Many Flash game developers work for months polishing up a game's graphics and game play only to realize that they lack one important element: a suitable sonic experience for the user. While some users want no sound at all, (it's always a good idea to have some sort of volume or mute button) many desire a full multimedia experience. With these players in mind, we will explore mostly free tools that are available for you to use in creating your own sounds and music.
Many Flash game developers simply steal sounds and music from existing games and applications, which is something we don't support here are 8bitrocket towers. There are plenty of free programs, songs, samples, and loops to keep your games rockin' with ever needing to steal anything.
Create Your Own Sounds
Creating your own sounds and music is not as difficult as you might think. Even if you have no experience with foley, you can simply fire up any sound recorder (both windows and Macs come with a simple tool) and record some environmental sounds. Pretty much any household item can be used to create sound. For some interesting effects, try wiggling a sheet of tin foil next to the mic or snap a rubber band into a plastic baggy. You have to have a quiet space, and a lot of patience to record your own sounds. But, if do you spend the time, you can get some good results. In the early 1990's, Steve and I made a dice game for the Atari ST with a wonderful game development language called STOS. With absolutely no sound resources available, we made due by sampling real dice in a real Yahtzee cup. It sounded pretty good, we also sampled Steve playing acoustic guitar, a pencil smacking the keyboard, and other various things we could find in our bedroom. The sampling rate was very low and the size of the samples had to be very small, but it came out sounding ok. If you have an Atari ST emulator, you can try the game.
Foley might be cheap, and it might even be easy (in some cases), but the sounds come out sounding a little odd some times. What do you do it you want some more video game-esq sounds in your game?
If you are trying to re-create some of those classic sounds from the 8/16 bit era, then you need access to a synthesizer. Luckily we have some good free tools that will help you along the way.
SFXR has taken all of the arcane synthesizer terminology (oh its still there, but you don't need to know what it means) and hidden it behind an easy to use tool for creating all manner of 8-bit game sounds (the even have a bitchen MAC port). It is an incredibly fun and flexible tool that I have used for some sounds in my last 3 games.
Another free, but much more sophisticated tool is Audio FX by Nick Jones. It is old, the last release being sometime in 1996, but it is an incredible tool for synthesizing almost any sound. You will need to go through all of the help examples and maybe do a little web research on synthesizing theory, but it will be well worth your time to do so. It runs in Windows XP and in Parallels, but I am unsure if the Vista audio driver changes will make a tool like this unusable. I don't plan on finding out.
A couple nearly free options:
If you are willing to part with $20 US, you can get access to Sean O'Connor's Windows based Sound Effects Generator. The free version will not let you save files, but you can test it to see if it is worth your $$. The theory behind it is very similar to SFXR, it doesn't hide synthesizer complexity, but rather opens it up for you to play with and experiment with.
$20 also will get you access to the very ambitious Fleximusic Generator System. This tool (also with a free trial) is also synthesizer based and is targeted at professionals because of its feature set and complexity. It is a very versatile that allows for multiple tracks, envelopes, effects like echo, key changes and much more.
Create Your Own Music
Making serious music with a computer is a profession all its own. But, you don't need to be a professional to create some great sounding tunes for your games.
For many people, the first real mainstream experience they have had with a music sequencer is Garage Band. If you have a Mac and iLife, then you have access to it. Tools like Garage Band can be used for 2 different and sometimes combined types of music creation. First, they can be used to combine specially encoded loop files into songs. These loop files are generally made up of 2-4 measures of music in a certain key and beat per minute. You simply combine together ones that sound good using a timeline like interface to create a song. Secondly these tools can be used to create midi songs using standard music notation with a variety of built-in midi instruments. Loop based and midi based tracks can even be combined in the same song if need be. The problem with garage band is the it certainly is NOT free.
Garage Band was not the first tool to let budding song creators make music. The first program I used to make a loop based song (in 1999) was Sony (then Sonic Foundry) Acid. Acid comes in many flavors, from the most basic to the ultra full featured models. If you would like to get a start in creating loop basic music, you can venture over to the Sony Acid site and download the free, but limited version of Acid Xpress and some loop packs from AcidPlanet to get you started. Loop based music is a fun way to make all genres of music for your games.
If you are interested in delving very deep into computer music creation, or just need more loops and samples for your fx and music , then be sure to check out an issue of Computer Music Magazine.. Each issue is chock full of tutorials, free loops, and software. In fact each issue comes complete with EVERYTHING you need to start creating music on you computer (PC / or Mac). An issue costs about $12.00 US, but it is well worth the money.
There are more free options though:
HammerHead Rhythm Station is a Windows based tool that can be used to create drum tracks. It offers 6 drum channels and a whole bunch of classic synth drum kits (808, 909, etc).
Easy Music Composer - Free is a unique program that offers a multitude of ways for almost anyone to make Midi songs for their games. One of the most incredible things it can do is create a random song that actually sounds really good. The free version is limited to 8 bars per song, but there is a shareware version that allows up to 255 bars. It saves files as midi, so you will need a tool like this to convert it. Midi can also be imported in AcidXpress or Garage Band and exported as a wav file.
There are many relatively cheap options beyond the free for creating music and sound for your games. If you can find a cheap new or used version of Magix MusicMaker, then snap it up. If it is used, make sure it comes with the sound fx and loop library disks. Music Maker it is a great loop and midi based tool for creating everything from sounds to music, and even synthesized speech.
There are many many more options out there. So next time you have finished a game, don't look at sound and music creation as a chore, but rather consider it an opportunity for you to learn a new skill that can be both fun an rewarding.