Asbjoern Andersen


Back when I started doing sound for games, implementing game audio was essentially a question of delivering a bunch of .wav files and triggering them in-game. That’s not how it works anymore. Today, audio middleware, dynamic environments and scores rule the day.

To find out where things stand – and where we’re headed – I invited sound designer and game audio advocate Stephan Schütze to do a guest post to give you an overview. Here is Stephan’s post:

 

Game audio has come a long way in recent years. Its profile, tool sets and outlook are stronger than ever. Game audiences have high expectations of the audio that accompanies their favourite games and developers are investing more time and resources to audio production. This is a perfect time to take stock of exactly where game audio is currently at and consider some of the possibilities for the future in how we develop audio content across the many platforms we play games on.
 

Middleware Solutions

The term ‘middleware’ essentially refers to software solutions for game process management and asset implementation. There are various middleware applications that deal with audio, but I would consider the four main game audio tools to be (in alphabetical order):

• CRI ADX2
• Fabric
• FMOD
• WWise

Each application has its own methodology and feature set and choosing the best solution depends a lot on the needs of a project and the personal preferences of the audio team. It is safe to say, however, that the sophistication of the available tools has developed dramatically over recent years. All four of these applications have supported multiple significant titles across a wide range of platforms.

While the individual choice of which toolset best suits a particular project is a more individual one, the overall question of “why use middleware?” is still a common one. This question is not often asked by audio teams, but more usually by their development leads or studio heads, who require confirmation that the time, effort and expense of using an audio tool set will be advantageous to their project.

The game audio industry is still often asked this question, and I have a very simple and very direct response to the question.

Why should we use audio middleware?

• Your game will sound better
• Your game will use less resources
• Your game will require less programmer time to achieve equivalent results with your audio

Just to spell it out, that last point means using audio middleware will also save you money.

My personal opinion on this is that any studio that considers itself to be a serious developer of interactive material should be using audio middleware

My personal opinion on this is that any studio that considers itself to be a serious developer of interactive material should be using audio middleware in the same way they should be using source control software, debugging tools and all the other advances in development tools that are now considered essential.
 

Games are dynamic; so is game audio

Games are different to film and TV. I have said this so many times in articles, at conferences, in training and to students. The non-linear domain in which games reside means they are created in very different ways to film and TV. Non-linear media is experienced in very different ways to linear media. Game audio still lags behind in some aspects of non-linear development. This means, we have room for some great improvements.
Generative and dynamic audio is so much more than just cueing the music to respond events within the game. The toolsets available to audio teams have the power and control to create incredibly detailed and dynamic audio material.
 

Dynamic Environments

Game environments can be created from the smallest of audio assets that trigger with defined behaviour to fill a region of a 3D world. This can provide vertical, horizontal or even spherical depth of field. As the player moves through an environment they pass through layers that blend together and react to the player, other environmental factors as well as day/night and seasonal cycles.

A game audio environment is not made from a single recording of a forest or a jungle; it is built from the individual elements that would exist in that jungle. An insect can be positioned individually in 3D space and can be programmed to respond to the player’s proximity just as a cricket in real life will fall silent if it detects movement nearby. Birdsong is generated in real time to create a unique song every time it is heard, that song can alter to a birds warning calls if it detects a threat in its territory and ultimately resolve with the sound of wings as the bird flies off.
 

Music

Large orchestral scores with even larger budgets are a more common feature of AAA game projects. Equally, music generated in real time, controlled by properties that define the behaviour of music over time in relation to events and in response to player actions, are becoming powerful tools for narrative support.

There is a secret about these two approaches to game music that many people do not seem to have realized

There is a secret about these two approaches to game music that many people do not seem to have realized: The two methods are NOT mutually exclusive!

Audio teams seem to choose on method or another. Live musicians with strong thematic material or generative musical structures crafted and implemented carefully to produce a dynamic score during gameplay. I would argue that the best possible world is a combination of the two forms. Dramatic thematic material that accompanies significant events within a game, that underscores cut scenes and defines our wonderful characters AND evocative generative sound/music ambiences that accompany the many hours of exploration and highlight the underlying emotional content of an environment or expand on the threats that may exist in the shadows.
 

Sound Design

Even our sound effects can be created in dynamic ways that utilise the available assets to maximise on resources as well as sonic impact. Each sound file that we add to a project can become a building block to be used again and again across multiple sound events. This gives us incredibly efficient resource usage on all platforms. It also offers the opportunity for an explosion to be subtly different each time it is triggered, or footsteps that sound organic when implemented.
 

How do we do this?

For some people these ideas may sound challenging at best, unachievable at worst, but the technology to utilize many of these production techniques has existed for some years. What we need to be doing is educating our fellow developers and demonstrating the possibilities. The incredible potential for game audio is already being demonstrated by some teams, we need to realize across the industry that this is something we can all be doing if the desire exists and the determination is applied.

There needs to be a shift in thinking to understand that outstanding audio is not just reserved for AAA games

I have spent a lot of time over the years investigating three of the four middleware solutions I listed (Fabric, FMOD and Wwise) and to my knowledge they are all capable of far more than many audio teams realize. There needs to be a shift in thinking to understand that outstanding audio is not just reserved for AAA games.
 
Some recent independent games have clearly illustrated just how much you can achieve. Limbo, Braid, Machinarium, The Stanley Parable are all examples of small teams achieving incredible audio results.

I think we all need to be multi-skilled to work in game audio. Where film and TV often have a single specialist for each role, game audio is better served if we at least have a strong understanding across all aspects of audio production. Location recording can make you a better sound designer, understanding sound, music and dialogue processes will ultimately make you a better mixer. Even developing an appreciation of how sound design is implemented can make the creation of a sympathetic musical score more achievable. Above all else, passion and patience are critical, and a good set of ears is a big advantage.
 


Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • Red Libraries teamed up with the sound designers Frederic Devanlay and Thibault Csukonyi to create the new “Mutant Insects” collection

    The library gathers a wide range of oversized wings for equally-oversized designed flying insects, along with an extremely rich toolbox. It allows you to quickly and easily create every flying creatures and mutants you have in mind, but also sweeten or emphasize details with natural layers for real-life documentaries, games or feature films.

    These insects are more impressive than in real life by their size and the noise made when flying.
    So we called them “MUTANT Insects”.
    And why not also use it for bird wings…

    8 different species are featured : Fly, Hornet, Grasshopper, Beetle, Moth, Gnat, Rhino Beetle, Dragonfly.

    The movements offered are Idles (loop), Passes by, Swirling Evolutions (loop), Swarms (loop), Abrupt Movements (take flights, attacks, spasms…)

    These evolutions have been created with the help of the Traveler plugin by Tonsturm, and the Sound Particles software by Sound Particles.

    Presets for Sound Particles and Traveler are included in the pack. Many thanks to Tilman Hahn and Nuno Fonseca.

    The toolbox will allow to imagine your own mutants or to just simply create real insects, With natural layers such as hummings or different appearances to made wing strokes.

    40 %
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  • Drones & Moods Glacier Ambience Play Track 27 sounds included, 130 mins total $30 $20

    Glacier Ambience is a pack of ambient drones created especially for the purpose of being used anywhere.

    If your voice-over needs life, your video needs a mood, your sound design ambience needs a lift, and more.
    These are ambient soundscapes and drones and not sounds from an actual glacier, but they were created while I was looking at one.

    All this in one package. All designed for the specific ability to drag and drop any of the tracks in the package to your soundtrack and it will instantly bring a background mood and life to your creation.

    All the sounds in here have been created while I was living in Iceland – with drones, glaciers, ambient life, nature and northern lights in mind.

    33 %
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  • River Estuary is a series of recordings centred around the River Deben estuary in Suffolk, an area famous for its natural beauty and wildlife. It is a treasure trove of sounds that capture the ambience of this serene environment, with a focus on the wading bird calls that give the estuary its unique sonic character.

    The library was mostly recorded on a boat stationed in Woodbridge in the late winter of 2018 with private access to the boatyard, allowing me to record safely over night. I continued the recordings up until late summer, making trips to other areas along the Deben in between. I was also granted permission to record on the privately owned Sutton Hoo side of the Deben, another of Suffolk’s areas of outstanding historical significance and beauty, equally full of life but further away from the rumbling traffic and human life coming from the town.

    It includes the sounds of curlews, oystercatchers, redshanks, geese, swans, ducks and various other wading bird calls, as well as general ambience recordings of the area at high tide and low tide and all hours of the day. The night calls that echo over the expanse of the river at low tide are particularly evocative.

    The library was recorded entirely in 24bit/96k with a double Mid/Side rig consisting of Sennheiser MKH60/30 and 8040 mics, encoded to 5.1 Wav. A stereo option is also available at a lower price. As a bonus there is a collection of bird call spot FX taken from the recordings with noise reduction applied, for those who may need to add individual wading bird calls to their ambience.

    20 %
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    Ends 1550962800
  • Industrial Factory Tones Play Track 17+ sounds included $15

    Factory Tones by Badlands Sound features 17 two minute seamless loopable roomtones, making these a breeze to work with – perfect for your projects.

    I was able to capture all these sounds with no one there so these are just factory room tones that are steady with very little movement or noises from the outside world. All sounds are available to hear in the products audio demo.

    This sound library was recorded with professional gear including the Sound Devices 702t, Rycote ORTF, and a pair of Sennheiser MKH 8040’s creating high quality roomtones of 96k / 24 bit.

    If you are looking for factory room tones or looking for bigger tones and beds to fill the scene then this library is for you. All files in this product have great file names and metadata.

    Add to cart
  • Roomtones & Ext. Ambiences House Tones Play Track 57+ sounds included, 114 mins total $40

    House Tones by Badlands Sound features 57 two minute seamless loopable roomtones totaling of almost two hours of different room tones found in a home including Bathrooms, Basements, Bedrooms, Closets, Garages, Home Offices, Laundry Rooms, Kitchens, Living Rooms, Showers, and Utility Room.

    This sound library was recorded with professional gear including the Sound Devices 702t, Rycote ORTF, and a pair of Sennheiser MKH 8040’s creating high quality roomtones of 96k / 24 bit.

    If you are looking for house or apartment room tones then this library is for you. All files in this product have great file names and metadata with descriptive words with no number lists.

    Add to cart

Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

The Future

HRTF, Dolby Atmos, procedural audio design: these are all ‘new’ areas of game audio that are still somewhat on the edges of our radars. Often we are just struggling to get all the audio into a project in the time we have. What formats, features and functions become more common in the future is, however, up to us to decide. An audience cannot appreciate a new format if we do not explore it and make the most of its potential. All the middleware developers will continue to advance their toolsets and functionality to allow the audio teams to achieve greater results.

How we use our time is important. Dedicating even a small portion of time to test and assess new tools allows us to glimpse potential futures and be inspired to attempt new things. The nature of our creative work means that many of us will constantly work towards improving our art form for our own satisfaction and for the enjoyment of our audience.

For new technologies such as the Oculus Rift and Project Morpheus to be truly successful, they MUST have audio that supports them.

The future of game audio may be interesting, but the present is amazing!

Those devices will succeed or fail based on how the audience responds to the experience and the audio will be a critical aspect of that success or failure.

The future of game audio may be interesting, but the present is amazing! There is so much potential in what we have right now that we just need to embrace a few scary new concepts and dive in as deeply as possible to really benefit from how the technology can support us in creating truly unique and engaging audio experiences within our game projects.
 

Thanks a lot to Stephan Schütze for this game audio overview!
 

 

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ABOUT STEPHAN SCHÜTZE:
Stephan Schütze is considered the world’s leading authority on working with FMOD Studio, and is the director of the Sound Librarian project. Find out more about him on the Sound Librarian website, his Facebook page – and meet him on Twitter.
 


 


 
 
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A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
  • Mechanical Old Engines Grab Bag Play Track 486 sounds included, 265minutes of multitrack recordings mins total $99

    “Old Engines Grab Bag” is a pack of numerous old, unique and characterful engines from early 1900s. It’s a massive collection of 56GB multitrack 192kHz recordings of old tractors and stationary engines, both diesel and gasoline fueled.

    The intention wasn’t to cover vehicles driving, but to get isolated and very closely recorded mechanical elements of engines and exhaust pipes as a source material for sound design. There are many starts, idles, revs, offs, RPMs variations, backfires etc. Some are heavy and large sounding, some are small and funny. Tractors were captured EXT and most of stationary engines INT, but since they are very closely recorded there is just a little amount of reverb on most of them.

    Most of engines are 1 or 2 cylinders and low horse power and their RPMs are also low. Thanks to this, many of those sounds aren’t tonal and can easily be used as additional layer with other design elements. They work great for adding vintage character, designing junky or funny vehicles, crazy huge steampunk machines or engines malfunction.

    Sounds were recorded using multi-mic setup: Sanken CO-100k (most of the time pointing mechanical parts), Sennheiser MKH-8060 (mainly for isolated exhaust pipe), Schoeps CMC6XT mk41/mk8 (general image) and part also with Trance Audio Inducer contact mics (adding unique mechanical perspective).

    The library is delivered as multitrack 192kHz files, as well as stereo mix of all microphones. Thanks to using microphones with extended frequency range, drastic pitch changes can be applied.
    All files have extensive metadata created in Soundminer, including leg picker with microphone labels.

    Demo files include pitched sounds, which are not delivered with library.

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  • Animals & Creatures Dogs Play Track 250+ sounds included $75

    An epic collection of dog sounds, recorded in Ultra-HD 24bit 192k resolution. This library features a variety of vocal sounds from 14 trained animals. Included are barks, whines, yelps, growls, snarls, and sounds that can’t even be defined.

    Breeds:
    • Border Collie
    • Boston Terrier
    • Boxer
    • Bulldog
    • Collie
    • Golden Retriever
    • Greyhoud
    • Labrador Mix
    • Pug
    • Sharpei
    • Shizu
    • Terrier
    • Terrier Mix
    Add to cart
  • Human Swordfighter Play Track 479 sounds included
    Rated 5.00 out of 5
    $25 $20

    Swordfighter is a robust package with sharp sounding swords, heaps of variations and all the extras you need to make a fight come alive. Build unique sword swings with various hits, swooshes, schings, different fighter vocals and impacts on various surfaces. All up there are 137 sword sounds, 93 surface impact sounds, 15 knife throwing sounds, 48 swooshes and 180 fighter vocals.

    This version includes two sub-folders: one optimised for a film & TV workflow and the other optimised for video games workflow. Plus a few bonus sounds of a charging army.

    20 %
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    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Red Libraries teamed up with the sound designers Frederic Devanlay and Thibault Csukonyi to create the new “Mutant Insects” collection

    The library gathers a wide range of oversized wings for equally-oversized designed flying insects, along with an extremely rich toolbox. It allows you to quickly and easily create every flying creatures and mutants you have in mind, but also sweeten or emphasize details with natural layers for real-life documentaries, games or feature films.

    These insects are more impressive than in real life by their size and the noise made when flying.
    So we called them “MUTANT Insects”.
    And why not also use it for bird wings…

    8 different species are featured : Fly, Hornet, Grasshopper, Beetle, Moth, Gnat, Rhino Beetle, Dragonfly.

    The movements offered are Idles (loop), Passes by, Swirling Evolutions (loop), Swarms (loop), Abrupt Movements (take flights, attacks, spasms…)

    These evolutions have been created with the help of the Traveler plugin by Tonsturm, and the Sound Particles software by Sound Particles.

    Presets for Sound Particles and Traveler are included in the pack. Many thanks to Tilman Hahn and Nuno Fonseca.

    The toolbox will allow to imagine your own mutants or to just simply create real insects, With natural layers such as hummings or different appearances to made wing strokes.

    40 %
    OFF
  • Drones & Moods Glacier Ambience Play Track 27 sounds included, 130 mins total $30 $20

    Glacier Ambience is a pack of ambient drones created especially for the purpose of being used anywhere.

    If your voice-over needs life, your video needs a mood, your sound design ambience needs a lift, and more.
    These are ambient soundscapes and drones and not sounds from an actual glacier, but they were created while I was looking at one.

    All this in one package. All designed for the specific ability to drag and drop any of the tracks in the package to your soundtrack and it will instantly bring a background mood and life to your creation.

    All the sounds in here have been created while I was living in Iceland – with drones, glaciers, ambient life, nature and northern lights in mind.

    33 %
    OFF
  • River Estuary is a series of recordings centred around the River Deben estuary in Suffolk, an area famous for its natural beauty and wildlife. It is a treasure trove of sounds that capture the ambience of this serene environment, with a focus on the wading bird calls that give the estuary its unique sonic character.

    The library was mostly recorded on a boat stationed in Woodbridge in the late winter of 2018 with private access to the boatyard, allowing me to record safely over night. I continued the recordings up until late summer, making trips to other areas along the Deben in between. I was also granted permission to record on the privately owned Sutton Hoo side of the Deben, another of Suffolk’s areas of outstanding historical significance and beauty, equally full of life but further away from the rumbling traffic and human life coming from the town.

    It includes the sounds of curlews, oystercatchers, redshanks, geese, swans, ducks and various other wading bird calls, as well as general ambience recordings of the area at high tide and low tide and all hours of the day. The night calls that echo over the expanse of the river at low tide are particularly evocative.

    The library was recorded entirely in 24bit/96k with a double Mid/Side rig consisting of Sennheiser MKH60/30 and 8040 mics, encoded to 5.1 Wav. A stereo option is also available at a lower price. As a bonus there is a collection of bird call spot FX taken from the recordings with noise reduction applied, for those who may need to add individual wading bird calls to their ambience.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1550962800
  • Industrial Factory Tones Play Track 17+ sounds included $15

    Factory Tones by Badlands Sound features 17 two minute seamless loopable roomtones, making these a breeze to work with – perfect for your projects.

    I was able to capture all these sounds with no one there so these are just factory room tones that are steady with very little movement or noises from the outside world. All sounds are available to hear in the products audio demo.

    This sound library was recorded with professional gear including the Sound Devices 702t, Rycote ORTF, and a pair of Sennheiser MKH 8040’s creating high quality roomtones of 96k / 24 bit.

    If you are looking for factory room tones or looking for bigger tones and beds to fill the scene then this library is for you. All files in this product have great file names and metadata.

  • Roomtones & Ext. Ambiences House Tones Play Track 57+ sounds included, 114 mins total $40

    House Tones by Badlands Sound features 57 two minute seamless loopable roomtones totaling of almost two hours of different room tones found in a home including Bathrooms, Basements, Bedrooms, Closets, Garages, Home Offices, Laundry Rooms, Kitchens, Living Rooms, Showers, and Utility Room.

    This sound library was recorded with professional gear including the Sound Devices 702t, Rycote ORTF, and a pair of Sennheiser MKH 8040’s creating high quality roomtones of 96k / 24 bit.

    If you are looking for house or apartment room tones then this library is for you. All files in this product have great file names and metadata with descriptive words with no number lists.

 
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One thought on “Overview: The Current State of Game Audio – and What Lies Ahead

  1. A great summary of the state we’re in.

    Besides other technologies, I believe Procedural Audio will strongly shape our near future. It’s already being used successfully in many games (GTA V has it’s %30 of audio content in physically modeled procedural generation), and it’s a vast area we’re yet begin to explore. I’m sure that real recordings will always have their place in our soundscapes, but this Procedural approach feels like the 3D revolution of 1990’s happening in interactive audio.

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