Sound Assets for Indies & Ludum Dare

Posted by (twitter: @Ralkarin)
December 30th, 2011 12:06 pm

Hey Indies,

One thing that my LD 22 entry (and most games I make) lack is sound.  I have little to no experience making sound, so I wanted to get some feedback from the community about how indies either prepare or gather sound effects for their games.  Right now, my “option of choice” is to go to and play with sounds for ~1 hour until I find the ideal one I want to use (for 1 sound clip), and it takes forever, and sometimes the sound I want isn’t there!

I did notice the LD team was awesome and posted a bunch of tools here: for us to use, which is cool, but I had a few questions for the community.  Answer as few or as many as you’d like! :)

Do you use LD’s recommended tools?  Are they any good?
Do you outsource your sound generation (can’t for LD-comp) to someone else?  Do you pay them?
Do you use any other tools to generate sound?  Free vs. Low-Cost?
Do you make your own music?
Finally, do you use any reliable royalty-free sites to pull music and sound from? (is that legal for LD?)

Thanks for sharing!


19 Responses to “Sound Assets for Indies & Ludum Dare”

  1. Pierrec says:

    I know a lot of people in Ludum Dare use Sfxr or Bfxr to make sound effects. The problem is, most of the time you can tell by playing that the sounds came from these softwares, and I thinks it spoils something. Moreover, since a lot of people use it, it’s not very original.
    I prefer to craft my own sounds with Audacity and a microphone, it’s pretty funny and requires to be quite inventive.

    About the music…I don’t know, I’m not a musicien either. So I’m interested in other replies ^^.
    For this Ludum Dare, I recorded music form Pulsate ( with a double jack and Audacity. I suppose it’s allowed on Ludum Dare because I still made my own music. But I’m not 100% sure.

  2. Jorjon says:

    You can’t use sounds from, because the asset is done by someone else.

    • bach says:

      I’m interested to figure out where the line is though.. Cause the rules & guides clearly states that sampled instruments are ok. Which essentially is the same as using sounds from Or is it not? 😀

      • sfernald says:

        The line is pretty gray actually. Especially with music. I think you could probably write a book on the subject. Here is my take on it.

        The first rule I would say is don’t do anything you would consider unethical or would make you feel uncomfortable. This would include using anyone else’s work such as downloading a sample from the Internet and using it as is.

        That said, samples get used by musicians all the time. I think it is pretty much standard operating procedure to integrate lifted sample in your music. Say for instance, if you hear a great drum beat in a song, then you extract that drum beat and use it in your own song. This is done all the time and considered pretty normal I think. If you integrate too much of a song, you may get caught and sued, as is sometimes the case. Sometimes a musician such as Kanye West has been sued for this.

        For this competition, I would say if you put in enough effort to make it inarguably your own work, that should be sufficient.

        Example 1. Dev plays a single c note of a cool sound effect from Omnisphere (a popular sound library) and uses it for his shooting sound. (to me, not allowed, he wasn’t involved in the creation of the sound).

        Example 2. Dev plays same note but makes it his own sound using various filters, compressors, etc and uses that (to me, allowed, because it is of his own creation).

        Example 3. Dev records a tape of his friend playing violin (not allowed).

        Example 4. Dev uses a sampled piano sound from Omnisphere to play his favorite song from the group Rush. (allowed, because even though he didn’t create the sample and he didn’t write the song, the creation is still fundamentally his own, and he could actually sell this song on iTunes by paying a few cents per song sold).

        Example 5. Dev downloads a sample from the Internet. But then extracts part of it, runs it through filters and compressors or other audio effects to the point where it is nothing like the original (allowed, again, it is his own creation at this point).

        I think in general if the work is primarily your own creation, and you spent more time on it than you would have by clicking a few buttons in SFXR, and you feel comfortable that it is substantially your work of art, then you are probably good.

        • bach says:

          Going by your philosophy though using Wolfram tones / sfxr would not actually be allowed, since the dev actually has no involvement in it’s generation. He just presses a button and voila. But quite obviously this is being used frequently here..

          In a way using someone’s sample is no different to looking up how someone coded this specific “effect” and implementing it in your own game. Yet, I’m sure this is quite common. Of course legal rights aside here.

          And with everything I believe a lot of the creative process is not something unique but it’s how you implement it and make use of it. One person might listen to a sound and discard it as useless, the next person might come along and make it perfectly fit with their gameplay. Though he didn’t actually change it he saw the potential and integrated it. Is that not considered a creative process? :)

          So many things aren’t created during LD. But they are a sum of experience from years and years of doing similar stuff.. I think it’s really, really difficult to draw a clear line.

          At the end of the day I don’t care how someone creates their stuff, as long as the process of creating it was done within the 48hrs.

          • sfernald says:

            I don’t know about wolfram, because I’ve never used it.

            But in SFXR, there is actually involvement by the dev because (usually) the dev spends at least a little time playing with all those bars to make the sound the want. It is actually an instrument rather than a simple sample. The sound is completely generated based on algorithms. The dev has to “play” the instrument, even if that just means “press the random sound button”. Also, the tool is designed and intended for devs just for this purpose. That said, you are correct in my dismissive attitude of the tool. I would much rather someone use their mouth and a mike to create their own sound effects, but honestly I can’t think of too many cases where an instrument of any kind shouldn’t be allowed. Even ones as simple as SFXR. Maybe in the example I put up above where someone used one note of an instrument as a sound effect as the example I listed above. Even that is debatable.

      • digital_sorceress says:

        What would be be undeniably fair is that you only get credit for the work you do yourself.

        So if you declare which parts are your own work and which parts are not, then those people who rate your game will be able to give you fair credit. :)

        • Raptor85 says:

          credit only for work you do yourself?

          cool, so all the gamemaker and unity games are disqualified 😀 I honestly wish they’d be a bit more clear on some of this stuff for the compo, since I learned that they were legal to use (post compo) it’s confused me how some engines that are basicly ready made games and just need some scripting are allowed in the compo, and yet stuff like stock artwork/music is not. it’s a freakishly huge advantage for artists over programmers in this, since artists get to use code made by others while programmers can’t d othe same with art :/

          • digital_sorceress says:

            They wouldn’t be disqualified, but while Unity users could take credit for their models and gameplay, they couldn’t take credit for the 3D engine.

            My preference would be for a list of boilerplate code that everyone is allowed to start with. eg,
            — code that handles the loading and playing of sounds.
            — code that handles the loading of 3D models and textures.
            — code that handles communication with joypads/controllers.

            • Hazard says:

              You are allowed to start with base code to handle all those things. All you need to do is to make the sourcecode of it publicly available prior to the contest and to announce here that you intent to use it as base code for your game.

  3. sfernald says:

    For music and sound creation, my recommendation is Cubase. Maybe pick up the entry level version. It is the best tool in my opinion for any genre. Pro Tools is the best if you are recording rather than using software instruments.

    If you want to make electronic music (such as Skrillex type stuff) you might want to try renoise. I love this software. It really makes sense for programmers trying to make music. If you are a programmer, then definitely check it out.

    If you want to make sounds from samples not instruments (there’s tons and tons of sample libraries you can buy and probably a lot of free ones too), then I would recommend you try ableton. I don’t think there’s an easier way to make a decent song than using ableton. It’s like playing with an excel spreadsheet of sounds.

  4. Ralkarin says:

    Fascinating discussion about SFXR. :)
    I thought about replying and saying that if public domain sounds (created by someone else) are not allowed, why is it ok to use SFXR in LD games? But, I think I answered my own question after I thought about it a bit.

    A sound is an asset to a game, just like a texture or a model. We use programs like the GIMP and Photoshop to add color to a bitmap and apply algorithmic effects to get the desired result.
    We also use tools like Blender to create a 3D model using tools in this editor. Is it illegal for me to use a cube that was generated by Blender and scaled by 0.5f in my game?

    So, I guess there could be a clear distinction between tools that generate royalty free content and pulling existing content from somewhere else. Like, going to Turbo-Squid and lifting someone’s public domain 3D model versus creating one yourself in Blender.

    @sfernald, thanks for the suggestions! I’ll play around with those tools and see what works!

  5. Hazard says:

    I don’t really understand why there is so much confusion about whats allowed for sounds and music. It seems pretty obvious for me.

    For sounds, using anything from the internet is not okay, no matter how much you edit it. Because a sound you download is already a complete asset. Any modification you do is just that: A modification.

    Sampled instruments used for making music are very different. They only contain single tones, the music itself still has to be created in a creative process. The music as a whole is a unique asset, the single tones/instruments are exchangeable and uncompelling by themselves. Using whole sound loops from the internet for your music is not okay, however, because they are already compelling by themselves and contain the creative work by someone else.

    Things like SFXR are fine, because the sounds they create are generated based on parameters given by the user and/or random input, just like base meshes generated by blender or effects generated by photoshop. The end result is the idea and brainchild of the person using the tool, even if the smarts of someone else helped creating it. If you write/find a tool that generates music from tones based on parameters and/or random input it would be fine too.

    • sfernald says:

      It’s way more complex than that when you get into the details though.

      There are really three types of software instruments: synthesizers that generate sound algorithmically, samplers that only use samples to create sounds, and hybrids that use both.

      For example, Omnishpere, probably one of the most amazing synths is a hybrid and uses both technologies. Someone went out and recording the most amazing sounds you’ve ever heard and then built a powerful synth that lets you modify it in a billion ways, not not mention layering of sounds, etc. Most sounds from Omnisphere, even a single note, are more amazing than any samples you would probably download freely on the Internet. I mean like absolutely mind blowing sounds that are used in tv commercials and movies not to mention records all the time.

      Just to give you an example. That loud bass sound in Inception. You might be able to create that sound perfectly in Omnisphere in a simple preset. It is a combination of sample and synthesizer. If you added that to your game, would you really feel that that was fair if you did nothing but click a preset? Just raising the question. No answer here.

      At the same time, many hit songs are composed of tiny samples from other songs using Ableton Live. No instruments, software or otherwise used at all. It’s just no big deal if you rip a series of drum beats from some songs you like and then build your own beat out of it. It is an issue and question in the music biz right now.

      Just food for thought.

  6. Ralkarin says:

    Thanks Hazard, I completely agree. That being said, perhaps I shouldn’t have asked the last question about whether royalty-free sound assets from somewhere else are eligible. I didn’t mean to derail my own thread into a debate about whether using someone else’s assets are allowed or not.

    Given the premise we’ve already established, I’m still interested (and I hope other are too) in what tools indies have had great success with for generating sound, like the suggestions sfernald made.

    • Hazard says:

      A handy and often overlooked tool in the trusty old microphone. Its surprising how many interesting sounds you can do with things in your environment. Modify the recordings with some effects from Audacity and you can already cover quite a wide range of sounds with it.

  7. Cooshinator says:

    I have some sound tools that I highly recommend:

    A Gameboy ROM designed for music. Runs on an emulator (I recommend bgb), but I personally use a flash cartridge. Kind of a steep learning curve, but sounds very good.
    A PC music program that writes for the NES. Quite simple and easy, but doesn’t sound as good as LSDJ. Exports directly to WAV
    A very simple PC program for music. Both a synthesizer and a sampler. Doesn’t sound as good as FamiTracker or LSDJ.
    Simple and pretty good sounding PC music program. Both a synthesizer and a sampler.
    A sound effect synthesizer for PC. An enhanced version of SFXR. Tweak parameters to generate sounds; includes randomizers. (I don’t understand the whole debate here, it’s a synthesizer; you make the sounds, no one else does it for you)
    Sound editor for PC. Great for adding effects, amplifying sounds, compressing music, cutting and pasting music files.
    -Format Factory:
    PC conversion software. Convert any sound file type to any other type.
    Flash sound effect synthesizer. Based off of SFXR. One can copy the source into his/her game and generate sounds with simple and easy code. Great to save space, add some acoustic variety, and not waste time managing all the sound files.

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