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Design & Style

Designing a Sound Aesthetic

Will Wright

Lesson time 15:39 min

Great sound can improve the experience of your game exponentially. Learn how to utilize music and sound design to expand your player’s imagination and heighten their emotional experience.

Will Wright
Teaches Game Design and Theory
Collaboration, prototyping, playtesting. The Sims creator Will Wright breaks down his process for designing games that unleash player creativity.


Sound design is a huge potential force multiplier. Sound design can take a really good game and make it great. If you ask a player why the game is great, they probably won't even tell you it's because of the sound design. If it is really that good, it'll probably be unconscious to the player. [BLADE SPINNING] But yet, it's influencing their emotional state. They're actually experiencing the graphics as being better or the gameplay as being better. And everything seems better to them because the sound design is kind of putting them in the right state of mind. So the sound design, I think, is kind of queuing up the player's imagination in the right state for everything else to do its thing. [AMBIENT SOUNDS] The sound design is usually the thing that gets the short shrift in a lot of game designs. It's kind of like, we know we have to do the programming, we know we have to do the art, the UI, and all that. Oh, by the way, we need to do sound at some point. But more and more, I think sound is becoming one of the really primary, upfront components of a lot of games. More and more games are actually based upon music, or that's the overt theme of the game. I think sound design-- if I'm including music as well-- is at least as tricky as the art side of things nowadays and at least as rich. [MUSIC PLAYING] I think the primary indicator for me as to the quality of sound design is whether I turn the sound off or not. There are a lot of games where it's just like, that is annoying as hell. And I turn it off. Maybe the game is fun and I enjoy the game. But really great sound design is something that I notice. I'd say that good sound design is something that, OK, it's tolerable. It's nice. It informs me. It serves its purpose. Every now and then, I play a game where the sound design just blows me away. There was an old, old game-- I think it was "Clive Barker's Undying." It was a horror game. And you're going through this old house. And it's dark. And it was a first-person kind of scary game. And most of the sound design in there was the wind howling; some of the windows were open; you were seeing drapes move; creaking. And it was done so well, the blending between the creaking of your footsteps and the creaking of the wind. And every now and then, a monster would pop out. But it would be a little bit slightly different creek. And you were starting to imagine all these things in the soundscape that you were about to encounter. And so they were really tweaking your imagination with the sound design in a beautiful way. And every now and then, I see a game that does something like that. That, really, the sound is really adding a whole level of dynamics to what I'm building in my imagination. And I think that's an indicator of great sound design. [MUSIC PLAYING] Within sound design, there are a lot of components to it. You'll have sou...

Explore the Possibility Space

Learn the art and science of game design with Will Wright, the mind behind SimCity and The Sims. In this game design class, Will teaches you how to create games that empower players and unleash their imagination. You’ll develop a tool set for understanding player psychology, as well as learn Will’s approach to generating and pitching ideas, prototyping, playtesting, and building a community.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

Can't get enough of this class, but have to pace myself.

Thank you Will, you've helped me in more ways than you can know. I definitely feel a strong positive impact in learning from you.

As someone interested in certain types of games, I was uncertain if I'd garner much from Will Wright's course, as games such as The Sims and Spore did not resonate with me. To my surprise and delight, I found this to be one of the most useful and thought-provoking sources of ideas and perspectives that can apply to any form of game design. Highly recommended.

Will not magically make you a game creator. Affirms what you already know or suspect of the industry. Got a few really good leads to try out though.



these videos are are either okay advice or unbelievably off the mark. this one is dick cheney. the advice wouldn't be so bad if he stopped after making a point. but he just keeps hammering onto it. there is beating a dead horse, there is hitting roadkill, and then there is pulling off the road and meticulously rubing roadkill onto the hood of your car. rule 1 of respectful comunication, never repeat yourself. this goes double for videos. once you make a point: elaborate relevance, or tie it to a practical application, or at worst evidence the legitimacy of the position.

Matthijs D.

This idea of the laugh track made me think: If the laugh track is the player's only option, they're forced to interpret their experience as a comedy, but what if they could choose? If at the start of the game you can choose the genre of the background music, then they can decide 'oh this playthrough will be a horror movie, so we'll choose horror music as the soundtrack' and then everything that happens within that playthrough will be interpreted from that context. The same goes with a laugh track, or perhaps themed sets of sound effects you could choose. That changes the entire experience of how you interpret the game world, where it's not so much a life sim as it is a tv-series constructor that you can place in a genre of your choosing. Thoughts?

Rich C.

One thing I like to use, though this can easily be overdone (and you only want to do it for a special instance), are incongruous sound effects. I learned this from watching Tex Avery cartoons. Sometimes when, say, an anvil falls on the dog character's foot, you expect him to yell OUCH!!-- Instead, when he opens his mouth, you hear the sound of a woman scream. It's a surprise, yet it fits--in an odd, almost awkward funny way (which is perfect). But it's there and gone. Not dwelled on. That's Avery. Very fast. One of my favorite examples can be heard during the cat & mouse between Obi-wan and Jango Fett while flying through asteroids in Attack of the Clones. Listen to the sound of Fett's seismic charge mines when one detonates. Definitely not what we expect (!), and it's brilliant (I think--do you, gallery?). When you have a particularly needy and succulent opportunity, do this in your game! : )

Rich C.

FWIW, I remember needing a good sound for a particular alien beam weapon in one of our games. I was trying things out with synthesizers but I wasn't finding it, the right one. Later I happened to be listening to an Emerson, Lake and Palmer record and heard Keith Emerson play a cool glissando on his Hammond organ and I suddenly realized that's it! That's the sound of our "graviton disintegrator"! I sampled it (a couple seconds long) and then did some tricks so it was really a new sound by the time I was done, but every time I hear it, I can hear its origin. I grew up listening to and making "found sound" music. (Musique concrete is the fancy term.) This is something everyone designing sound should check out, I think, and try. It's open territory with no rules (and no music keyboard). Creating, playing with sounds with that mindset will reveal things you'd never come up with any other way. Tricks you'll use later, and sound material to draw from later too, eventually. You also get into the realm of "soundscapes." One good lesson is very crude but true. If you can create found sound music that doesn't make people want to throw up--or turn it off--you might be the kind of person to do this! ; )

Karel A.

Haha as an Estonian it would have been awesome if Sims was in our language. Only 1.3 million people are speaking in that language. Väga väga lahe oleks olnud kuulata Simsi mängus Eesti keelt.