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Sound Friction: Collaborative Challenges In Games
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Sound Friction: Collaborative Challenges In Games

July 13, 2011 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Platformers. LittleBigPlanet's audio aesthetic: minimal, playful yet endlessly customizable building blocks of sound and music that support, underpin and emphasize the playfulness inherent in the game's unique art direction, character design and game design structure.

Rather than seamlessly flowing together, the varied pieces of music work together much like the patchwork evident in the game's visual assets, nowhere is this aesthetic more evident than in the many user created online levels. Again, a difficult game to imagine working without the many unique aspects to its audio direction.

Limbo's beautiful, subtle, soft and detailed rococo sound design, and under-reliance on music, functions hand in hand with the muted, de-focused monochrome art direction.

While putting the Foley center stage for the first hour or so of the game focuses the importance and detail of movement within the game's design and game play structure. An ambient title that is in total contrast to much of the platforming genre's raucous color and sound.

With each of these titles, during the tail end of production, it would be relatively easy to discard sounds that did not belong fit their aesthetic or belong in their worlds. When an art direction, or product direction, is so clearly defined like this, and interwoven into the fabric of the audio direction, the creative opportunities for the soundtrack are satisfactorily narrowed.

Choice x Iteration = Direction

In the world of film sound, the sound designer can be said to be comparatively free of technical restraints in terms of how many sounds can be played back at any one time (certainly even more so than in games), the amount of effects that a sound can be processed with, as well as rendering sounds at the highest accepted notions of full-bandwidth surround sound.

The constraints in film sound are, or at least should be now, exclusively aesthetic (similar technological and aesthetic growth rings and codependencies can be found in the history of sync film sound, from optical, to mag, to digital) and seeking out these constraints boils down to a process of experimentation, finding out what does and does not work for the soundtrack from moment to moment and throughout the many narrative arcs of the picture as a whole.

As game audio directors, sound designers and composers, our jobs absolutely require similar aesthetic limits and boundaries to be discovered and set. Much of this is achieved in a similar process to that of film, a process of trying out different sounds, iterating on content and honing into something that "works" or "feels right".

With sound, it is more a process of actually listening and trying ideas out rather than of solely relying on instinct for what might or might not work. This is also why it is easy and important to incorporate other people's ideas and suggestions into this process.

This process of starting with wide choices, trying them out in order to narrow them down to sounds that both work and support the artistic vision, is critical to the creative process of establishing a direction. This exploratory technique is often required on games where the immediate vision isn't apparent from the outset, but which needs to be worked on constantly for a long period of time before the clarity of vision emerges. It is also important that this is a collaborative effort, in whatever way works within the given team structure.

The degree to which video game sound is still determined by and reliant upon technical implementation, to some, perhaps mainly from a film sound perspective, is seen as a limitation on creativity. To others the existence of limits presents valuable creative challenges, opportunities and unique solutions. For those of us who have grown with the changes over the last ten or so years in the industry, the challenges have certainly shifted emphasis from the technical to the artistic.

In the end, it is a collaborative and iterative process that enables the work to be creative and fulfilling during production for the creators and compelling for the player, as a team works together in order to define the artistic limits of the product they are creating.

In this feature, experienced audio director Rob Bridgett (<i>Prototype</i>) explains how the expanded possibilities brought by modern technology have lead sound directors to have to make careful collaborative choices to support a game's vision.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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