In the past,
audio professionals have managed without dedicated middleware tools, relying
on in-house toolkits to incorporate and manipulate proprietary audio technologies.
However, with more and more developers striving to create relevant audio
content for their products, a need for more sophisticated interactive
audio tools has arrived.
answers the call with SoundMAX SMartTools. SMartTools grants sound designers
the power of so-called "animated audio." With it, sound designers
can create interactive and nonrepetitive audio content. Gone are the days
when you hear the bird sample tweeting every seven seconds, the same exact
way, over and over and over and ...you know what I mean.
is based on the Staccato Sound System, an API and toolset released in
the late 1990s by Staccato Systems; Analog Devices (ADI) acquired Staccato
Systems in 2001. Anyone familiar with Staccato Systems might remember
the company as "those guys that make that audio thing for racing
games ... So what? I don't make racing games." Well the ADI ARTG
(Advanced Rendering Technology Group) is busy creating audio tools beyond
physically modeled car engines. And let me tell you, you won't believe
your ears when you hear what you can do with SMartTools.
exactly is included? Right now SMartTools ships with two tools for sound
designers (along with the API for audio coders). The first, SMartAnimator,
relies on a series of audio playback algorithms to create nonrepetitive
audio streams. The other tool is the SMartSynth, a sound generation tool
that uses physical modeling synthesis to create realistic sounds. Both
tools are professional grade and would cost you a ton of money to acquire.
That is, if ADI weren't giving it away for free. (More on this ingenious
currently ships with one algorithm: Crossfader. Crossfader employs complex
sets of (you guessed it) cross-fades and other parameters, which can react
to the game state in real time. This algorithm is built with persistent
sound effects in mind, such as engines, crowds, and other ambient effects.
It's slightly annoying that some of the parameters are named for engine
sound controls, but this is a small price to pay.
with SMartAnimator goes something like this: You create your sound palette
like you would in any other situation. Once you have your sound set together
you import them into SMartAnimator and use the easy-to-comprehend GUI
to design "sound behaviors." You then test out your sound behaviors
and export your final file. The audio coder drops the file into the latest
build, and magically you have animated audio for your game.
is cross-platform between PC, Playstation 2, and Xbox, with each platform
having a dedicated export button built into the SMartAnimator GUI. You
create your audio behaviors once in SMartAnimator, click on the export
button for the platform your title is shipping on, and that's it. Once
you export the behavior for one platform, you can export for the other
two as well simply by clicking on the appropriate buttons. How easy are
they going to make this for us?
ADI is working
on three additional algorithms, all of which will serve unique purposes.
ParticleBurst will be ideal for nonrepetitive one-shots, ParticleFlow
will randomly recombine short sound clips and is designed with soundscapes
and ambience in mind, and ParticleCycle will allow sound designers to
create nonrepetitive cyclical sounds (footsteps, machine-gun fire, and
the like). Assuming this last one is an improvement on the footstep algorithm
I heard at the Game Developers Conference, we should all be very, very
impressed. Keep in mind I have yet to test these in-progress algorithms,
but if they function as well as Crossfader does, things are looking up
for game audio content creators.
If you are
familiar with the progression of this technology, beginning with its roots
in the Sondius project through its first incarnation under ADI, you know
that SoundMAX game audio tools, due to their dependency on physical-modeling
(read: highly processor intensive) algorithms, weren't always ideal solutions.
Well, the SoundMAX team reevaluated their approach to developing audio
tools for game developers, and SMartTools is now a true success. Developer-friendly,
SmartTools' newer algorithms depart from strict reliance on physical modeling
for real-time sound generation, depending more on eventmodeling synthesis
(the SMartAnimator algorithms, for instance).
solutions are still available through the use of SMartSynth. The focus
has shifted on using SMartSynth to generate sound clips for use in SMartAnimator.
The synth models sound outrageous. SMartSynth is a great solution for
creating a variety of sound effects on a strict budget. It is also perfect
for creating common sound effects that aren't canned (read: licensed from
a sound FX library).
are extremely easy to use. Let's face it, it doesn't matter how great
a particular technology makes your game sound. If it's a monumental task
for your audio team to learn the tool, it just isn't worth it. It's a
huge improvement over ADI's first attempt at a SoundMAX toolset. Additionally,
the toolset and the API are meticulously documented in clear language.
the part that will convince your producer why this cool audio app belongs
in your company's next game: It's free. What's the catch? ADI wants their
SoundMAX logo on the game's box, a splash screen, and on sell sheets.
Not a bad deal.
has created a world of unparalleled potential for interactive sound designers.
It's pretty obvious to me that, given the newness of this system, game
audio developers haven't even scratched the surface of what SMartTools
can do for interactive sound designs.