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Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 | 4 comments

What’s The Deal With Procedural Game Audio?

Guest contribution by Martin Roth

We’ve all heard of the promises of procedural game audio. A veritable Valhalla where sounds are created out of thin air, driven by the game engine, eliminating the need for huge sample libraries and tedious recording. Sounds great! So why aren’t we hearing more of it in games today? We’ve all experienced Rockstar’s work in GTA 5; those bicycles sure do sound great! Some indy games such as Fract or Pugs luv Beats have dabbled. But it seems that if procedural audio were all that it promised, it would be much more common. What’s the deal?

The hard truth is that while the idea is great in theory, no one knows what they’re doing in practice. The field is lacking in design principles, tools, and technical performance. This is especially true considering the end-to-end workflow. On one end, high-level tools are needed to give designers the flexibility to explore sound and its interactions. On the other, low-level tools are needed to make those creations available where they’re needed, be that on the desktop, mobile, console, embedded systems, web, or anywhere else. The end-to-end workflow is key to the adoption of procedural audio.

For the purposes of this article the terms proceduralgenerative, and interactive as they relate to sound and composition will be used interchangeably. Their distinction is important, but we’ll leave that for another article.

Scarce Design Resources

The field suffers from a lack of resources to learn how to make procedural audio, including standards for judging its merits. Undoubtedly the best learning resource is Andy Farnell’s book Designing Sound. The presentation focuses on design from first principles, but may leave those without a technical background struggling to understand the reasoning (but don’t let that stop you from reading it!). The book is written for clarity, not for absolute performance or maximum sound quality. Resources are otherwise scattered, usually compensated for by personal interest or continued education specifically on the topic.

Tools, Well Almost

Undoubtedly there many excellent tools available to design sounds, especially musical ones. A near fifty year history of electronic music has created a wealth of knowledge, best-practices, and interfaces for exploring sound. But here the end-to-end argument is critical. Unless the designer can run the sounds on the target platform, the tools are not helpful except as a part of the creative process.

In order to satisfy this requirement, the available tools are generally limited to any number of audio programming languages (or even general purpose programming languages). There include Pure DataMax/MSPSuperColliderCsoundChuck, C/C++, the list goes on. Many of these have robust and knowledgable communities supporting them. All of these tools allow the user to “do stuff” with sound, but how well they meet the needs of sound designers is debatable. Many would say that the learning curve is far too steep. The target audience for these tools has typically been those more interested in experimental work.

This leaves us in the difficult situation where the ideal solution is fragmented between tools that satisfy the high-level design requirements and those that satisfy the low-level technical requirements.

Low-Level Really Is Low

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Posted by on Sep 29, 2014 | 0 comments

Spaces From Noise

white-noise2

Impulse responses are great for recreating spaces, whether it is a resonant glass bottle or a large cave. Here’s a handy a trick for sculpting your own impulse responses, and therefore your own reverbs, from something that we spend a lot of time getting rid of — noise!

If you listen to an impulse response by itself, you’ll find that it has noise-like qualities, except the frequency response changes over time. This isn’t surprising as sine sweeps and pistol shots are representations of bursts of noise.

For the examples below, I’ve used Logic’s Space Designer, but this technique is possible with any convolution reverb. The white noise samples were processed in Logic, bounced out as a wav file and then dropped into Space Designer’s interface. [Space Designer's dry level was set to 0dB and wet level to -6dB with filter and volume envelopes bypassed]

Here’s an example of a white noise sample that was about 1.5 seconds long with an exponential fade out. The samples below include the dry noise sample (watch your speaker/headphone level) followed by the convolved output (apologies for the rather sad drum loop).

Noise_Dry_Fade

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Posted by on Jul 29, 2014 | 1 comment

Car Engine Approximation In Max

Years ago, when I first started dabbling in the deep and dark world of Max/MSP, I attempted to create the sound of a car engine. This month’s theme (which is ‘vehicles’, if you didn’t know) reminded me about it. I opened up the patch after ages and was a bit appalled by the state of it. There are hidden skeletons in every old patch!

Instead of digging through a dated project, I recreated a patch/idea I had used about a year ago when designing sounds for a remote controlled toy airplane. I tried to adapt the simplicity of that implementation to a ‘regular’ car engine.

Here’s a sample of what it sounds like (all synthesised):

This patch was put together fairly quickly and could do with more refinements to improve the character and reduce the amount of ‘digital-ness’ in the sound. The model quite obviously breaks at higher frequencies/RPMs.

Here’s the patch:

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Posted by on Jul 28, 2014 | 2 comments

AudioGaming competition — results!

5year anniversary

The results are in! Thanks for taking part in the competition, I’m told the AudioGaming crew were quite overwhelmed by all the responses they received. Here’s what Amaury said:

Some quotes were just too funny so we decided to award two prizes. One for the best serious quote, one for the funniest. The two winners will get full post-production bundles.

(..drum roll..)

Serious quote:

Winner: Kevin Peters. Sculpt, control, create.

Runner up quotes: Everything indoors, The science of sounds, The future of sound design today

Funniest quote:

Winner: Andrea Proietti. Presets are for losers

Runner up quote: Unleash an audio storm like a Greek god of sound.

Congratulations Kevin and Andrea!

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Posted by on Jul 2, 2014 | 0 comments

Silence At Work

For the past few years I have been bothered about the amount of time I spend on a job — not specifically about how busy I am, but rather how much time I spend concentrating on the task that needs getting done. By default, most of us learn to constantly optimise our workflows as our experience grows. This is very important, as successful projects are judged not only on their quality but also budgets! But most of us also have the task of being creative collaborators while working long hours. Not easy.

One of the biggest problems I find with workflow optimisation is that I get stuck with techniques and ideas that have previously worked and quite often end up forcing ideas that don’t fit the context. They are often sub-conscious decisions and I need to consciously stop myself and try something new. I recently started taking ‘silent breaks’ to combat this. I’m a big fan of the pomodoro technique and use a 25 minute timer when I work. With every break (every 25 minutes) I step away from the computer and silently ponder on my work. I was surprised (and in hindsight, not so surprised) to find that it greatly improved my productivity and the quality of my work. There is something quite stimulating in taking a break, staring out of the window in silence and letting the mind wander.

But there are days when I ignore the timer because I’m too busy trying to make an idea work. I then start to optimise my workflow once again and forget about productive silences. An infinite loop.

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