The Rob Bridgett Special has come to the end. We will have 10 tips for sound designers, by Rob Bridgett, plus answers to questions readers made to Rob. If your question has not been answered, you probably find that in the 10 tips or the general interview.
10 Tips for Game Sound Designers
1. In-house or Freelance?
Perhaps one of the most fundamental things to decide is whether or not you are looking for a full-time salaried position within a game development company, or if you are more comfortable with offering your audio chops to the game industry as a freelancer. Composers usually fair better in the freelance realm than an in-house situation, where they would be expected to do more than just compose. If you are a talented all-rounder, you may be equally in demand for in-house or freelance positions. The decision may come down to a work-life balance. Once you know what you are looking for, you can more effectively target employers or clients.
2. Always Treat Your Clients With Respect
Whether you are in-house or freelance, the people you work with should be treated as your clients. As a sound designer, composer or sound implementer, you NEED your client as much as they need you. They may sometimes come up with suggestions that sound crazy, but listen to their ideas, explore them, work on a few examples and try those suggestions out yourself – you may be surprised, something that sounds crazy at first might just work. As a result, the people you work with will feel included in the creative process and you will be happy with a job well done.
The demo reel is perhaps the single most important piece of work you will present to your prospective employer. So much info about your work and communication style will be communicated through how your show-reel is edited, structured and presented. Don’t send out the same general reel to lots of companies if you can tailor specific footage or examples to a particular company. Include a cover letter explaining specifically why you are interested in that position or company. Keep it simple, clean and always focus on your best work. Also, if you worked on a specific area in a clip of game-play or a movie, such as only the helicopter sounds in a game, make this unequivocally clear at the outset.
4. Make Connections and Contacts Already in the Industry
There are many platforms for this kind of interaction available to people entering the industry, such as GDC. Meeting and chatting with audio talent that is already established in the industry is a great way to make a connection and get some feedback to better hone your job seeking talents. As ambassadors for their companies and for audio in general, people who are presenting lectures, round tables and workshops at conferences are great and approachable contacts to make. Everyone who is successful in game audio now was where you are now at some point in their past.
5. Supply and Demand
There is currently a huge market for composers in video game sound. Look into an area where there is a shortage. Currently, audio programmers, sound effects designers, sound implementers, dialogue designers are all in much shorter supply than composers, so it makes sense that you are more likely to find ways into the industry via these fields. Once inside the games industry you will get ample chance to prove your talent and move into a role in which you are more comfortable.
6. Look for Ways to Prove You are A Team Player
Games development is about collaboration and about finding mutually creative solutions to problems to better service the end product. If you can prove that you have worked with an animator or a director on a short film or game, and demonstrate some of the areas where you have talked about sound and worked at integrating other people’s ideas into the sound, this will definitely impress whoever is conducting the interview. Great audio is about supporting the game-play or the story of a game, not about good sound for good sound’s sake. If the game fails, everyone fails, whether the audio is good or not.
7. Don’t Embellish Your Resume
Putting false or misleading information on a resume or demo reel isn’t a good idea, and you will get found out. Always specify exactly what you did on any particular film or game title, if you just did dialogue editing, then just put dialogue editing, don’t make out like you did all the audio on the game. You will be asked to talk about your work on any particular title, and employers check references very diligently – no matter how much experience the candidate appears to have.
8. Get Experienced
Employers are usually looking for experience above qualifications. A lot of game audio or film audio courses are very vocational in their approach, so this will count to an employer as production experience – even better if you can approach a game developer for an internship.
9. Everyone is A Contact
Making contacts can start as early as college. If you can work for free on a friend’s project, do it. That friend will most likely get a job or start a company and go back to you for the sound, or be able to recommend you to others. Again, if you have a positive collaborative experience working with particular people they will remember you and recommend you further down the line.
10. Flexible Software Skills
Tools for implementing sound in games are always changing, and there is no industry standard for software in the games industry as there is in film, not everyone uses pro tools. learn to be competent on several different systems, sequencers and editors all do pretty much the same job. Learn a wide range of sequencing software as you can, experiment and create projects in Audio Kinetic’s ‘Wwise’ to get an idea how game audio will be implemented.
Above all, in order to succeed in such a competitive industry, you need to be passionate about what you do and persistent in your job seeking. Even if you get an interview with a company and don’t get the job, keep in touch with them and use those connections. They have already interviewed you so you may be an easy hire for them if there is a job going in the future – or if the candidate they hired instead of you doesn’t work out.
Designing Sound Readers: I’m curious as to whether you feel that the Technical Sound Design role has gained traction across the industry as its own specialization?
Rob Bridgett: It is getting there, but there is still not enough validation or specialization in the field to allow someone to solely work on a single task like this. You get this in film, where your job is very specific on a project, for example a dialogue editor. Perhaps in games this is because generally there is only one project and the needs of that project change so much during production that to hire someone specifically at each single stage, at least at the moment, wouldn’t make much sense. In film post, lots of projects are coming through the door, all at relatively the same place in their production, but in games you have this single project with shifting production demands, rather than a lot of projects with a single production demand – if that makes sense? But anyway, the implementation side of sound design is certainly a big part of the sound design process, I think these implementation / design roles are a foot in the door towards becoming an audio director or audio lead.
DSR: Are there aspects of game audio that you wish would get more attention from professionals on the development (non-audio) side?
RB: Number one on that list is writing. Writing is so deeply embedded in a game’s design, sound and presentation that I really wish all development houses had a recognized internal job position of writer. Someone on-staff and a part of the design team full-time. Often designers express an interest and even a passion for dialogue and writing at the beginning of a project, and unfortunately they end up getting taken off writing and put onto scripting missions. It’s a real shame, because it’s the area where the whole game design takes shape in a sense, if you have a feature it needs to be communicated, both in terms of how it is introduced to the player, how it is to be used and how it sounds when being used. Writing for games is, in my opinion, something that has to be done in-house if it is to truly develop, no matter how much outsourced writing is attained, its roots and its final pass are always implemented and edited in-house and the final call for presentation is an in-house one.
One thing I am thinking a lot about right now is dialogue as sound design, meaning that the spoken word contains so much potency to convey not only information but history, political history, culture, emotion, mood and is at the same time very musical in its phrasing. Some film directors use the sound of the spoken word to its full degree, David Lynch’s ‘Straight Story’ for example, as well as film makers like Ken Loach who foreground language, dialect and its tone and history as the centre-piece of their film making.
DSR: What techniques do you use for designing sounds? Using synths or recording sounds from landscapes etc? or maybe both?
RB It completely depends on the context and the content required. If I need organic or real-world sounds then recording a variety of objects, literally anything, for Foley or for use as sound effects elements. For more sci-fi or User Interface menu sounds a combination of synth and processing of pre-existing sounds may work. I’d say in general it is about first having an idea of what sounds I want to record, that are not available in our sound library, and secondly about playing with those sounds (mixing, pitching, eq, editing) in order to get the sounds to fit the visual image for which it is required (if there is a visual). Lastly it is all about trying out the sounds in the context of the game, and then tweaking from there.
Even if it doesn’t fit with the image it may give a convincing feeling to the player that sells the feature even more than if it matches the images perfectly. A good example is an explosion with a cloud of dust. I may create an explosion sound effects that also contains lots of dirt and debris in the tail, this will have the effect of selling the explosion and the rubble that has been thrown up resulting from that explosion, even though all you see is a flash and a cloud of smoke, what you hear will tell you there is metal, rubble, perhaps some glass in there and that may sell the danger of that explosion to the player even more.
DSR: How long do you spend on making a particular sound, say a bullet firing from a gun?
RB: Usually I like to get a placeholder sound into the game first, this is often very quick. Once you hear it in the game, it is tweaked and re-iterated in order to get something that is more meaningful and appropriate. This process may take several days of listening to the sound, seeing if it feels good over time, and then maybe after a week or so, getting tired of that sound and needing to try something else. This process of letting sounds bed-in and then tweaking them is very important in game I feel, because the player will hear those same sounds over the course of many hours and they need to remain as fresh and dynamic as they do the first time you hear them.
A lot of this manipulation can be done with interactive mixing too, by having the volumes of teh gunshots vary in certain circumstances etc. Even the best sound effect can become fatiguing after just a few hours, having a combination of sounds that perhaps change over time or having extra layers to a sound that can be added or subtracted during gameplay. The way that guns work often changes during development too, so it may mean re-implementing the sounds several times during the course of th production. Other things to consider are control over the firing rate of automatic weapons, sometimes you may be tempted to fix the firing rate to te rate that is specified by the designers, however this then means a designer is in control of how the weapon sounds, you may want to consider having your own independant firing rate for the sounds, that way you can tune it in relation to the other weapons on a sound basis, rather than be tied to the visual effects.
DSR: How much does the work flow differ from movie effect?
RB: Essentially games trigger sound effects based on events that occur in the game, where as movie sound is sync based with a locked visual image. You may have same amount of sounds or more than are in a scene in a movie, but the difference is that each sound is seperate in games. Technically the workflow is very different, it is slower and iteration time is a lot longer from when you hear the sound you have designed in the context of the game. Often you have to play through long sections of the game just to get to the place where your sound is triggered.
DSR: What advice do you have for aspiring sound designers trying to break into the industry (i.e. fresh out of school)? Are there any certain sectors / locations that have a blossoming sound design industry and are in need of fresh talent?
I think talent will shine through, but just as important as talent is the ability to network. This can be with people who work in games, but it doesn’t have to be in sound. I actually got my first job in games through knowing an animator whose showreel I had worked on and she recommended me to the producer before they even put out an advertisment. It’s not all about who you know or all about what you know but definately about putting the two together.
DSR: What field recorder you use now? some mics?
RB: I use a Sony PCM D-50, I carry it around everywhere I go! Mic-wise, I have no suggestions, find one that sounds good to your ears and fits the job you need to do, oh and rent before you buy!
DSR: I was wondering how QA (Quality Assurance) fits into your production/development pipeline? Thanks!
QA is a huge part of the process actually. QA guys are the ones who spend all their time playing through the game, and may encounter things that a sound designer or implementer simply is not even aware of in the game. It is a shame actually that there aren’t more specific audio QA teams or staff on teams with a variety of audio set-ups like TV, surround (5.1 / 7.1) that can test all the output options. QA teams shoudl also be monitoring and have an understanding of output levels in my opinion, so they can make suggestions as to how may dB the game is too loud or quiet by overall. It would be great to get these kind of tests happening regaularly as soon as a team hits production, rather than right at the very end when it is often too late to make reasonable fixes.
Currently QA spots major things, such as when something obvious doesn’t have a sound effect or when dialogue is missing or subtitles are wrong / mis-spelled, beyond that it is an area that could really use dedicated audio resources.
DSR: Do you tend to always record in both mono and stereo when your field recording? What are the interactive game concepts that would lead you to record one or the other? And, In what order of importance would you place these elements of field recording. Equipment options, Source Material, Mic-ing techniques, Patience, experience in all of the these.
It depends on the end result that is required. 99% of single spot effects I record are mono, as I can assemble a stereo sound in the studio very easily if it is required, similarly with multi-channel surround content. Ambience I always record stereo. Field recording is something that happens after a period of thinking about the sounds I need and having made some rudimentary designs and a requirements list, so by the time I go and record something I have a really clear idea of exactly how I want to record it, and what I want to record – I think that step is essential in understanding the recording process.