The Power of Sound Effects

As someone who is a big fan of Subnautica, I often keep up with updates to the game, usually via various Youtubers who cover the game extensively.  Without spoiling too much, a huge portion of the end game is in development right now (when this article was written anyway).  Since it’s a key story point, it’s being tweaked to be as impactful as possible.  Animations, voice acting, textures, and tons of other aspects keep being overhauled to present the most satisfying moment that could be achieved.  However, in some of the more recent updates, one additive that added a ton of impact caught my eye: the sound effects.

Sound effects are one of those aspects of creative media that often get overlooked.  Whether the sound effects are audio or implied to with words, they make a huge difference despite being minor additives.  Unfortunately, in numerous indie industries, they can often be underused.  While certainly you run the risk of oversaturating a piece with sound effects, they are still an essential that should never be neglected.  To hammer in this point, let us examine why the sound effects make a difference in two industries: gaming and comics.

 

In the case of gaming, it is a very audio-centric media in most cases.  Though one could play games in complete silence, most people would concede the sounds make a difference.  Yet, as much as a background soundtrack adds to a game, so does the sound effects.  Take any game which involves swords or guns that you use to attack people.  Now, if you can, imagine if there were no sound effects.  No swosh or chink for those swords, no popping bullets, no anything; just imagine if you only had the animation, even if there’s a nice accompanying soundtrack.

Now ideally, if you can picture it, you’d realize how odd that’d be.  There would be a sense of emptiness to each attack.  Since in real life objects like this have sound effects, it is also something that would break immersion; the game is giving no feedback to the attack, so it feels unreal.

This being the key concept: sound effects in games provide feedback.

Let’s take a look for the moment at Dragon Age: Inquisition.  One key mechanic to the game is its search function.  Essentially, when a player presses a hotkey, a little circle fans out from the inquisitor and detects objects, whether it be resources, loot chests, or something hidden.  It is a pretty vital component if one wants to find the collectibles in the game as certain ones can only be found via this mechanic.  Now, of course, there are visual cues via the object highlighting, the mini map, and more.  Thus, one can still use the mechanic on visuals alone.  However, the sound effects for the mechanic make a big difference.  There are different sounds for finding nothing, finding a resource, or detecting a hidden object.  By consequence, one can put their eyes to more important things on the screen and let the sounds guide them.  Not only does this provide great feedback, but it streamlines the process of navigating.  In otherwords, one can run and scan rather than take those few moments to check if they found anything every moment.

There are a plethora of other ways sound effects play a role, whether it’s feedback from opening chests in The Legend of Zelda series or through loud thunderous sounds of dragons flying overhead in Dragon Age: Inquisition.  The sounds give a true sense of presence and aid in immersing someone into the world.  Like in real life, one expects sounds when objects interact, so providing them in key moments makes a huge difference.

 

Nevertheless, games are not the only medium in which sound effects make a difference.  Let’s now turn to comics, which out of the gate obviously lack the same audio component games do.  For comics, the sound effects are part of the visuals and come in varying styles.  Whether they say “Pow,” “Kablam,” or anything else, they are generally something present in a lot of comics.  That being said, some people may question whether they’re important, since these “sound” effects are visual instead audio.  Yet, much like games, they provide important feedback.

In a similar function to the last exercise, let’s put our imaginations to work.  Imagine any two characters you want in a fight, and one panel features one of the characters dramatically slapping the other.  Now, because imaginations are pretty robust, you surely imagined the slap sound that would occur in the moment.  For comics, the way this is conveyed is with the sound effect text, which depending on how its styled can have a different effect.  Instead, though, try to picture the image without that text.  All you have is a slap making contact, but no feedback on whether it hit.

In the end, the effect that occurred for games occurred here as well: without the sound effect, the moment felt empty and lacking impact.

Even when the sound effects are visually very small, they play a role in conveying the world and making it feel real.  Speaking personally, I barely even ever read what the sound effects say; at the same time, when they aren’t present, I take extreme notice of how silent a comic’s world consequently feels.  As a result I feel confident saying that even their presence alone is enough to convey that there is noise in the world, which makes a world of difference.

Of course, sound effects can be used to aid the story too in this case.  For instance, when the story wishes to have an eating scene, it’s not uncommon to have a panel where a characters stomach growls.  This is shown not only by a close up of the stomach, but through sound effects to emphasize the growling sound.  The reader is left with no confusion about what’s going on, so even without dialogue the visual and sound effect convey the character’s need.  This, in turn, helps immerse one more into the moment; like in real life, the visual clues and sound are all that’s needed to convey the unspoken message.  There are numerous other ways the visuals and “sound” effects in comics can be utilized in a more poignant matter, so they are not something to be discounted.

 

Hopefully, at this point, I have conveyed why sound effects play a vital role.  With them, you can make something more immersive and impactful in both small and big ways.  Without them, you risk turning the consumer away from the product due to the world feeling empty and hollow.  In the end, even if it is a tedious aspect to consider, one should always try to include sound effects.  They can make or break a project sometimes, so to neglect them is to do your project a disservice.  The internet offers tons of sound effect resources, so there’s really no excuse not to use them.  So, go forth, and remember like the world, your work should have sounds.

 

Dragon Age: Inquisition is © to Bioward, EA, and all affiliated parties.

Image: Link opening a chest from ZeldaDungeon.net.

DC Movies, Tone, and Why it Hurts

While I’m not a huge mainstream comic fan, I’m averagely familiar with Marvel’s and DC’s franchises.  Really, living in America, it’s hard not to be at least somewhat familiar with them.  They are fairly pervasive in the culture, and with the recent string of superhero movies, they are pretty well-known characters.  That being said, those familiar with the current state of movies know one thing: Marvel is doing better.  Not to say, of course, that Marvel always has masterpiece movies, but Marvel has had more successes in the past few years than DC.  In fact, outside of a few Batman movies, such as The Dark Knight, most DC flicks are forgettable or laugh worthy.

Why is this?  This is a pretty important question since Marvel has proven that superhero movies can be box office successes.  Though I’m sure certain fanboys/fangirls would say Marvel has better franchises, I would disagree considering Marvel and DC copy a lot of characters from each other.  This is not to mention that DC does have iconic characters like Batman and Superman, so the flaw in the movies more likely lies with their execution.

As I pondered this question, I also considered the fact that DC gets a ton of other great material in different media.  While Marvel has put most of its eggs in live action productions, DC still gets a lot more animated shows, video games, and so on.  Though there are certainly flops, a lot of these productions are successful.  Take for instance Young Justice who just got renewed for a third season because of the passionate fans.  Or, consider perhaps, Injustice 2 which just released and received high praise, in part for its writing and not just its game mechanics.  Heck, even consider, despite all the years that have passed, people still talk about Batman: The Animated Series because of how masterful of an animated show it was.  The point is, whether you personally like the productions or not, DC can succeed as shown by their success in other areas.

So, why are their movies so ill received?

Thus comes my personal opinion on the matter: DC movies are getting the tone entirely wrong.

Tone in stories can be subtle but very important.  Describing a rainstorm as “light and cascading” sets up a different tone than describing it as “an unforgiving torrent of water.”  Though movies are clearly more visual, the dialogue, music, light choices, and more all characterize what the tone of the movie will be.  Tones dictate everything even if one doesn’t understand them completely; they not only encourage consumers to a specific interpretation, but also help manipulate the emotional responses that will occur.

In the case of DC movies, there seems to be a common trend of making the tone as serious as possible.  The movies will focus on the darker sides of the DC characters, from Superman’s inherent threat from being so powerful to Batman’s broodiness and vengeful attitude towards stopping crime.  The conflicts they face will often have dark implications, and lighting choices will be fairly dark or have a gloomy atmosphere to them.  All in all, the choices in the movies set up a serious tone to remind the consumer that this is serious business with serious stakes and angst.

Unfortunately, this is inherently the problem with their tone.  Everything in the movies (with exception to a few specific movies) is meant to be taken seriously.  Consequently, all the joy and fun of superheroes is sucked out of the production.  These are, at the end, people running around in costume; to not have a little fun with that is to do the concept a bit of a disservice.

Now, that being said, I’m not saying the franchises shouldn’t be treated seriously.  After all, there are some DC movies who did the exact opposite, and were as poorly received as the serious ones.  However, what there should be is a balance of treating the franchise seriously and having fun with it.

Jlfounding

To example this, let’s take a quick look at the 2001 animated Justice League TV show, a generally well-received animated show for the time.  Now the show was definitely a serious one and the conflicts were treated seriously.  There was an episode about Diana/Wonder Woman being banished from her home, an episode where Superman was thought to have died, and so forth.  The show did not skirt around serious conflicts and made sure to convey some heavy emotions.  However, the tone was never overly serious, and the show added lots of light-hearted moments as well to keep the tone from being too heavy.  A lot of this actually came from Flash, who was depicted as a goofball with some funny lines, especially his failed pickup lines.  Overall, the best word to describe it is the show was relatively witty.

I could go on and on and analyze several incarnations in other media but lack the time for this post.  Regardless and suffice it to say, in my personal experience, the good DC productions all achieve this balance.  They are serious, but never forget to add some humor and wit at regular intervals.  When done well, it blends in seamlessly, and one gets to have fun even despite the heavy conflicts going on.

As such, for me at least, it is the tone of the DC movies that is failing them.  If one looks at Marvel’s movies, they do not fall into this trap; rather, there is a lot of humor in Marvel’s movies.  Even when there’s a hole in the sky, there’s still time for some witty banter from Iron Man.  The movies are fun, so many flaws can be overlooked.  Since DC movies treat themselves so seriously in tone, though, their flaws don’t receive this benefit; people will judge the movies in a completely serious and unforgiving manner in the same spirit.

While, of course, I don’t expect this trend to change anytime soon, I thought this analysis might be insightful for some people asking this same question.  I’m sure other aspects also hurt the movies greatly, but for me, the tone is the truest culprit that changes what could be a fun depiction into an overly serious, nonsensical, travesty.

 

Mentioned Marvel franchises (Iron Man, The Avengers, etc.) are © to Marvel Entertainment LLC and affiliated parties.

Mentioned DC franchises (Batman, Superman, Justice League, etc.) are © to DC Entertainment and affiliated parties.

Image: Justice League (2001) animated show promotional image.

Comics and Diversifying Your Platforms

“Don’t put all your eggs into one basket.”

This is a common saying that gets passed around, but I think too few people actually stop to think about what this concept means.  Particularly for indie creators, whether they’re creating games, comics, or otherwise, there seems to be a general trust that goes towards third party businesses as far as making your content available.  Unfortunately, the risk for betrayal is somewhat high and may catch the more naïve off-guard.  Today, I would like to analyze this statement a bit, particularly as it pertains to comics.  Why comics?  Well, I will tell you why.

For those not heavily part of the indie comic scene, Tapas (formerly branded as Tapastic) is one of the most popular hosting sites available right now.  It offers content creators an easy to use platform to post their works, receive feedback, and generally do all the things one would expect a host to be able to do.  Over the past year or so, Tapas has changed focus to their mobile app and its premium content.  In the last few days, Tapas went a step further and redesigned their site.  Their initial choices in the design were to push the premium related content to the top of the page, and forcing the entirely free content to the bottom.  While criticism and feedback have since prompted them to change this, I think it is important one stops to think about this.

ice_screenshot_20170418-234435

First off, at the end of the day, one must remember Tapas is a business whose goal is one thing: to make money.  As such, it is hard to fault them for wanting to push their premium content.  After all, even if they were a non-profit business, employees, servers, and the like all cost money to maintain.  One also cannot fault the premium content creators either, as they are putting their heart and souls into their projects just as much as any other indie creator.

However, when one considers this in the larger picture, it becomes clear Tapas is pushing an antithesis of what the comic community generally wants: more visibility for indie creators.  Instead of promoting a wide variety of comics, the promotion goes to the most successful and who will make the company money.  Again, while no crime, for the average creator this probably defeats the purpose of why they joined the site.

This is not to mention that, while possibly unintentional on Tapas’ part, their wording choices for how they now view creators is a bit telling of their future business model.  In a post from April 17th, 2017 regarding their updated terms and policies, Tapas said the following:

“Many of the terms introduced along with the Tapas app concern purchases and content we’ve published, versus the self-published, user-generated content we previously focused on almost exclusively. Self-publishing and UGC are not going away, and we remain dedicated to supporting independent creators – we’re simply expanding to offer more professional titles as well.”

In this statement, Tapas makes a clear distinction between self-published creators and “professional” creators; in other words, creators who don’t make them money and creators who do.  This, combined with their initial choices for the redesign, clearly demonstrates that Tapas not only wishes to offer more “professional” titles, but probably promote it imminently more than the “self-published” creators too.  Though certainly a sound business decision, this does leave a lot of indie creators at an impasse.

Thus, let us turn back to the original idea: not putting all your eggs in one basket.  For those who have been using Tapas as their main and only site for their comic, this change suddenly threatens their presence and ability to gain an audience.  Though they may work just as hard as premium content creators, there is a large chance that their work will get buried by these creators simply because of how the business will choose to market.  In the end, this makes it harder for newer creators to even get their foot in the door, let alone have hopes of becoming well-known at some point.

Consequently and in retrospect, diversifying where and how you deliver your content as a creator is extremely important.  For comics, there are numerous other hosting choices such as LINE Webtoon or Smackjeeves, where a creator can try to gain footing.  There is also the option of hosting the comic on your own website, whether it be professionally designed or an impromptu hosting site using blog rolls.  There a ton of options for creators, and there is no real one right choice.  What is important, though, is that you make your comic available in more than one location.  In this way, you will always be protected when a company makes business decisions that aren’t beneficial to your content.  Yes, it is admittedly a lot of work to manage multiple mirrors.  However, the safety net it provides is one that will save stress later, such as in this recent incident with Tapas.

This, of course, applies to other creative mediums as well.  In your love and passion for your content, always remember that it is partially a business.  It is almost always a wiser decision to diversify yourself to protect from an unknown future, and it isn’t a crime to remember using a third party shouldn’t be only beneficial to the third party.  So please post in lots of places and try numerous different things.  One day those third parties you rely on may not be there, and you will have to deal with that future.

 

Tapas/Tapastic is © to Tapas Media, Inc.

Image: Screenshot- From Tapas’ front page showcasing the premium content rolls.