) and you start to see
some magic in restrictions. These days with unlimited power in our tools
(relatively) putting some restrictions on ourselves can be a good way
to force yourself into some creative solutions.
I think the first and easiest would be to limit your track counts.
Either when writing music or making SFX limit how many tracks are in
your session and try not to go over them. When making SFX I stick a lot
to between 5 and 8 tracks. Once I’m up around 8, I start to go back over
my layers and usually find things that are no longer being effective or
are being masked and not heard. Time to cut those things out. As well I
find a track limit speeds me up as I’m no longer feeling the need to
keep adding. Paraphrasing Doug Martsch maybe you’re just layering things
to hide things.
One of the areas I always struggle with when doing SFX is HUD and UI
sounds. And putting my own restrictions on it really helps me get what I
want in that area. I’m the kind of person that obsesses over building a
cohesive unified HUD/UI soundscape. (That, VO processing chains and what limiter to use on a game.) I really aim for HUD/UI SFX to connect with
the tone and feeling of a game and fit into the story being told. For me
a click is not just a click. So with the wide open everything I put a
box around things to get all of that into the space I think fits. When a
game starts out I brainstorm out with the designers what the look/feel
of the game is going to be and where we’re headed with the story and
tone. From there I start building a small source library that I’ll build
all my HUD/UI sounds from. I’ll pull from libraries, record objects,
record synths from all over the place. Be it virtual synths, analog,
modular or iPad based. Just gather up anything I feel can be turned into
the feeling I’m looking for. Then for the rest of the project I only
pull from that source folder anytime I need a HUD or UI sound. This
helps me pull together having all the sounds fit the world I’m building
and fit together.
When I’m gathering a game’s HUD/UI source library together I’ll start
out by making a DAW session for just that. If I’m going to pull from
libraries I’ll pull all the sounds I think fit into that session so
they’re all in one place and I’m not tempted by other sounds in the
library. But mostly I gather my own sounds. This might be recording new
sounds into that session or capturing synths. Softsynths are a great
tool but I prefer hardware or external soft synths for this task. By
external soft synths I mean things like iPad synths and the like. I like
to throw a track in record and just mess around, recording everything.
Using external synths also allows me to get my guitar pedals involved
which can help pre-process and create more unique sounds. Anything that
allows for tweaking while I’m recording. The more hands on things are at
this stage the more likely happy accidents will happen. Creating this
source isn’t about being perfect. It’s about giving you a small unique
set of sounds to build from. You don’t want your palette to be every
colour in the Pantone book. You want to restrict it to focus you.
So using Invisible, Inc. as an example I started out thinking about what
the feeling of the game was and how the HUD/UI sounds should relate to
that. Earlier on it had a more noir edge to it so I was looking for
sounds routed in the past that I could process to take them into the
future. I felt a combination of old analog and 8bit source would lead me
to the feel I wanted. I recorded a bunch of tones from a Korg Monotron
and an Electro-Harmonix RTG guitar pedal for my analog sounds. For more
8bit source I recorded a bunch of random elements out of Soundmorph’s
Galactic Assistant. That turned into the pool of sounds I would draw
from for the rest of the project.
The other big restriction I’ll put on myself is only certain plugins can
be used for creating the sounds of a certain area of a game. For the
Mainframe mode in Invisible, Inc. I wanted everything to sound like you
were in a computer. I decided that bit crushing and ring modulation fit
the bill. Those plugins then became used only for sound in that area of
the game. That restriction unified the sounds of that area and separated
them from the rest of the games soundscape. So while I generally pulled
from the same pool for UI sounds the plugin choices allowed them to
sound unique to that area but related to the rest of the game.
Of course there’s lots more self-imposed restrictions you can put on
yourself too. Time constraints. Implementation restraints. All kinds of
stuff. The important thing to do is to use them to spur greater
creativity from yourself. Take the restrictions and build something
greater because of them.