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Let's Talk Tutorial Soundscapes

This is a topic that, I think, barely gets any attention. I am writing about it because I haven't seen an article on it before. Do. Not. Ignore. Your. Tutorial. Soundscape.

Why? The tutorial is the part of the game where you have to accomplish a lot of things.

1. You have to set up the game world, narrative and characters.

2. You have to teach them how to play. 

3. You have to do these two things, while giving them FUN experiences to make them keep wanting to play - ESPECIALLY on Steam, where gamers will seek a refund if they don't love it in the first 10 minutes. 

 

This is a tall order. Let's think about the soundscape. It has to be enticing, fun and illustrative of the world you're trying to create, and not get in the way of those three things above. A lot of game devs don't think about how delicate you have to be with sound in the tutorial, and this is a HUGE mistake. 

Have you ever been lost, or trying to navigate somewhere you've never been, and you turn down the radio? It's not because you need to actually hear anything, it's because you're feeling sensory overload, and that's the easiest way to instantly reduce the workload on your brain. Tutorials have to be the same thing. The gamer is learning all this stuff - you CAN'T be heavy handed with your soundscape during this delicate time. You'll overwhelm and drive them away. 

Conversely, you can use sound in a comforting, delicate manner to help support the tutorial scene. If your game begins in a forest, let's get some really gentle and comforting wind in the trees, and a blanket of bird sounds. I say a blanket, implying a thick, compressed bird sound soundscape, because if there are loud or abrupt chirps or caws, it will rip your player out of their frame of mind, of trying to figure stuff out. Abrupt sounds are really disruptive - AVOID them in your tutorial. 

Bring some of the mid/low frequencies in there - around 100-200 hz, the mid and low end of the human vocal spectrum. We find this area of audible human sound to be comforting. You can even add straight up noise - just a track that isn't anything discernible, but gives you a nice noise floor. 

Grand Theft Auto games do this very well, either intentionally or unintentionally, because every first mission involves driving a car. Their car noises sit right in this lower, calming range of the frequency spectrum, and even though the player is learning about the character, the world and how to play, there's this ever-present calming hum at all times in the first mission. 

 

In short, don't implement abrupt or sudden noises. Be sure to find reasons to add calming sounds, particularly the middle and lower end of the human vocal frequency spectrum. Even if your game is horror, violent or anything that uses sound to make the gamer uncomfortable, you'll send them packing if you overwhelm them during the tutorial.