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.
The issues of loudness and dynamic range are common across all audio/visual media, but recently this conversation has been gaining traction within the game audio community. Following his presentation ‘Fighting the Loudness War’ at the Develop conference in early July, I contacted Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Audio Director Garry Taylor to discuss the subject further.
DS: First of all, can you tell us a little about how yourself, and your audio career in the games industry so far?
I left school at 16 and joined a band as a bassist. As well as constant gigging I also taught myself my way around a mixing desk and started engineering live bands at my local venue, The Square in Harlow, UK. After 10 years gigging and engineering bands, both live and in the studio, I bumped into a game developer friend who asked me if I wanted to do some music for a project he was working on. I enjoyed myself on that project and decided I wanted to work on games full time. I offered to work for him for free for a couple of months, and in those two months made myself invaluable, after which he offered me a full-time job. I stayed at Mythos Games (creators of X-Com) for 4 years before joining Sony Computer Entertainment Europe (SCEE) as a sound designer in 2001. After working at SCEE’s London Studio for 5 years, I moved to Cambridge to manage the audio team there. In the last couple of years I have taken responsibility for audio for SCEE’s London, Cambridge, Liverpool and Evolution Studios.
DS: Could you tell us about where your interest in loudness standards stems from? What issues are being caused by a lack of any kind of standard in games at the moment?
GT: The main problem for me was the complete lack of consistency between different titles on PlayStation, especially the audio that accompanies the icons on the Xross Media Bar (XMB). As a front end, I felt the XMB problem reflected very badly on PlayStation generally and needed to be fixed. But without any official guidance, there was very little that audio developers could do to counter the requests from producers to increase the volume on titles.
Volition Sound Designer Ariel Gross has posted a blog on AltDevBlogADay on the process of getting hired for a game audio position.
The blog contains some fascinating insights on the hiring agents perspective , and is a valuable read for those trying to break into the industry, check out the except below;
We kept a central person to review all incoming applicants. That would be me. I’d scrap a bunch of incoming applicants because I could tell by reading the cover letter and resume that a person did not have the stuff. I will talk more about that later. If someone piqued my interest, I would pass their cover letter, resume, and demo materials along to the rest of the audio team. I’d get feedback and then decide if we wanted to proceed with the candidate to the next step.
The next step would be some kind of test. Previously, we had sent out a written test that had a bunch of questions on it. Stuff like, what do you consider to be the three most important areas of sounds in an open world game? What do you think would be difficult about working on audio in an open world game? And if you had to design a beam weapon, how would you put it together both creatively and technically? And a bunch of other riddles and puzzles and noodle-ticklers that usually had no specific correct answer but plenty of potential incorrect or awkward answers.
Read the full post over on AltDevBlogADay.com
UK games industry website Develop-Online has posted a series of special articles and interviews with various members of the audio production community on game audio. This Audio Special discusses a broad range of subjects such as voice production and localisation, audio implementation, generative audio, sound libraries and the importance of setting and maintaining standards throughout production, with guests including PitStop’s production director Nadeem Daya, Side Productions‘ Sini Downing, sound designer Stephan Shutze, royalty-free sound and music library vendor Soundrangers, former Bioware Audio director Simon Pressey and members the Mass Effect 2 sound team, and Jan Werkmeister of audio, localisation and QA services studio Synthesis International.
All these articles are linked below;
Develop Audio Special: Setting Standards (Nadeem Daya of PitStop Productions)
Develop Audio Special: Expressions In Sound ( Wave, Cubic Motion)
Develop Audio Special: Managing a Monster ( Sini Downing of Side)
Develop Audio Special: The Generation Game (Stephan Shutze)
Develop Audio Special: Noise In The Library (Soundrangers)
Develop Audio Special: Wwise Words (With Simon Pressey, Jack Wall and Brian DiDomenico )
Develop Audio Special: The Sound of Localisation ( Jan Werkmeister of Synthesis Intl. )
[SFX Lab, the laboratory of sound effects, a place dedicated to experiment and explore sound libraries. The main goal is to hear what happens when sounds of a specific kind are combined, processed, and transformed in several ways.]
New chapter of the sfx lab, this time dedicated to explore high doses of resonance, with a quite special kind of sounds: bells and chimes.
These sounds are characterized because of their qualities regarding harmonics and detailed/subtle elements, so combining and processing them is always something interesting and very “musical”. I’m going to play with three different libraries, all of them full of elements that vary from the shortest and exotic, to pretty long recordings with beautiful/long resonant tails. The libraries used are the Bells and Animal Bells packages of Rabbit Ears Audio, plus the Chimes library Tim Prebble released at HISSandaROAR in the last year.
I’m going to do several quick experiments, trying to find different ways to process the recordings, and aiming to achieve different materials from the elements. There are so many things we can obtain from them, so as always we’re going to just experiment and listen. Remember this is not a tutorial or something to go into details regarding the tools. This series of articles are focused on listening to libraries and just playing with them.
We could use these elements to create a wide variety of sounds and layers which, alone or combined with other materials can generate sounds with a particular mood or emotional impact. Eerie atmospheres, nostalgic addons to the ambience, tension, mistery, wonderful drones! Resonant whooshes, magical powers and spells, extension elements for impacts, and lots of things more. They are also rich on tonalities, so the variations in resonance and dynamics can be very useful to give very musical touches to sounds and alter the timbre of designed sounds, in order to add more harmonics and details.