There are times. When you make a really great sound. You’ve got dense subtext to what makes up that sound. It’s so deep in what it says. You get it in the game and play it for someone. And their reaction is “What’s with that sound I just hear?”. To which you respond “Oh well I was trying… (blah blah blah deep explanation)”. And right there you failed.
The reason you failed is you don’t ship with the game. Any sound that you put in the game needs to do it’s job with out anyone standing next to the player explaining it’s intent. Our sounds need to stand on their own. That said, it’s not that you can’t have deeper meaning to your sounds that aren’t grokked right away. A truly deep sound that works on many levels and shows deep meaning and connection can be the best. But it always needs to do it’s primary job first. Which would usually be to inform the player of something. If that information isn’t understood first by the player it doesn’t matter how deep things might actually go.
An example I relate first is some of the computer sound in Invisible Inc. Now everything in the computer hacking/Incognita mode had bit crushing and ring modulation as part of it’s sound. That was my way of building that part of the world to be unique to the “real” world. Now some of the programs you’d run in that mode were analogs of actions you also did in the real world of the game. For those, I took the sounds from the reality actions and processed them with the plugins I used on all the computer sounds. Some worked right away with just a small amount of processing. Some required major reworks to still convey what you were doing while still relating them to the other game actions. Now I couldn’t describe to every player those sort of connections. I had to make sure they worked standing on their own. And hopefully have left enough crumbs for really observant players to follow back to the source.
Another is a time I made a great sound. For Invisible Inc again. It had some depth to it. Related back to another set of sounds in the game. I put it in the game and a designer came and said “what’s up with this sound? it doesn’t sound good.” I fired up the game and played that section. Yup it sucked. Now I didn’t try to explain the intent of what it was trying to do. If I had I probably could have convinced the designer that they sound worked cause blah blah blah. But I’d never get that chance with anyone else playing the game. So back to the drawing board with that sound.
We have to be very aware of how close we are to our sounds, the intent behind them and how we’re trying to link them to a larger auditory world. We, almost always, have chances to create deeper meaning to just about any sound we make. We can link simple click sounds back to other important in world player actions. We can give a history of a world through varies in world sounds. We can show evolution and passages of time and all kinds of deeper world building things. But we have to be sure that it all works with out being inside our heads. That things work for the game. Because hopefully you’ll sell enough copies that it would be impossible to ship with your game and explain all your little intents.