Let me play your game

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Game Design Blog

Sound Design for button presses on the Nintendo Switch.

I believe you should be able to play a video game like an instrument. In practice that means when playing a game, the sounds generated from your actions complete the overall soundtrack of your own experience. Nintendo, in their interface and in their games, I think does this best.

I recently received a new Switch from my dad (he bought me one last Christmas but commandeered it to play Zelda). I love Nintendo, as they have created some of my favorite video game memories throughout my life. The characters, mechanics and the art always stand out, but where I think Nintendo goes above and beyond other game makers is in their sound design.

While I was setting up my Switch, I noticed I was having fun scrolling and inputting my basic info. Why was that? Well, as a musician, I was having fun playing my Switch as an instrument. I didn’t even mind when I had to input my long WiFi password a second time. As I typed the long string of numbers and letters, I noticed that different parts of the keyboard had varying tones for different letters, numbers, and symbols– like different notes on an electronic instrument. Me and my Wifi password made a strange little song before I even loaded a game.

One reason I think this works to delight and motivate me is because the sounds vary, but still keep harmony between the tone of the game (and the Nintendo Universe in general), intuitive sounds (e.g., close versus open), and rewarding sounds (collecting a whole bunch of coins feels awesome because it sounds awesome). The Nintendo soundscape is mostly comprised of subtle percussion and beep boops, nothing too intricate. But the simplicity, cohesion between interface sounds and background music, and just the right balance of predictability and variety, let me really feel how my actions are impacting the game and it’s characters.

I downloaded the Switch’s interface sounds from here and made a short ditty: 

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