Future Of Game Audio Asbjoern Andersen


What’s ahead for game audio? That’s the question we’re looking to answer with this brand-new interview series, with some of the leaders, heroes and influencers in the game audio world. And to kick things off, we’re excited to share this interview with Matthew Smith.

Matthew Smith spent more than 11 years at Rockstar North, as audio director overseeing the sound for legendary franchises such as Grand Theft Auto, Red Dead Redemption and more. Now, he’s branched out into the non-audio side of games, while still continuing to work with audio plug-in development at Krotos, Ltd.

In this exclusive interview, Matthew shares his insights on what’s next for game audio:


Interview by Jennifer Walden



 

What’s one advancement you’ve seen in game sound in the past year that you’re excited about?

Matthew Smith (MS): Modelling the effects of an environment on a game’s audio, and how it reaches the player’s ears, has long been a passion of mine, and while there has been much work done on this over the years, it’s always remained a little niche. HRTFs, binaural, Ambisonics — they all seem to pop up every few years and then never properly take hold. The rise of VR seems to be finally changing that. I hope in a few years we’ll take far more immersive (which is not to say realistic) audio for granted.
 

What’s the biggest challenge for game audio at the moment – and how do you see that resolved in the future? Tech wise, what would you want to see for game sound?

MS: I think a bunch of the traditional audio tech concerns are borderline solved at this point. I might be expelled from the secret society of sound designers for saying this, but in-game I can’t tell the difference between a 48 kHz/256kbps mp3 file and the uncompressed 96 kHz file it was created from. Likewise, increasing simultaneous channel-count is a game of diminishing returns.

Instead, I think the fun and the challenge is increasingly in the tools — enabling the creation of huge quantities of crazy-detailed interactive SFX, and giving sound designers control of the huge resources available to them.

I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with Krotos over the last year, makers of Dehumaniser. And what drew me to work with them wasn’t the tech behind the scenes, it was how instantly intuitive and natural their tools are for sound designers. Using it, you think, “Awesome Monster!” not “Awesome DSP!”
 

Creatively, what would you like to see in the future for game sound?

MS: Audio still gets dragged along by the rest of game development all too often, having to react to changes rather than being thought about as a core part of a designer’s toolset. Music and dialogue far less so, but certainly the overall sound design. And when you play a game like Inside, where that quite clearly wasn’t the case, it’s obvious how much sound design can offer beyond just the nuts-and-bolts of matching the visuals.

For years I thought it was a 99% cultural problem, but perhaps there is a tech route through it too

But enough whining, what’s the solution? No one single thing, for sure. For years I thought it was a 99% cultural problem, but perhaps there is a tech route through it too. If audio tools were good enough that mere mortals could create passable placeholder audio trivially easily, maybe people would experiment more in the early stages of design?
 

In terms of your own work, any exciting stuff on the horizon you can talk about?

MS: The team at Krotos have some amazing products in the pipeline. One thing we’ll be showing at GDC is Dehumaniser running real-time in-game. You get so used to most voice-changing tools sounding cliché and comedic; it’s a breath of fresh air to hear something sound totally natural and yet super-flexible. In a VR environment especially, where your sense of presence is that much greater, sounding like you really are someone/something else is incredibly powerful.
 

What opportunities do you hope VR will offer game sound pros?

MS: It’s a huge opportunity, in lots of different ways. What surprised me most about VR was the level of intimacy it brings to seemingly mundane things. I was instantly absorbed just blowing up balloons in the Vive setup tutorial, in a way a non-VR experience couldn’t possibly replicate. That level of detailed interaction lends itself so well to creating realistic, interactive sound design that will make or break the reality of a VR experience.

VR opens up a whole order of magnitude of useful detail you can go into and the interactivity is even more important, because you feel able to gently poke everything in the world, not just blow it up.

In my Rockstar days, we were blessed with the resources and talents to create super-detailed and expansive soundscapes, and I felt like the raw detail of the SFX we’d create had almost hit a wall. At times there was no need to make things any more detailed, as it would be lost. The challenges started to become interactive mixing, and higher-level problems. But VR opens up a whole order of magnitude of useful detail you can go into and the interactivity is even more important, because you feel able to gently poke everything in the world, not just blow it up.
 


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We’d also go to great lengths on Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption to try and capture the acoustic effects of an environment — helping to make a subway feel oppressive, or a sweeping vista seem grand, but in non-VR games it’s all about the space and relatively little about the player.

In VR, that whole world of super-subtle spatial audio clues is available to sound designers

The subtle differences in audio that everyone’s brain subconsciously reads with a simple tilt of the head, or moving close to a wall, are impossible to capture with the blunt movement of a third-person character, or even in first-person. In VR, that whole world of super-subtle spatial audio clues is available to sound designers.

On the same theme, the scope for conflict between visual and motion senses to cause nausea are pretty well understood at this point. I wonder how much we have left to learn about the role audio has to play in creating a complete feeling of presence.
 

 

What advice would you give to game audio pros, both those already in the industry and those looking to join it?

MS: I spent a good chunk of last year working on the non-audio elements of game development, making whole games from scratch with a tiny team, and it was a real eye-opener working hands-on in so many different disciplines.

It’s difficult of course to make the time to do that while you’re buried deep in the detail of a specialism, but these days it’s so easy to download a AAA-quality game engine for free and just dive in, following some YouTube tutorials. The perspective and empathy it gives you is incredibly valuable. So I’d encourage anyone in or wanting in on the game audio community to carve out a wee chunk of their time to find out what it really means to be an animator or a physics programmer, and hopefully become a better audio professional as a result.

That idea of a T-shaped person is nothing new, but in an industry that changes so quickly, it feels more relevant than ever.
 

A big thanks to Matthew Smith for his insights on the future of game audio – and to Jennifer Walden for the interview! As mentioned, we’re just kicking off this new series, so stay tuned for more thoughts and insights on the future of game audio.
 

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Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Environments Baltic Forest Play Track 53 sounds included, 233 mins total $39 $23.40

    Baltic Forest is a collection of ambient recordings captured over one year in a private forest in Northern Lithuania. 53 carefully recorded exterior ambiences made during summer, autumn, winter and spring. From the bright sound of native birds in spring and summer, to the freezing cold (-20 Celsius) snow storms and tree movements of autumn and winter – sometimes recording in knee-deep snow.

    All sounds were recorded and edited at 24-bit / 96kHz, with embedded meta data.

    40 %
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    Ends 1556575200
  • Destruction & Impact The Vault Play Track 12743 sounds included, 1249 mins total $599.99

    The whole 9 yards.

    Comprised of five heavy hitting libraries, this bundle includes GEARBOXSORCERYHEROBROKEN, and MELEE. Save by bundling all FIVE in a single library.

    GEARBOX:

    Boutique analog mechanical contraptions, steampunk gadgetry, gizmos and machines big and small.


    SORCERY

    Spells, deflects, casts, blocks, beams, and more. Unrivaled wizardry at your fingertips.


    BROKEN:

    Car crashes, explosions, crumbling buildings, earthquakes, ripping earth and metal, to debris, and more.


    HERO:

    HERO – Sword fights, stabbing, guillotines, impaling, battle cries, shields, drawbridges, armor, foley and more.


    MELEE:

    Punches, kicks, blocks, bodyfalls, grabs, slaps, bone breaks, blood splatters, and more.


  • Mechanical Gearbox Play Track 3551 sounds included, 279 mins total $149.99

    We've ventured to obscure boutiques, prop houses and vintage shops to capture mechanical contraptions from around the world. Ranging from bizarre creations, to steampunk gadgetry, gizmos and machines, GEARBOX clocks in at over 10 GB of high definition, precision mastered sounds spanning across 2987 construction kit sounds and 584 designed sounds.

    GEARBOX equips Sound Designers with a literal toolbox of mechanical gadgetry. Ranging from tiny to huge, GEARBOX's machines and gizmos provide coverage for interacts, mechanism, machine or device in your scene or game.

    INTRODUCING BUILDING BLOCKS

    In addition to CONSTRUCTION KIT and DESIGNED SOUND content, GEARBOX features BUILDING BLOCKS. This category of sound consists of designed phrases and oneshots utilized for our designed machinery, empowering Sound Designers with maximum flexibility when trying to get that particular phrase from an existing DESIGNED SOUND. GEARBOX features over 468 BUILDING BLOCKS ranging from levers, hits, grinds, snaps, and more.

    Video Thumbnail
  • Military M16 Halftrack Play Track 313 sounds included $299

    The World War II American M16 Halftrack anti-aircraft sound library features 313 sound effects in 18.86 gigabytes of audio. Based on the M3 Halftrack, this “multiple gun motor carriage” showcases 20 takes of up to 42 channels of performances from a White 160AX, 6-cylinder, 128 horsepower engine.

    Twelve onboard perspectives present the vintage vehicle in slow, medium, and fast speeds with steady idles and ramps. The twelve exterior perspectives include 26 channels of the halftrack starting, departing, passing, reversing, and arriving. Includes over 18 fields of Soundminer, BWAV, and MacOS spotlight metadata.

  • This SFX library features 217 sounds processed by a mint condition Chorus Echo RE-501, including metal impacts, church bells, chainsaws, voices, and water. In addition, self-oscillation sounds from the RE-501 are included. The combination of the 192khz high resolution sample rate and the tape saturation/warmth from the Chorus Echo make these samples sound great when pitch shifted and/or time stretched, even at extreme settings.

 
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