Hi, I don't know if anyone in sound design uses the term "audio charter" or "sound charter" the way they use "graphic charter" in graphic design... but if there was an equivalent to a "graphic charter" in sound, what do you think it would include ? What are the basic elements it would be made of ?

Say you had to design the audio identity for a video game, how would you go about it ?

  • Cheers guys, that was very helpful ! Sound is definitely a field which is hard to talk about... It becomes poetry very fast. :) Yes, mentioning existing works sharing characteritics with what you've got in mind is what I was missing.
    – Teo
    Apr 30, 2011 at 9:21

2 Answers 2


What you're describing sounds like a combination of a Design Brief and a Style Guide, on the visual side. I've seen hundreds of such documents, produced probably as many, and have worked with audio equivalents from my clients' audio branding houses. What follows is my aggregate experience, which might vary from others' experiences.

  • There is a list of "descriptors" that captures the desired emotional results. Yes, these are often adjectives, but sometimes nouns and adverbs, and it could be anything from emotions to materials.
  • There is a list of comparable works done by others. In design, these are called "mood boards." In audio, they can often be unlicensed, not-for-distribution compilations of songs, but they might also be visuals! This is where the designer(s) cobble together existing works that share something with the final mood or vibe of what is to be designed anew. It's a collage or compilation because it's not about matching on just one thing; it's about how a lot of things, which overlap with each other, suggest possible design approaches for the new thing(s) being designed.
  • There is an initial stab at a "design language," or a set of key design principles, which serve to focus decision making and establish a framework on which, and against which, decisions can be made, measured, or debated.
  • How abstract vs. specific such a document is varies based on the project, as it should Sometimes they're very high level, sometimes they're so dialed in that there's not a lot of room to groove. Brand is a big driver here.

In the context of a game, I'd simply port a lot of this over. Many game properties have evolved into brands, and those that haven't can still be defined by their unique value propositions (what makes them truly unique). Having audio design follow the inspiration of what makes the game unique in terms of look and game play makes sense. (Although it'd sure be interesting to go the other way around, wouldn't it?)

  • This sounds like a very interesting (and useful) process. Usually with the TV series work I'm doing, this all gets distilled down to a couple of off hand comments by the producer (typically adjectives). Or the audio team is left to determine it ourselves, and we massage our ideas into the producer's ideals over the first few episodes. Thanks for the insight @NoiseJockey! Apr 30, 2011 at 14:13
  • @Steve, what I describe overhead, even in corporate branding, definitely is rare to get all that in one doc from one client. Usually it's a range of those things, on a massive spectrum from loosely informal to tightly formal. But some of my clients have had either really savvy brand agencies or extremely well-known audio brands out of the gate, and they can and do put big efforts into such style guides. Sometimes they're even a bit creatively restrictive, but I usually prefer more detail to less. :-) Apr 30, 2011 at 14:45

I think that would depend on the kind of game you're making, no?

I haven't yet had the privilege of participating in the sound design for a video game, but here's how I think you might be able to characterize some of my/other people's favourite games:

Call of Duty - Real, harsh, stark, controlled sharp, heavy, accurate, and sometimes dissonant.

Little Big World - Soft, round, bouncy, warm, harmonic, abstract, and consonant.

DeadSpace/BioShock - Deep, ominous, spacey, creepy, moody, dissonant but harmonic.

Uncharted 2 - Hollywood, clean, precisely shaped, smooth, easy on the ears.

8-Bit sidescroller - Clean, sharp, abstract, textured but rounded edges.

Fallout 3 and NV - Call of Duty + DeadSpace/BioShock.

But yeah, a lot of it will be determined by the look and playing style of the game. You'll also probably have to work from vague descriptions given by the game director like, "I don't know, can you maybe make it feel like we're underwater and on fire, but not? Know what I mean?"

  • Ok, accumulating adjectives is a good start ;) What I'm after is more of a list of the elements to consider... In a graphic chart they list elements such as colors, fonts, shapes - I'm guessing when it comes to audio you'd define rules about musical keys, spatialization, dynamics... Am I forgetting anything ? (sorry if my english sounds weird, it's not my native language...)
    – Teo
    Apr 29, 2011 at 22:05
  • Your English is great. It's better than mine and it is my native language. | That's kind of the thing, the way I think about it, colour, fonts, and shapes, are adjectives in the same way as my suggestions ^^^ are. Each one has a set of timbral associations that can work as guidelines to the same end as palettes of colour and outlines of shapes. Past that, I don't think you can really get much more specific until you actually start putting things together and you see what it's going to sound like. It's the nature of multimedia that its media is interdependent...
    – g.a.harry
    Apr 29, 2011 at 22:46
  • Sadly, the way most projects are stuctured, the audio department is almost entirely dependent on the visuals. Look for the most part is thought to be more important than sound, and I can't honestly say that I completely disagree. But, it would be the same process from the audio side as the visual. Start with sketches, ideas, timbres, dynamics, instruments, and reverbs that you think will work, and play/finesse them until you get them to be what you want.
    – g.a.harry
    Apr 29, 2011 at 22:52

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