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:  
  • Foley MOVES Play Track 772+ sounds included $115 $89

    MOVES is a collection of character foley clothing and gear movements that cover a large range of characters such as Special Forces, Medieval Soldier, World War Soldier, Policeman, and High-tech Soldier among many others.

    MOVES will make a great addition to your sonic arsenal and help you achieve that personal character sound that you have in your head. MOVES does not replace a Veteran Foley artist, but will come in handy if you have a restricted budget or if you need a good sound to enhance the movements of your characters.

    You get several walks, runs and stop movements for every type of character.

    Two versions included:

    To speed up your workflow, the library comes with two versions of the same content, tailored for people working either in the Video Game or the Cinema industry:

    Video Game Workflow: For every variation, you will have a single wav file, making it ideal for people who like to have every sound already cut and ready to be used in their DAW or middleware. It consists of 772 sounds.
    Cinema Workflow You will find several variations of the sounds in single wav files here. It consists of 151 wav files sounds.

    And as mentioned, both versions are included, so you can pick whatever works best for your way of working.


    Features props and characters such as:

    Bullet-proof vest, medieval chain mail, dress, leather jacket, old robot, policeman, World War II soldier, Special Forces, Thin Android, Winter Jacket, medieval foot soldier, plastic character, rattle character, shield, sword, weapons, helmets, high tech soldier, winter jacket

    As always, all sounds are embedded with useful Soundminer metadata. I really hope you will find this collection inspiring and useful in your future projects.

    Have a great day designing your new characters with MOVES!

    Best wishes,
    Michel Marchant.

    23 %
    OFF
    Ends 1545174000
    Add to cart
  • Motorcycles Helmet Wind Noise Play Track 21 sounds included, 97 mins total $35 $25

    This library gets you 97 minutes of binarual recordings of wind noise, captured inside the helmet as a motorcycle rides along the highway. The speed ranges from a slower pace all the way up to 100 – 130 km/h, and features both acceleration, variable and constant speeds, as well as occasional sounds of passing traffic as captured from inside the helmet. The helmet is a flip-up type of helmet, and the motorcycle is a Honda NC 700D.

    Recorder: Tascam dr100 mk/III, Microphone: DPA 4060 miniature omni

    29 %
    OFF
    Add to cart
  • City Life Laos Play Track 153+ sounds included, 353 mins total $75 $60

    Jungles, walla, rivers, crickets, waterfalls, streets and rural villages all unique to Laos.

    All sounds were recorded using the Sound Devices Mix Pre 6 and a stereo pair of Sennheiser MKH 8020s.

    To read about my field recording trip to Laos and to download the free sample pack simply click here.

    20 %
    OFF
    Add to cart
  • Human Ethereal Breaths Vol.1 Play Track 132 sounds included $14 $10

    Collection of Abstract and Ethereal Breaths. Recorded Binaurally with optimum results when played back through headphones.

    8 tracks containing 132 SFX in Total, varying levels of reverb reverse whooshes and abstract breathing patterns.

    All files in WAV format with embedded Metadata fully Soundminer compliant.

    29 %
    OFF
    Ends 1545174000
    Add to cart
  • DANZA MACABRA is a collection of sound effects made out of real instruments recorded with Barcus Berry contact microphone.

    Unusual tones and timbres came out while bowing and scratching violin and cello or “playing” an upright piano with “string piano technique” using different metal objects.

    Danza Macabra comprises 45 loops at 140 bpm of designed clocks, tick loops, wooden old pendolo and time design elements. Designed glockenspiel and ride cymbals, morphed cinematic elements you will not find elsewhere.

    The sounds contained in Danza Macabra are great when treated with different amount of pitch-shifting to get never heard before sonic results.

    An exclusive collection to satisfy your sound design addiction.

    Features elements and sounds such as:

    • Accent
    • Cinematic elements
    • Clock loops
    • Cymbals
    • Designed glockenspiel
    • Getez – raw
    • Hybrid hits
    • Pianoverse
    • Screech reverse pass by
    • Textures
    • Tuning noises
    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.
 


 


 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
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:
 
 
  • Sci-Fi Slinky Pews and Pows Play Track 156+ sounds included, 24 mins total $10.99

    Sounds for you to use for sci fi lasers, thin sheets of ice and electricity popping sounds recorded with a contact microphone and a slinky.

    Inspired by thin ice sound recordings and huge pictures of power lines, I recorded a slinky with a contact microphone in order to get some sounds for some thin ice. I ended up with a lot of sci fi lasers and “star trek torpedos.” With some cool bouncing popping electricity stuff, take a listen and pick up a copy to throw in your library when creating sci fi stuff and/or some electricity being sent through power lines!!

    Here is a little demo. I think some cool sounds were captured. with the 96k recording you can pitch it quite harshly and get some fine stuff…..the last 2 laser “blasts” have been pitched for you to hear. the first one at 20% of the original speed and the last at 15%. Feel free to send me an email if you want to hear more.

    Don't be fooled at the size of 350mb and 24 minutes….there is all the sounds you could want from a slinky in here. :D

    Add to cart
  • User Interface (UI) Advanced UI Play Track 928 sounds included, 21 mins total $59 $49

    Looking for UI sound effects? The Advanced UI collection gets you a wide range of interface sound effects – from natural, organic and minimal pops, beeps and chirps to 8-Bit, hybrid and highly processed, electronic and digital SFX that will complete almost any project where UI/UX sounds are required. + Includes embedded Soundminer meta data.

    Designed for use in animations, video games, mobile apps, motion graphics, film, software development and industrial design projects, Advanced UI is a perfect fit for getting user interface sounds just right.

    17 %
    OFF
    Add to cart
  • A collection of authentic Italian motorcycles and scooters – includes recordings of models like the Guzzi, Ciao Piaggio, Vespa and Ducati. Recordings include pass-bys, onboard, starting, idle, stopping, horn honking – and even skidding (see the full track list below).

    Just updated!

    This library has just been updated with 72 new recordings (47+ minutes) of motorcycles & scooters such as the APRILIA 150cc, LAMBRETTA 125cc, MALAGUTI 50cc, MOTOMORINI Scrambler 1200cc, MV AGUSTA F3 600, PIAGGIO X9 500cc and a VESPA 125 ET3 PRIMAVERA

    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Foley MOVES Play Track 772+ sounds included $115 $89

    MOVES is a collection of character foley clothing and gear movements that cover a large range of characters such as Special Forces, Medieval Soldier, World War Soldier, Policeman, and High-tech Soldier among many others.

    MOVES will make a great addition to your sonic arsenal and help you achieve that personal character sound that you have in your head. MOVES does not replace a Veteran Foley artist, but will come in handy if you have a restricted budget or if you need a good sound to enhance the movements of your characters.

    You get several walks, runs and stop movements for every type of character.

    Two versions included:

    To speed up your workflow, the library comes with two versions of the same content, tailored for people working either in the Video Game or the Cinema industry:

    Video Game Workflow: For every variation, you will have a single wav file, making it ideal for people who like to have every sound already cut and ready to be used in their DAW or middleware. It consists of 772 sounds.
    Cinema Workflow You will find several variations of the sounds in single wav files here. It consists of 151 wav files sounds.

    And as mentioned, both versions are included, so you can pick whatever works best for your way of working.


    Features props and characters such as:

    Bullet-proof vest, medieval chain mail, dress, leather jacket, old robot, policeman, World War II soldier, Special Forces, Thin Android, Winter Jacket, medieval foot soldier, plastic character, rattle character, shield, sword, weapons, helmets, high tech soldier, winter jacket

    As always, all sounds are embedded with useful Soundminer metadata. I really hope you will find this collection inspiring and useful in your future projects.

    Have a great day designing your new characters with MOVES!

    Best wishes,
    Michel Marchant.

    23 %
    OFF
    Ends 1545174000
  • Motorcycles Helmet Wind Noise Play Track 21 sounds included, 97 mins total $35 $25

    This library gets you 97 minutes of binarual recordings of wind noise, captured inside the helmet as a motorcycle rides along the highway. The speed ranges from a slower pace all the way up to 100 – 130 km/h, and features both acceleration, variable and constant speeds, as well as occasional sounds of passing traffic as captured from inside the helmet. The helmet is a flip-up type of helmet, and the motorcycle is a Honda NC 700D.

    Recorder: Tascam dr100 mk/III, Microphone: DPA 4060 miniature omni

    29 %
    OFF
  • City Life Laos Play Track 153+ sounds included, 353 mins total $75 $60

    Jungles, walla, rivers, crickets, waterfalls, streets and rural villages all unique to Laos.

    All sounds were recorded using the Sound Devices Mix Pre 6 and a stereo pair of Sennheiser MKH 8020s.

    To read about my field recording trip to Laos and to download the free sample pack simply click here.

    20 %
    OFF
  • Human Ethereal Breaths Vol.1 Play Track 132 sounds included $14 $10

    Collection of Abstract and Ethereal Breaths. Recorded Binaurally with optimum results when played back through headphones.

    8 tracks containing 132 SFX in Total, varying levels of reverb reverse whooshes and abstract breathing patterns.

    All files in WAV format with embedded Metadata fully Soundminer compliant.

    29 %
    OFF
    Ends 1545174000
  • DANZA MACABRA is a collection of sound effects made out of real instruments recorded with Barcus Berry contact microphone.

    Unusual tones and timbres came out while bowing and scratching violin and cello or “playing” an upright piano with “string piano technique” using different metal objects.

    Danza Macabra comprises 45 loops at 140 bpm of designed clocks, tick loops, wooden old pendolo and time design elements. Designed glockenspiel and ride cymbals, morphed cinematic elements you will not find elsewhere.

    The sounds contained in Danza Macabra are great when treated with different amount of pitch-shifting to get never heard before sonic results.

    An exclusive collection to satisfy your sound design addiction.

    Features elements and sounds such as:

    • Accent
    • Cinematic elements
    • Clock loops
    • Cymbals
    • Designed glockenspiel
    • Getez – raw
    • Hybrid hits
    • Pianoverse
    • Screech reverse pass by
    • Textures
    • Tuning noises
 
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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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