TalkBack: Game Sound

Feb 21, 2008 7:47 PM


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My first game title was Winter Olympic Challenge for PC and Sega Genesis in 1988 (followed soon after by Test Drive II). I was trying to break into film and TV scoring at the time, but having a tough time because of all the established players already in the field. It was clear that the game world had a lot of growth potential and the machines would be continuously improving. Plus, a background in both computers and music was a big plus. Now, I think games are definitely the place to be because we’re still writing the rules, still advancing the art of it as the capabilities of the machines improve each generation.
Alistair Hirst
OMNI Interactive Audio

1980: I took a job at the new videogame division of one of the major pinball companies, Gottlieb. I had been a full-time musician from '72 to '77, but with disco and DJs it was becoming too hard so I became a computer programmer at an insurance company. I really wanted to work on micros and get off mainframes, so when the headhunter called about a job at a game company I jumped at it.

When it came time to finish the first video game, management asked, "Who will do the sound?" My hand shot up.

Well, the rest is history. The first two products (Reactor, Guardian) were duds, but the third one was Q*Bert, which was a big hit for Gottlieb (owned at that time by Columbia Pictures).

So I have been an interactive audio guy every since. Of course, things have changed a bit: The Q*Bert sound system was 6502, 128 bytes (that's right, bytes) of memory, an 8-bit unsigned DAC and 2,048 bytes of ROM. Every sound was a program, complete soft-synthesis. Very flexible but limited.

Most recently, I have done the sound packages for Stern Pinball for their last four machines (Pirates of the Carribean, Family Guy, Spider-Man, Wheel of Fortune). The rules are a but different: five mono independent channels; 24kHz, 16-bit ADPCM compress from a store of 28 MBytes. Start, stop, looping and virtual sliders based on XML scripts are how it is done now, with all the sounds created in my studio with as many resources as I can bring to bear. Less interactive but glorious sound.
David Thiel

I made the switch to game audio because the music industry is dying as we know it. It is nearly impossible to exist as a commercial studio owner and producer when everyone expects music to be free online. Most bands can now record themselves in the basement "good enough for Myspace," and I think we've all but given up on commercial radio! Game audio is probably the most stable place to be considering the current state of the music industry.

My first commercially released game was the Winx Club for the PSP. I recently did Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the Nintendo DS. I have also completed and am awaiting the release of Star Wars: Force Unleashed for the DS.
Karl Demer
Atomic K Inc.

I started working in game audio in 1994 at Broderbund Software in Novato, Calif. Prior to that, I was a performing musician as well as doing soundtracks for whatever I could get my hands on: documentary, TV news music packages, you name it. I was drumming up new business and saw an article in Time magazine about this new CD-ROM craze, which listed the top 50 companies developing CD-ROMs. Broderbund had published Myst, which at that time was the biggest selling game of all time. I called them up, got some temp work on The Playroom CD-ROM and later got hired full time.

Our audio department soon grew to 12 people under the guidance of Tom Rettig, a respected pillar in the audio community. While I was there, I worked on the Carmen Sandiego Series, Math Workshop, Prince of Persia 3D, Warbreeds, Nickelodeon's Nick Click Camera, KidPix, Riven: The Sequel to Myst and others. Since then, I've done music and sound for 80-plus games including Guitar Hero, Splinter Cell Double Agent and a whole lotta casual games.

I made the switch in the early '90s, when the industry was still in its infancy. I had done lots of touring and session work in the '80s and early '90s, recording as a keyboardist with Alice Cooper, Queensryche and touring with Gino Vanelli. In parallel, I was developing quite an interest in computers and started to teach myself programming in C, trying to write an editor/librarian for my Yamaha DX7 and many other synths. At that time, I really wanted to buy a house, but my bank manager did not look kindly on lending money to a dreadlocked, leather-jacketed geek with no "regular" job. Lamenting that no-one was willing to hire a synthesizer freak who could write a little code, a friend of mine who had been in the road crew for Gino Vanelli, said, "There's this new place that you should apply to in town. They make videogames, and you'd fit right in."

That was Electronic Arts in Burnaby, BC. I worked there for a decade, and the first title I worked on was FIFA Soccer 95. I was the lead audio guy for that title (and many others) for quite a few years, and I developed a bunch of processes for doing interactive play-by-play speech for them. I had a great time there for quite a while. It was like getting paid to go to school. I loved working with a bunch of rocket scientists in a place with a 5.1 studio designed by John Storyk! I've since built my 5.1 studio, The Treehouse Studio, and I still do some consulting for game developers.
Robert Bailey

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