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Creating Playful Experiences with Sound

Filament Games | Educational Game Developer

Admit it, you’ve been playing games with the sound turned off, haven’t you? It’s ok, I understand the casual gamer’s dilemma of not wanting to broadcast their experience to those near them, but you may be missing out on a much deeper, more engaging experience. At Filament Games, we strive to make “playful experiences that improve people’s lives,” and yes, we value what you hear as an important aspect to getting a great experience.

Original Music

So what do you hear when you play one of our games, and how does it add to the experience? One of the first things you will hear is original music, which happens to be one of my favorite things to make. Music plays a large role in guiding the player’s emotional interest in the game. Does the player need to feel excited? Happy? Frustrated? Sad? Worried? I can do that with music. If we can get players emotionally invested in the experience their engagement level will go through the roof. A clear example of changing the emotion of a game with music can be found in our game Cell Command. At the beginning of the game, you shrink to a microscopic level, take command of a ship, and lead your intrepid crew through the human body. At this point, there should be excitement, hope, and exhilaration. Here is what you would hear:

Later in the game things turn serious, as the problems get more complex, and the story takes a puzzling turn. The music becomes much more ominous and minimal:

In each case, the emotion of the music is meant to match what is happening in the game, and in turn affect the emotional interest of the player.

Sound Effects

Sound effects also play a large part in engagement. Unlike linear mediums like movies, sound in games reacts to what you are doing in real time, giving you immediate feedback. When trying to help a player succeed in a game, the feedback loop is a crucial tool we have to help guide the player on the path towards success. One of the quickest ways we can give the player immediate feedback is with sound. There can be a delicate balance, however, as to what type of feedback to give, and when to give it. Failing is a large part of how we learn to succeed, and determining how often and aggressive the negative feedback is given can be a difficult problem to solve. The correct sound effects in this scenario can be a nice solution to non-intrusively call out failure. One of my favorite examples of being rewarded with sound comes from our game Backyard Engineers. After you successfully build a contraption, launch a water balloon, and soak your neighbors, you are given a musical kazoo salute:


The last piece to our audio puzzle is voice talent, which can act as a great world builder. See, you really can’t think about music, sound effects, and voiceovers independently in the context of a single experience. They should all compliment each other and sound like they exist in the same world that you have created for the player to enjoy. The voice acting should pull the player in deeper and welcome them into a cohesive, unified experience. Take a listen to an interaction between the ship’s computer and an incoming transmission in Cell Command:

Over the past 6 years at Filament Games, I have learned that in order to get that “cohesive, unified experience,” you need to have great design, great art, great programming, and a great team. The music and sound I create is made greater by the games we make and the people that make them!


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