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For our first exercise, let's say we have a new game that will take place in an alien jungle. The first part of any concepting work is to ask a lot of questions:
Based on direction from design documents, lead designers, or a sound designer's own ideas, he or she may create varied yet applicable versions of this alien world's soundscape. The designer then compares these ideas, by playing them against each other and evaluating what gels with the game's visual and gameplay design.
These concepts can also aid in determining how to tackle various components of the audio design. For example, what does that strange jungle life sound like in the morning, afternoon, evening, night, or any other state changes the game may have?
Each of these questions can be weighed against each other by creating numerous concepts to explore these variations and the means to transition between them. By playing with these concepts, the designer can begin to shape how he or she will design the final sounds and trigger these changes in the game engine.
The most memorable characters are often defined within a game by their sound palette. A character's sounds help project the illusion of whether he, she, or it, is fast, strong, magical, eerie, or something else entirely.
Audio concept work can greatly aid designers in constructing a palette of sounds appropriate for various elements and themes within the game, including character design. By experimenting with various possibilities for sounds, a designer can begin to create useful groups of sound components which can then be used as building blocks for sound design within the game.
In my most recent project, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, the city of New York becomes infected by a strange symbiote goo, which we call ichor. This ichor turns the citizens of New York into vicious monsters, who in turn spawn more ichor and create more hideous monsters.
The ichor itself was a very important thematic set of sounds to get right, so I chose it for sound concepting work. Early in development, I was given a concept animation of what the ichor may look like, and from it I constructed a palette of various sounds which would give these various forms of the alien life. These sounds were created after watching the movie numerous times and talking to various artists and designers about their intentions for the ichor.
Figure 1: Ichor sound concept
I engaged in field recordings and foley work to capture various appropriately slimy, gloppy, and gooey materials. Since the ichor was also "alive" I wanted to inject some subtle vocalizations into the movement as well, and did so with various human vocalizations, as well as some pig squeals, cat growls, and my brother's dog, Ke-K'oa.
I then "scored" the concept animation with a mix of how I envisioned the ichor would sound in game (see figure 1). This was a very early concept in production, and now it is amusing to compare this concept to what we have in the finished product. The creatures in the game do not sound or look at all like this movie, but the concepting provided a realm for experimentation, helped solidify the design of the ichor, and also created a library of sounds I could pull from when designing our various symbiote-infected enemies.