audio file types for games

What is the Best Audio File Type for Video Game Development

If you are limited on audio file size, the best audio format to use in sound design for video game development is OGG VORBIS.

However the truly best solution is to use a “middleware” programme such as FMOD or WWISE which can help you process high quality audio files like .WAV files in major game engines such as Unity or Unreal Engine

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Music and sound effects are a fundamental part of video game development and it is important to ensure the quality of the audio and music in your game sound good. 

No doubt you will be spending hours programming and developing your game, but as many indie video game developers do not have a dedicated sound designer to handle their audio assets it is important to know what audio quality you should be aiming for. 

What do we mean by “audio quality”?

Audio files have technical specifications attached to them and the two most important from an audio quality point of view are:

Sample Rate: 

The sample rate is the number of times the audio is sampled per second. 

For CD quality, the sample quality is 44.1kHz.

Bit Rate:  

This is the number of bits within a unit of playback. 

For CD quality, the bit rate is 16bit.

I appreciate that this probably makes no sense if you are not familiar with audio so here is a simple way to think of it that I recall from my student days at sound engineering school. 

  • Think of bit rate as resolution. 
  • Think of sampling rate as little snap shots of sound, like frames per second in a movie. 
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Regarding which audio quality and sampling rates sound best,  there are endless threads online on this topic.

Audiophiles (audio experts and enthusiasts) argue that high resolution audio with a sampling frequency of 96kHz/24bit is the only way to go while others argue that lossless audio such as MP3 with a sampling frequency of  44.1kHz / 320 kbs is fine as most people don’t have access to high quality headphones and speakers to hear the difference. 

When it comes to sound design and using music in video games we need to have as high an audio quality as possible, however, depending on your setup you may need to ensure your audio files or audio assets do not have a large file size.

It would be great if we could all use high resolution audio as then there would never be a compromise but high quality audio files are large and are just too big for some indie game developers to work with.

Therefore, for most indie game developers there is a constant battle between wanting the best quality but at the smallest file size. 

When selecting an audio file type for video game development, and assuming your are limited for space choose the audio file format OGG VORBIS. This is similar in size to MP3, but unlike MP3 can be looped seamlessly. 

However the truly best solution is to use a “middleware” programme such as FMOD or WWISE which can help you process high quality audio files such as  .WAV files in most game engines. 

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What is FMOD & WWISE?

FMOD Studio is a software that allows you to easily add sound and music to any game. You can easily make your audio “adaptive” which means you can easily loop, trim, edit and adapt it for your gameplay. 

It is an incredibly versatile software package that can be easily integrated with Unity, Unreal Engine 4 (UE4) and other engines through APIs.

The great news about FFMOD is if you are an indie game developer and have a budget of less than $500k, you can use it for free subject to their terms and conditions. 

fmod setup of PC and game

FMOD Setup, via FMOD.com

WWISE is an alternative interactive audio solution for games and game developers. It too has a starter free package for productions with a budget of less than $150k. 

So before you take the manual route and start trimming and looping your game music and sounds in a free software such as Audacity, be sure to check out these middleware software options as you could efficiently manage your audio assets with direct integration with the major game development engines. 

At a first glance they may seem daunting and exhausting to try to learn a new software package but they are surprisingly easy to learn with a vast amount of tutorials and information online.

Here are some good resources to get started and learn FMOD or WWISE to manage your audio assets. 

FMOD YouTube Channel

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/FMODTV

WWISE Free Courses

  • https://www.audiokinetic.com/courses/wwise101/
background music depiction

Why does file format matter in video game design? 

Creating smooth audio loops in video game audio design is essential and having the correct file format will help you create seamless loops.

When I am talking about file formats, I am referring to the various types of audio file formats out there – for example .WAV, .MP3. , FLAC to name a few. 

When using uncompressed file formats such as .WAV files , you are working with high quality audio that you can seamlessly loop, however as mentioned previously, you will notice that as you work with these files as a video game developer, the file size is massive! 

When you have hundreds of sound assets you need to really consider file size and space. Very quickly your video game sounds and music will take up more data space than your actual game. 

video game code

Why you should not use MP3 audio in video game sound design. 

As mentioned, working with uncompressed file formats such as .WAV will give you excellent quality but are just too large to use for some indie game developers.

The next option to maintain high quality audio but also achieve a small file size is to use a compressed audio file format such as .MP3 or OGG.

MP3 is hugely popular and a format the general population are very comfortable with however MP3 should not be chosen when working with video game music and sounds in video game audio because they do not loop well and here is why.

MP3 encodes its data in blocks of 1224 bits. If the last block of music or sound effect is not exactly 1224bits, the MP3 encoder will insert some silence or junk data to make up an even block of 1224 bits. 

This means that when looping MP3s, (music loops are essential in game design) more than likely there will be a tiny bit of silence at the end of your audio snip. Therefore this will not loop seamlessly. You will hear a little click or hitch in the loop. 

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What are .OGG files and why should you use them in video game audio design? 

So .WAV or uncompressed files are too big for efficient video game sound design and .MP3 files are a poor option for looping so is there a middle ground?

The best audio file type for video game design is .OGG because:

1 – .OGG is about the same file size as .MP3.

2 – The .OGG file type is open source. 

3 – .OGG audio files loop perfectly. 

So when you are working with video game music or sound effects and you need an audio file format that is not too big but loops well and works well with all the major game development engines, choose high quality .OGG.

Is there a free way to convert .WAV or other formats into .OGG format?

The fastest and free way is to use an open source software such as Audacity

Audacity is an open source, free, cross platform audio software that is excellent for converting music and sound effect formats to .OGG. 

Where can I download free music for video game development in high quality .WAV file format?

All music featured on LouiseByrneMusic can be downloaded for free in high quality .WAV format and used in video game sound design.

The downloaded music can be looped and edited to fit your video gameplay. As it is provided in high quality .WAV format it can be easily converted to .OGG format using the free software Audacity if needed.

These music downloads come with a full professional royalty free music licence.

To use the music, attribution must be given as follows:

Music by: https://louisebyrnemusic.com/ or “Song Title” by https://louisebyrnemusic.com/

Here are some popular free video game soundtracks with Celtic/Fantasy and Sci-Fi themes for some creative inspiration.

Disclaimer: This blog is intended as a guide only for educational and informational purposes. It is not legal advice. The content contained in this article is not legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific matter or matters.

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