[Rob Bridgett, audio director on Prototype 2 issues a rallying cry for the mixing of the audio discipline with the rest of the studio, and opening up the closed studio space to collaboration -- perhaps even suggesting a fundamental change in studio structure.]
Video game development is a collaborative and iterative endeavor, where artistry, design, ideas, and technology intersect, with creativity at its core. There is one analogy I have found useful -- although not always accurate -- in summing up the industrial and collaborative nature of development. Think of it like a Hollywood movie production with no single director; instead, a group of peer directors run each discipline: art, sound, design, and technology. Ideally, they don't run them independently.
Having these directors, and their teams, work together collaboratively on the push and pull of a shared vision is perhaps one of the most compelling and gratifying aspects of the development of video games, yet it is rarely something that is reflected in the design of the spaces we use. What causes this? The designs and functions of audio department suites and sound studios is a major factor. There are a number of very specific problems that have arisen out of the soundproof box design currently found in most, if not all, game development houses.
On paper, the requirements for a development studio are clear: a collaborative and open environment through which different disciplines can easily move, work, and play. Creativity, iteration, and innovation are the cornerstones of our business as developers. "It was just one year ago that 1,500 CEOs identified creativity as the number-one leadership competency in our complex global marketplace," says this Co.Design article.
Yet, where audio design is concerned, I believe we are at a crossroads where old, outmoded sound studio design and architecture is failing us on an industrial scale in not allowing us to fulfill our collaborative, critical and iterative role.
But, wait a second. Surely soundproofed audio studios are necessary to the work of a sound designer? This is, in one sense, absolutely true, at least of the actual asset creation, tuning and implementation work.
The problem requires different kinds of thinking -- for example, one or two transparent glazed walls or windows in iso booths with sight-line access, built in central positions within team spaces, answers the design requirement of isolating sound (in order to do the work without distracting or distraction) without isolating the occupant. Headphones are temporary options, as they are more fatiguing for the wearer than listening through speakers, but they should certainly be used as a flexible tool in a more agile armory.
This is an idea about promoting a "culture of sound" throughout an entire company, so rather than being cloistered in quiet, solemn spaces, audio designers are integrated in the team. They could become more used to sound (and the distraction that comes with it) in the office as a part of everyday life.
I want a culture where sound is not literally invisible. This, I hope, would provide an alternative vision to the common notion that audio production needs to happen in a studio. In fact, I don't believe this is true of the work of a sound designer; the collaborative conversations and meetings are as crucial, if not more so, as a part of designing sound. I think the notion of sound work needs to be broadened into production (creating and working with sound assets themselves) and ideation (or "design" discussions). Both are equal parts of the process.
With architectural and cultural change answering these challenges -- these two forces are invariably intertwined -- we could be on the brink of a true renaissance in video game development. That's a bold statement, I realize. Let's consider the factors at play and what we can realistically expect to gain from a different working attitude and environment.