Here, we're happy to share an excerpt from the book, the story behind the book + insights from Rob Bridgett on making the sound for Shadow of the Tomb Raider & more:
• Excerpt from the book
• Where to get the book
• Rob Bridgett, on writing the book
• Videos featuring Rob Bridgett (Behind the sound of Shadow of the Tomb Raider + GDC talks)
Sound Is Not A Service* (*Except when it needs to be)
– an excerpt from the book:
– an excerpt from the book:
S hould you serve? Or dominate?
Before you try to choose or align yourself with one of these extreme positions, don’t bother, they are both the wrong place to be…
To begin, let’s start by thinking about this statement:
Many of you will take this as a rallying cry to storm the offices of upper management and demand equal space at the table. Perhaps rightly so. Sound has been relegated to the service end of the collaborative and creative industries for a long time now. The statement is indeed intended to help lift audio out of the service culture that it has more than occasionally become, but it isn’t intended to propel sound folks into the same seat as the creative director, or even worse, into a direct clash with your creative peers.
Yes, sound does need to be a principal collaborator in the creative process, but the work also needs to be executed on time and ideally within budget.
While it may be true that sound itself, at the creative and directorial-vision level isn’t a service, certain more practical parts and elements of sound production need to be a service.
There should ideally be members of the sound team who are sometimes principal collaborators, and at other times performing a service role. Context is everything. The ability to read the context and react accordingly to provide the right kind of sound ‘response’ in the right moment is the tricky stuff of human interaction. Certainly, trust and personality play the bigger role here. But this is the essential part of the role of sound on a creative team, and what I think is a strength in the kinds of people who generally tend to work in sound, is that they already seem to have this in-built- flexibility.
The role, approach and needs of sound are *fluid* throughout creation and execution, based on what is needed in that moment, and so must we be as sound professionals
It is important to really get your head around the fact that the role, approach and needs of sound are *fluid* throughout creation and execution, based on what is needed in that moment, and so must we be as sound professionals.
So, as I see it, two ‘stances’ of a sound creative may simultaneously exist.
1. Principal Collaborator Mode – a strong, directorial, visionary voice is necessary and required for working creatively to define and communicate the identity and vision of the sound. (Ideas)
2. Service Mode – no matter who or what is at fault, we’ll make it right and ensure you are happy with the results. We’ll get this thing out of the door. (Execution)
Two completely different modes that can absolutely, in fact must, co-exist, in order to create and execute the sound (and music and voice) in a game. This is a special tension that helps make the role more interesting (or at least that’s the way I like to see it).
There are also differing blends of these two modes than can often be adopted, whereby during the delivery of something on a deadline (service) a thoughtful comment or suggestion can be offered to improve whatever it is you are working on (collaborator). This may not be a ‘principal’ collaborator, but it is nonetheless a collaborative moment, and opportunity, that can be seized upon, and could eventually lead to more trust and more collaborative input in the future.
It’s never completely black and white. That is not to say there is no room to be creative on the service side, with lots of suggestions and ideas to improve, and similarly there can be room in the directorial visionary’s approach to listen, accommodate the ideas and thoughts of others, and to work to establish a vision that works for *everyone*.
The idea of taking a position (never begin with the extremes!), then leaning into the other position based on where the process dynamically goes, is at the heart of collaboration! Sometimes you will need to take an extreme position in extreme circumstances, but it’s not a healthy place to stay for long.
The idea of taking a position (never begin with the extremes!), then leaning into the other position based on where the process dynamically goes, is at the heart of collaboration
An enjoyable analogy can be found in this quote from clothing designer Errolson Hugh regarding the incorporation of an athletic stance in his design…
“We came up with this thing called an “all-conditions fit,” which was inspired by the way athletes stand and how they’re always in this sort of “ready” stance before they’re about to make a movement – flexing the limbs and coiling yourself together so that you can ultimately uncoil to move. So rather than drafting the patterns in a standard way, which would be a straight-standing still body, like how a suit is cut, we drafted them in motion. That gives this articulation about the range of motion and produces a really interesting silhouette.” – Errolson Hugh ACG interview 2016
In perhaps just the way that Errolson designed the clothing to accommodate a range of moves, from relaxed to high performance situations, the studio spaces, teams, cultures, tools and pipelines that we are responsible for should be similarly accommodating from that central ‘ready stance’ position – and not from the more rigid stances at each extreme. So, no matter where your day, week or year takes you, you’ll ideally always need to return to that central ‘ready’ stance position.
A vision without compromise is the vision of a single creator. However, the reality of a ‘vision’ in any multidisciplinary production environment is one of continual compromise and movement of ideas.
100 Ways (2019) Purple Version – as well as the PDF version • 100 Ways (2019) Yellow • 100 Ways (2019) Grey Version • 100 Ways (2019) Red Version • 100 Ways (2019) Hot Pink Version • 100 Ways (2019) Green Version • 100 Ways (2019) Blue Version
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What is this new book about?
The title is a reference to old self-help books, it feels like the kind of book we would have had if game audio were a popular thing back in the 70’s or early 80’s like photography or super8 film-making – It could easily also have been called ‘Zen and the Art of Game Audio’, or ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Game Audio’.
The book is a spiritual sequel to ‘Game Audio Culture’, which came out 6 years previously… it’s a continuation of those short essays about similar kinds of topics; how we can work better on cross-discipline teams, what skills do we need to learn and apply as game audio practitioners beyond the technical skills which, for me, are simply a ‘given’.
I also go into some of the topics I always seem to end up chatting about when i’m at conferences or meeting other game audio or game dev folks – stuff like awards, or studio closures and layoffs, these are big topics that affect most of us at some point in our careers, and again, just like the creative and collaborative stuff, they never get written about that much. I want all of these books to feel like ‘the bits that you don’t get taught in college’ – kind of ‘what is it *really* like to work in game audio?’
Anyway, because the book is this loose-knit collection of these mini-essays, I found it very hard to find a way to tie all these chapters together so they felt like a single linear book and this is where the ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ structure came in very handy – this meant that I could randomly link all the chapters together, and just have the reader choose which part they wanted to go to next through a game audio story line wrapper. Keeping the book interactive felt like a very natural thing to do given the industry we are working in. I did also tweak the title right at the last minute from ‘100 Practical…’ to ‘100 Unusual…’ – just because, I realized there isn’t that much practical information in there. I added a list of 100 items at the end of the book, which is a mix between an oblique strategies and a self-help list, which fulfils the promise of the title quite nicely at the end.
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Why are the books all self-published?
All the books I’ve written are self-published, print-on-demand. I believe this is important for a few reasons. Firstly, the kind of books I write would never be commissioned by an editor at a publisher. I can write about anything I want in any vernacular I want, and not have to serve a publisher’s narrow focus, and market research data. Publishers tend to focus their books at the educational and technical end of the spectrum, which to me is the least interesting part to write about.
Most of the writing I have done is aimed at addressing the creative and collaborative parts of the spectrum, which, in terms of sound design for games, is where there is the least information available. The additional downside of focusing books at the technical side of game audio, is that they go out of date, exceedingly quickly. Even over the course of one year, the audio engines and game engines can evolve into almost completely different platforms, so the foundations are always shifting – certainly way too fast to capture and commit to print! Vlogs, blogs and video tutorials are much better for keeping up to date with technical information.
I was also inspired by the explosion of independent games and sound effects libraries around 2009 – 2010, so I definitely believe we need to apply this DIY production mentality to game audio publishing too, so these books are all part of that independent trend. One of the other reasons is that game audio books in general are incredibly expensive, often in the $70 – $80 range or higher, and being able to reach an audience at a non-prohibitive price point is also really important.
Why are there different colour covers for the book?
Like all developers, I was having a hard time making a decision about the final colour of the book – What would the final look be? What mood was I going for? a bright and breezy kind of thing, or a statement colour, or a more moody serious thing? Anyway, every time I changed the colour of the front cover I fell in love with that new colour, so in the end, rather than ME making the decision about the final look of the book, this is also something I wanted the reader to have a choice in. So, being a print-on-demand publication, I could easily just upload several different versions of the book all with varying cover colours – this way the reader gets to choose the colour at point-of-sale. I figure that this way you can match your particular personality, studio style, outfit, make-up, mood, whatever… again, that feels like a pretty obvious thing to do for a book that is about interactivity and player choice.
What new perspectives do you think there are in the book for the reader?
For one, a continued focus away from the technical aspects of game audio, and a move into the more personal elements, the importance of being yourself.
Another thing that came naturally was removing gender assumptions in the book. This is something that, as a reader, I find incredibly annoying in game audio books and articles, and even broader game dev writing in general – the default assumption that the player and the developer is male, or binary, feels really outdated. Everyone is welcome in game audio and game development, and we need everyone who reads about game audio to feel that they can be a part of it, and to be able to visualize themselves in the industry being successful. It is important for our writing to be inclusive and allow everyone to imagine themselves where we are without the dysphoria of reading about binaries all the time.
Also, the Futura typeface (1927) (by Paul Renner) is used throughout the book. It is a forward-looking and free flowing typeface, and I absolutely love the look of it – I picked up the bug from Field Notes brand, who use it exclusively.
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