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Getting Game Audio Right: The Big Picture
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Getting Game Audio Right: The Big Picture

June 17, 2010 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

A Word on Technical Feature Development

These tasks (audio tool and pipeline features, not content) are almost certainly always short-term tasks with definitive start and end dates. They usually imply some audio-centric pipeline or tool feature work that requires completion before the system can be used by the developer who commissioned it. In this sense the audio tech-task schedule will represent a chain of tasks, often inter-related, which require a very definite order of completion based on milestone deliverables and target dates for demos.

Many of the tasks, such as integrating a dialogue solution will also be gauged by other areas within the production, such as when the dialogue implementation features, will be required during the production. There are two core milestones outside of the audio schedule that further affect the development of tech features, and those are the overall tech complete dates and the game's feature complete dates. Audio code, as it falls under the tech schedule overall, needs to comply with these two dates on account of overall stability.

For audio content then, here is some further explanation of the key dependencies that may arise when plotting audio dates for each of the four main areas of audio; Dialogue, Sound Effects, Music and Mix:

Dialogue Production Dependencies

  • Story Complete (Cannot start casting / planning and recording dialogue before this date)
  • Mission Design Complete (Cannot finalize script/writing of in-game mission dialogue before this stage has been competed)
  • AI dialogue designs and categories complete (Cannot begin categorizing and writing in-game AI driven dialogue before this has been completed)
  • Character Lists, Character concepts (Cannot begin casting until this stage has been completed)
  • Cut-Scene Schedules & work-flow (These schedules will require heavy collaboration with the audio schedule. Cut-scenes, if relying on separately recorded dialogue rather than performance capture, rely heavily on receiving the final dialogue before work can begin)
  • Localization (In-Game / Cut-Scene) (Usually occurring towards the end of the project, localization dependencies rely on as close to finished dialogue as possible for in-game and cut-scene content before work can begin)

While it is true that many of these tasks cannot be started until the dependant item has been complete, some preparatory tasks can be started, such as preparing templates for character casting. This prep work will allow the task to run much more smoothly once it finally gets the green light.

Note: "Complete" means that the task has not only been finished, but it has been signed off and approved by all key stake holders, in the case of story, this may mean getting approvals from third-parties, particularly in the case of licensed IP, so for example recording of the script should not be undertaken before these kinds of approvals have been satisfactorily completed.

SFX Production and Implementation Dependencies

  • World art production (ambience and surface / impact effects) - (implementation of ambient sound effects rely on several passes by the world art team, a basic ambience can serve well during production, however the more final the world art becomes, the greater the need for further detailed ambient work, such as positional ambience, place-able prop-based sound emitters etc)
  • Prop production (inc. weapons etc) - (ongoing throughout production, and requiring constant iteration, weapons, state-changing-props, all require several sound passes as the work is iterated throughout production)
  • Recording, editing and implementing effects (usually based off of lists of in-game content, such as props, ambient locations, weapon types, etc, the earlier lists can be obtained from the production artists, the sooner a list of potential sound effects can be gained for recording. Editing and implementation is an iterative process that is ongoing throughout production)
  • Cut-Scene Sound Design (big dependencies here between sound and cinematics teams, as previously stated, the cinematics teams will be unable to begin work until they have received dialogue, however the ongoing iterations and passes on the sound effects and music that support the cut-scenes will occur during production. By Alpha, there needs to be full audio passes on all the cut-scenes in the game, for which the audio team will require locked edits of the scenes, this work often comes in on the Alpha date itself, necessitating further time for the audio team to work on these scenes past alpha, which is where a 'sound alpha' date needs to be drawn up.
  • Animation. Vocal efforts and character movement foley all need to be added constantly during production as part of the iterative process. This can mean many passes and tweaks of the audio content.

Music Production Dependencies

  • Art Direction established (working together at a fairly high level with the game design team and the art director to establish the 'feel' of the game will feed heavily into the music direction. If this is done early enough, the music direction can influence the art direction too)
  • Story & Mission dependencies (breaking down the in-game music cues in order to establish the amount of music required for the game is usually based on number of missions, or types of generic missions, as well as cut-scenes and main menu themes, this will enable the creation of a cue-sheet, which can be given to a composer as part of their commission)
  • Composition, recording and delivery (usually occurs during production with several deliverables along the way to Alpha, at which point all music is delivered. Beyond Alpha there may be music mixing and mastering, but all cues will be in place and be easy to replace with final assets.)

Post-Production Dependencies

  • Planning / Communication (Early in planning stage, working alongside project managers to establish the scope and scale of post-production audio requirements - ensuring audio schedule is visible to all disciplines on a master schedule, ensure all disciplines understand the impact of any dates being pushed-out by showing how this also pushes out audio post-production dates and risks the ship date)
  • SFX replacement (this is an optional quality phase that can be done after production beta, in which key sound effects are critiqued and replaced with more appropriate sounds of equal or lesser memory footprint in order to improve their quality)
  • The mix itself can have three phases, both technical and artistic, firstly (technical) ensuring that the overall output levels are consistent with established reference listening levels, secondly (artistic) tuning sound effects levels and mixer snapshots through the entire game-flow, and thirdly (technical) checking all the various outputs and mix-down configurations available on the various consoles, e.g. stereo through tv speakers. Being able to perform a stable mix often carries a solid dependency on a stable Beta build of the game, but of course can also be done at any-time during the run-up to Beta. Stability is key however to being able to work fast with as few hitches and crashes as possible.

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