Confessions of a Small Working Studio—Cracking the Code: Breaking Into Game Sound

Mar 2, 2010 7:12 PM, By Kevin Hill and Lisa Horan

The team at Studio X Labs

The team at Studio X Labs
























Studying the Science
If you’re under the impression that once you do break in, sound for videogames will be just like creating sound for film or other media, you’re in for a rude awakening. According to Ruskay, who has spent his entire career in the industry, starting his career in 1994 at Radical Entertainment fresh out of music school, “There’s a specific language that developers communicate by. It’s subtle, but it’s important, and you have to know it to create sound for games effectively.” For instance, whereas the music in a film will be played once and that’s that, the music in a videogame may be played for an extended period and repetitively. “When you work on music for a videogame, you have to consider the different choices a player can make and how these choices will affect the scoring of certain levels of the game. A player can walk around the same environment for five minutes, for example, so you have to take that into account when working on the sound,” says Fraser. “You are essentially manifesting environments with sound. It’s not something you can fake. You have to do your research. You have to know how to break down music beds into different stems and place different musical elements in properly to make it adaptive in the design so that it doesn’t get stale. It really is an art form.”

Mastering that art from comes from understanding that different platforms, themes and age groups will call for different treatments. Fraser says it’s important to understand the difference between these factors and how sound must accommodate them appropriately. “Each type of production is specific. If you approach a company and you don’t have a good working sense of the different models and how sound for the latest games is being produced, you won’t make it.” For Fraser, it comes naturally, as he considers himself a “die-hard” gamer. However, if you’re not one, you really have to do your homework. There are learning curves, and it takes a good amount of time to fully grasp the logic behind game development.

It’s also important to note that you may not always be working in a creative capacity when doing sound design or music for a game. Oftentimes, it’s the technical side of the equation that requires attention. “So much of what we do is the unspoken part—the technical implementation aspects of a game,” says Kwasneski, who says he works with level designers, testers and programmers to ensure that the technical parts are in place, which ultimately allow the developer to pull off the things they want to with sound. “You can take really great sound effects but implement them poorly and the game will be junk, so you really have to know what you’re doing.”






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