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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 16, 2014 | 0 comments

GameSoundCon – Game audio workers survey and a sound design contest!

gamesoundcon 2014

GameSoundCon, gearing up for their 10th conference, which will take place October 7-8 at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles, have made two recent news announcements.

Game Audio Workers Survey

First up, the results of the GamesSoundCon and Games Audio Network and Guild (GANG) joint survey that looked at working in the game audio industry are out. Whilst the results give cause for optimism with regards to general pay for composers, sound designers and audio developers, less encouraging news emerged, with the fact that women remain under-represented in the industry accounting for around 5% of survey respondents. A PDF of the full survey results, where respondents were also invited to comment on things such as work environment and contract terms, are available form the GamesSoundCon website.

$100 off entry to GameSoundCon14 and a chance to win EastWest CCC2

GamesSoundCon and EastWest have teamed up for a sound design contest that offers multiple winners a $100 entry discount to October’s GamesSoundCon AND automatic entry into a draw to win a copy of EastWest Complete Composers Collection 2. More of a social media treasure hunt, for a chance to win contestants are asked to follow the contest link, provide an email address, and then use the power of social media to earn points that unlock the discount code and give entry into the draw. All the tasks are pretty straightforward, so don’t let that put you off!

GameSoundCon
EastWest
Game Audio Network Guild

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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).

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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?

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Posted by on Aug 6, 2014 | 0 comments

Beards, Cats and Indie Game Audio – On Listening

The gents with impressive facial hair over at the Beards, Cats and Indie Game Audio Podcast have glommed onto this month’s theme of “Listening”. You can check out the full episode here.

Thanks go out to Matthew Marteinsson (@mattesque) and Gordon McGladdery (@AShellInThePit) for contributing to this month’s discussion!

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