Mobile Game Dev Resources II: Audio & Graphics Software

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There are a lot of lists on the internet. Specifically, a lot of lists for how-tos, resources, tool comparisons – and the game dev community is no exception. It’s easy to get overwhelmed as a newbie, and we wanted to make sure that new game devs know that there’s plenty of help to be had out there, no matter their level of expertise or budget.

Welcome to Part 2 of our Resource Roundup series! We’ll be focusing on tools and resources really specific to mobile game and app developers. You won’t find website building software in these lists, but you’ll learn all about the various game development tools, marketing channels, fundraising avenues, and analytics special to mobile apps. We’re also covering the full range of accessibility: from free and open-source to professional and paid licenses, and no-programming required to veteran developers.

In Part 1, we covered game engines and ready-made audio and visual assets for your game. Whether you’ve tried those tools and you’re ready to graduate to more custom sounds and artwork, or you want to dive straight into the advanced tools, this is the post for you. We’ve rounded up some of the best and most well-known tools for recording sounds, creating characters, designing environments, and adding effects. Some of the tools are free and some are paid, so no matter your budget or experience, you should be able to find something to help you bring your idea to life.

 


Audio Recording, Editing, and Effects

There are varying types of audio production. There are sound effects, character dialogues, and theme and background music, to begin with. We’ve tried to collect a variety of tools across the spectrum, which should help with all of these. Some of these tools will be better for one or the other, and some are good, well-rounded tools to see you through the production pipeline. Something to keep in mind – which we don’t touch upon at all here – is the necessary hardware for recording your own sounds and music. This can range from microphones, to studio setups, and any other equipment necessary to produce the assets you need.

This is by no means a complete list of all the audio software in the world. We collected resources from across three categories: 1) software developed especially for game development; 2) general software recommended by game developers; and 3) software well-known and popular in its industry. If you’re very new to the industry and not necessarily passionate about sound or music production for its own sake, it could be a good move to use software developed for game devs!

 

Adobe Audition – for audio recording, editing, mixing, and finishing

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Monthly subscription – can be bundled with other Adobe software for cheaper subscription

 

Audacity free, open-source software for audio recording and editing

Windows, MAC OSX, Linux  |  Free

 

Basehead – a set of tools for organizing, tagging, and working with audio files, especially handy for setting up a good workflow and shared server for teams.

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Free

 

Fabric – developed especially for Unity, and written in Unity’s scripting language. It offers custom user interfaces for use inside Unity itself, and is built to support sound designers and take some of the workload off of the game developer – which could be a moot point for one-person (or few-person) teams.

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Multiple licenses, including a free Indie license for budgets under $100K

 

FMOD Studio – we mentioned FMOD.io in Part 1, which is a diverse library of sounds. FMOD Studio is built on the well-respected and widely used FMOD API. The software supports recording, tuning, editing and more, built to support team usage. It’s also integrated directly with Unity and Unreal Engine using auto-updating plugins, for added convenience with those game engines.

Windows, MAC OSX, Linux  |  Free for indies! Paid license for budgets over $500K

 

FMOD tutorials – a YouTube channel with tutorials by the FMOD team for a variety of sound production tasks and techniques

 

GarageBand – Apple’s music production tool. Can do the job for most!

MAC OSX  |  Free

 

Miles Sound System from Rad Game Tools – Rad Game Tools has a variety of software built specifically for game dev, and their tools are used in thousands of games. They’ve built in features especially for game development, which could make this a more intuitive tool to use in your next game.

Windows, MAC OSX, Linux  |  available through licensing, with some bundle discounts

 

MODPlug – free software for creating and editing music, and a library of free music from other artists

Windows  |  Free

 

Pro Tools | First, Pro Tools, & Pro Tools | HD – software for composing, recording, editing, and mixing music. There are three software ranging from free to fairly expensive, so Pro Tools | First may be a good starter software to dive in. This tool has apparently been used to mix at least one Foo Fighter song!
Windows, MAC OSX  |  Pro Tools | First is free, and the other two have options for monthly subscriptions as well as perpetual licenses

 

Reaper – audio and MIDI recording, editing, processing, mixing, and mastering. Has a wide range of plugins available, and is built to be very modifiable.

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Discounted and commercial licenses available. The discounted license is pretty affordable, and will work for most indie developers.

 

Reason from Propellerhead – geared more toward music composition and production, for serious composing.

Windows, MAC OSX  |  one time purchase fee

 

Sfxr & Bfxr – neat little tools developed by Tomas Pettersson. Sfxr is a great tool for generating sounds for 8-bit/retro style games. Bfxr is developed on top of Sfxr for additional features and functionality. There’s also Cfxr – a Mac port of Sfxr with a native Mac UI.
Windows, MAC OSX  |  Free

 

Sonar – a full-service software for recording, producing, arranging, editing, mixing, processing, enhancing, overdubbing, looping, and so on…Sonar has a multitude of plugins for different instruments and effects, and is a good tool for music production.

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Mulitiple licenses

 

Steinberg Music & Audio Tools – Steinberg offers a wide array of software, including it’s best-known Cubase, a powerful digital audio workstation. The tools are powerful and used pretty widely by sound artists, so this could be a good option for someone invested in music production.

 

Wwise from AudioKinetic – audio authoring tool and sound engine, with plugins for reverb, synth, and more.

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Free and paid licenses available

 

What goes into creating your own sounds?

 

While there are a wide variety of software and plugins available for sound and music production, don’t be deceived – even by the “free” label. If it’s not your area of expertise, it can be incredibly time consuming and frustrating to produce your own audio assets. Over time, it can add up to be even more expensive than hiring out the work or finding pre-made assets. It can also delay ship times for your projects. While some devs may have no other choice, or be especially tenacious, it’s important to weigh your opportunity costs when deciding which way to go. Below are a couple of examples of what goes into audio production.

 

Vegetable Abuse – an example of the weird things you have to beat up, destroy, and/or record to get the sounds you want.

 

How to Make a Home Recording Studio – an overview of how to set up a home-recording studio. It’s good to look into a few such walkthroughs or tutorials to get a good understanding of exactly what will go into producing high-quality sounds yourself. Or, you know, you could go the blanket fort route.

 


Graphics & Animation Software

 

Like audio assets, producing artwork can be a tough job even for artists, let alone for a developer who has minimal experience with developing graphics. There’s a wide variety of tools presented here, from very basic and accessible, to very complex and powerful. Which tool you should use will depend on what type of art you need, your skill level, and your time and financial budgets. Get the hang of game dev with a few smaller projects before you dive straight into the deep end.

 

ShoeBox – lots of basic graphic and export tools

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Drag and drop  |  Free

 

Piskel

Browser, Windows, MAC OSX  |  2D  |  Free

 

BrashMonkey

Windows, MAC OSX, Linux  |  2D Animation  |  Free + Pro Versions

 

PyxelEdit – pixel art editor for tilesets, levels, animations

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Paid beta for a few bucks, with free updates for life

 

Gimp – the longtime free and open-source favorite for graphic artists who don’t have access to Photoshop. An image manipulation program with a lot of nifty customizations and plugins

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Free

 

Piq – online app for pixel art

 

GrafX2 – bitmap paint program for pixel art, game graphics, and generally graphics painted with a mouse; lots of built-in effects

Windows, MAC OSX, Linux  |  Free

 

Inkscape – open-source vector graphics editor, comparable to Adobe Illustrator

Windows, MAC OSX, Linux  |  Free

 

Adobe Creative Cloud – With software like PhotoShop, Illustrator, Animate, and more, there’s no doubt Adobe’s suite of creative tools is very powerful. Bundling the tools is more cost-efficient as well, but there’s a huge learning curve. These tools are good for devs who want to invest themselves in the creation of art and graphic assets!

 

GIMP Pixel Art Tool Setup Tutorial – here’s a cool tutorial from someone which will set you up for complex pixel art using just GIMP!

 

Introduction to Pixel Art for Games – another tutorial which will walk you through creating your very own sprite, with some great basic advice for things to keep in mind if you’re new to pixel art. The article is a little old…but the technique to create pixel art is still basically the same.

 


3D & Effects Tools

 

Blender – open source suite with tools for every aspect of 3D creation, it’s really very comprehensive

Windows, MAC OSX, Linux  |  Free

 

Blender 3D Model Repository – exactly what it sounds like!

 

Blend Swap – a community of Blender asset developers who share their work under Creative Commons Licenses

 

SpeedTree – create 3D animated plants and trees to fill up those fabulous, lush game worlds

 

Maya LT – create 3D characters and environments with a toolset designed for indie game makers and get access to the Autodesk Stingray game engine*

 

Autodesk – a suite of powerful graphics and animation suites (including Maya LT)

 

Enlighten – dynamic global illumination, for introducing realistic lighting to game environments

 

Qubicle – a Voxel editor (Voxel is basically 3D pixel art, imagine a bunch of cubes stacked up into 3D objects)

Windows, MAC OSX  |  Licenses, including a fairly cheap Indie license

 

Substance Designer – a material authoring and scan processing tool to build substance files, tileable textures, and other reusable assets which can then be tweaked for every context in which they’re applied. Allegorithmic also offers 3D Painting Software to create, texture, and render 3D artwork. It has plugins for Unity, Unreal Engine, Corona, PhotoShop, and more. There are also other tools for tweaking and adjusting various assets.

Windows, MAC OSX, Linux  |  Multiple licenses, including a cheaper Indie license

 

Yebis – used by companies like Pixar and games like Dark Souls, Yebis is middleware for optical effects. It essentially simulates photorealistic effects, and mimics the look, feel, and movement of real lenses.

Windows  |  Licensing information upon request

 


Useful Talks and Tutorials

 

So You Want to Be a Game Artist? – Have you suddenly decided you want to be the artist instead of the developer? Or maybe that’s what brought you to this blog post in the first place. This is a great look inside what it’s like to be a Game Artist!

 

The Aesthetics of Game Art and Game Design – a really thorough article by Chris Solarski that walks through basic shapes and lines, classic art, character development, and more. It’s a great overview, and will touch on a lot of subjects so you can choose which to dive deeper into.

 

Cinematography for Art Directors – this is a talk at GDC in 2015, from Naughty Dog’s Robh Ruppel. It’s a crash course in the history of cinematography, to help learn how to practice camerawork in games.

 


 

Gimme More!

 

There are plenty of resources for tutorials and advice, and these are just a few of our recent favorites.

Check out the rest of the series:

Part 1: Game Engines and Assets

Part 3: Marketing, Promotion, Analytics, & Funding

We’d love to hear about your favorite tools and resources are as a game dev. Is there a DAW you swear by? Or a favorite graphic effects software that you think just sets game artwork apart from the rest? Sound off in the comments, and we’ll update this post with any especially fantastic resources.



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