Hi all!

I'm very interested in Game and Film Sound Design and I'm actually working on a diploma thesis on this topic. I'm wondering if there are specific Categories for Game Sound Design, other than the ones from Movie Sound Design (Sound Effects, Speech, Music).

How do you Game Sound Designers out there categorize your sounds? Do you have certain systems or categorizing-methods? Do you know literature related to this topic?


Best greetings from Austria, Christian

6 Answers 6


Categories in Game sound are functional at heart. You can think of them as buses. They are used for mixing purposes, and sometimes for DSP purposes. For example, if a player dives under water you may want some of the sounds of the game to change (i.e. pitched down, EQed, etc). But some sounds should remain intact (UI sounds, some dialog that needs to be understood). Categories are used to accomplish this.

The construction of categories will follow the needs of the game. Generally at the top the categories are the same as film. Dialog, Music, FX. This allows for the sliders you see in most game option menus that lets the player lower or remove sound. But sub-categories are very important. For example, in most games some dialog is important enough that the rest of the mix is ducked so the line can be heard better (mission critical dialog, dramatic dialog). Other lines are not (chatter). Usually that is reflected in dialog sub-categories: critical, non-critical. the same may be true for particularly important SFX sequences. If you have destroyed the Eiffel Tower during a fire fight, it might be nice to lower the sound of the chattering machine gun right next to you so you can hear the groaning metal of the giant structure collapsing around you. Again, categories are used to accomplish this.

Hope this helps

  • Thx, very interresting! But instead of a focus on technical purposes I thougt about a rather theoretical approach. How can Sounds in Games be categorized and analyzed? Are there cateogories that work for all games?
    – humaldo
    May 17, 2011 at 5:49

To add to David's great examples, categories/mix groups are sometimes subcategorized further to enable mix variety/propriety (and sometimes save a bit of memory). For example, it's common for games with firearms to have weaponfire sounds which use many layers, one or more of which are tails that match specific environments (tight or spacious interiors, urban streets, more open exteriors, etc). Rather than just assign every layer of weaponfire to a "Weaponfire" group, these various tails can be assigned different subcategories and then modulated at runtime to match the player's current environment.

Also, player and NPC sounds of most categories (dialogue, cloth, gear, weaponfire, bodyfalls, anything) are often assigned their own player- or NPC-specific groups to allow more control.







  • Ah, this one goes in the right direction! I came up with similar Categories. But: UI and Ambient Sounds are also SFX, aren't they?
    – humaldo
    May 17, 2011 at 5:56

Not sure what you want, what is the title of your thesis?

These books I found helpful when I was writing my paper:

Sound Design: The Expressive Power of Music, Voice and Sound Effects in Cinema by David Sonnenschein

The Practical Art of Motion Picture Sound by David Lewis Yewdall MPSE

Film Sound: Theory and Practice by B Weis

  • Hi! The title of my thesis is still on the way, hehe :) I try to research Game Sound from 2 directions: Theoretical (What kind of Game Sound Categories are in use? Does they make sense for the interactive world of games or are they just borrowed from the linar world of films?) and practial (Analyses of available Games and concepting and constructing of a own Sound design, based on the theoretical part). But most of the literature (as like yours is too) is about film sound design. I'm searching stuff like "game sound" from karen collins (2008, MIT Press), which is focused purely on games...
    – humaldo
    May 17, 2011 at 6:03

What about generative (is that the right term?) sound effects? I have no idea how that stuff works, but I always assumed with something like, say, a metal box you can pick up and drop, the object itself is physically modeling that type of object in the real world, and how it would react sonically to being dropped at various angles, rolling around, etc. Is that covered by a whole different set of people in the pipeline?

  • Generative sound is a special topic in computer science and electrical engineering. Physical modelling means modelling a physical phenomenon or an object by describing its physical properties mathematically and implementing that mathematical model as a software component that generates sound from the waves/signals that the model generates. Aug 15, 2013 at 11:19

There are also technical categories e.g. one-shot, looping, streamed etc. these have an influence on how you understand the function of the sound in the game.

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