Audio. It's a vital component of any game. From smartphones and tablets to PCs and consoles, immersive audio can mean the difference between a good game and a great game.
The value of good audio is often underestimated. Your game is your passion; to give it the best chance for success you want to make sure you use the best audio solution for your project.
What audio software is the best? What criteria should you use to evaluate them? Which platforms offer the latest features?
In this article, we will highlight the best audio software for game development. We are going to focus on audio solutions that support the latest in audio technology, like spatial audio. If you are new to spatial audio, this article is an essential read.
5 Best Audio Software Systems for Game Development
To create a better multiplayer or co-op gaming experience, the video game industry has focused largely on reward systems, mechanics, and of course graphics. From the 2D beginnings of Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo, to the extraordinary fidelity of today’s AAA blockbusters, video game visuals have taken enormous strides in the past three decades.
However, great graphics is just one piece of the puzzle. Players experience games with their eyes, but also with their ears. An essential piece of how we navigate the world is driven by what we hear. This is especially true with modern co-op games and MMOs that encourage players to chat and organize via audio. Additionally, as gaming continues to trend toward more real-life and immersive experiences (think augmented and virtual reality), game developers who deliver realistic audio will be ahead of the curve when these features become the industry standard.
Enter spatial audio. Put simply, spatial audio mimics real-life audio. In the real world, we can easily identify what direction sounds originate and at what distance. Spatial audio applies this audio experience to your game. Adding real-time spatial audio to your project — which our Spatial Audio API can do with just a few lines of code — creates an experience for the gamer that is more realistic, more intuitive, and quite simply, more satisfying.
Here’s an example (use wired headphones to get the real spatial audio effect):
The following audio solutions are not in a particular order. We want to provide as much information as possible on each to help you decide which to incorporate into your game development stack.
Platform overview: Wwise is an advanced, feature-rich interactive audio engine for game development. Wwise helps game developers add audio to interactive media and video games. It is free for non-commercial game developers and under license for corporate game developers.
Wwise allows users to build audio for their video games through several features available in its authoring application:
- Import audio files for use in videogames
- Apply audio effects
- Mix in real-time
- Define game states
- Simulate audio environments
- Manage sound integration
Platforms supported: iOS, Android, Windows, PlayStation 4 & 5, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and many more.
Can it incorporate spatial audio? Yes, Wwise includes spatial audio. The platform uses built-in spatial audio complemented by in-house and third-party plugins that integrate with the Wwise audio platform.
Third-party reviews: Wwise is rated 4.5/5 stars on G2.com with 36 total reviews. Here is one review about using Wwise audio software for game development:
“It’s difficult to pick a favorite aspect of Wwise. It’s all amazing. The integration is seamless with Unity and Unreal. The way the system organizes music may be my absolute favorite part. Being able to subtly transition from one section to the next is important with game music, and Wwise makes accomplishing this extremely simple with minimal code experience.” — Review from Gerald C.
One last thing to keep in mind is that Wwise is not cheap.
Platform overview: FMOD is a sound effects engine and authoring tool for video games and applications. FMOD has collaboration tools and specific features for sound designers, programmers, and production team members.
Game developers can build adaptive audio using the FMOD Studio authoring tools and play it in-game using the FMOD Studio audio engine. Specific features of FMOD include:
- The Event Editor - developers can sync sounds and events to in-game triggers, sequence multitrack music, and automate effects that react dynamically to the game’s mood.
- The Mixer - this tool puts the sound designer in full control of audio and allows for dynamic mixing in response to changes in the game world.
- The Profiler - developers can capture and simulate gameplay, make edits to the audio, and then listen back to the updated session.
- A number of newer tools and features, such as Action Sheets, Sandbox Scenes, and integration with the Unity game engine.
Supported platforms: iOS, Android, Windows, MacOS, Linux, PlayStation consoles, Xbox consoles, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo Switch, and more.
Does it include/can incorporate spatial audio? Yes, spatial audio can be used in FMOD Studio. Based on this document, the FMOD API and other approved third-party plugins can incorporate spatial audio into game audio development within FMOD.
Third-party reviews: FMOD is rated 4.1/5 stars on G2.com with 22 total reviews. Here is one review about using FMOD audio software for game development:
“The best thing about FMOD, though, is the graphic interface, that makes the middleware look a lot like a classic DAW. This helps a lot, smoothing the learning curve for a sound designer or a composer and allows the user to add and edit the audio clips really fast in an intuitive way.” — Review from Giorgio C.
There’s a pretty thorough entry for FMOD on the Game Audio subreddit game audio wiki.
Platform overview: Miles Sound System is a sound software system primarily for video game development. Produced by RAD Game Tools, Miles Sound System has been licensed for over 7,200 games across 18 gaming platforms. This makes it one of the most widely used audio software tools for game development.
The robust Miles Sound System toolset includes:
- High-level sound authoring with 2D and 3D digital audio
- Streaming, environmental, and convolution reverb
- Multi-stage DSP filtering
- Multi-channel mixing
- A highly-optimized audio decoder
Supported platforms: iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, Playstation, Xbox, Wii, and more.
Does it include/can incorporate spatial audio? Miles Sound System states that 3D audio is part of its platform (spatial audio and 3D audio are often used interchangeably).
Third-party reviews: Miles Sound System is rated 4.5/5 stars on G2.com with only one review. Here is part of that review of using Miles Sound System for game development:
“A nice cross-platform sound API for developers. Good quality and low CPU time consumption. It is an incredibly powerful engine.” — Review from Eduardo Jorge E.
Platform overview: Nuendo offers a variety of functions specially developed for creating high-quality game audio. Sound designers game developers can use Nuendo to compose interactive music and create thousands of sounds.
Nuendo’s largest impact on audio development for games is Game Audio Connect, an interface between Nuendo and Wwise. This connection gives game developers the power to:
- Transfer audio files directly from a Nuendo project to Wwise, including the naming scheme and metadata.
- Keep the original files to continue working on sound assets at any time by opening the Nuendo project from within Wwise.
- Transfer entire sections of compositions as music segments to Wwise, including audio and MIDI tracks, cycle, and cue markers.
- Create Nuendo projects directly from Wwise segments and use Nuendo as a MIDI editor for Wwise.
Nuendo 10 supports an immersive audio production tool called dearVR Spatial Connect developed by Dear Reality. This tool enables any sound designer, musician, or sound engineer to create and mix 3D audio content directly within the VR game environment.
Supported platforms: Windows, Mac, Oculus Rift VR headset, HTC Vive VR headset, GoPro VR Player Version 3.
Does it include/can incorporate spatial audio? Yes, Nuendo includes spatial audio (they refer to it as immersive audio) through the integration with dearVR specifically for augmented reality and virtual reality game platforms.
High Fidelity’s real-time Spatial Audio isn’t like the rest of the solutions in this list, but is nonetheless a vital part of the audio experience your game delivers. All of the previous solutions use local audio mixing. High Fidelity’s cloud-based mixing scales to much larger experiences.
Gamers expect audio to be high quality, just like the graphics. Our real-time Spatial Audio API lets you integrate in-game audio that enhances the immersive experience in a game. It allows gamers to hear sounds from different directions — near and far — from hundreds of live sound sources. It does this by mixing the streams on the server and delivering a single audio stream back to each player. An added benefit is that it has minimal impact on players’ CPU and bandwidth, which matters a lot for mobile devices.
Watch the short video below to get a feel for how the audio changes as you “move” around a digital environment. NOTE: You need to use earbuds/headphones to get the full effect.
Best of all, game developers can integrate spatial audio into their games with just a few lines of code using the Spatial Audio API.
Our Spatial Audio API is now available for testing. Build a simple web app, learn how to connect to your API server with a JSON web token, and start testing the API's capabilities.
We hope you will accept our invitation to join our early alpha program. We can’t wait to see what you build and are eager for your feedback.
Getting Started with High Fidelity
When deciding on your game's audio technology — know there are other factors to consider besides cost, pipeline integration, and platform compatibility.
Any game developer will tell you immersion is the key difference between a game you can’t stop playing and a game that gets put back on the shelf and never finished.
Spatial audio is an emerging technology that draws players in and makes them feel connected emotionally to the gameplay experience. If your game has a social component, consider using spatial audio.
Feature image credit to Unsplash.