The many layers of a sound effect

Hey, everyone! I’m Felix, the sound designer for our upcoming game Chonky – From Breakfast to Domination.
Today I want to talk to you about something a lot of you appreciate but not necessarily actively notice when playing video games – the sound effects.

The importance of sound effects

Always experienced but often overlooked, sound effects are a key part of a satisfying experience when performing actions like hitting a monster or casting a fireball.
Not to take away from the importance of the visual components, but a falling meteor without a big “BANG!” would feel anticlimactic, wouldn’t it?
In the history of video games, audio feedback has always been important. Take the classic game Pong as an example: the possibilities for creating sound were very limited, but they were able to create specific sounds for the ball hitting a paddle, a wall and scoring a point just by changing the pitch and the duration of the ‘beep’ sound the Atari was able to produce.
Since then, sound design in games evolved together with technology, enabling more complex and realistic sounds. Despite their rising complexity, sound design became more accessible than ever before, with more easy-to-use tools (Audacity, Reaper, etc.) available for anyone who wants to dabble in the creation of music and sound effects.

What does a good sound effect need?

The answer to this question: it depends. Like with most other things, there is no universal formula with which you can create a good sound effect. The impact of a fireball should sound different than equipping a weapon after all.
But in general, adding depth to a sound effect is always beneficial, and by depth I mean details. Discreet sounds that you normally wouldn’t even notice but elevate the overall quality of a sound effect.
For example, when opening your backpack, you only hear the zipper or whatever your backpack uses. But when picking the sound of opening the inventory in-game you want to hear a little more. Clutter rumbling inside the backpack, maybe some bottles clinging -little details you wouldn’t make out when you first hear them, but they add to the grand total.

Layers: Details with extra steps

When creating more complex sound effects layers are something you more than likely will need to work with.

Let’s use a fireball that deals continuous fire damage after impact as an example And because I’m currently working on Chonky, we will also say that a Chonky is doing it.

Thus, we need individual sound effects for:

  • casting (charging) the fireball
  • releasing the fireball
  • maybe a voice line of the Chonky muttering a spell
  • the fireball flying
  • the impact of the fireball
  • the enemy reacting to the impact (e.g.: a cry of pain)
  • the fire burning after impact

You could go even further and add more details to this. One example would be that you could take into consideration what the fireball is hitting and change the impact sound accordingly. After all, the impact sounds different when it hits something wooden than when it hits something made out of metal.

To be fair, at this point we are no longer talking about a sound effect but rather multiple sound effects working together to provide (in this scenario) audio feedback to a spell attack. Something very important to keep in mind when working this way is that you need to keep a close eye on the balance between those sound effects. You don’t want one sound effect to completely drown out the others. This is way more complex than it sounds and could take you many hours just to get them to a point where they complement each other in the most satisfying way.


  • There is no universal formula to a good sound effect, but details are beneficial most of the times
  • More complex sounds need layers of individual sound effects that complement each other
  • Balancing these layers can be tricky and takes some time
, ,