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In The Loop: Planning for Feedback in Video Game Audio Production
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In The Loop: Planning for Feedback in Video Game Audio Production

February 25, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

Setting Up Feedback Opportunities During Development

I have found that people on a game team usually always have feedback to give on the audio. However, the timing and the context in which they give their feedback is usually less than ideal and they may actually need encouraging to step up.

For example, a first iteration of a feature will go in and require audio support. First pass audio support and implementation goes in, and then the feature is reviewed again. There will often be a list of improvements and sometimes they will not include audio because it is assumed that, as this is first pass, that many things will improve. It is essential here to try and encourage some initial feedback for the audio in the feature, as even the smallest of comments can be taken on board to improve the audio with the next iteration, and so on.

At other times feedback will come in the form of impromptu visits from designers, which should always be welcomed. Again, these visits and the free flow of feedback should be embraced and encouraged.

Once a dialogue is set up it is so much easier to keep it going. You could also get emails from designers or producers which require several back and forth emails before a face-to-face meeting is finally required.

The thing that concerns me most is that more people on the game teams aren't giving feedback more often via either email or face-to-face with audio designers, either because they assume that something is going to change about the sound throughout production, or that they aren't actually listening to the game during review sessions.

Bear in mind, this feedback -- while of course invaluable -- will usually be coming from the same team that has also been working on this project and IP with you for the last two or three years, so it must also be considered that the critical faculties of those team members are also potentially skewed by their proximity to the project and could also be tinged with creative fatigue as described earlier.

In order to get around this, and potentially gain some meaningful feedback from a completely fresh outside perspective, it is time to take some wider opportunities to leverage various forms of structured feedback.

The Audio Director's Role

I realize that the role defined above sets the audio designer up as a vendor, much like a graphic designer, whose role it is to interpret a creative brief for the client. However, this is actually somewhat of a disservice to some audio personnel who actually have a role that far is greater than that of an implementer and designer -- those who are in fact the holder of the audio direction itself.

Where an audio director's role is somewhat different from the audio designer's client / vendor role is that they have the power and accountability to say "no" to ideas and suggestions, be they from designers, producers, or executive producers. At the very least they have a responsibility to address issues in different ways than those suggested.

This is often a difficult role to reconcile when many audio designers have come from a "client pleasing" non-directorial background in film, TV or media and now find themselves as the owner of creative vision as well as the implementer and designer of effects, music and dialogue. It often comes down to being able to take on board all feedback and suggestions and to know what is worthwhile and what is worth discarding.

This role actually includes, in my opinion, the ability to be able to schedule and solicit good opportunities for feedback from key stakeholders, and from fresh outside perspectives at key points on the project.

These wider opportunities for feedback, rather than the usual day-to-day feedback that is available from your natural working relationships, present themselves only every so often during the production of a project, and if an audio director is organized enough, they can be used to leverage and act on feedback in time to provide vital quality improvement or even course-correction as required.

Wider Opportunities for Feedback

Receiving feedback from a much higher level, and from entirely new and fresh sets of ears is a golden opportunity to gain some real insight into how the game really stacks up to competition and if it is really doing what is intended.

There are a couple of logical times to bring in "third-party" opinions on a game's audio. If you are completing a Vertical Slice Demo, it more often than not will be a reasonably polished piece of work that has had some considerable attention put into how it sounds, and will hopefully be somewhere close to how the finished game will sound.

Feedback acquired at this stage will allow for some major course corrections to be made prior to hitting full-scale production; when all the mighty resources of voice-over recording, composition and sound effects creation are put into action. These forces, once committed, are very difficult to stop or even to have change course, so this is perhaps the most fundamental time at which to gather controlled, specific and open feedback from as many different perspectives as possible.

Another great time to gather feedback is for any other demo build that is being produced, perhaps specifically for a trade show such as E3, anything that gives someone a finished and polished slice of the game to go away and play.

By far the best feedback you will get will probably come as part of your Alpha or Beta build of the game, and unfortunately it is at this stage that very little can be done to affect things like the creative direction of the voice-over or the style of the music, however, any feedback at this stage can be appropriated and taken onto the final mix of the game.

This gives you a hit-list of areas to downplay, or areas to push forward and bring to the foreground during the critical final mix, or even a hit-list of a handful of weak sound effects whose replacement would benefit the game as a whole can be attempted during post-production.

These times are all ideal opportunities to employ one, or several, of a few different methods of collecting feedback...

Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

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