Updated: Mar 23, 2020
So, you're an audio professional who has the knowledge and experience of working with traditional media such as films, music, ads, music production, sound design etc. But, you are unknown to the sphere of game audio and want to discover how audio is produced and implemented into a video game or an interactive media, don't worry I'm gonna help you out with a step by step method in a series of articles which will help you out in your journey in game audio land.
First of all, I welcome you to the community of game audio. There are lot of audio guys in the industry for traditional media, but when it comes to game audio, there are very few ( at least in India ).
When I was doing my professional studies in Audio Engineering, I got to learn lot of things such as Recording, Live Sound Engineering, Mixing/ Mastering, Music Production, Location Sound Recording, Sound Design, Foley Recording etc. And the list goes on. But we didn't have Game Audio in our curriculum, although my institute organised a workshop on game audio which helped me to explore deeper aspects of this industry.
So, let's dive into the introduction without wasting any precious time. Speaking of time, Napoleon Hill quoted this beautiful phrase "Time is wealth, and unlike money when it is gone you cannot replace it". Remember this quote and implement this in your journey ahead. Let's get started.
What is Game Audio ?- Just like movies and television shows, games are also a medium of entertainment. Audio plays a very vital role in all the entertainment media. If you're an audio professional you might be familiar with the workflow and production techniques of audio in non-interactive media ( Films, TV-Shows, Short-Films), everything is linear with the timeline in traditional media. What makes game audio different than traditional media is the interactivity. In video games you can't predict whether the player will jump into the ocean to swim, fly an aeroplane in the sky or jump off a helicopter and die. Players can do anything they want. Specially GTA players.
This makes the job of a game audio professional a bit challenging, especially if you're new to this. The sounds in a video game needs to be scripted into the game engine and attached to each game object to behave accordingly. But do not panic if you don't know scripting, there are tools which help you in implementing audio into the game called "Audio Middleware" which I'll talk about later. There are people in the game development teams called "Audio Programmers" who help audio designers in implementing audio into the games. But this audio implementation comes at a later stage. First the audio designer needs to create sounds which will fit in the respective game. The same goes with the music composer as well. First the music composer needs to compose music for the game and later it's implemented into the game.
Skills Required - The skills required in game audio are as follows:
Sound Design - Game developers work with sound designers who help the game developers in designing SFX for their games. Whether it is a gunshot, footsteps, robot sounds or an ambience, it's the job of sound designer to design the sound from scratch.
Middleware - When the audio designer is done with designing the SFX for the game, next step is to set some rules for the audio. These rules determine how the audio will behave in the game. The rules are set in a middleware software, you can also call it an audio engine. Let's say the audio designer has recorded some footsteps to implement into the game, the footsteps he recorded are of different surfaces such as concrete, sand, gravel and water. Unlike a movie, you can't place the footsteps sound in a linear way, instead you have to map it to the game's script. When a player takes a step on a concrete surface the script is sending a message to the middleware to load the sound of a footstep recorded on the concrete surface. These messages sent by the game engine to the middleware is called a "Game Call". You can do all sorts of things in a middleware which makes the audio more interactive. There are two popular audio middleware which you can learn, first is Wwise by Audiokinetic and the second is FMOD by Firelight Technologies. Both are free to learn. If you check the Audiokinetic's website, you will find three free courses of Wwise which will help you to learn the software in a deeper aspect. Audiokinetic provides lot of resources to learn for free on their website such as working games from which you can remove all the audio and then implement your own audio into the game using Wwise. I highly recommend learning at least one audio middleware. There's no excuse not to learn because everything is available for free.
Game Engines - Game developers work on game engines to make their games. When you're implementing audio, you need to implement it into the game engine. There are some things such as attaching the audio to a game object inside the game engine and lot more things which will come at a more advance stage. As an audio designer, you don't need to learn the game engine in depth. But you can learn all the audio aspects of the game engine which will help you a lot. Some of the popular game engines are Unreal Engine and Unity Engine. You can learn more about it on their respective websites.
Interactive Music - You might be aware of the background music in films and tv series, but when it comes to games, just like the audio effects, music also needs to be interactive. In games, players might spend hours playing the game, and if the same music is repeating again and again the player will feel like someone is torturing him/her to listen to the same music over and over again which is not good. That's why the music needs to be interactive in the game. For example, when the player is just freely roaming the forest in Tomb Raider the music is quite and subtle but when suddenly a wolf comes then the music changes from subtle to intense and the player is cautious about the danger. The process of designing an interactive music is a totally different topic which I will discuss later probably on a different post.
For now I have only this much to talk about the game audio introduction. I will continue the series with more articles like these about game audio. Let me know if it helped you and also the things which you didn't like.
Thank you so much for reading. All the best for your game audio journey ahead. Cheers !