GAME AUDIO: THE CURRENT STATE OF PLAY Walk, Device 6, Sailor’s Dream) and UsTwo (Monument Valley) – rich, polished and gorgeous experiences that are every bit as immersive as those that would pursue a cinematic narrative model.
Producer Rob Bridgett discusses how sound quality in video games has improved over the years, and oﬀers his thoughts on what the future may hold.
THE MIDDLE / THIRD SPACE Of course, this isn’t just a simple case of David vs Goliath. There has also emerged a thriving and innovation-driven middleground, the likes of developers such as Double Fine, Media Molecule (Tearaway), E-line Media (Never Alone), Minority (Papo & Yo) and even Playdead (Limbo/ Inside) are occupying a ‘third space’ in between the small, innovative risk-taking mobile-focused Indie teams and the giant triple-A console behemoths. These ‘third space’ developers tend to leverage medium-sized teams to work on innovative game experiences across mobile and console platforms – usually relying on a downloadable distribution model rather than a boxed product on shelves. Picture: Ubisoft’s Far Cry 4
Rob Bridgett is a producer/audio director at Clockwork Fox Studios in Canada, and runs the blog www.sounddesign.org.uk
s little as ﬁve years ago, when pondering the future video game audio landscape, I don’t think anyone could have predicted the extent to which there would be such a huge schism in how we think of ‘video games’. Ten years ago, most of us would have predicted a steady increase in visual 20
and aural ﬁdelity as games inevitably crept towards a future ‘cinematic’ model, foregrounding photorealism and narrative immersion. To some extent, this is still happening. However, things have changed dramatically, and quickly, on two fronts. Firstly, the unstoppable rise of Indie developers – studios like Playdead, which have challenged what audiences think of as ‘game experiences’ by going back to the drawing board from both the design and artistic perspective. Their game, Limbo, a black and white platformer with no dialogue, stood out primarily for these reasons, but underneath lay no less of a polished player experience. Similarly, from a technology view-point, Limbo could have been realised on a PlayStation 2, but was one of the biggest critical successes of the PS3/Xbox360 console cycle. In doing so, Playdead created something completely against the grain of the ﬁrmly established ﬁrst-person shooters and third-person open world triple-A games. In addition to this, the introduction of, and subsequent ubiquity of, tablet and mobile phone technology as a gaming platform, not only pushed a massive reset button on the whole game design philosophy of ‘bigger, longer, more’ experiences, but has provided a publishing
model free of publisher intervention, opening up any potential game or app developer who can code up their idea to put it in an App store and reach an audience. These two disruptive shifts have also had a signiﬁcant eﬀect on the way games are conceived, developed and, of course, how audio is integrated. SO WHERE ARE WE NOW IN TERMS OF GAME AUDIO? When we look around at video game culture right now, what is apparent is that the bigger triple-A productions, and the big teams who make them, are still around and are still pushing the envelope ever further to produce some fantastically rich, and ever-more cinematic, experiences. Naughty Dog’s output is nothing short of incredible in this regard and the GTA franchise, rather than going stale and seeing critical (or sales) declines, continues to go from strength to strength. Ubisoft is similarly invested in developing huge franchises like Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry and Watch Dogs and there is still a healthy and lucrative ambition to move into and dominate this space. On the other hand, we see incredibly innovative and successful games being created by tiny teams like Simogo (Year
IS THERE A SIMILAR SCHISM IN AUDIO PRODUCTION AND TOOLS? The mobile devices that these games run on are capable of some incredibly sophisticated audio rendering, able to run plenty of simultaneous voices as well as reliably streaming sounds and having multiple run-time DSP eﬀects. While the output of the smaller devices is limited to a device speaker or stereo headphones, sophisticated run-time mixing, ducking and grouping is also used extensively to allow games to be presented beautifully. The same can now be said of browserfocused game and audio experiences. In terms of tools available for both triple-A and mobile audio production and implementation, the choices are often identical, with software like Audiokinetic’s Wwise being used on both large projects, such as Assassin’s Creed, Alien: Isolation, Bioshock Inﬁnite, as well as smaller titles like Limbo and Peggle. Across the industry, the tools for content creation turn out to look very similar, with middleware companies that have come into existence only over the last 10 years or so ﬁnally ﬁnding a prominent foothold in the production landscape across all game genres and types and all platforms. Many of the techniques and processes like mixing, dialogue logic, SFX