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:  
  • Spatial Roomtones & Interiors is an immersive collection of audio backgrounds for cinema, VR, videogames and any audiovisual or creative purposes.

    The audios provided in this library are high quality recordings with Zoom H2n recorder in propietary Spatial Audio mode, horizontal-only ambisonic alike mic layout stored in an AmbiX format. W, X, Y channels of AmbiX provide immersive audio through the horizontal plane and they allow to decode the recording into Mono, Stereo, Binaural, Quad, 5.0, 5.1, 7.1 and more layouts with dedicated Ambisonic processors. Z channel is empty.

    The library comes with 5.0 and Stereo version of the AmbiX original recordings.

    Add to cart
  • The following is a 2016 Bell 407 GX Helicopter single license
    sound effects library with Metadata (1.8gb compressed .zip file, 2.5gb Uncompressed).

    All 17 wave files at about 85 minutes long are in 24 Bit, 96 kHz. The Onboard recordings are in 4 separate mono wave files. Drag & drop or import each of the files into your audio editing software, then align them for creative mixing. There are also ready to use stereo mix versions of the Onboard recordings. External recordings are in mono, stereo, and Ambisonic Format B wave files.

    Onboard Settings:

    Channel 1 Front Left
    Channel 2 Front Right
    Channel 3 Rear Left
    Channel 4 Rear Right

    Notes: If you need specific shots of this helicopter, Watson is available for hire to re-record this or similar sounding aircrafts.

    Special thanks to James, his crew, and to Chad Dion (photographer)!

    Definitions
    External = Sounds recorded from outside of the aircraft (flybys, etc)
    OnBoard = Recording perspectives on and in the aircraft

    Add to cart
  • Recording of a 1972 Porsche 911 ST vintage sports car with a 2.5 liter 6 cylinder boxer dual ignition engine and race car tuning 280 hp.


    The German 1972 Porsche 911 ST sound fx collection includes 468 sound files in 45.46 gigabytes of audio. It features the sound of a vintage sports car with a 2.5 liter 6 cylinder boxer dual ignition engine and race car tuning 280 hp.

    The bundle gathers 20 synchronized takes from both onboard and exterior perspective. The 18 onboard takes feature microphones positioned in the interior (including an Ambisonic perspective), engine, and at the exhaust while driving with gearshifts, ramps, and steady RPMs. The 7 exterior perspectives showcase departing, arriving, passing by, and reversing at slow, medium, and fast speeds. Also included are idles, performed effects of doors, gearshifts, pedals, and more, and impulse responses of the cabin interior.

    The package downloads with Pro Tools and Reaper mixing sessions, custom mixes of the onboard microphones, professional embedded metadata, and translation import files in 7 languages.

    Add to cart
  • Recording of a 1978 Japanese Yamaha ET 340 snowmobile with a 338cc, 2 stroke, 2 cylinder engine.


    The 1978 Japanese Yamaha ET 340 snowmobile sound collection gathers 174 clips in 8.47 gigabytes of field recordings. It showcases the sound of a 338cc, 2 stroke, 2 cylinder engine in 23 channels of audio.

    The sound pack includes 9 synchronized takes of onboard and exterior driving. The 11 onboard perspectives features recordings from the engine, exhaust, and front shield while the skimobile drives with steady RPMs and ramps. The 5 exterior perspectives arrange microphones at three positions to capture driving at slow and fast speeds on straightaways and around corners. The package also includes custom mixes of the onboard perspectives as wells as performed effects of switches, the throttle, and more.

    Each sound is embedded with with seven languages of Soundminer, iXML, BWAV and Mac OS Finder metadata.

    Add to cart
  • “The Shoe Collection: Soft Hardwood – Men’s Boat Shoe“ by Periscope Post & Audio, provides 22 high quality footsteps on soft hardwood floors with the boat shoe.  The audio files are recorded at 24bit, 192k with mono and stereo recordings.  The Sennheiser MKH-60 was used for the mono files with a slightly more distant mic placement than the stereo files, which were recorded with the Sennheiser MKH8050 and the Sennheiser MKH-30 near the shoe.  From different walking speeds, to jogging, sprinting, jumping, hard stops, scuffs, and more!  There are several performances with each file to fit the right action you need.  That’s a whopping 454 footsteps between the mono and stereo files!

    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 collection of raw recordings of various devices and a special bonus section created in collaboration with industry designers.


    This collection includes 256 raw stereo 24bit/96khz recordings of a multitude of devices including home appliances such as microwaves, washing machines, hair straighteners, face scrubber, vacuums, hand dryer and paper shredder. Recorded using a LOM Electrosluch City, Priezor and MixPre10T

    This collection holds everything to create great sci-fi content like forcefields, atmospheres, UI as well as weapons, telemetry and communications. There are 1000 plus sounds contained in this library and you will find glitches, beeps, hums, buzzes, whooshes, movements, statics, clicks, pops, servos, mechanical elements and lots of tonal elements. I’ve had some luck creating Kontakt Instruments/Synths using selections of the assets conatained in this library.

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  • Horror Giant Pinecones Play Track 500+ sounds included, 44 mins total $79

    • In Giant Pinecones, get a visceral collection of scraped and eviscerated pinecones from the gray pine trees of Northern California. Scrape the razor-sharp hooks of the cone petals and hear guttural scrapes crackling with energy. Hear rolling cones popping and fluttering with rich stuttering tones. Hear fully open cone pedals squeaking with woody vocalizations like supernatural animals and hardy crunches filled with organic grit.
    • This library offers you an extensive collection of sounds from a unique organic sound source. Digger pinecone sounds are incredibly soft and intimate in real life, but when recorded from two inches they morph into a unique wooden sound source brimming with powerful glitchy and stuttering textures.

    2% FOR THE ENVIRONMENT & CARBON NEUTRAL:
    • Two percent of the price of this library is donated to an environmental cause, as an “artist royalty” for the planet!
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    KEY FEATURES:
    • Woody vocalizations
    • Rolling, scraping, and stuttering textures
    • Visceral and guttural scrapes
    • Fluttering and popping textures
    • Rich crunches
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    FILE LIST & METADATA:
    • View larger version or Download CSV
    • A spectrogram is included for each audio file. Double click on the photo to enlarge.
    MORE INFO:
    • Read 40+ testimonials for Thomas Rex Beverly Audio
    • Read my Field Recording Mastering Rules and learn more about how these recordings were mastered.
    • Browse the Library Info Master List to compare specs on all my libraries.
    • Browse the Metadata Master List to search my entire catalog.
    • MD5 and SHA 256 Checksums are included for each zip file in my catalog. Use these hashes to check the integrity of your downloaded files.
    GEAR USED:
    • Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH30 in MS
    • Sound Devices MixPre-6
    Add to cart
  • Sci-Fi Advanced Propulsion Play Track 1191 sounds included $99

    ADVANCED PROPULSION is a next-gen sound design toolkit built for creating dynamic sci-fi vehicle engines and passbys. The designed engine sounds are all seamless loops, making them perfect for use with various plug-ins and interactive applications. All raw source material used to design the engines is included, giving you maximum creative flexibility.

    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Spatial Roomtones & Interiors is an immersive collection of audio backgrounds for cinema, VR, videogames and any audiovisual or creative purposes.

    The audios provided in this library are high quality recordings with Zoom H2n recorder in propietary Spatial Audio mode, horizontal-only ambisonic alike mic layout stored in an AmbiX format. W, X, Y channels of AmbiX provide immersive audio through the horizontal plane and they allow to decode the recording into Mono, Stereo, Binaural, Quad, 5.0, 5.1, 7.1 and more layouts with dedicated Ambisonic processors. Z channel is empty.

    The library comes with 5.0 and Stereo version of the AmbiX original recordings.

  • The following is a 2016 Bell 407 GX Helicopter single license
    sound effects library with Metadata (1.8gb compressed .zip file, 2.5gb Uncompressed).

    All 17 wave files at about 85 minutes long are in 24 Bit, 96 kHz. The Onboard recordings are in 4 separate mono wave files. Drag & drop or import each of the files into your audio editing software, then align them for creative mixing. There are also ready to use stereo mix versions of the Onboard recordings. External recordings are in mono, stereo, and Ambisonic Format B wave files.

    Onboard Settings:

    Channel 1 Front Left
    Channel 2 Front Right
    Channel 3 Rear Left
    Channel 4 Rear Right

    Notes: If you need specific shots of this helicopter, Watson is available for hire to re-record this or similar sounding aircrafts.

    Special thanks to James, his crew, and to Chad Dion (photographer)!

    Definitions
    External = Sounds recorded from outside of the aircraft (flybys, etc)
    OnBoard = Recording perspectives on and in the aircraft

  • Recording of a 1972 Porsche 911 ST vintage sports car with a 2.5 liter 6 cylinder boxer dual ignition engine and race car tuning 280 hp.


    The German 1972 Porsche 911 ST sound fx collection includes 468 sound files in 45.46 gigabytes of audio. It features the sound of a vintage sports car with a 2.5 liter 6 cylinder boxer dual ignition engine and race car tuning 280 hp.

    The bundle gathers 20 synchronized takes from both onboard and exterior perspective. The 18 onboard takes feature microphones positioned in the interior (including an Ambisonic perspective), engine, and at the exhaust while driving with gearshifts, ramps, and steady RPMs. The 7 exterior perspectives showcase departing, arriving, passing by, and reversing at slow, medium, and fast speeds. Also included are idles, performed effects of doors, gearshifts, pedals, and more, and impulse responses of the cabin interior.

    The package downloads with Pro Tools and Reaper mixing sessions, custom mixes of the onboard microphones, professional embedded metadata, and translation import files in 7 languages.

  • Recording of a 1978 Japanese Yamaha ET 340 snowmobile with a 338cc, 2 stroke, 2 cylinder engine.


    The 1978 Japanese Yamaha ET 340 snowmobile sound collection gathers 174 clips in 8.47 gigabytes of field recordings. It showcases the sound of a 338cc, 2 stroke, 2 cylinder engine in 23 channels of audio.

    The sound pack includes 9 synchronized takes of onboard and exterior driving. The 11 onboard perspectives features recordings from the engine, exhaust, and front shield while the skimobile drives with steady RPMs and ramps. The 5 exterior perspectives arrange microphones at three positions to capture driving at slow and fast speeds on straightaways and around corners. The package also includes custom mixes of the onboard perspectives as wells as performed effects of switches, the throttle, and more.

    Each sound is embedded with with seven languages of Soundminer, iXML, BWAV and Mac OS Finder metadata.

  • “The Shoe Collection: Soft Hardwood – Men’s Boat Shoe“ by Periscope Post & Audio, provides 22 high quality footsteps on soft hardwood floors with the boat shoe.  The audio files are recorded at 24bit, 192k with mono and stereo recordings.  The Sennheiser MKH-60 was used for the mono files with a slightly more distant mic placement than the stereo files, which were recorded with the Sennheiser MKH8050 and the Sennheiser MKH-30 near the shoe.  From different walking speeds, to jogging, sprinting, jumping, hard stops, scuffs, and more!  There are several performances with each file to fit the right action you need.  That’s a whopping 454 footsteps between the mono and stereo files!

 
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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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