johnmckiever(at)gmail.com | @jfmkvr | (803) 757-0522

5 Awesome Free VST Plugins for Game Audio

For sound designers working on indie games, a tight budget is usually a given. Lucky for us, there’s a lot of generosity in the VST world. Here are 5 of my favorite free vst plugins for game audio. For this list I wanted to avoid effects that are attainable using standard plugins in popular DAWs (basic compressors, delays, filters, eq’s etc), while at the same time hitting a wide spectrum of common needs in the world of a sound designer for video games. I tried to keep the list Win/Mac friendly (4 out of 5 ain’t bad). If you’ve already combed the planet hunting for solid free vst’s, this list may contain no surprises. May I present, in no particular order:

1. Delta Modulator

bitcrusher for game audio8bit and Indie is like Flannel and Grunge, you can’t have one without the other. The perfect complement to pixel art is audio generation loss using a bitcrusher. There are a lot of great free options, but Xfer Record’s Delta Modulator is my personal favorite. Need your hand grenade explosion to have some 8bit top-end? Adjust the mix with the dry/wet dial. Set the “bits” dial to 1 for an Atari 2600 sound, adjust it to 8 if you’re after the SNES era, and max it out at 16bits for that crispy PlayStation One sound processing. Delta Modulator is available for Win & Mac and ready for download here.

2. Saturation Knob

saturation for effectsSaturation is a beautiful thing. As a fan of all that is analog, it’s an essential effect for adding sonic character, not only for musical compositions, but for sound effects as well. Saturation Knob, by Softube, is without a doubt one of the best free vst plugins of any list. If you need to add some “beef” to your effects, maybe your compressor isn’t quite giving you what you want, throw some knob on it. Push the saturation knob past the point of subtle for some really nice distortion. Because, you know, when in doubt, just add distortion! Saturation knob is available for Win & Mac and ready for download here.

3. Bitter Sweet

free transient shaper for sound designPut simply, transient shaping is super important in the game audio world. Whether it be melee strikes, firearms, GUI sounds, or vocals, transient shaping is the molding of that instance of audio at the beginning of a waveform. With Flux’s Bitter Sweet V3, there’s essentially one big dial with 2 settings; sweet and bitter. Add sweetness to decrease impact and add some distance to your effects. Add bitterness to increase the impact and punch of your effects. It’s really that simple. Not to mention, super mix-engineer Dave Pensado loves this plugin as well. Bitter Sweet is available for Win & Mac and ready for download here.

4. SIR1

Free Convolution Reverb for Game AudioWhen going for realistic acoustic spaces in sound design, convolution reverb digitally simulates the reverberation of a physical space. In English? It recreates reverbs that you would hear in real places in real life. In order for your convolution reverb to work properly, you’ll need impulse responses. Think of an impulse response as a preset for your convulotion reverb that simulates an actual physical space. Maybe it’s the inside of one of the Great Pyramids, maybe a crypt, maybe the bridge of the USS Enterprise NCC 1701. Whatever it may be, the trick is finding a real existing place that might share similar acoustic principles as the fictional place in your game. There are tons of impulse responses to choose from here. It’s slim pickin’s for free convolution reverbs, but SIR1 by SIR Audio Tools gets the job done. Unfortunately, it’s only available for Windows, ready for download here.

5. Fracture

Creative effects for game audioIn order to sound like an alien, you have to think like an alien. Until neuroscientists discover the alien-ancestral portion of the human brain responsible for this, there’s a plugin to assist us. It’s called Fracture, by GLITCHMACHINES, a generous (and ingenious) company creating some mind blowing effects and sound packs. Fracture is a buffer effect plugin perfect for creating futuristic and out-of-this-world effects for modern science fiction projects. There are tons of presets to start with until you’re ready to venture out to where no man has gone before. Fracture is available for Win & mac and ready for download here.

Baldur’s Gate II: Still Epic After All These Years

My old IBM Aptiva (or a model very close to it).

My old IBM Aptiva (or a model very close to it).

In the year 2000, (and no this isn’t the start to an old Conan O’brien skit) my PC could barely run Baldur’s Gate II. At least I that’s what I thought, I never played it back then even though I was dying to. I had an IBM Aptiva E5D with a Pentium II 400MHz processor, and like 64mb of RAM. Plus, I had completely maxed out my tiny hard drive with audio files created in Goldwave and Cool Edit 96. The video games I was playing were on my Sega Dreamcast, which at the time had mind-bending graphics. Friends would come over and play NFL2K and say things like “oh my god you can see the light reflecting on his helmet that’s wicked awesome”. So Bauldur’s Gate II (and its predecessor) slipped right by me, unfortunately.

Fast forward to the year 2015, after almost 2 decades of me playing endless rpg’s (Diablo, Elder Scrolls, Dark Souls, Final Fantasy, Fallout, Grimrock, Deus Ex) I was introduced to an incredible game called Pillars of Eternity, by Obsidian Entertainment. I played it, got immersed, and fell in love. As I read up on it, it’s countless mentions as the spiritual successor to Baldur’s Gate kept bringing back those old memories…Baldur’s Gate II… the one that got away.

The Cover of the Cardboard box you probably bought at Electronics Boutique.

The Cover of the cardboard box you probably bought at Electronics Boutique (while eating a Cinnabon).

A few weeks ago gog.com had a sale on Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced edition. It was impossible to turn down. I thought, “OK it’s probably gonna look terrible and crash on Windows 10, but at this price why the hell not”. I installed it (along with the patch) and dove in. My initial reaction was, “OK I can deal with these graphics”. In fact, the environment art is still incredible. The character portraits are mesmerizing. The character animations and combat, eh well those haven’t aged well. However, after an hour of wandering around looking for Jon Irenicus I completely forgot that I was playing a 15+ year old game.

I’ve realized that there’s a certain perspective to take when playing this game in our day and age. You have to treat the graphics like you would text in a novel. That is, let the graphics propel your imagination into creating a magnificent mental projection of BGII’s story-line. It’s not a tough task given the incredible writing and dialog that are interwoven through out. If you can do that you’ll enjoy this game as much as I am, and you’ll understand why it’s known as the greatest RPG of all time. Oh yeah, and by the way, be sure to gather your party before venturing forth.

Tycho Recon (Ludum Dare 34)

A friend and I decided to take the Ludum Dare Challenge, we had 72 hours to create a game from scratch. The theme for the challenge was “2 Button Controls”. I handled the audio, he handled the programming and art. Here’s what we came up with!

59332-shot0-1450142103.png-eq-900-500

Story:
Your Mothership has crash-landed on an unknown celestial body. You and your crew have set up base camp, however, your supply crates were scattered across miles of treacherous terrain. Without the supply crates your crew will perish. Your hovercraft appears to have sustained no damage. As the only surviving pilot it is up to you to retrieve the supply crates and return to base.

Rules:
– You can carry a maximum of 3 supply crates at the same time.
– You must brake in order to grab a supply crate.
– Each time you brake your score decreases.
– Each time you grab a supply crate, your weight increases.
– You must reach the other side of each stage with at least TWO crates to complete the stage.

Goals:
– You must complete the 4 stages with the most collected crates and the best score. Good luck!

Controls:
– ‘B’ for braking.
– ‘Space’ for jumping.

Credits:
– Sébastien Guillemette (Programming, Graphics)
– John McKiever (Sound, Music, Logo)

 
Play it here: Web

Free Reason Thor Patch: “Dragon’s Breath”

Dragon's Breath Thor Patch

I designed this patch using 3 instances of Thor’s Wave Table Oscillators. It really shines in the low/mid frequency range.

Download Here.

Achieving Blade Runner Reverb with the RV7000

The Blade Runner soundtrack, composed in 1982 by Vangelis, is truly a masterpiece of all things science fiction. It is dark and dreamy, perfectly complimenting the film’s futuristic noir setting. By 1982’s standards Vangelis had an extremely advanced arsenal of toys at his disposal. Combining the Yamaha CS-80 with the Lexicon 224 Digital Reverb, Vangelis painted lush audio dreamscapes that still mesmerize listeners today. While both the CS-80 and Lexicon 224 have recent software plugin conversions, Propellerhead’s Reason is my DAW of choice, so I set out to recreate Vangelis’ epic Blade Runner reverb using the highly versatile RV7000.

Main Parameters

The first step to duplicating the Lexicon’s rich, lush, long decay is setting the algorithm to Hall with a decay of around 6 or 7 seconds. Next, adjusting HF Damp to 50 and HI EQ to 0 allows for the high frequency intricacies of the original signal to shine without bleeding over into the reverb’s decay. A safe starting place for the Dry-Wet dial is 50, but for that thick spaced out decay don’t be afraid to push it further. It really depends on how much you want to transform your original signal.

Reverb Parameters

For the Hall parameters the goal is to make the decay as rich and smooth as possible to obtain the Blade Runner dreaminess. Max out the hall size to 39.6 m along with diffusion to 127 and set the room shape to “three” or “four”. Set ER->Late and ER Level to 0/null as well as Predelay to 0 ms. Finally, I find that the mod amount sounds pleasing at around 60%, increasing from here tends to start throwing off the richness around the tail end of the decay.

EQ Paramaters

rv7eq

If your main signal is within the realm of  a mid to high frequency, or say middle C and up, start by setting the Low Gain to around 3.7 dB. Next set the Low Freq to 1,000 Hz. Set the Param Gain to -18.0, the Param Freq to 16,000 Hz, and Param Q to 7.0. These settings create a very comfortable warmth behind these mid to high freqs. However, if dealing with an original signal that is a lower frequency you may find these settings to cause some muddiness. To correct this, change the Low Gain to -18. Next change the Low Freq to 50Hz. From here, bring the Low Frequency up to your liking to carve out the low frequencies in the reverb’s decay causing low frequency muddiness.

The Results

Below is a “before and after” example of how these settings sound on a raw Vangelis-like synth patch.

 

Bleak Fortress Announcement

Bleak Fortress!

I am excited to announce that I will be designing the sound and music for Pyroswarm Entertainment’s Bleak Fortress! Please visit http://www.pyroswarm.ca/games/bleakfortress for more information.