This is an interview with our guest poster for November – Ariel Gross, Audio Director of game development studio Volition Inc, which produces such PC and console titles as the Saint’s Row and Red Faction series. Check out Ariel’s introduction post, and his blog ‘I Feel Like a Fraud and So Can You!‘
Can you tell us a little about how you got into audio, and your audio career in the games industry so far?
My dad brought home a Roland MT-32 in like, 1988. He wanted to hear Sierra games in all their glory, but he also liked to compose music as a hobby. So, we would play Space Quest and then crack open Cakewalk for DOS and compose little songs for fun. I’d been playing piano with him for a long time, and he’d always had a couple of synths, but I remember being blown away at the fidelity and variety of instruments on the MT-32. This is when I started fantasizing in earnest about being a professional musician of some sort. I would play some giant chords with a string patch and then bow for the applause in my head. Just one chord, then a bow. Over and over. I had a pretty good bow by the time I was 10.
This is a guest article written by Ariel Gross, Audio Director of game development studio Volition Inc, which produces such PC and console titles as the Saint’s Row and Red Faction series. You can view Ariel’s introduction post here.
I Feel Like a Fraud and So Can You!
Every now and then I feel like a fraud. Every now and then I feel like I’m merely masquerading as a professional. Every now then I feel a little bit terrified, and then I see the look in your eyes. Wait, wait. Sorry. That last one was from a Bonnie Tyler song. But here’s the thing. The more I open up about this feeling to others, the more I realize that lots of other people feel this way, and it can be really comforting to know that we’re not alone. And actually, it might just be okay that we feel like frauds. Good, even!
How is it “okay” to be a fraud?
Well, hold your horses there, header. I never said that I am a fraud. I said that I feel like a fraud, and there’s a big difference. I’ve never claimed credit for something that I didn’t actually do. That would make me an actual fraud. If I have done that, it would have been unintentionally, and I would be mortified to find out. I would shout from the tallest mountain that there was an error.
It’s more like a sense of disbelief that I occasionally accomplish things that are actual things. To be clear, actual things are what I’ve always endeavored to do, and I believe that anyone that sets out to do actual things will likely become more capable of doing an actual thing. And that is just fine… for other people.
Editors note: This series of articles by Ariel were initially planned to be for the ‘Featured Sound Designer’, but due to recent changes to Designing Sound they will simply be posted each Wednesday over the month of November. And now, please allow Ariel Gross, Studio Audio Director at Volition to introduce himself in his own words.
The year is 1991. Ariel Gross is 12 years old. He’s cracking open Scream Tracker for the first time with a Sound Blaster 16. He proceeds to cobble together a terrible arrangement of Spring Yard Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog. This arrangement would never see the light of day but it would set Ariel off on a certain trajectory in his life. Man, the tune to Spring Yard Zone. The little intro before it drops… So rad. The point is, game audio had always been his favorite thing and now he was emulating it. This third person stuff is kind of weird. I’m dropping it.
I got my start in the demoscene after getting pretty comfy with Scream Tracker. I was in a bunch of demo groups and tracker music groups using Stalker as an alias, the most popular probably being a group called Five Musicians. Contacts in the demoscene ended up providing me with my first contract game audio job at the ripe age of 16. I was introduced to the president of Webfoot Games through my friend RaD Man from ACiD Productions. Weird how these things line up. Never stopped doing audio for games since then. Always composing music or designing sounds for some game or another.
Things really blasted off when I joined Volition, though. That was in 2007. I had just wrapped up school at The Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences. I had a bunch of indie casual games under my belt, but nothing for consoles. Unless you count handheld, because I did compose music and design sounds for Dragon Ball Z: The Legacy of Goku for Game Boy Advance. But other than that, no consoles.
Working at Volition was a whole new world, though. This was serious, big budget games. I started as an Audio Designer on Saints Row 2 and then rolled onto Red Faction: Guerrilla after that. Then I was Audio Lead on Saints Row: The Third. I must be doing something right, because now I’m Studio Audio Director at Volition and most of my colleagues seem to find me only mildly annoying 93% of the time. Don’t worry about the other 7%.
It’s crazy to be a featured sound designer among these industry titans here on Designing Sound. When I was asked, I was like, hell yeah! That sounds fun! And then I looked at the other people and I projectile vomited. I’m still projectile vomiting, even as I write this. I don’t know when I’m going to stop.