With the resurgence of top down gaming (noting the obvious: Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3) I wanted to ask you all your opinion on creating audio for such a perspective. First, ill throw out some concepts for some basic question reinforcement and clarification.

With other camera perspectives, many basic rules involve:

  • In first person - if it comes from, hits, or happens at extreme proximity to the main character its stereo (or multi-channel in general).

  • If its 3rd person (mainly depending on location of camera to the audio emitter) - it could be mono as opposed to multi-channel (excluding multi-channel processing of effects like reverb, etc.)

It is a constant battle for what is the subject matter of the on-screen activity at any point in time. And how to modify the mix depending on a hierarchy of importance/sonic coherency.

That being said, with top down perspective, its an interesting mix for this genre. Things are smaller in size, farther from camera than any other perspective (now being able to zoom into the characters to almost 3rd person perspective), and many many things happening on the screen at the same time because of the wider from-atmosphere type view of the game field.

What are your thoughts on:

  • Sound creation - How to provide correct weighting and size to the characters and units on screen - For example: A simple torch wave could easily be "too big/deep" or the opposite "too sharp/hi-end" for such a small character that far away - down on the ground.

  • Sound mix - How do these sounds play into a stereo image? Are these sounds simply mono and tacked as emitters onto the asset in question that link to left/right panning based on the location? What about 5.1 mixing? How does the mix change dynamically when zooming into 3rd person with the new engines running top down? How do you manage all these sounds happening at the same time? It would seem in such games like Starcraft, LoL or Dota, Halo Wars, could become easily chaotic in sonic characteristics.

  • CPU processing - So much more DSP goes into audio now days - In top down gaming, what kinds of processing is required? It would seem like there would not be as much CPU based audio processing/plug-ins used depending on the type of top-down you are playing. A single soldier in a spaceship might have reverb on his gun shots, but what are some examples of more advanced techniques of DSP based audio processing in top down perspective? (For example: Using an EQ shelf linked to a spaceships numerical variable pitch of a turn. (#100 being sharp turn - #0 being straight flight) Creating an adaptive "space-wind" that increasingly becomes more full in the upper register the sharper the turn. I did this in Wwise as an experiment)

So thats the topic starter - and I cant wait to hear everyones input!

4 Answers 4


Audio for top down games - especially RTS's - can be very different from other games. Much of RTS audio acts as direct and important game feedback - making it easier to navigate the game and recognize situations quickly. Very often that means that repetition of the exact same asset becomes a good thing - it promotes quick recognition. In most other games repetition is a bad thing.

THose sounds that are critical for gameplay need to be up in the mix, and so a "realistic" mix becomes very hard if not actually counterproductive.

My approach would be to put together a mix priority map of all the elements you expect: battle noises, foley, warnings (you are under attack, unit is nearly dead...), state changes (new unit/building is finished, research complete, resource depleted...), UI, etc. Figure out which of those elements are game critical and put them in place, and then do your best to create a compelling soundscape using the rest of the elements.

I would also argue sync is not that important. Often so much is happening that individually synced gunshots or footsteps dont add anything. (of course larger visuals need sync, but for a typical Age of Myth or Starcraft battle, there is a ton of simultaneous action. sync is not nearly as important as compelling soundscape and clear audio info.


  • @David I like this answer - its almost as if you are painting a picture instead of creating audio. Have your main points in the piece to pursue, yet tie everything together with the extras. Ill remember this. Thanks David!
    – C3Sound
    Dec 10, 2010 at 3:49

I wouldn't worry about making it sound small. The top-down view's more of a tool than the player's true perspective, except for something like Black & White. Sure, making off screen sounds appear distant is one thing, but when it comes to on-screen elements you just need to work out a hierarchy. I'd ask myself, what's the focus? Like Chris said, less is more, so you need to prioritize the elements. 300 emitter's sounds like a lot to me, so why not add a cap at 10 or 20? The last thing you'd want to do is swamp the environment with sound... I think Chion has a word for this: Sound saturation. That's his word for when a movie gives every on-screen action an effect. It's generally a negative thing, and I'm sure it applies to game -design. With top-down, the challenge isn't going to be how to fill it up, it will be how to slim it down, because there's going to be a lot of on-screen action. If you give it all equal billing and then try to make it sound realistically distant from the screen, I think the player will find the soundscape hard to decipher.

  • @Miles Definitely need a sound cap lower than unit cap haha - like you said, short to-the-point-audio being the main goal.
    – C3Sound
    Dec 10, 2010 at 3:51

I used to play a couple top down games. Starcraft, Warcraft, Master of Magic and a few others. Mostly, the sound was at an angle rather than top. Less is more!

  • @Chris the sound was at an angle?
    – C3Sound
    Nov 23, 2010 at 19:29
  • yeah and the whole screen is kind of tilted, its not completely from the top. I wouldn't worry so much about literal recreation, just go with whatever feels right..
    – Chris
    Nov 24, 2010 at 20:10

To rephrase the questions: How do you make a tiny, well crafted, sonically relevant sound? So much audio these days goes for making something huge!

How do you manage a large amount of these tiny sounds all at once? Unit caps on Starcraft is something like 300 units! How to manage 300 sound emitters?

Is birds-eye view games simply just creating the sound and thats it? How and what kinds of processing implemented?


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