Action-Card Game The Land of Glass: Let’s Talk Sound Design

Posted March 20, 2018 by Chad Waller in Video Games

Before we begin, a little housekeeping: The Land of Glass is a hybrid mix of action RPG and card collecting, what I’ve referred to as a “real-time card game” on a few occasions. You collect cards, build a deck , and then attack by physically placing those cards in real time on different grids. It’s pretty neat, and not something I’ve ever seen done before.

Here’s the trailer!

The game releases March 27, 2018 on Steam.

Now, I want to take a little dive under the game’s hood and talk design, most notably sound effects. I was in charge of making them for The Land of Glass, and I have a very love/hate relationship with the process. Good sound design makes for good game feel, but good sound design is hard to do.

Let’s look at the magnum from Left 4 Dead 2. It’s probably my favorite handgun in video games because it just feels amazing to headshot zombies with. It punches their heads into goo.

I’d say more than half of that feel comes from its sound, which is a thick, giant, bang.

Your favorite gun in video games is probably different than mine, but I bet it has an amazing sound effect attached to it.

Now, The Land of Glass doesn’t have guns, but it does have attacks, magic, defenses, monsters, and about a hundred other odds and ends that need an aural queue. A sword swing still needs to feel good, as does a clutch block. I don’t remember what I used to make the sword swing, but I do remember what went into that defensive thud.

I took a wrench and smacked a metal hip flask filled with water about a dozen times until I got it just right!

Now, I don’t know if that’s a cool fun fact or not, but I am happy with the sound and the process. Hitting things with other things is fun. It’s also a big part of sound design. Yeah, once you’re done you’ll want to bring the noise into a DAW and play with it—layer the sound over itself, pitch shift it, EQ the lows or highs—but you need a really good base for any of that to work.

That’s the problem though, finding that base. It’s frustrating, because how am I supposed to know what ice magic sounds like when ice magic doesn’t exist!

The ice spell, by the way, is my brother kicking a snow-covered curb recorded with a 4th gen iPod touch. I think we were at my grandma’s house for Christmas when we did it. The second half of the spell is the someone crinkling a leaf mid autumn, when the leaves are no longer red and yellow but brown and brittle.

EQ out the noise, boost the lows, and add overdrive distortion because it’s called “Blood Overdrive” and I’m all about that. That sounds like a metal band!

My favorite spells in The Land of Glass tend to have the best sound effects to them, or the ones I’m most happy with. Sludge is a powerful spell that slows enemies down. It’s very useful, especially when fighting bosses as you’ll keep them away from you. However, nothing tops a good ol’ firestorm because fire is fun and fire is noisy.

The sludge sound effect is me blowing bubbles in a glass of chocolate milk. I EQed out most of the middle frequencies leaving the lows and highs, which gives it a very thick, choppy sound.

The fire sound effect is an actual bonfire mixed with a few other odds and ends. I was hanging with friends, drinking and sharing stories, and the fire hit a particularly nice log and began making some good noises. I asked everyone to hush for about thirty seconds while I sampled it.

What’s fun about sound design is that once you pay attention to it, you start to appreciate the weird noises around you. I’ve gotten into the habit of recording strange sounds at work or in public that I can use for other projects, because you never know what you’ll need until you’re staring at an empty DAW and going, “what does this sound like?”

I’m not going to sit here and claim myself an authority on the process, but I do have some tips for those just getting started. These are things I wish I had known five years ago:

  • Synthesizing sounds from scratch is hard and generally  not worth doing unless you’re much smarter than myself
  • Vocoders aren’t just for vocals
  • Guitar cabinets aren’t just for guitars
  • Pitch is to be played with at all times
  • Some sounds sound better played backwards
  • EQ everything and in strange ways
  • Convoler plugins combine two sounds together and are pretty much the coolest thing ever
  • Whatever sound you’re trying to make, aim for one size bigger

Now, let’s end this one with last example and we can all be on our ways.

I was at work filming the maintenance of an industrial plate maker used in flexographic printing. The technicians had to drain it of water—about 30 gallons—to clear some of the pipes and clean the tank. This was going to take awhile, so we were sitting around waiting when the drain began to make this awful, scary sucking noise like some monster was trying to claw its way up. I recorded it.

It was a difficult sound to work with because of all the background noise. Even with the people silent, a flexographic printing room is noisy. The machine also thrummed pretty loudly. Cleaning the base noise took some time, but once I did, I had a perfect monster gargle. You can find that in the Scarfoam Coast.

Like I said, the point of this is to have some fun by diving under the hood of The Land of Glass. Sound design isn’t something I see people discussing much, and that’s a shame, because it’s crucial to good game feel and pretty neat too. There’s an artistry to it, but also a kind of wild experimentation that involves making strange noises and calling it work. It’s cool!

I hope you enjoyed this. I might do a few other posts in this vein, talking The Land of Glass and what went into it, because making video games is a process, but not an impossible one. If I can fake being a sound engineer, you can too.

About the Author

Chad Waller

Chad Waller is the cofounder of Dual Wield Software, a two-man video game company that just published The Land of Glass on Steam. You should check it out! You can follow him on Twitter @DualWieldSoft and find his company page on Facebook with a quick search.