Far Beyond Bleeps and Loops
The new console era is upon us. It has been met by developers everywhere with great anticipation, promise, ...and yet, reluctance. Programmers have spent a large portion of the past decade squeezing every last bit of potential from our PS2s, Xbox's and Gamecubes. Now, after tricking these machines into performing beyond their expectations, the shackles of technology have been lifted yet again. But will the next generation consoles guarantee better audio?
No. We can certainly expect more audio due to an increase in available memory, and the ability to add additional content within BD-ROM and dual layer DVD-ROM formats. But what makes audio sound good doesn't necessarily have anything to do with performance and delivery specs. Surely, our ability to manipulate audio will improve, but it will mean nothing if the content doesn't deliver. This article focuses on sound creation, and will enable you to pave the way for effective and successful interactive game sound.
You have the ability to put the creative spark in motion and keep it moving regardless of which game format you are developing. Knowing and preparing your sound team as well as understanding the processes through which they work, will ultimately help you to keep the audio on track, both artistically and financially.
The Audio Team
A few years back, I was scoring a short animated film. One of the animators for this film held a day job at a well-known entertainment company that had just released a CG movie about dinosaurs. I asked him what he did on that project, to which he replied, "I did all the toenails." I couldn't help but think of the army of people responsible for the teeth, eyes, scales, and so on. Nonetheless, I saw the movie and it was visually stunning. Realistically, game budgets will not allow for such an extravagant audio team, but it does illustrate a good principle; that your audio personnel have well-defined roles with which to focus their efforts. Collectively, your audio will be that much better for it.
Game budgets once mandated that production costs stay low, so it wasn't unusual to find that one or two people produced all of a game's audio. Today, the stakes are much higher, and so are the budgets. Consumer expectations have grown, requiring a movie-like experience within the confines of their homes. The interactive market has become a battlefield for franchise superiority. Bland, over-used audio must not be the exposed link in the armor of any publisher or developer.
Whether you are using an in-house audio department or outsourcing the audio completely, it is important that individuals have well-defined roles that do not cross over into the other aspects of sound production. If the Audio Director is splitting time as the Sound Designer, and the Sound Designer is also the Composer, you can be sure that none of these shared jobs will get the proper attention they require. It is important to obtain a list of your entire audio team that breaks down the responsibilities of each member. Use your sound budget to fortify any areas in sound production that need particular emphasis. We will discuss more on budgets later, but for now let's start at the beginning.