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The Game Audio Mixing Revolution

June 18, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

Established Terminology

Right now, particularly with proprietary tech, there are a huge variety of naming conventions that are very different from one mixing solution to the next. The third-party market does not suffer so much from the differing terminology as there are only a couple of leading solutions on the market, both with similar terminology.

Over the coming years, there will certainly be a more established vernacular for interactive mixing. Terms such as snapshots (sound modes), side-chains (auto ducking), ducking, buses, defaults, overrides, events and hierarchical descriptions like parents and children will become more established and solid -- referring to specific interactive mixing contexts. Once this happens, a lot more creative energy can be spent in using and combining these features in creative ways, rather than worrying about what they are called and explaining them and their functionality to others.

Mapping to Hardware Control Surfaces & Specially Designed Control Surfaces

The world of post-production mixing is all about taking your project to a reference level studio and sitting down in front of a mixing board and tweaking levels using a physical control panel. The days of changing the volumes of sounds or channels using a mouse pointer on a screen, or worse, a number in a text document, are almost behind us.

The ability to be able to hook up the audio tools to a hardware control surface, such as the Mackie Control Pro, via MIDI, have enabled physical tactile control of game audio levels and have opened up the world of video game mixing to professional mixers from the world of motion picture mixing.

There are several big players in the control surface market, all of which have their own communication protocols, such pro film devices like Digidesign's Pro-Control line of mixing boards, not to mention Neve products, have a presence in the majority of the world's finest studios. Once access to these control surfaces is unlocked by video game mixing tools, a huge leap will be made into the pro audio world.

Right now, it is still quite an intense technical and scheduling challenge to mix a game at a Hollywood studio, hauling proprietary mixing tech and consoles (such as Mackie controls) along to the studio in question. The ability to mix a game on a sound stage in the world's best post-production environments, without having to compromise the control surface, will enable huge shifts in the quality and nuances of mixing artistry.

Again, the technology is only the facilitator to the artistic and creative elements that will become available. Putting video game sound mixes into the hands of Hollywood sound personnel and facilities will allow a really interesting merging of audio talent from the worlds of video game and movie post production.

Of course there may also emerge a need for a very customizable "game-only" mixing surface, which accommodates many of the parameters and custom control objects that I have described. Something along the lines of the JazzMutant multi-touch Dexter control surface, which can easily display 3D sound sources and allow quick and complex editing of EQ or fall-off curves, may actually end up leading the way in this kind of mixing and live tuning environment.

Specialized Game Mixers (for-hire personnel)

Once the technology and terminology is in place and is well understood by game sound designers and mixers, it will only be a matter of time before real masterpieces of video game sound mixing begin to emerge. It is only when the technical limitations have been effaced and effective and graceful mixing / tuning systems are in place that artistic elements can be more freely explored.

Ultimately, the mix of a game should be invisible to the consumer. They should not recognizably hear things being "turned down" or changing volume, in much the same way as a convincing movie score or sound design does not distract you from the story. The mix is ultimately bound by these same rules -- to not get in the way of storytelling.

Ironically for games, the hardest scenes to mix in movies are prolonged action scenes, and to some extent many video games boil down to one long protracted fire-fight. The focus of attention changes constantly and mixing needs to help the player to navigate this quickly changing interactive world by focusing on the right thing at the right time, be that elements of dialogue, sound effects or music.

It is easy, then, to envisage a situation where a specialized game mixer is brought on to a project near to the end of development to run the post-production and to mix the game. As a fresh and trusted pair of ears, this person will not only be able to finesse all the technical requirements of a mix such as reference output levels and internal consistency, but will also work with the game director and sound director on establishing point-of-view and sculpting the mix to service the game-play and storytelling.

Industry Recognition for Game Mixes

In order for video game mixes to be recognized and held up as examples of excellence, there need to be audio awards given out for 'best mix' on a video game. The Academy Awards, for instance, recognize only two sound categories, Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, which should encourage those awards ceremonies wanting parity with Hollywood.

Once awards panels begin to recognize the artistry and excellence in the field of mixing for games, there will be greater incentive for developers to invest time and energy in the mix .

Unforeseen Developments: Game Audio Culture

As with any speculative writing, there is always some completely left-field factor, either technological or artistic, that cannot ever be predicted. I am certain that some piece of technology or some innovation in content will also come along, either in film sound, in game sound or from a completely different medium all together, that will influence the technological and artistic notions of what a great game mix will be.

Often it is a revolutionary movie, such as Apocalypse Now or Eraserhead, that redefines the scope and the depth to which sound can contribute to the story-telling medium, the repercussions of which are still being felt in today's media.

These are areas that I like to define as game or film "sound culture" -- often enabled by technology, such as Dolby, but pushed in an extreme direction by storytellers. These are the kinds of games that I expect to emerge over the next 10 years given the technological shifts that are occurring today, essentially: game audio culture defining experiences.


(1) "The Hollywood listener is bestowed with an aural experience which elevates him/her to a state which may be defined as the super-listener, a being (not to be found in nature) able to hear sounds that in reality would not be audible or would sound substantially duller" from Sergi, Gianluca (1999), 'The Sonic Playground: Hollywood Cinema and its Listeners', Accessed 1st April 2009

Article Start Previous Page 5 of 5

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