Categories Menu

Posted by on Oct 31, 2014 | 0 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

Read More

Posted by on Oct 22, 2014 | 0 comments

Synthesis Tips for the Non-Synthesist

Massive_Screenshot

Guest Contribution from Steven Smith

Introduction

In some ways it seems quite strange to find myself authoring a post on synthesis that has as its main topic: “Not everyone needs to be a synthesist”. But from another angle of practicality, it makes a great deal of sense. Many of us already have found ourselves naturally diving into certain areas of synthesis from within the field and somewhat skating around others.  So…  If you are not a synthesis geek, this article is for you. 

‘Why would it be helpful to explore this area?’ you may be wondering. Even though today’s virtual instruments commonly ship with hundreds or even thousands of presets, many users will still find themselves passing over sounds that are not quite right. Yet with some fundamental knowledge and strategies I feel most non-synthesist could quickly address some of these sound’s shortcomings and reshape them close enough to quickly put them in service.

This is precisely my goal. I hope to address some fundamental strategies and principles relating to synthesis and synthesizers in order to facilitate what I like to think of as quick fixes. Even though these strategies will not work 100% of the time, you should find them coming to the rescue quite often. 

From the onset it will be my intention to populate this article with images from multiple synths. This is a small attempt to expose you to as many different views as possible. Given that each synth designer has its own GUI strategies (in addition to its own sound design strategies), I hope this will further help the usefulness of the material presented.

There is also a body of knowledge that we must have to enable us to find sounds, change them, and then Save these changes. Let’s jump in…

Read More

Posted by on Oct 2, 2014 | 1 comment

100% Synthesized SFX for Stylized Realism in Games

Guest Contribution by Alex May

If you were born in the 70’s or 80’s and played video games, you’ll no doubt have fond memories of the early days of game audio when consoles were incapable of playing back more than basic pulse waves or noise. All sounds had to be forged from these primitives, and game SFX were rarely even slightly reminiscent of anything actually real. Now, however, realistic sound is only as far away as your portable recorder or favourite sound library. Realism in sound has become accessible to the point of it being often considered a given; a basic assumption of the art.

Enter the idea of “100% synthesized SFX”. This is a self-imposed workflow limitation that declares that all sounds for a project will be synthesized, and not recorded. Foley, vehicles, weapons, combat, ambience, UI, and in certain cases even voices; all produced with synthesizers.

Wait, all synthesized? What could we possibly gain from doing things in such an inefficient and impractical manner? Surely it makes better sense to use tools and methods that are appropriate for the results we’re after, right?

Well, yes, that is true. However, being that ultimately we’re aiming to produce sound that complements the visual style of the game, it may not always be the case that recorded real-world sources are the best fit. If the visual style has a strong character about it, then so should the sound. One method for achieving this character is to place limitations on the production process, and that is what this article discusses: limiting sound production to synthesis. By doing this we can achieve an overarching “stylized realism” that, when paired with equally stylized visuals, can contribute to a sense of immersion in the game world.

Let’s now take a look at some work practices for a 100% Synthesis approach.

Read More

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

Read More

Posted by on Sep 18, 2014 | 2 comments

Real Spaces

Image by Stewart Butterfield. Used under a Creative Commons license. Click picture to view source.

Image by Stewart Butterfield, used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source.

When we say “space”, people generally think of two things: outer space, or a bounded area that something fits into. It’s a safe bet that most people in the sound community immediately think of the latter. So often we focus on the characteristics of a space…how far a sound carries, reflections and reverberation time, etc. Certainly that helps us define a space, but…for the most part…only on a technical level. What really defines a space, is what occupies it. There’s no denying that production designers and location scouts in film, or level designers and artists in games, have a strong role in creating a space, but we in the sonic branch of our respective mediums have the unique ability to refine…or even redefine…those spaces they create. Sometimes, we’re even given the opportunity to create spaces where they cannot. What I want us to consider in light of that, is how we approach the creation of that space.

Read More

Posted by on Sep 2, 2014 | 0 comments

A Space

Image by Bust It Away Photography. Used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source

Image by Bust It Away Photography. Used under a Creative Commons license. Click image to view source

The world we inhabit is ever shifting. People and animals are constantly on the move. Water laps against wood or crashes against a sandy beach. If considered from a somewhat solipsistic approach the buildings, trees and mountains around us even shift in position. With all of those positional changes comes a new sonic interaction. The squirrel’s chitter no is no longer to our left, the wave passes above us when we are under water, or the reflections of nearby traffic now reflect off of a different building of steel and glass…confusing its location. Space is not fixed nor are the elements within it.

This month, we look at that mercurial idea of “Space.”

This site is a space by and for the community, and is made special by all of the contributions that come in from that community. If you would like to add something to the conversation around this month’s theme…or when we turn our attention to Synthesis next month….please contact us through the contact form or by e-mailing shaun (shift+2) [this site].

Read More

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 | 4 comments

Practical Exercises for Critical Listening

Exercising listening in a public outdoor space.

Exercising listening in a public outdoor space.

Sound designers by nature have an inherent curiosity towards sound. We explore the way sounds work every time we approach a project. With each new opportunity to design a sound, we ask ourselves questions such as: What object/event produced the sound(s)? Where is the sound source located in relation to the listener, and just as importantly, how does (or how will) the sound impact an audience’s emotional state when heard?

It goes without saying that the sheer act of producing our own sonic work, and by critically listening to and dissecting the works of others (as Berrak Nil Boya explored and extrapolated on in her recent post) will inherently make us stronger and better critical listeners. Though along with these practices, it is invaluable to also step away from evaluating completed, produced works and critically listen to some alternate sound sources, and in some potentially new ways; just like exercising a muscle, the more angles you can target your critical listening “muscle”, the stronger and more well-rounded it becomes.

The question then must be, other than by evaluating an already existing game or film’s audio as it was intended, how, and what, can we listen to in order to hone our listening abilities?

This post looks to add to this conversation by offering a few exercises I’ve picked up and augmented over the years and still use to this day. Once again, just like any exercise routine, training your critical listening is an on-going responsibility for any sound designer (though vitally important early in your career, continued practice is essential to maintain a high level of critical listening fitness).

Read More

Posted by on Aug 25, 2014 | 2 comments

Critical Listening: A Game Audio Professional’s Dilemma

CriticalListening

Guest Contribution by Berrak Nil Boya

As a composer, musicologist and a sound designer who is making a transition to the world of game audio for the last year or so, not only do I have a new level of respect for everyone who works as a game audio professional but I also became aware of various changes I am going through almost daily to adapt my already established skill set and mentality to fit my new chosen profession. These changes affect different aspects of my auditory world to varying degrees, but listening and specifically critical listening ended up being a new kind of challenge for me. As a musician who is used to listening critically to music and its various properties, and as a musicologist who researched film music for years, the inherent interactivity and flow of the gaming experience required a new type of listening capability from me. One that depended on me to not just pay attention to the different aspects of the soundscape, but also to rise to the challenges that were presented to me by the game to succeed as a gamer. It meant orienting my attention to the other aspects of the game; so much so that, I forgot to listen for a while and instead just heard what the soundscape consisted of. So how would it be possible for me to play a game AND critically listen to its audio aspects at the same time?

Read More

Posted by on Aug 22, 2014 | 4 comments

Just Listen

Louder!Back around the time I was first starting out, I remember opening up a demo of Cubase VST (on my trusty PowerMac 6400) and taking a look through the various menus. Everything seemed pretty standard, but something in particular caught my eye, a menu item labeled “Ears Only”. Curious, I clicked on it, only to have my monitor go completely blank. After a few seconds of panic thinking I had broken everything, I realized that Steinberg had programmed a mode that completely disabled the monitor and forced you to just listen. At first, this option seemed like a strange addition. Why, when I’m creating sound, would I not be listening to what I’m doing? Listening while working with audio seemed like a no-brainer. However, after gaining a little more experience, this “just listen” mode began to make a lot more sense.

Read More

Posted by on Aug 21, 2014 | 0 comments

Watson Wu on Listening

DSCN6679WatsonExplosionSessionLet’s start out with what to listen for in a recording location. Naturally, we’re always going to be looking for a space that isn’t going to introduce too many environmental and human generated artifacts into the recording, but the physical layout and acoustic properties of a location can contribute as much character to your recordings as microphone selection…sometimes even more. On top of that, recording vehicles and weaponry (what you’ve specialized in) isn’t something you can do just anywhere. So, what do you listen for when scouting potential recording sites?

The biggest problems I face when searching for a recording location is traffic, especially airports and expressways. I’ve scheduled multiple jobs where I had to find ideal locations away from these environments. Fortunately I live and work in a quieter area away so I don’t have to travel too far. However, that rare Ferrari I need to record is located in the middle of a downtown so it’s crucial to make generous car owner friends who are willing to drive an hour or so to a quieter location. Most microphones I’ve tried are quite sensitive in capturing unwanted background sounds. This is why I often use my Sennheiser MKH-418s M/S shotgun mic. For isolation with a mono mic I use either my Neumann 82i or the Rode NTG8. On bigger budget jobs I will rent the Neumann RSM-191s mic (probably one of the best field recording mics ever made).

Read More