Taking Snapshots Deeper
Snapshots, while simple to understand on one level, once implemented often require several different kinds of behaviors pre-defined in order to achieve the desired effect in the mix. At Radical we have found it useful to have the following three kinds of behaviors associated with snapshots...
Individual channels and buses themselves eventually need further defined behaviors when using multiplier (or 'ducking') snapshots, because by their very nature, when multiple ducking snapshots occur at the same time (because say a dialogue event and an explosion occur at the same time), more attenuation than desired is created as they multiply together.
When this occurs, controller values on each channel or bus need to be set to define the maximum values that a channel can be attenuated by, and essentially by assigning priority to the snapshots, you allow for special cases to be allowed to behave in the ways that the mixer intends.
More Than Just Volume
Snapshots can be used to alter parameters beyond regularly associated notions of mixing such as amplitude and panning. By changing values like pitch, LFE send, 3-D fall-off values, speaker assignment or listener position, greater creative opportunities can be opened up.
Potentially any parameter associated with a sound could be changed by using a mixer snapshot. Because snapshots are kind of like automation, any of the game parameters per sound or sound group can be manipulated. There is a wide scope to allow a mixer snapshot system much more control than is currently available in most audio tools, how far this will or should go is really up to the needs of the developers.
In June 2008 I had the chance to sit in on a motion-picture final mix at Skywalker Ranch with Randy Thom (FX Mixer) and Tom Myers (Music and Foley Mixer) on a remix project for the original 'Ghost in the Shell' animated feature for a new theatrical release. I was able to observe first-hand the work-flow and established processes of film mixing and I attempted to try and translate some of them over into the video game mixing process.
The majority of technical ideas I have described above in the 'Film Standard Features' section translate over to game mixing as they have been described, yet, some of the more interesting elements of mixing, the artistic and aesthetic challenges, ideas and working practices, also map over onto games in interesting ways, depending of course on the game type or genre. Here are the three cornerstones of movie mixing aesthetics that Randy and I discussed and how I see them translating over to video games.
1) Rule of 100%
Randy talked about the rule of 100%, whereby everyone who works on the soundtrack of the film, assumes it is 100% of their job to provide the story content for the film. So the composer will go for all the spots they can, as will the dialogue, and the same with the sound editors.
When it comes to the mix, this often means that there is little room for any one particular element to shine with each element hitting each moment with the same amount of sound. This means severe mixing decisions have to be made, and often results in elements of the mix, such as the music, being turned right down.
In more successful movies, collaboration is present, or composers decide that it is fine to just drop certain cues etc. When Randy is mixing, he wears the mixers hat, and is at the service of the story and the film, in this mode he often makes decisions to get rid of sounds that he has worked very hard on (What sound designer Dane Davis also refers to [via Ingmar Bergman quoting Faulkner] as learning to 'Kill your darlings').
Sometimes mix ideas about particular scenes are talked about early with the director, at the script stage and Randy tends to work this way with Robert Zemeckis. However, not enough directors consider sound in pre-production and often end up with the 100% situation and a lot more decisions, and compromises, to make at a final mix, resulting in lots of chaotic sound moments and conflicts to figure out.
This certainly is very familiar in games. Music can, for the most part, be constant in video games, perhaps to an even greater degree, particularly elongated action sequences. Given that missions and prolonged action battles can last for a very long time (30 -60 minutes of game-play) being able to create or work with the mission designers to figure out dynamics maps or action maps of where the pace or excitement needs to peak and trough is a very fruitful and useful exercise.