Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tales of a Technical Sound Designer

I haven't been writing much lately. An article here or there, but nothing too crazy. It dawned on me last year that I used to do quite a bit of writing. Writing has been one of the ways that I use to process my experiences and sharing those experiences with others has been a fundamental part of my growth. It turns out that after 10-odd years of writing and processing, I was looking back on a body of work that represented my formative years in game audio. Between officially published articles, interviews, and a couple of series, there was more than enough to pull together everything into some semblance of a form. So much everything, that I decided to self-publish a two-volume collection that is now available for purchase digitally (PDF) or printed on-demand (B&W or Colour) as: Game Audio: Tales of a Technical Sound Designer

Order here: http://www.blurb.com/user/dkastbauer

The articles contained within continue to be available online: Game Developer Magazine in the GDC Vault, Audio Implementation Greats at DesigningSound.org, Lost Chocolate Blog in the very same place it's always been, with a few articles and interviews strewn across the net-scape. There is something to pulling all of these together and the strength-in-presentation they acquire by doing so. A bit of history and hopefully some timeless insights into game audio and the process of discovering ones passion comes into focus through the 500 total pages across the two volumes. (It also highlights my curious relationship with words, phrasing, and my struggle to frame these ideas in a way that communicates passion and complexity.) A worthy en-devour for those who are interested in charting a path through time and possibly pickup some game audio nuggets of wisdom along the way.

What a way it has been!

My first-few articles writing for Game Developer Magazine, reviewing audio middleware tools, or the Audio Implementation Greats Series, attempting to highlight the unique position of audio implementation and elevate it into an art in-its-own-right, feel like the first-steps on a journey that I've been on since taking the first steps so long ago. The inappropriate grammar, the run-on sentences, the oblique references, the terrible 1980's song quotes, all align in what I hope is an enjoyable expedition into the mind of a technical sound designer. Wild pontification on everything interactive audio: from the now-past to potential futures and beyond!

Meanwhile, somewhere between-the-lines of various interviews, a loose definition of Technical Sound Designer can be found. A sticky-wicket to nail down, the nomenclature once quothed by Rob Bridgett, Technical Sound Designer has grown to encompass many things to many people and potentially surpasses the narrow restriction of language in doing so. For an industry that has continued to fan-out in specializations (See "Knowing a Thing Or Two" in Volume 01) is there room for a "Technical Music Designer"? What about a "Technical Audio Director"? Where does that leave "Audio Implementor"...does that imply entry level experience?

The exciting part is that this is all being discussed TODAY and will likely continue to be a nebulous blob of uncertainty for a while. Maybe you'll come across some wild terminology within these two volumes that has settled into a kind of standardization. When I first jumped in, nobody could decide what to call an Event. Since then, with the help of audio middleware, we seem to be equipped with much of the vocabulary we need to discuss our craft. Then along came VR Audio and things are just getting started again.

But before I get ahead of myself, I just wanted to take the time to thank everyone for their support and inspiration over the years. A project (or career) of this scope does not happen by itself or without the help and understanding of many people along the way. Thank you.

If you have a chance to read through these florescent tomes of game audio, feel free to drop a line and let me know how it went. I'd be fascinated to hear about your epiphanies or frustrations with these writings.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Game Audio - Conclusions from GDC 2006 Reprise

I wrote this to the team at 0 A.D. where I was once the Audio Director (which was quite a lofty title for a then-scrappy loose conglomerate of individuals scattered across the globe). As we head into another year of the Game Developers Conference I thought it would be great to reflect on these words, 10 years later, and try to soak-up any value that might lie within.

Conclusions from GDC 2006

Posted 07 April 2006 - 05:07 AM
by Damian Kastbauer (aka LostChocolateLab)

I promised a little wrap up so here goes:

Disclaimer: This write up is focused strictly on the experience SURROUNDING the actual tutorials, sessions, and lectures. What follows in the seedy underbelly of the conference, and should be seen as a secondary focus, apart from the hard skills and learning from industry professionals.

Looking back on the week that was GDC 2006


  1.  No thinking, only doing.
  2.  I can sleep when I get home.
Most of you know I headed out to GDC, Demo Reel in hand ready to take on the world with experience gained here, and through other contract work I’ve accumulated over the past year. While I don’t regret the singularity with which I headed out west, I feel that in hindsight I might now be able to offer a better perspective on what the convention is all about, and how one might prepare for it. Truth be told, nothing can truly prepare you for your first time, but I’ll throw out some observations that might help fill in the picture of what is to be gained. (Or at least what made it through my filter)

GDC is all about levels:

Are you the next Eisner Award winning artist? The next Marty O’Donnel Halo 2 scoring master chief musician? The next Sid Mier waiting to happen?

Understanding all this and more can be yours at the largest conglomeration of be’s and wannabe’s in the industry. Being immersed in the culture is a fantastic way to see the levels of skill, dedication, and talent stacked up against you in the industry. The people working and who want to be working are on display and only a handshake away. Most are hungry to be either recognized or validated for their hard work, and taking the time to get to know some of them is what it’s all about.
  • If you were wondering where you fall in the hierarchy of creatives out there angling for all the same great game jobs, GDC is where you can find that answer.

I remember you from last year, and other stories I overheard:

It became swiftly apparent that I was playing at an insider’s game. Most of the heavy hitters in my industry were well connected, they knew people who knew people…and most importantly had been coming to GDC for YEARS! For some it was reconnecting with people that they met/saw last year at GDC, or maybe worked with or corresponded with last year. This recognition and continuation is an immediate induction into the “I’m for Real” Club, and that MATTERS. 

Anyone can go to GDC and be surrounded by prophetic greatness flowing in the lecture halls, that's the beauty of it. But not everyone KEEPS coming back year after year to re-educate, see friends/clients, and keep up good contacts.
  • People want to feel secure that you’ll be around for the long haul.
  • These people mean business, and part of business is continuity.
  • (If you plan on going one year, plan on it for the rest of your career)

You can’t shut it off, but please put it away:

If I were to tell you that GDC is not all about networking, it’s all about “Relationship Building”, you’d tie me up in a burlap sack and flog my with pink bunny rabbits. But the truth of the matter is, while I did a fair amount of networking…by the time Thursday night hit there was a vibe in the air and it was apparent that no one really wanted to talk shop anymore. Sure there was the formality of introductions, but if you didn’t move on to entertaining subjects pretty quickly, eyes started wandering and drinks were quickly emptied in an attempt to dash to the bar for a refill. Some of the best experiences were ones spent unraveling the hours in inebriated conversation, people want to know that you can get down and cut loose as a human being. (not that drunken cavorting is a necessity, but there is a certain ilk with which it holds much water)

  • People want to meet real people.
  • They want to share interests but don’t want to be defined by them, and they want to have a good time. (If that overflows into talking shop, fine…but it could just as easily be futurist theory, ice fishing, or who would win in a fight between Superman & Mighty Mouse.)
  • Prepare to talk and listen without pimping. Be yourself and your @#$%-pirations will follow.

Never underestimate the failure of memory:

You’re going to meet a lot of people. Without going into too much of a personal diatribe on the benefits of taking notes, let me direct you to Darius’ GDC Networking plan. This guy’s got it sussed out, he’s done all the hard thinking for years so that you don’t have to. Read his stuff and benefit from his wisdom.

I came back with 54 business cards and notes on 52 of the conversations. What can I say about the 2 I missed? “Hi, we met and talked…nice knowing ya!” Now that’s not to say I didn’t leave a potentially deep impression on those 2 (I was sporting a potentially brain damaging beard at the time), but I also didn’t get the chance to reconnect with them first after the conference. My bad. (I still think I did pretty good my first time out.)

  • Read the Blog on networking at GDC.
  • When you see the guy in the orange shirt next year, thank him profoundly.

What is this all towards and for?

We all want to do work that satisfies us and fulfills our creative desires. Screw the fuzzy talk, WE WANT JOBS! Anyone will tell you there’s no one way to that goal, and from the stories I’ve heard it can be nothing but true. No one knows when their first job in the industry is going to come. Some try to secure their placement through school, some bury their noses in books and code, while others take the straight path in the back door through friends, relatives, or “relationships”. Whichever way or ways you choose, you can always increase the odds by being a person that people can easily work with and by that I mean COMMUNICATE with.

  • Cultivate your ability to hold conversations with all types of people.
  • It takes all kinds in the game industry and if you can talk to them, you can likely WORK with them.

Addendum to these insights 2016:

Slow down:

There's no hurry, you're at the start of your career and there is time. The pressure of getting a job, paying the bills, and getting started are real...but try to keep in mind that the people you meet your first year at GDC will continue to be around for MANY years to come. This will be my 10th year, I can say without a doubt you will be crossing paths with folks you meet for years to come. I remember myself way-back-when; eager to find a foothold, looking for the spark that would light-up the runway to my future. It absolutely happened thanks to someone I met that very first year (thanks Jory!), 10 years later I wish I could have been as confident that it would (eventually) work out. As one of my oldest friends in game audio told me that year when we met each other in-person for the first time at that GDC...BE EASY! You don't have to drink alcohol, you don't need to stay up all night (although, for the sake of maximizing time you may choose to). Make sure your time spent with other folks is worthwhile, in whatever way speaks to you personally. People will grasp the depth of your character through your actions and expression. Be yourself! Also, be sure to dig the GDC Code of Conduct and create space for everyone as part of the conversation.

Do your homework:

By the time I had saddled up and rode my horse into San Jose for my first GDC I had been reading between the lines of articles and documentation on the internet for years trying to put together how game audio technology actually worked. In the process I came across games I wish I had done sound for, and people I wish I could work with. Dreams for another day, maybe (...but sometimes dreams do come true!). In order to maximize my time I put together a list of folks whose names turned up time-and-again in my online browsing history. These were folks I would love to meet, given a chance, and possibly discuss the work they had been doing in game audio.

I made a list, I cropped in photos, and I carried it with me around the conference halls and after-parties:
These are some people in game audio.

Unsurprisingly a large number of these folks are still around, in my life, and were absolutely fundamental in my growth in the industry and as a person. I still remember asking Peter McConnell about iMuse, sitting cross-legged with The Fat Man and soaking-up knowledge from the man on a silver mountain, and a late-night walk with Karen Collins through a deserted San Jose. I equally remember meeting several other audio folks at the beginning of their careers who would go-on to create some amazing sound for games: Mick Gordon, Mark Kilborn, Will Roget, Sean Beeson, DB Cooper, Mike "Skitch" Schiciano. Shared history is something I value greatly, I'm glad to have shared time with folks and really enjoy watching people wend their way throughout the industry.

Here are some smart and succinct suggestions from other folks:

Akash Thakkar - Just Add Value - GDC 2015 POSTMORTEM
Jacob Pernell - Networking and Finding Gigs
Leonard Paul - School of Video Game Audio: 10 Tips for #GameAudioGDC
Luca Fusi - GDC2014 GDC2015
Stephen Froeber - Networking at GDC- A Beginner's Guide: Part 1 Part 2
Brandon Wu - Surviving GDC: Tips for Game Conference Success
Christina Couch - How to Become a Networking Ninja
Lance Hayes - How to Network Your Way Into Game Audio: Part 1 Part 2
Vincent Diamante - How to Break Into Game Audio
Nathan Madsen - Pursuing a Career in Game Audio
Aaron Brown - How to break into the professional audio industry
Damian Kastbauer - Game Audio Aspirations
Joe Cavers - GDC Advice

Game Audio Podcast GDC 2015: I - Rumble
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2015: II - Vroem
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2015: III - Campfire Celebrations
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2015: IV - Boem
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2015: V - Scro...poef
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2015: VI - Zing Clap

Game Audio Podcast GDC 2014: I - The Glass is Full
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2014: II - The Glass is Right In Front of You
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2014: III - Jittery Glass
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2014: IV - The Glass is Half-Full
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2014: V - Grand Theft Glass
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2014: VI - No Glass Involved

Game Audio Podcast GDC 2013: I - Getting Warmed Up
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2013: II - Audio Bootcamp
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2013: III - Yeah, and That Happened! Really?
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2013: IV - What a Trip
Game Audio Podcast GDC 2013: V - 39 Flights of Loving 

See you there?

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Our lives are like the wind...or like sounds

Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind - Hayao Miyazaki
"Our lives are like the wind...or like sounds. 
We come into being, resonate with each other..."

Thursday, March 06, 2014

To All The Audio Toolsets I've Loved Before...

Early on I compiled a couple of lists of Audio Implementation Toolsets as part of my Audio Implementation Greats series over at DesigningSound.org

Audio Implementation Greats #1: Audio Toolsets [Part 1]
Audio Implementation Greats #2: Audio Toolsets [Part 2]

These gave an overview of the available audio middleware and proprietary toolsets which had been discussed across the burgeoning web of knowledge that is the internet. At the time, it was harder than you'd think to come across this kind of information (and one of the reasons I started feeding Game Audio Relevance with game audio related links).

I have some opinions about proprietary audio tools. From an article I wrote for Game Developer Magazine entitled "Death Of An Audio Engine Pg. 47":

If the continue reading, you'll find I can be forgiving when it comes to the specific needs of a project when it comes to "rolling your own" (and there is still work to be done between the audio toolset and the game engine, make no mistake). But generally speaking I would rather take the speed-up of purchasing something off the shelf to "get there faster" than go through the (unnecessary?) exercise of creating an audio toolset from scratch.

After seeing an article tweeted to #GameAudio called "The 16 Best DAW Software Apps in the World Today" it got me thinking about how great it would be to have 16 "Best" game audio middleware solutions to choose from.  That was, until Karen Collins chimed in asking "Do you really want to learn 16 of them?"

The burden of choice.

That got me wondering how many different game audio tools I have learned over the last 7-9 years of learning and development.  Which brings me to today's task.

A list of the Game Audio Toolsets I've had the privilege of working with during my time in game audio:

ISACT: Creative Labs 
Ambient Cow Demo

Source Engine (HL2)
Valandil/ Age of Chivalry (Mod)

Direct Music Producer: Microsoft
Gatheryn (Unreleased)

Proprietary: Open Source Developed - 0 A.D. (Wildfire Games)
Proprietary: Telltale Tool - All Telltale Episodes (Telltale)
Proprietary: aIMUSE - Star Wars: The Force Unleashed (LucasArts)
Proprietary: Cubase - RockBand Unplugged & Lego RockBand (Harmonix)
Proprietary: Scream - Uncharted 3 (Naughty Dog)
Proprietary: Dead Space 3

FMOD Designer: Firelight Studios 
Conan (Nihilistic)
A Vampyre Story (Autumn Moon)
Faxion (True Games)

Wwise: Audiokinetic
The Saboteaur (Pandemic)
Star Wars: The Old Republic (Bioware)
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed 2 (LucasArts)
Infamous 2 (Sucker Punch)
XCOM - The Bureau (2k Marin)
Marvel Heroes (Secret Identity)
Plants vs. Zombies 2 (Popcap)
Peggle 2 (Popcap)

Here are some other game audio audio tools I haven't shipped with but have fiddled around a bit:

Miles 9
CRI Middleware
Unity Audio
Sectr Audio
Unreal Audio

Total Unique Game Audio Tools I've Loved Before: 11

After all of these years and great experiences stepping into Other Peoples Projects as a freelancer, I might be biased in saying that the emergence of audio middleware has brought a welcome stability to the shifting-sands of game audio. There are many comparisons to be made between the world of DAWs and Game Audio Specific tools. With both FMOD Studio and Wwise (beginning in 2013.1) the addition of "DAW like" functionality brings the two closer in functionality. Will we see a full crossover in the future? Will there be a day when we are presenting the 16 Best Game Audio Middleware Toolsets?

Stick around, I can't wait to find out!