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
8bit 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 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
Put 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.
When 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.
In 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.