TalkBack: Game Sound

Feb 21, 2008 7:47 PM


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Worked in post/sound design and scoring for films in Australia from around 2000 to 2007. Made the switch last year to games, working as sound designer for American Startup here in Perth, Western Australia, Interzone Games, on its Massively Multiplayer Online Soccer title, Interzone Futebol.

Mentally, I made the switch in early 2006, and even attended the GDC in Austin in '06 (a long way from Perth) to try and rustle up work, but obviously had to come back to Australia. Not long after getting back, I heard the rumors about Interzone starting here, and eventually got a contract with them doing post for a promo video. Not long after that (after quite a bit of nipping at their heels), they hired me as their sound designer. Basically, I made the switch because sound design for linear formats was becoming restrictive for me, but also primarily for financial reasons. The film industry where I am is quite a closed workshop, and being a freelancer I wasn’t really earning enough to cover costs, and advertising/corporate work, while rewarding financially, was really not what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.

Been at IZ for almost a year now, and despite all its foibles I love the people in the games industry, and I love designing sound/sound systems for games. With film post, it was pretty much the same process each time; with game sound design, even though the engineering process is more or less the same, you more often than not have to invent an entirely new process for implementation. For example, in a linear format, it’s quite easy to design for a sound of a crowd of 100,000 mad soccer fans. In a 3-D/interactive format, not only do you have to account for the listener’s perspective, but you have to be able to create a system that can change the sound dynamically in real time based on in-game conditions. It’s not enough just to loop it. Providing the audio assets for that system is (amazingly) only half the job!
—Alex Ringis
Sound designer, Interzone Games

I started out playing keyboards in various local bands (some of which opened for national acts). Then I did a few online Flash projects. My first official game title was Taxi 3: eXtreme Rush developed by Team 6 games. I've since created the music and/or sound effects for titles such as ,I>Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck (Warner Bros Interactive/Wayforward), Space Chimps (Vanguard Animation/Wayforward/Brash Entertainment), Hello Kitty: Hello San Rio City (SanRio/Wayforward), Dodgeball (Skyworks Technologies), March of the Penquins (Skyworks Technologies), DogFights (The History Channel/Kuma Reality Games) and KillPoint (Spike Tv/Kuma Reality Games).
—Adam DiTroia

My background is from the music industry as a sound engineer/producer and to some extent still is. In the past, I worked at Britannia Row studios with artists such as Pulp, Suede, Chemical Brothers, Catherine Wheel, Pink Floyd, among many others, and then at Great Linford Manor Studios and freelance with Jamiroquai, Skunk Anansie, Supergrass, Shed Seven, etc.

I am a consultant A&R/music supervisor here at Platinum Sound Publishing, which provides music for the multimedia industries and have provided music for games such as MOTOGP 03/06/07 (Xbox/Xbox 360), Juiced Eliminator (PSP), PGR4, Trackmania Sunrise and Crazy Frog, and are currently working on a couple of new IPs for the DS, PS2 and an MMOG for the PC. We have also provided music for a variety of sport DVDs, ads, trailers and films. We specialize in providing new indie/dance and rock, but as we now represent the catalog of three large indie music publishers, one of which is in the U.S.

I have also contributed to many of these as a producer/engineer (where needed) through my own company, Dilute Recordings, as well as some sound design and audio research for the gaming industry.

Attention game sound developers: We're guessing you didn't always work in videogames; we know a lot of you have roots in music and post. Tell us why you made the switch to the game world, and the name of the first title you worked on...

I have worked on independent film, commercials and sound for games and interactive media for over a decade starting with my first job with Brenda Laurel's brainchild, Purple Moon. We were fortunate to be funded by Paul Allen in the glory days of the startup frenzy, but as Internet investments became drained, dreams were folded. Since that time, I have worked for Konami, Electronic Arts, Disney, Leap Frog, Fisher-Price and on many Internet sites and interactive projects. Currently, I am at Google working as a sound drector and teaching Sound for the Moving Image at CCA in Oakland.

What draws me to seek out game audio work is the creativity involved in interactive design. Since the audio isn't typically based on realistic production locations, the goal of the audio is to complement imagined, often fantastical worlds with a wide variety of constructed soundscapes. The dialog snippets and hard effects are a blast to bang out; they are conceived of in relationship to the environments and overall game strategy, offering an exciting opportunity to develop an integrated sonic palette. To top off this palette, there is the UI design that seals the deal, which is an art form unto itself that simultaneously calls for an understanding of information architecture and the symbolic role of sound.

Conceptually, game audio is appealing due to the layered, dimensional way in which games are produced. The elements of sound design are broken off into various bits, stored as data to be dynamically resurrected through interactive exploration at random. To see these elements come together after hours of design, implementation and programming reveals a unique level of creativity that doesn't compare to designing in other genres.
—Kadet Kuhne

I started playing professionally in 1970 and had a succession of "close-but-no-cigar" original and touring bands and my share of working cover bands. Things seemed to peak for me in the mid-'80s and I could sense work opportunities and my audience were starting to dwindle as time went on. Then in 1991, in the San Diego area, a friend hooked me up with a tiny start-up game-development company called Knight Technologies. Along with some coding help from a programmer, I fashioned the music and SFX for the Atari Lynx version of Qix. This was my first of a dozen titles I helped to create and ship for Nintendo, Sega, Sony and PC during the 9'0s.

I got out of that industry in 1995 and got back to it in 2001. I was sure that scraping up gigs for a living was in the past, however after my whole team at Acclaim got "downsized" in 2002 I have been unable to get back into the game industry. Perhaps it has something to do with my age or that my last shipped game was for the Sega Genesis CD back in '95, I don't really know. I liked doing that work and I miss it. Gigging for a living at this point in my life, especially in Austin where there are fine musicians on every corner, isn't what it used to be.
—Jeffrye Glenn Tveraas
Cheshire Moon Studios

My name is Panagiotis Kouvelis and I'm a sound designer and music composer for games. I started game development by myself on my first PC, a 8086 old PC with DOSC, making my first little games in Basic, Quick Basic, Turbo Pascal and Turbo Assembly. In fact, I started by making my first game design document at the age of 12 by writing down features of the game and designing levels and big bosses.

I was into music by playing guitar from a much younger age and my first expensive gift was a little Yamaha PSR or something like that; then I got to study classical guitar in a music school, but my studies where interrupted by the military, which not going is not an option in my country.

Then I started with music bands—rock, metal, thrash, stuff like that—and I decided I wanted to learn more on music production, so I went to a school of audio engineering. Almost since the beginning of the audio engineering school, I was into indie-label music productions of my favorite genres and started working on the sound design of a game with the title Racing Devils by CodeDark, which got a publishing deal by a small indie Dutch company.

From then I got to make two more games in that team and I'm currently working in various indie projects and a few major releases, one of those is DarkFall Online,
Panagiotis Kouvelis

I grew up engineering in the collaborative recording environments of the '80s and '90s: studio multiplexes that fostered groups of creative people working on multiple projects simultaneously, water cooler talks and a healthy, competitive industry. With the advent of desktop recording, the process of making music became more isolated for the creators. With less collaboration came less innovation.

I became interested in the videogame industry because I saw the collaborative environment that motivated me to get into music recording in the first place. Huge teams of energetic people pushing innovation and technology to their limits. It's those elements that I believe are the making of great change and artistic creation.

Marc Senasac
senior music engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment America - Music Group

My name is Mike Johnson, and I am the manager of audio post-production at Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) in San Diego, Calif. I used to work at Danetracks as a sound designer and worked on The Animatrix, Matrix Reloaded, Matrix Revolutions, Gothika and Spartan while there.

I then went to work at Disney for the Wes Craven film Cursed and then over to Warner Bros. for The Perfect Man (while not a heavy sound design movie, one has to pay the bills...).

While at Danetracks, when we were slow some of us film guys worked on Prince of Persia II (The Sands of Time) and DOOM3 videogames. Once things slowed down at Danetracks, I moved over to Technicolor Sound Services and worked on Jak3 and God of War 1 for SCEA. It was during that project that my talents were noticed and SCEA made me an offer to come work for them full time, heading up there audio post-production department down in San Diego.

I guess then my first truly "full-time" SCEA videogame project would be God of War 1 (we wrapped it up after I joined SCEA), and then I moved to SOCOM III US Navy Seals.
Mike Johnson

I always wanted to work in games, but I made a pit stop in post on the way. I worked for GTN in Detroit for a while, then Filmworkers Club in Dallas. I finally made the jump on Tony Hawk's Project 8, and have since worked on PGR4, The Club, Boom Boom Rocket, Aliens, Borderlands and Brothers In Arms: Hell's Highway.
Mark Kilborn, sound designer
While I am taking a break from life for the present time due to failing body parts, I've spent nearly every minute from the time I was 14 until a year ago doing music. I started playing and doing sound in the clubs of New York City when I was 16, including the famous Max's Kansas City, Trax, Gildersleeves and Copperfields. I moved on to doing tour productions and did sound for Air Supply, Princess Pang, Trixter and Joe Lynn Turner, to name a few. In the late '80s, I started concentrating on studio work, which brought me into game audio at the very beginning of the whole thing.

When I started doing sound design and music for games, we were still figuring out what file types were smallest, how to get audio to play on a CD on underpowered Macs and PC', and all of our file compression applications were hand-written in house by former Apple employees because there wasn't anything out yet! It was exciting, interesting and frustrating at the same time.

My first major title was a multi-award-winner called Awesome Animated Monster Maker. I went on to do numerous kid games, including CD remakes of board classics Operation, Chutes and Ladders, and a couple of Tonka Trucks titles, as well as Arthur, Barney and other stuff.

The game world has grown way beyond what any of us ever imagined. We were lucky we were given mono at that time, Stereo was out of the question, and at 8-bit audio the fizzies on every sample became the biggest challenge, using radical EQs (Thank You Waves!!) and audio compression to squeeze every ounce of quality from the hours of hard work that was simply ruined when it was put into those early game engines! Talk about pure frustration. All the audio guys back then were screaming for better audio programming, but video was the only real worry many producers had. Samples were put on the wrong video completely or thrown out to save space for video playback.

Now, game audio people are pulling in big bucks, getting royalties and staging huge concert events. I am blown away by titles like Call of Duty 4, which is amazing as far as audio and music are concerned. I only wish it had been as creatively satisfying for us back then, but the challenge was incredible—as it is now, too, to create incredible sounds. Where it goes from here will be interesting.
Gene Porfido

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