Developer created proprietary toolsets continue to provide a vital form of audio integration in the industry, especially in cases where the gameplay specific features need to be exposed and interacted with at a deeper level than what comes “out of the box” with most middleware. In the days before robust audio middleware toolsets this may have been the only way to get past the basic “Play Sound” functionality of an audio engine and pull off amazing feats of groundbreaking interactive audio.
Because of the nature of game development and custom technology, there is not a lot of information made publicly available regarding these tools, and what has been exposed is usually little more than a screen shot or casual mention in a larger article regarding a specific titles sound. In most cases additional links and information have been provided in an attempt to gain a clearer picture of their uses, and what is available may be of value to those who might be involved with tool creation and especially those who are attempting to understand some of the additional esoteric aspects of audio implementation that have developed over time. While this is not a comprehensive look at proprietary toolsets through the years, it is an attempt to survey the landscape of what is known.
Veiled in secrecy, the SONY SCREAM tool provides direct access to the Sony hardware specific audio library MulitStream. Public information has been scarce, unless you are a developer for the PS2/PS3 and the only screens around are found embedded in Presentations or articles. One interesting thing to note is Sony’s adoption of the iXMF interactive standard established by the IASIG in 2009 for their future toolset iterations including AWESOME (audio scripting solution) , SULPHA (a Multi-Stream analyzer/ debugger), and FUSION (modular based synth engine) as noted in an article with SCEE’s Jason Page and subsequent Delop article with Oliver Hume.
Sony’s Page: ‘Next Gen Audio – Is That It?’
Develop Article: SULPHA, so good
SCEE to implement iXMF
Next-Gen Audio Square-Off: PlayStation 3 vs. Xbox 360
IASIG – iXMF
Better Tools for Sound Designers on PlayStation_3
- Sony SCREAM
- Sony SCREAM
Bungie: Guerilla Toolset
The Guerrilla Toolset used by Bungie for the Halo games has been discussed in several articles, but aside from some general information and a tiny picture in the wild, there aren’t many supporting details. I was able to cobble together some details from notes I recovered from an Audio Boot Camp presentation Jay Weinland gave back at GDC 2006. Among the features over viewed in the session were the ability to subscribe and mix sounds based on their sound_class, visually represent distance rolloff in-game, update values in the tool and update in-game with keystroke, and Reverb interpolation between zones. I’m sure much has changed since 2006 as Bungie continue to ratchet up the quality of audio across their titles. One thing that stands out in Halo 3 is their newly implemented use of Waves EQ and Surround Limiter at runtime to modify the output of the game’s audio. This move toward the use of high end DSP taken from the pro audio realm and converted to work in the engine is a trend that we should be seeing more of in the future.
Halo 3 Audio: Locked and Loaded
Halo 3: Bugie.netAudio Presentation
GDC 2005 Report: Audio Production for Halo 2
Halo 3: Waves DSP at Runtime
- Bungie Tool
￼Bethesda Software: Oblivion
Some of the audio functionality of the Elder Scrolls Construction Set is over viewed in this insightful development journal, along with what are becoming some of the best practices for Ambient sound integration. It’s great to see a visual representation of the ambient being used across an area, along with the parameters for playback. This kindof specific use tool is a great example of bridging the gap between game engines and audio functionality.
Article: Elder Scrolls Construction Set – Audio
- Elder Scrolls Region Editor
- Oblivion Sound
￼Day 1 Studios: Ducking
In a technical article the overviews the theory of Ducking, Zach Quarles exposes the tool he used at Day 1 Studio’s to accomplish the interactive effect of reducing the volume of non-priority sounds in order to better differentiate mission critical sound or dialog..
Article: Game Audio Theory Ducking
Internal Ruminations of an Audio Monkey Day 1 Ducking Tool
- Day 1 Ducking Tool
Radical Games: Prototype
Thanks to the fine folks over at Radical Entertainment, much has been revealed regarding the various tools and techniques utilized by the sound team to push audio quality in games further towards a Hollywood model of sound. While the idea of interactive mixing is a broader topic for another day, some of the recent work that was done with scalable crowd ambience has gone along way towards pushing the dynamics background sound. In a series of articles Scott Morton details of their use of Max/MSP style procedural, runtime Reverb, and the proprietary toolset “Audio Builder” to accomplish the feat of implementing a 18 channel sound file in order to orchestrate the ambient and limit the impact to the disk at runtime. Some of the tools used for this process have been outlined including a peek behind the curtain on some of the creative tools used at Radical.
Article: Dynamic Game Audio Ambience
Article: The Sounds of Prototype
- Prototype Ambient Tool – Swarm Editor
- Audio Builder
Battlefield Bad Company
In a presentation given at the Game Developers Conference in 2009, DICE Audio Programmer Anders Clerwall gave an overview of their “High Dynamic Range” audio solution spearheaded by David Mollerstedt (Head of Audio, DICE). Simply put, High Dynamic Range Audio allows for the realtime interactive mixing of sound based on prioritization, culling, and loudness measurement during gameplay. The result is an overall sound mix which adapts to the action going on in the game. Furthermore, menu options are made available to adjust the playback device type as explained by Ben Minto (Audio Director, DICE):
“TV/HiFi/Cinema – these (Options) change the way the game is mixed at runtime through Frostbite’s HDR system. The settings are self explanatory – HiFi is default, TV is if you need to hear everything at a quiet volume through a small speaker, and Cinema is if you have a nice posh setup with full range speakers.“
While the technique of providing different playback profiles is not unheard of in other titles, the HDR system easily allows for the dynamic balancing of the listener experience in order to provide the best possible soundscape.
￼Article: Heard About Battlefield Bad Company
How HDR Audio Makes Battlefield: Bad Company Go BOOM
In addition, here are some screens from the Audio Panel within the Frostbite Editor where you can see the “Loudness” attribute for a sound source exposed.
EA: The Simpsons
From a presentation given by the audio team at EA Redwood shores for The Simpsons Game several screens for proprietary tools are exposed including a view of the EA proprietary procedural toolset AEMS or Audio Event Management System, and several custom tools used for modifying parameters related to their physics implementation. AEMS is a general tool at EA made by EA Tech, and it’s been in use since before 2002. Its been used by almost every game during those earlier days, and even today is used in many.
Presentation Slides: Sound Design for The Simpsons Game
- EA Tool used on “The Simpsons”
Despite the rise of audio middleware in today’s market, it is clear that is not a one size fits all mentality when it comes to creating a toolset and workflow to support the strengths of a particular games design. Hopefully by seeing, and understanding the choices studio’s and game audio professionals are employing to help them creatively add sound to games, we can continue to drive the innovation of game audio through the current console generation and beyond.
Tune in next time when we pontificate further on some of the creative techniques used to bring interactivity to audio in games.
Seems like open source alternatives could be useful, unless it’s particularly satisfying to have to develop and operate this many separate tools (which I don’t think can really be THAT different from each other).