Communicating the Vision: Pre-production
Early Bird Catches the Worm
By their very nature, creative people are passionate about what they do. You shouldn't have difficulty finding the enthusiasm amongst your sound team. Yet this inherent motivation is not something to be left without guidance. You will be doing your budget as well as your team's morale, a disservice by letting your sound team simply "have at it". When it comes time to add sound, the sound designers have both an advantage and a disadvantage compared to the other production team members.
The advantage is, that by the time the game is ready for audio creation, the game has taken real shape and personality. This helps to guide the direction of the sound effects design. The disadvantage is, that since the sound design is one of the last stages to be developed, previously fallen deadlines become the responsibility of the sound design team to make up. By bringing your sound designers up to speed early, you can avoid costly third and fourth revisions.
The Documents, Please!
Giving the sound team the most recent build to play, only gives them a partial picture of the artistic direction of the game. The sound team, like the art department, must understand the metamorphosis of the game's characters and landscapes.
To do this, compile a book or digital archive that chronologically depicts the artwork, from the earliest sketches to the final in-game representations. Arrange an in-depth meeting between the sound designers, composer and the Art Director to discuss the game's development from an artistic standpoint. This will help your audio team create the proper palette of sounds in much the same way an artist creates a palette of colors.
For story-driven games, distributing copies of the script will be necessary to illustrate the motivation and goal of the game. While this is critical for composers, the sound designers will benefit by the added sense of immersion into the game.
Perhaps the best form of communicating the vision will come from the Game Designer. The game designer works tirelessly in his pursuit to create "the best game ever". He is never short of words when describing the intent of the game. Though his work is creative, his methods are mostly technical. No one understands the abilities of the characters in such detail as the game designer, as the great number of technical documents he produces will attest. These documents are invaluable to the audio team. By thoroughly examining level overviews and enemy specs, both sound designers and composers can create complimentary aural depictions. Bosses that are slow but powerful, or enemies that are stealthy will be revealed in great detail within these documents, providing the backdrop from which the sound designers can create.
The Demos - Getting on the Same Page
Once the above preproduction steps have been completed, it's time for the sound design team and composer to begin creating demos from game capture. Create three to four movies 60 to 90 seconds in length from different levels in the game. Be sure to include the ambient portion prior to the action in order to hear the game shift from low to high levels of activity. However, this may not be possible for some arcade style games.
Once the sound design and music are complete, a mix of all the audio content should be performed by the Sound Lead or Audio Director in either stereo, surround or both, and exported with the movies for review. It is important to have in place a team of reviewers that appropriately represent those who have creative input. These might include, but are not limited to, the Developing Producer, Publishing Producer, Executive Producer, Associate Producer, Game Designer, Art Director, Audio Director and a franchise representative if applicable. A robust review team will help generate an accurate and collective review. If changes in the demonstration audio are required and then subsequently agreed upon, your audio is ready for production.
Steve Kutay is the co-founder of Radius360, an award-winning audio post production company, specializing in sound for film and games, located in Los Angeles, California. For more information please visit www.radius360.com or contact Steve at email@example.com.
©2006 Steve Kutay, Radius360. This article may be posted in partial or entirety as long as credit is given to Steve Kutay, Radius360 and www.radius360.com