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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 3 of 3
 

The Mock Review

This is a common approach used by most publishers and marketing departments in order to get sales estimates, however it is a technique that can also be used to the advantage of the team, particularly if the reviewer is asked to comment specifically on several areas of the game such as sound effects, music, and dialogue.

If you know your company is planning to do one of these, I strongly suggest you get involved and make sure that the reviewer is encouraged to write a few words on the audio. Simply being relieved that the audio wasn't mentioned in the review isn't really enough to know that you are doing the best job you can.

Pre-planned Questionnaire

This allows you to outline your audio direction, your intended effects on the audience, and also to ask very specific questions in relation to the sound of the game. You may also use this to gather less specific, or "open", feedback, such as likes or dislikes about the sound in the game.

This method is a generally a more useful method for gathering and concentrating attention on a few key areas that you may have already flagged as in need of some thought.

Quick Roundtable

For quicker feedback sessions, it's often good to schedule a meeting, get a whole bunch of people in a room and to play through five to 10 minutes of the game and have a roundtable-style discussion about it at the end of the session. The downside of this is that not everyone will get their hands on the game and be able to feel how the sound works while they are playing, but it will allow for much quicker feedback.

The big advantage to this is also that it is a face-to-face forum and that people can think about what they are going to say out loud in front of a group, which allows them to prioritize the stand-out points, rather than making a larger list of smaller less relevant items.

These roundtables can be done with members of the team, with out-of-house game testers, or with a handful of other audio guys from within the same publisher (if you are able to get them together in the same room).

Peer Reviews

Sending builds out to external third-parties isn't going to happen very often due to NDA and non-compete clauses, so unfortunately the people whose opinion you really want may work for another publisher and therefore are not legally available to listen to your game.

One of the best ways around this is to conduct and organize a peer review with other game teams' audio departments who belong to the same publisher, or if you have a two or more team model in your development house, to arrange this with those teams. This will often be the most detailed, and audio-centric feedback you can get, and it will generally be respectful and of a caliber geared specifically towards audio, using a lot of your common vernacular.

Playtesting

This is something that is now commonplace in the industry and is set up and run often without the knowledge of the audio team. Where possible, try to get involved in the playtesting planning, ensuring that the audio setups that the players are using give the best sound.

Also, try to get some of the questions geared towards the audio style, mix, likes and dislikes. This is a free and objective source of feedback that can easily be piggybacked by audio to get valuable pointers on how well the sound is doing its job.

Structured Regular Reviews

Aside from the above rare windows and opportunities for planned feedback, there is a great deal of benefit, and indeed necessity, to having regular audio reviews with key members of the team and including all members of the sound team.

This allows everyone to regularly touch base with what has changed in the game, to review and present new feature work that has recently made it in and to provide a platform to give the producers and designers a regular way to stay in touch with the progress made with audio.

This also allows them a specific time in which to think and focus more on audio, and also an area to address issues, talk about problems, present solution ideas and also to praise and motivate the audio team on a weekly basis.

I've found that smaller weekly review sessions among the audio team work well, and that bringing in some key stakeholders to larger monthly audio review showcases allow these personnel to see the bigger changes in the audio design, while feeling like they don't have to constantly be forced to listen to the game all the time and provide ongoing feedback.

Providing a forum like this for the team actually takes pressure off the audio department in having to pester the entire team for feedback, and asking them to play the game all the time while listening to the audio... I wouldn't really wish that on anyone working in game development.

On a final note, I would suggest seeking feedback from trusted sources, even non-audio folk or non-gamers. These sources will be able to tell you a lot about your work and will absolutely pick up on things that you have not considered, whether good or bad. The only challenge really is an administration issue, in getting an NDA appropriately signed and agreed upon, but if it is considered under the same notions as play testing, then it can be handled more easily.

Above all, as audio designers, we need feedback to do our jobs, at almost every stage of development, and at every professional level. Ultimately the more in control of the process of receiving feedback we are, the more useful it will be to us as sound designers, and the greater benefit it will be to the game and the team in the creative and iterative process.

[Photos by Pedro Ribeiro Simões, vagawi, and Neil T, used under Creative Commons license.]


Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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