There’s a gap between the creation of a sound and its playback. From creation to reproduction, from microphone to speaker, there are countless steps that must be taken in order to realize our craft as sound designers.
Whether you’re doing the field recording, pulling from sound libraries and layering in a DAW, or working to play back sounds as part of a game, there is always a process that must be followed to get between the start and final execution of an idea.
As a technical sound designer, my interest lies primarily in the final aspect of bringing a sound recorded in the field or designed in a DAW and getting it to play back in a game appropriately.
And as games have grown in complexity, so has the potential to represent actions and events within the game with increased dynamism and variation, allowing for repetition and believability.
Here are a few things I try to keep in mind when working to bridge the gap:
Systems Serve Gameplay
Whatever you’re working on, however you go about achieving the results, always find the core of gameplay and aspire to support it in the best way possible. Understanding the principals of what gameplay is trying to communicate should be your guiding light when designing audio playback systems.
Imagine stealth without obstruction/ occlusion, physics with limp, laggy, or inappropriate impact sounds, ambient without dynamism and randomization;
Get to understand the fundamental aspects and make sure they get the appropriate attention from an audio system-design perspective.
The majority of the time, this will end up being the biggest win and most satisfying!
Know What You Want
Understanding the needs of a game is a good first step, how you get there is another question.
While some people choose to feel their way around to a solution through countless hours of experimentation and (possible) head-banging, there is a divine beauty in thinking your way to a solution and executing on it immediately.
You may have heard tales of people solving problems: in their sleep, while jogging, or scrolling a tumblr of cat pics. Once the destination you’re trying to reach is clear, the path often opens itself in front of you like a bob-sled run.
That said, there is a beauty in fumbling around in the dark looking for the light switch. Knowing when to take a step back and shift focus to allow for side-ways inspiration is a skill that can be developed over time.
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The old saying “you can get more done with a team than you can by yourself” is truer today than ever in game audio and the game industry at-large.
Whether it’s within the audio department, the game team, or the world-wide community there are people whose greatest gift in life is the ability to collaborate and share knowledge.
While there are great examples of lone-wolf artists working in isolation to create left-field masterpieces, game development in general always feels like it thrives on the creativity of collaboration.
This runs throughout the process where people are relied upon for the speciality and expertise, as well as their experience to help solve problems.
Finding ways to foster communication and creative solutions between people can only lead to a more refined and informed experience for everyone.
We’re all solving the same problems, often in very similar ways. One of the greatest developments of my (short) time in game audio is the amount, and accessibility, of information about the dark art of technical sound design.
I spent countless hours on my way into the industry manically scrubbing SDK documentation for OpenAL, Source Engine, and countless others that even mentioned audio in relation to interactivity to even begin formulating a semblance of the way audio was played-back by a game engine.
Fast-forward to today where audio middleware can be downloaded and connected to a game running in real-time and manipulated on-the-fly. Couple that with the wealth of individuals who have been humble enough to share their processes and experiences and you’ve got the potential to begin (or extend) your understanding exponentially.
I hope someday you do the same!
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