SoVGA offers online courses in Wwise, FMOD Studio, Unreal, Unity and Pure Data - and as it celebrates its 7th birthday, we decided to get in touch with founder Leonard Paul to hear how the site, game audio and the community has evolved over the years - and what lies ahead:
Interview by Asbjoern Andersen, images courtesy of Leonard Paul
Hi Leonard, please introduce yourself, the School of Video Game Audio – and the courses you’re offering:
Hi! My name is Leonard Paul and I’m the Director of the School of Video Game Audio. I’ve been working with game audio since the mid-90s and teaching game audio since 2001. I’m fortunate to have Viviana Caro help with feedback for student assignments. She has worked in game audio since 2011, is a Senior Sound Artist at Electronic Arts, and has taught audio for many years.
The focus of the School of Video Game Audio is to help our students improve their game audio skills by creating a demo reel using Wwise, FMOD Studio, Unreal, Unity or Pure Data. This year we’ve added new course add-ons in sound design, coding, dialogue and adaptive music. The coding add-on has been quite popular since it gives students the chance to use basic code to integrate Wwise or FMOD Studio into Unity or Unreal. Add-ons also allow us to spread out into more subjects like composing chiptunes, implementing dynamic dialogue and learning how to do sound design for magic effects.
We run new courses every two months and students can spend more time in a course if they need to as life can be unpredictable. Once the demo reel is done we often help out students with their resumes, cover letters, and other business topics. We work with a wide range of students but most come to us with a strong audio background who are looking to transition into game audio, however, we’re finding an increasing number of students who already have years of experience in game audio are joining us to add new skills in a certain area such as coding.
How did the idea for the School of Video Game Audio come about in the first place?
I like working with a diverse range of students and I’m really glad that we’ve been able to have students from over 55 countries join us so far.
After teaching at other institutions for around a decade, I found that I wanted to have a more direct connection with my students. Being able to teach students online allows a depth of mentorship that I found more difficult when teaching in a live classroom environment. I like working with a diverse range of students and I’m really glad that we’ve been able to have students from over 55 countries join us so far.
We really focus on a personalized experience to help our students through detailed feedback and critique on their creative work such as sound design and music.
We’ve been lucky to start our school at a time when technologies like YouTube, PayPal, Moodle, and Google Docs allow us to create a direct and modern approach to learning. There’s a lot of online courses available so we really focus on a personalized experience to help our students through detailed feedback and critique on their creative work such as sound design and music.
With the school I can combine my interests in teaching, coding, and audio together and meet amazing people from all around the world. Being independent can be difficult but it also allows us to put students first. Not all of the work done at the school is fun but we do all we can to give the students the knowledge and skills they’re looking for in game audio!
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Looking back at those 7 years, what have been some of the major milestones?
It’s felt like a bit of a blur, so I actually looked through the community update emails that we send out each school term (every 2 months) and picked out a few milestones for our past seven years:
2013 – Work with the Women’s Audio Mission to provide a discount their members
2014 – First annual SoVGA GDC Meetup
2015 – Pure Data course launched
2016 – 100 student reels
2017 – 50 student countries and Unreal course launched
2017 – I received my Master’s in Game Audio
2018 – Viviana becomes a Senior Sound Artist at Electronic Arts
2019 – Course add-ons launched
We’re always looking to try new things and really looking forward to seeing what’ll happen in the future.
How many students have passed through your courses over the years? Any results or reels you’d like to highlight in particular?
We have hundreds of students join us in the past 42 terms in nearly 200 different classes. Each term we’ve chosen an exceptional student demo reel to feature and have added them to our featured grads page. In total, we’ve had 180 reels with over 115,000 views which is a great audience for our students who are looking for work.
The story of our school really comes down to a lot of individual student stories. One of my favourite recent stories is that of Frank Lubsey who recently joined Schell Games as an Audio Manager:
“The School of Video Game Audio has been a tremendous help in my career. I started my journey with the school years ago as a complete beginner looking to break into the field, and now I will be starting as an Audio Manager for Schell Games. In this role, I’ll be managing the audio development process and development schedules across various projects in addition to creating audio assets. I have made each transition from hobbyist, to freelancer, and now in-house game audio professional with Leonard’s mentorship and guidance. The School of Video Game Audio has given me confidence, capability, and support throughout my journey. If you are seriously thinking about a career in game audio, I highly recommend the School of Video Game Audio.”
We try our best to support each student on their own unique career path in game audio and we learn a lot along the way too!
What have been the biggest changes in game audio since you started out – and how have your courses evolved over the years to reflect those changes?
A huge change for our industry happened in 2014 when FMOD Studio and Wwise became free for use on indie games. Not only did this allow more studios to use FMOD and Wwise but I believe that lowering the barrier to entry also helps to encourage more diversity as well. It’s great to see audio middleware being used more frequently in game jams and it’s helped to raise the overall audio quality in games.
Phill Aeolony’s Wwise Demo Reel + playlist of more SoVGA student reels
Since we’re small it allows us to change our courses quickly to both add and remove material to best help our students. I see a large part of my role as someone who removes obstacles and answers questions. I spend a lot of time coding projects each term to make sure that they work so students can spend their time learning instead of getting stuck with technical issues that can be difficult to figure out on your own. I also listen a lot to my students and enjoy updating the courses in response to their feedback.
What are your thoughts on the current state of game audio, in terms of middleware, tools and techniques, the community and overall trends?
As far as the current state of things on the technical side, I hope that procedural audio continues makes its way into games along with spatialization techniques to improve the audio experience. I think that making accessible and interesting tools for audio designers is really important so all the advances in audio middleware with granulation, spatial audio, synthesis and effects are great to see.
I helped out as a moderator for the GameDev World conference this year and it gave me a glimpse into the world of games that we don’t necessarily hear about in the English language media. I’m really fascinated by the potential of games and hope that our students can help contribute to new gaming experiences. The game audio community is really supportive and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Any thoughts on what’s ahead in game audio? And for people who are looking to get into game audio, any advice on things they should particularly focus on?
Leading a balanced work life is important and I do my best to help students consider options when working in games.
I find that general advice is difficult to give but I think it’s important to know what you can bring to a company when you’re looking for work. It’s not so much convincing an employer to hire you but finding the best way to present your skills so they can easily understand how you can help them. Leading a balanced work life is important and I do my best to help students consider options when working in games.
Want more thoughts and insights on the future of game audio? Check out our earlier interview series below:
When starting out, I think you don’t need to be too concerned with gear as it shouldn’t be a barrier in most cases. You can put together a beginner game audio rig for around $1000 for a laptop, headphones, portable recorder and audio software these days. Similar to clothing, the details of choosing your audio gear can be quite personal so I find working together with students gives the best results.
Overall, I believe that advice is more of a conversation where you get to know the person you’re giving advice to. When starting out or making a big career change, it’s often really difficult to even know what questions you should ask, like what company do I want to work for, how much should I get paid, or how do I apply to jobs. I see my role as an educator and mentor to help support each student on their own individual journey and help guide them towards a future in game audio that is both inspiring and sustainable.
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