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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 3 of 3

Dependencies and "Timeline Questions"

Once you begin to plot elements of the audio production onto a graph or timeline, you will begin to notice there are a great many questions. These generally relate to dependencies within other areas of the game's development.

Some of the more obvious are "When is the story script and in-game dialogue script going to be complete so we can begin casting and subsequently voice recording" alternatively there will be questions from other areas and disciplines, like "When will the cut-scene voice over be recorded and edited so we can begin animation?"

This is where the involvement of a project manager or game director is highly advised, as they have either already plotted out these items, and already have a list of questions for you, or they can help to answer the dependency date questions on your behalf.

Staying Agile

Perhaps the single most important aspect to all of these schedules is that they need to be agile enough to accommodate constant changes in delivery dates, feature lists, mission design and even game direction.

Due to the component and dependency-based nature of interactive audio and game design, most of these areas need to be moveable against different production scenarios.

For example, cutting one character out of the game may affect more than just the dialogue production; it may leave holes in the story that require new content from other characters to fill in, it may affect the music if themes have been assigned to that character and his or her motivations, but it may not affect the sound effects design and production, which could remain unchanged.

Changes run deep through the audio production and budgets and having a flexible enough (and visual) representation of your schedule in order to accommodate changes quickly is essential.

Some of the more common practices of date adjustment are project extensions, and these usually affect or eat into post-production audio time (if it is planned). If you have your schedule mapped out in a flexible and easy to visualize format, the easier it is to run and visualize different scenarios and quickly adjust dates accordingly.

Similarly, ship dates may be brought forward, in which case would require a certain degree of re-consideration of what is absolutely essential to the product's quality goals and what can be re-aligned to reflect the new ship-dates.

Quality will inevitably drop if time is decreased, particularly from the post-production and polish end of the timeline. The game will almost certainly ship with more C-grade bugs and the ability to hit the target of overall quality percentage will drop. This is time to decide what is the most important use of time, and to schedule that accordingly.

Communicating the Schedule

Perhaps the easiest thing to forget about a schedule is that once it is done and looks great, everyone feels happy with it, then it must be clearly and effectively communicated to the team, as must any tweaks or updates. For myself, as an audio director, this falls to me working with the project managers, however this could also fall solely to any number of staff, such as a producer or game director.

Printing out and hanging the schedule on a wall space with high visibility has often worked well for teams that I have been a part of. This process helps to solidify the upcooming work in the minds of the team, and any team member can easily see any dependencies or risks writ large. Having enough confidence in the schedule to commit it to a giant printout on a wall will also ensure that enough work has been put into the scheduling process to roll it out to an entire team.

Summary: The Schedule and Budget are the Soul of the Project

This seems like an odd thing to say, but, in the end, the contents of the schedule give the audio team a roadmap of the entire production, and even reveal an audio direction, not just in terms of dates and dollars, but in terms of priorities and where time and money is being invested more heavily in accordance with the overall goals of the product.

Not only are these numbers and dates able to determine the quality levels and thresholds that need to be met within the specific product, but I genuinely believe the schedule and budget also form an expression of the audio direction itself. As a case in point, the amount of time given to post-production is one particular area where traditionally there is little or no time scheduled.

However, this is changing as the industry, the tools and perceptions of audio quality changes. Even in the instances where an overall audio budget has been set prior to production, the schedule and budget can still be re-arranged in order to better represent where the money will best benefit the product for instance by moving money into the music budget from the sfx budget, or by scheduling more time, planning and iteration into specifically important areas of production.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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