Monday, May 13, 2013

Surveying Literature: Pro Tools 10 for Game Audio (Greg deBeer)

Yesterday, I finished Greg deBeer's book, Pro Tools 10 for Game Audio.  Clearly the book is in part an advertisement for Pro Tools 10 and how it can apply to Game Audio.  Most music tech people I know are using Pro Tools for serious studio recording, and I don't think of it as something to learn for game audio, but I might now!  Really cool to get step by step instructions for how to use Pro Tools this way.  Here's a superb interview with Greg deBeer's about his work with dialogue at Sony, although now his title is Senior Sound Designer.

Similar to The Game Audio Tutorial, following this book provides access to some sound files the reader can manipulate.  That said, one of the differences between the two is that The Game Audio Tutorial focuses more on how to integrate the audio into the game environment, where as Pro Tools 10 is more of a walkthrough about all the ways Pro Tools can apply to game audio, making samples, etc.  I appreciate that this book lays out definitions of common words to encounter in the industry.  For instance, I now understand the difference between Foley, Sound effects, and Backgrounds.  And also walla and futz.  Music specific terms to know are: score, cue, song, soundtrack, temp, diegetic/extra-diegetic, transition, motif, and hit point.

Interesting to think about localization from an audio standpoint.  I always wondered why there were so many groans and screams in cinematics in games.  That kind of stuff doesn't have to be re-recorded, but any intelligible dialogue or sound, of course, does.  If classical singers really were into their languages in the right way, they might make an interesting living helping with localization, since the languages: French, Italian, German, and Spanish (FIGS) are the same that classical singers commonly train in.

I also hadn't considered quite how different sound effects for movies are from games.  Whereas movie audio happens as a pre-determined sequence of events, game audio is dependent on player action, not a one time fixed order.  Games have to be able to account for this without sounding repetitive or boring.

While most of the book seems aimed at making audio effects, the chapter on music had some interesting points as well.  Using music in games from commercial music libraries is one thing I hadn't really considered.  Of course, I understood this at some level considering that in an earlier blog I discussed Nintendo's use of stock chanting in the Fire Temple level of Ocarina of Time.  Also, the difference between layering music and jump cuts in the music.  With many games today, there's probably a combination of these elements.

Some of the specifics about audio level for cinematic mixing are good for me to encounter and explore more.  But one of my favorite comments from the end of the book is one I tell my Mus Ed Tech classes: check your work on multiple speakers!  Anyone who's worked with audio knows that a mix might sound fine on your laptop or headphones, but sound completely different once you've plugged in to larger speakers.  Great advice.  Think not only about how the audio sounds with your set up, but with others-- and for the audiophiles who are often creating these games, this might mean using earbuds instead of a 5.1 surround sound setup.

Reading these "how-to" manuals the last few days has opened my eyes to some expertise from folks who are working and making a living in the game audio profession.  I'm constantly surprised by how much of the literature focuses on effects and not on music.  Recording techniques can carry over from dialogue, vehicles, gunfire, etc to music, but the focus in these books is not on music.  Of course, in the case of The Game Audio Tutorial and Pro Tools 10 for Game Audio, this could be because the authors are talking about FPS games where explosions are king.  I understand that the FPS genre is the best selling one, but platform gaming sounds/music deserve more than a passing mention in these books.  Furthermore, although I've enjoyed learning about all these different game audio areas, I'd like to see more specific information about music composition for games and techniques for that rather than the broader focus on game audio.

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