Game Audio at GDC 2017 Asbjoern Andersen

If you’re one of the lucky ones going to GDC 2016 (March 14-18 2016), game audio guru Damian ‘Lostlab’ Kastbauer has compiled a very extensive guide you really need to check out, highlighting his top-picks for things you should see and hear while there. A must-read for any GDC-bound game audio folks! Without further ado, here’s Damian:

In the not too distant future… it’s already the last day of GDC. I’m exhausted, simultaneously empty and full of an unseen source of formless inspiration. The weight of the week-long conference, an endless hustle between places, has begun to drag my fragile psyche downward. The only brightness during the descent are fragments of remembered conversations and interactions that I’ve had with people. This is the light that will guide me home.

This is the familiar and welcome routine that has unfolded over the last 10 years (and 9 attendances) since my first GDC in 2006. As reliable as the post-conference blues and the inevitable viral inoculation (who ever said channeling the game audio zeitgeist would come without its toll), this last year in between has felt especially taxing. As I’ve settled into my first in-house job and stretched out in embrace of creative collaboration, I’ve also attempted to bring some nagging community issues to light.

Embarking on this years journey feels like a landmark event for me and a time of incredible personal and professional growth. Looking back on past conferences I want to take a moment to recognize the greatest value of my time spent crawling the hallways and gatherings during the conference; the relationships with people who make up the game audio & game development community. Like a strange kind of summer camp, the stories, anecdotes, and memories continue to fill me with the belief that GDC is about more than just presentations and “business” relationships. It is a time for the community to converge, discuss, and represent to greatest potential for the future of games.

If you are headed to San Francisco next week I wish you the best in your travels. I’ve surfaced a few things that might be worth investigating during your time on the ground.



Pro tip from Asbjoern: Showcase your game audio work on Soundlister for free – here’s how:

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– Asbjoern


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Monday through Saturday 7-9am: Sightglass Coffee


I came to my first GDC like many first-timers: looking for work, education, and a greater understanding of audio for games. What I didn’t quite expect were the career-spanning friendships that have evolved through discussion, openness, and belief in the artistry of others. If there is one thing that keeps me coming back year-after-year it is the potential to contribute to an inclusive feeling of community and recognition of people willing to share their passions.

With that intention Anton Woldhek and I have hosted an informal morning roundup for the past three years at a nearby coffee house and recorded the conversation as part of the Game Audio Podcast. Light on format, the early morning discussion attempts to share people’s experiences at the conference from the previous day, including: sessions, presentations, conversations, demonstrations, and anything else that comes up. This is swiftly followed by highlighting the current day’s must-see presentations.
While many are happy to jump in the fray and put forward their experience for those gathered, it’s of equal value to those who prefer to soak in others perspectives. As the conversation winds down, the caffeinated throng breaks out into smaller conversational pockets and folks prepare to shove-off for the conference.

Monday through Saturday mornings 7-9am at Sightglass Coffee (270 Seventh Street)

While Anton won’t be making it to this year’s GDC to record the podcast, if you’re able to crawl out from under the covers and peel your eyes open to join in the conversation, my hope is that you won’t regret it!


Wednesday – Thursday – Friday: “Lunchtime” behind the Carousel
This same spirit of community found in the morning meetups usually brings a loose-knit group of folks together for a walk-up, bring-your-own-lunch rendezview behind the Carousel on the corner outside of Moscone (South). If the glorious San Francisco sun shines, then the time spent outdoors approaches a state of pure bliss. Coupled with good conversations from folks inspired by the morning’s presentations and this turns into another opportunity to wax philosophical with people who you can bet share your passion for games, hunger for game audio, and a thirst for knowledge.


Individual days:

Sunday – TeaParty


Consistently delivering relevant content to the sound & game development industries since 2009, has evolved to be a online destination as well as a thriving community. Catching folks out in front of the conference, the meetup is planned for either a Tea House in Yerba Buena Gardens or loose on the grounds in a ramshackle and welcoming heap of conversation. More info here:

Monday – The Plateau of Mirror

The first day encompasses the many Independent Games, Animation, and VR sessions and summits sprinkled with a few audio-relevant presentations that attempt to reach across the traditional borders of the audio track. I have always found value in crossing over into other disciplines and getting a greater understanding for roles outside of audio. That said, if you’re looking to start filling your head up early with all the audio hotness, here are a few to get you started.


Elements of an Engaging Sound Mix – Kevin Regamey
Kevin’s experience as one of the co-founders of the indie-prolific Power Up Audio ensures that his inclusion as part of the Independent Games Summit will not be falling on deaf-ears. In a talk focused on “illustrating proven technical methods by which to construct a clean and creative soundscape” he has a depth of experience to draw from.


Audio For Cinematic VR – Varun Nair, Jean-Pascal Beaudoin
Pioneers in audio technology are pushing boundaries forward on all fronts of VR, including the dynamic hybridization of “Cinematic” experiences. While we are in the early days of these technologies, every nugget of experiential gold brought back from the frontier and shared with the community will help define the future. Worth it if only for the hard-won tales from the outer wilds.


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Tuesday – Before and After Science


Tuesday Day – Audio Bootcamp
The GDC Audio Track begins Tuesday with the Audio Bootcamp which has been coordinated by Scott Selfon and a host of other characters (including me!) for the past fifteen years. The composition of Audio Bootcamp attendees has changed significantly during that time. Once a place for folks who had not yet experienced development, game engines, or team dynamics to get a peek behind the curtain of large-scale game audio production the Audio Bootcamp has now evolved to encompass people of all experience levels, experts included. This year Scott and I have put together a day’s worth of talks that we hope represent the full-spectrum of game audio, with presentations of interest for the newest and most-seasoned game audio professionals.  


Casual GameDev Overview – Adam Gubman
Using Proactive Audio to Push Impact and Immersion – Eric Robinson
Constructing a Creative Climate for VO – Morla Gorrondona
Why I Rejected You: Observations from a Hiring Manager -Michael Kamper/ Jesse Harlin
Shifting Cycles of Game Audio – Debbie DeForest-Gonzalez
Composing Virtually, Sounding Real – Laura Karpman
Beyond Middleware: Thinking Like a Programmer – Ben Houge


Plus, the lunchtime “surgeries” will offer a unique opportunity to sit and meet with many of the speakers in a small-scale setting to talk about the specific interactive audio topics that are at top of attendees’ minds.


Tuesday Night – Beep Documentary Screening
While the premier screening of the Beep Documentary is limited to those who have worked on or who have been featured (not to mention at-capacity!), this momentous occasion is too important not to highlight. This seminal game audio assemblage stands as a representation of the outpouring of support for the establishing of a visual and aural history of the contributors to the art of interactive audio. My heartiest congratulations and deepest appreciation to Dr. Karen Collins and her team for documenting this moment in-time. I look forward to it’s resonance for years to come.


Wednesday – Here Come The Warm Jets


There are 4 sessions starting at 11am that should not be missed. Except YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE ONE! (and this is ONLY in the audio track)


Audio-Driven Game Design – Per Anders Ostblad  & Henrik Engstrom
Building Awareness of Audio Within a Team Roundtable – Rob Bridgett  & Brad Meyer
From ‘Total War’ to ‘Assassin’s Creed’: Music for Mobile Games – Winifred Phillips
Outside the Studio Walls: MicroTalk Exploration of Non-Audio Ideas & Experiences
Dren Mcdonald, Kristen Quebe, Andy Martin, Daniel Olsén, David Earl, Karen Collins, Ariel Gross, Vincent Diamante, Jaclyn Shumate, Emily Ridgway


So it begins, the first day of the main conference where every moment is at risk for the potential to miss a better (or better suited) presentation. With the added benefit of the GDC Vault, no presentation has to go unwatched AFTER the conference has ended…but on the ground, one must choose between a plethora of excellent content thanks to the tireless GDC Advisory Board. It’s at this point that I realize that both the morning coffee & lunchtime meetups are wholly self-serving: I want to experience everything all at once and if I can’t be there in person then hopefully I can glean the inspiration from a presentation from someone else who has attended.


For this block of time I’ll be sitting in on the “Building Awareness of Audio Within a Team Roundtable” as I was part of the team that brought forward this and another roundtable discussing the culture of game audio. While Rob and Brad will be focusing on a discussion about Audio teams within the confines of a studio or in a freelance/ development team relationship covering topics such as: communication, interactions, influence, and more, Karen and I will be stimulating conversations around the idea of game audio culture and its effects outside of the studio including: creating a welcoming environment for diversity, the role of game audio organizations, fostering community online and off, among others.


A Game That Listens: The Audio of INSIDE – Martin Stig Andersen
At 2pm Martin Stig Andersen emerges from the chrysalis ready to discuss audio-driven gameplay using Playdead’s Inside. Likely to echo some of the topics discussed during Eric Robinson’s Audio Bootcamp talk on Proactive Audio, as well as bringing a fresh perspective from current development, this presentation is one that should not be missed.


Audio for AAA Virtual Reality Experiences – Simon Gumbleton
There is no-doubt a buzz that hangs in the air surrounding VR audio and its future. With the limited access and exposure that most have to the different technologies, presentations on audio for VR are some of the first indications and learnings of where the artistry is headed from the few who have created content for these emerging platforms. This coupled with the Sony Sponsored 3D Audio presentation Thursday morning should fulfill any Project Morpheus questions a person might have. All ears to the future!


IASIG Audio Mixer – 6:00pm – 9:00pm
Thirsty Bear (661 Howard St)

“Don’t miss the annual party for Game Audio Professionals. There will be free food and drink, plus a raffle for free audio merchandise! Any audio professional attending GDC is welcome at this special social event. (Show your GDC Audio Pass or audio-related business card for entry.)”


The IASIG party is the place to to be early on Wednesday night before the after-parties ensue. Always well attended and packed full of luminaries and great thinkers, the IASIG mixer is a great place to raise a glass and toast to accomplishments while plotting for world-wide game audio domination with some of the finest minds.


Thursday – Taking Tiger Mountain


Cultivating a Career as a Sound Designer Roundtable Caron Weidner, Jaclyn Shumate, Kristen Quebe
This round table is poised to answer all of the questions that one might have about being a sound designer for games. Equally prescient for newcomers and those looking to learn new tricks and sharpen skills, the caliber and experience of the women leading the discussion guarantees a depth of insight for all.


Why Game Audio is Not a Solved Problem – Guy Somberg
I love game audio history. Guy Somberg promises a “retrospective of what game audio looked like 12 years ago and discuss the current state of the art in audio programming” and I couldn’t be more excited. They say that those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it, yeah!


Digital Foley: Leveraging Human Gesture in Game Audio – Chris Heinrichs
As the detail of movement & player control reach symbiosis how can the sound interaction ever hope to match the dynamics enabled by the expanding move-sets, material-types, and situational specificity? One proposed solution is “how gestural interaction can be employed in all stages of the sound design process” as, not only a sound design tool, but the potential for a runtime procedural audio solution. Looking forward to examples and experiences in this direction.


Managing Audio Performance: Lessons Learned from the Production of ‘Halo 5: Guardians’ –  Chase Thompson
Shh…I’ll tell you a secret: I’ve already heard Chase’s talk on optimizing Halo 5 and it is a fantastic romp through the process of technical finalisation of a major console title. Packed with enough blood, sweat, and tears from the trenches, anecdotal evidence, and in-game debug visualizations to keep anyone interested in technical sound design captivated.


Music Design: Lessons from ‘The Last of Us’ and More – Jonathan Mayer
The Sony music team is at the forefront of large-scale multi-discipline music design for some of the deepest console experiences available. Comprised of specialists whose only task is to meld the game design firmly to the composer’s vision, Jonathan has worked diligently to find the sweet-spot between the technical & artistic. For anyone interested in taking a peek behind the curtain of music integration and composition this should not be missed!


Everyone at this Conference is a Fraud – Stephan Schutze, Laura Karpman, Bonnie Bogovich, Varun Nair, Austin Wintory, DB Cooper
The buzz coming away from Stephan’s presentation on this topic at last years Game Sound Con was palpably felt across the distance while monitoring from afar. To see that he’s assembled an amazing ensemble of voices to unpack imposter syndrome makes this one to watch.


Game Audio Network Guild Awards
“Excellence in Game Audio is celebrated annually at the 14th Annual G.A.N.G. Awards show – come and be a part of the magic as we recognize the best of the best! It will be a night of entertainment and peer recognition as we review the finest in game audio from the past year.”
I personally enjoy a good awards show. I’ve been know to wire-up the TV antenna twice a year to take in the Grammys and Oscars, for better or worse, to peek in on popular culture. The discussions and controversies that seem to grow-evergreen around such events are a worthwhile study in community in their own right. Despite gems that remain hidden from the popular eye, awards shows seek to recognize the hard work and artistry of people in the industry. For me, being part of a community means engaging in this celebration, lending my voice, and collectively congratulating everyone for their work over the past year.


Friday – Another Green World

Simulating the Race Day Experience: Mixing ‘Forza Motorsport 6’ – Chase Combs, Nick Wiswell
One of the few talks focused specifically on mixing this year, the challenge of balancing the audio elements in a racing game should make for the perfect presentation to embody the current technology and methodology. The singular expression of a richly dynamic vehicle engine, inherently tied to the underlying physics simulation,  parallels the intricate tuning of an orchestra literally under-the-hood. Getting all of these elements to communicate throughout the player experience seems like a dark art. Come watch these wizards unravel the mystery in from of your eyes.


Storytelling Tools: Using Music & Sound Creatively – Jason Graves, Spencer Hooks, Russell Brower, Lazar Levine, Phillip Kovats, Scott Gershin
Who doesn’t love a star-studded panel of perspectives?


Beyond the “Sound Guy”: Women in Game Audio Roundtable – Karen Collins, Jennifer Lewis, Becky Allen, DB Cooper
This year’s audio tracks plays hosts to some pretty incredible roundtables attempting to engage conference attendees in topics that are geared towards making the game audio community a vital place for everyone. On Wenesday, Day 1 of Beyond the “Sound Guy” looks into Self-Promotion, Freelancing, and Work-life balance while Friday tackles women in the game audio workplace.


The Gothic Horror Music of ‘Bloodborne’ – Peter Scaturro, Jim Fowler, Penka Kouneva
Love them or hate them, FromSoftware and their Souls’ series of games has helped define a kind of game epitomized by difficulty and oppression. The music of Bloodborne mines a deep vein of darkness used to reinforce the feelings imposed on players through the world, game, and level design in a perfect simulacrum of despair. Come find out how!

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Overwatch – The Elusive Goal: Play by Sound – Scott Lawlor, Tomas Neumann
Elusive indeed! While games like Abe’s Odyssey, Mortal Kombat, and Legend of Zelda have been tackled by visually impaired gamers for years, even those of us with full visual capacity can improve the way we play through the use of sound design. In what is sure to be a revealing presentation about the power of sound to communicate without visuals, the competitive multi-player Overwatch makes for a perfect example.


‘Ori and the Blind Forest’: Sonic Polish Through Distributed Development – Gareth Coker, Andrew Lackey
For a game with as much subtlety and heart to have been made across multiple studios involving a distributed cast of characters is a accomplishment. For anyone interested in understanding what it takes to keep the inspiration focused and cohesive during development across great distances, this is sure to offer valaube insights!

Friday Night – The School of Video Game Audio Hosts Meetup @ Show Dogs
What is swiftly becoming a tradition in the post-GDC haze of leftover session-stumblers, this annual wobble-over from Moscone to the nearby Show Dogs eatery has become a tradition worth sticking around in San Francisco for.  hosted by Leonard Paul and the School of Video Game Audio, this meetup is a last unofficial chance to drink and dine with folks whose heads have been filled to the brim with new ideas and incredible vistas. It’s anyone’s guess where the party goes from here but, for these last moments of togetherness, I am grateful for the opportunity to reminisce and wrap-up the week behind us.


Saturday – Music for Airports

I can already anticipate the emotions and feelings of saturation that i’ll wake with Saturday morning: elation, denial, excitement, and fatigue. Not willing to say goodbye, the potential to meet a few stragglers in Chinatown for a visit to an exotic musical instrument store, fortune-cookie factory, or hidden temple. Or possibly set a path on-foot to experience the cacophony, clatter, and din of the wharf-side Musee Mecanique. Each of these a distraction from the mounting separation anxiety descending in acknowledgement of the absence. The formless inspiration that has come to roost after a week’s worth of conversations and experiences yet to find motivation.

Framed this way it might be hard to understand the draw. Some people will come for the education, some for the networking, some, quite simply, to find a job. People are the web that connects all of these things.

In an article I wrote for game Developer magazine back in 2012, I had this to say about the game audio community:

“People are amazing. It always comes right back to that for me …This is what leads me to the Game Developers Conference every year—meeting up with old friends, and engaging new folks in the game audio conversation. That’s where some of these discussions start, but it doesn’t have to be the end.”

Ultimately, the end of the Game Developers Conference is never really the end. It’s a moment where the entire cycle starts over and you find yourself heading back to San Francisco, yet again. It’s with great anticipation that next week I embark on this year’s adventure.

Remember: Being nice to people is always in style! Hope to see you there!

A big thanks to Damian Kastbauer for this excellent roundup! Be sure to follow him on Twitter to stay updated in the latest in game audio – and check out his blog here too. Have something to add? Be sure to leave a comment!

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