Hello good people. I hope you're all doing well in this horrible COVID-19 situation going on around the world right now. Let's hope and pray that this situation passes soon. Until then please stay safe.
So our topic for today is "Do game developers need an audio professional?"
Well, the answer is Yes & No both according to your situation. But first let's understand what a game audio professional does.
What is the job of a game audio professional?
A game audio professional is responsible for doing the following tasks. These tasks are either executed by multiple people in a team or a single person depending on the situation. So let's check out what all tasks does an audio professional carry out in a game development.
Sound Design - Whatever sound effects you hear in a game from footsteps, gun-shots, explosions to a dragon's roar, everything is designed by a sound designer. The person who designs sounds, records the audio sample or uses a pre-recorded sample library to craft a unique sound in his/her audio software also called as a DAW(Digital Audio Workstation).
Music Composition - Music is the most important element in a game. If a game has an emotional storyline, then the music will help in making the player cry, if the game is based on a chase then the music will help in triggering the player's adrenaline release. Music is also essential to depict the mood of the game. All kinds of music are composed by a music composer. Music composers can work in-house or freelance depending on the situation.
Audio Implementation - Mostly in smaller game studios the sound designer doesn't deal with audio implementation because the audio in smaller casual games are not complex. But in larger studios who make big games like God Of War, there is a big audio team for every small task. There's an audio implementor who implements audio into game engines via a middle-ware. These middle-wares help game audio professionals to design a system for all audio and music related content to work according to the game. To learn more about audio-middleware click here.
Interactive Music Design - Game music composers who know the technical aspects of game audio have the ability to design an interactive music system for games. What interactive music design does? you may ask. Well, when a composer composes a music he composes it in a traditional way, but instead of exporting a music in a single track, the composer exports the music in bits and pieces in the form of audio stems and then the composer crafts the interactive music system with it. When an interactive music design is complete, it results in a music piece which is endlessly playing but not looping. It's more like the music is being performed live with different variations and no repetition. Apart from that the music changes automatically according to the changes in the game scenarios. For example, when a player is exploring the forest, calm and adventurous music is playing but then suddenly a wild animal appears then automatically that same music becomes more intense. To know more about Interactive Music Design in games click here.
Game Audio Programmer - A game audio programmer is someone who does all the audio programming in a game. Usually sound designers and music composers don't have the knowledge of programming or scripting. The audio programmer is specialised in the field of programming. The audio programmer along with the knowledge of programming acquires the knowledge of all audio related tasks such as sound design and music composition. This helps the audio programmer to understand sound designer's and music composer's idea easily and then apply it to the game. Mostly smaller game studios don't hire a dedicated audio programmer but in big studios there is a dedicated audio programmer in the team.
Now that you have the basic gist of what an audio professional does in a game. Let's see whether you, a game developer, needs to hire an audio professional or not?
Game developers who are just starting out in the industry
Let's say that you're a game developer with very less or no budget to hire an audio professional in your game development process and you don't care that much about the audio experience of your game. In that case, what you can do is download some royalty free sounds and music from the internet which almost 95% of other people have used in their project and then put it in your game. Now that will work for sure no doubt. But then your game's audio experience will be average and won't stand out because royalty free sounds are used by lot of other people like YouTubers and it's not out of the box idea.
Another alternative for this situation would be to make friendship with some audio professionals who are starting out in the industry and then collaborate with them so that they can provide you custom SFX & Music for your game. Whether it's online or face to face, it doesn't matter. Technology defies all geographical barriers when it comes to connecting with people with the help of internet. Search for audio professionals on Instagram using hashtags like #gameaudio, #sounddesigner, #musiccomposer, #vgm etc. Same rule applies to other platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc. Try to connect with audio professionals who are specialised in game audio because game audio professionals have the expertise in using essential audio tools for games such as Wwise & FMOD. These tools help in making the audio experience of the game more interactive. These applications ( Wwise & FMOD ) are also called Audio Middleware. If you're not aware of what an Audio Middleware is, Yannis Brown has explained about it in an article here.
Considering that you're a game developer who doesn't have budget to hire an audio professional means you're a beginner or just starting out with game development. What you have to do is to find game audio professionals who are starting their career in game audio just like you and try to collaborate with them. They're also desperately looking for opportunity to work in a game for some experience. So reach out to them and ask for a collaboration. They'll be happy to help and you will get a good quality audio & music for your game.
For Professional Game Developers
If you're a game developer who already has a good amount of experience in the industry then you might be familiar with the importance of an audio professional in a game development team. If not, then continue reading.
Considering that you're a professional game developer with a good experience, you might not be bound by budget or finance. Which means that you can hire an audio professional. But before hiring just any audio professional either freelance or in-house, make sure to choose someone who is specialised in game audio. You can find all kinds of sound designers and music composers who work with traditional media such as TV, Films, Short-Films etc. Try choosing someone who knows the ins and outs of game development, interactive media and specialises in game audio.
Why I'm stressing more on working with someone who is specialised in game audio or interactive media is because a game audio professional has the skillset of designing sounds and composing music combined with the skillset of designing an interactive system with the help of audio middleware such as Wwise & FMOD which integrates well with the game engines you're working on. This saves the time of the programmers as well and the audio in your game will become more interactive, non-repetitive and more realistic sounding.
If you are totally un-aware of the concept of audio middleware, I can give you some examples of some famous games in which audio was designed and implemented by an audio professional using audio middleware. Some of these famous games are Peggle, Limbo, Inside, Tomb Raider, God Of War, The Witcher etc. These games had a dedicated audio professional working on sound design, music composition, audio implementation, interactive music design and audio programming. If you've played these games, you might have noticed that the audio in the game sounds more realistic and has a film sort of experience. If you want to know more about this procedure you can check out the making of audio videos available on youtube.
You can search for audio professionals on websites such as Soundlister. You can also find some audio professionals on social media sites by using hashtags such as #gameaudio, #vgm, #sounddesigners, #sounddesign etc on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn. Facebook groups are very effective for networking online and finding an audio professional to hire. You can also network with audio professionals physically by going to game dev conferences and meet ups.
So, I hope you might have learnt a lot about the importance of audio & an audio professional in game development by reading this blog. If you are in need of an audio professional for your game, I would like to introduce to you to my company called Deadstar Audio. Under the name of Deadstar Audio, I provide all kinds of services which you've read in this blog such as sound design, music composition, audio implementation and interactive music design. You can check out my website and the work which I've done and if you feel that I can help you out in your next project, then feel free to contact me.
All the best for your game development journey. If you liked this blog then please make sure to share it with your friends and if you feel that I'm wrong in some area feel free to correct me in the comment section.