Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Music Vault: The Pac-Man Album

Today's foray into the Music Vault proffers an incredible artifact from the vinyl library that we've been recently reunited with. The Pac-Man Album picture disc hit's a sweet spot in my adolescent heart, as I'm fond of claiming Ms. Pac-Man as my first girlfriend.

I hope you find time to appreciate it in all it's glory!

-The Pac-Man Album: Side 1 (.mp3)

The Pac-Man Theme
Pac-Man's Magic Land
I'm Number 1
The Gang of Ghosts Quarter

Side One kicks off with some sampled audio (likely) from the game cabinet, and then musically unfolds into a synth-a-licios disco hoe-down of sing-song-y goodness.

-The Pac-Man Album: Side 2 (.mp3)

Turning Blue
He's Too Busy for Me
If it's a Game
The Pac-Man Finale

Side Two contains a brilliant solo performance by Ms. Pac-Man, and I suggest it be adopted by audio widows across the (magic) land.

This is the first of my Video Game Music collection, keep an eye peeled in the future for another nugget of yesteryear in the future.

For those of you adventurous enough to peel back the dermis on my video game addled upbringing, read on for a fascinating peek behind the curtain.

Relevant Story #1

Towards the end of High School there emerged a scene of sorts centered around an all night establishment called "The World Zoo" and located "Midway" between the Twin Cities of Minnesota. This became a lightning rod for all sorts of outcasts and all-aged shenanigans, and could often be found populated by a beautiful mess of characters from disparate locations in the area. The drama ran deep most nights, as cliques formed in an instant and were dissolved just as fast. My only escape from the swarming teenage emotions was the upright Ms. Pac-Man cabinet. I took to carrying a roll of quarters around with me, and in that way I was always guaranteed time to myself when things got too hairy. I chalk it up as one of the only ways I was able to survive that time of my life, the other relevant ingredient to that was the camaraderie of good friends.

I'll close by saying that: it's the people (real or pixelated) who help you through this life.

Relevant Story #2

Once upon a time I worked in a Call Center at a local University. During one of the many "reorganizations" that have become popular in todays fast-changing administrative sector found a group of us dropped down in the middle of a grey-walled cubicle jungle. Imagine if you will 5 or 6 phones in a constant ebb and flow of ringing and answering, ensconced in a dressed down "silence is golden" work environment. But that's not all. With us we brought a record player, with enough vinyl to exist for days on end without repeat. We routed the output into this crazy Telex Brain that we than distributed cabling out to each individual workstation. Each us us then became quipped with a set of local powered speakers in order to control our own volumes independently. All day long depending on arrival times, each of us would take turns picking out music and flipping our own records. I won't go too deep into the psychology of 'picks' except to say that there's more to it than meets the eye. Needless to say, someone (and it wasn't me!) was slightly infatuated with this record and it found it's way into constant rotation so much so that my posting it here is a slight tribute to her.We also had to hide it on occasion, but all in good fun!

I'll close by saying that: it's the people you work with who sometimes make working worthwhile.

Thanks to everyone I've had the pleasure to meet, get to know, and work with!

Gobble Gobble,

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Game Developer - Sound Design: The Forgotten Team

This bit hit too close to home when I read it the first time. I though "In a few short paragraphs someone at a production level has boiled down the plight of game audio across the industry." I say that because it has been my experience that most of the time what he describes is not the exception but the rule in today's development cycle. I can say no more, but feel inclined to excerpt "What Went Wrong #5" from the recent Game Developer postmortem for Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions.

"Along the chain of production, many design choices occur, and just as many changes are made, if not more. When delays happen at any stage in the process, the last team in the line of production is the one trapped against the deadline wall. This was the audio team on Shattered Dimensions.

As the entire development team iterated on every aspect of the game simultaneously throughout development, nothing was ever really final until the very end. Hence it was impossible for the audio team to start working on anything with final quality in mind, and it was very hard to determine what portions of the game could be worked on at what time, with minimum risk. Eventually, when everything in the game reached final quality simultaneously, the amount of accumulated audio work was just too much for the team to handle."

You can read a preview of the article page which includes the full exceprt here:

Spider-Man Shattered Dimensions Postmortem: Sound Design - The Forgotten Team

It's great to see honest and clear insight into the production process as it relates to the sound team.As someone who has personally seen the ripple effect of other disciplines missed deadlines with little understanding of how that effects other stakeholders standing down stream, it's refreshing (if not a little disheartening) to see it in black and white. It's clear that there are many ways to approach a solution to this problem, not all involve jockeying the schedule, but many involve increasing the the awareness of where audio falls in the pipeline and how each discipline affects the eventual workflow.

I'll be looking forward to seeing some of these practices pave the way for a tighter integration of game audio scheduling in the future!

Until next time true believers!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Game Audio Relevance 004

Hot on the heels of my AES 2010 Wrap Up I'm corraling the last months Game Audio related news into a impossibly verbose and undigestible chunk of internet link goodness.

SONORY is a company that specializes in synthesizing the sound of vehicles
Goldeneye DS Dynamic Music
Now Hear This - "Sound Rendering" and Harmonic Fluids
RjDj-style augmented/interactive sound-project based on the Inception-soundtrack?
Andy Serkis on Enslaved and acting in video games
Framework for making 2D games with Lua using a basic OpenAL interface.
A 'batteries included' awesome sauce solution to getting Lua up and running.
Presentation .PDF of San Fran GameSoundCon 2010 talk on procedural audio for games
N64 -Wii, Re-imagining “GoldenEye 007? Exclusive Interview w/ Graeme Norgate and Steve Duckworth
Notation vs BINKY vs visualisation
Microsoft DirectMusic Producer - No I haven't missed you, but here we are again.
Whats So Special About Interactive Audio?
Call for Papers: The Oxford Handbook of Interactive Audio
Making Interactive Music
Dynamic Music in Wwise
Shmusicup: Dodge Bullet Patterns Created By Your Own Music
Behind the Sounds of Fable III: From Chicken Singalongs to Very Angry Dogs
Epic Mickey Music and Sound
Good piece on Rock Band 3, Power Gig, and the decline of music games.
Rock Band 3, Behind the Scenes: When A Music Game Gets More Real
An Interview with Zachary Quarles, ID Software’s Audio Lead
The Game Audio Tutorial's take on Portal's GlaDos
Stephan Schütze: FMOD 101
Stephan Schütze: Using XACT for Sound Design
Stephan Schütze: Boingy Boingy Boingy - Why I hate repetition and what can be done about it.
Interview with New Vegas composter Inon Zur
Part 2 of a behind the scenes look at Back to the Future: The Game, 'Hey McFly!' now!
Ben Long talks with Jeff Essex, a veteran of Interactive Audio
Stadium Crowd Recording Session - NCAA Football UF Gators vs. LSU Tigers
Sound in Canabalt
Information about Attenuation and the Distance Model in the Unreal audio system.
'From the Shadows of Film Sound', is available now!
Interview: Super Meat Boy 's Silly Take On Classic Platformers
BeatPortal - How to get music in video games
"How to get into the Video Game Industry" (Sound Designer Edition)!
[GCAP 2010] Interview: Emily Ridgway - Emily Industries
Brutal Legend: More Than Just Noise: It's Called...Heavy Metal!
Aaron Marks Special: Function of Game Sound Effects
Podcast with Bernie Krause, who collected an impressive library of soundscapes: listen to ants singing!
Soundtracking Mario - Koji Kondo. Edge Mag article
The tech behind the music of Fallout: New Vegas' Mojave Wasteland
Sound of the Dead: audio design in Dead Nation
Official PS3 sound bar designed to enhance game dialog
Mick Gordon interview with the awesome Stylus Monkey
Splash Damage Talks Audio for "Brink"
Subversion: Dev Blog 20 - Multi-track Music w/ tool pics and video examples

A ton about BioShock Infinite's tech? Check out this reply from TD Chris Kline

"BioShock 1's audio system was... umm... "sub-optimal". This time around our sound team demanded a new audio pipeline based on AudioKinetic's WWise technology that supported 5.1 with adjustable dynamic range and a fully dynamic mixing system. Not only did our engineers rise to that task, but they subsequently took it up a notch and implemented both a custom sound propagation system (so voices properly echo down corridors and around buildings) and a dynamic wind audio system that reinforces the dynamic weather in the world."

Audio Implementation Greats #9: Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter 2 Multiplayer: Dynamic Wind System 

Now that I've got all of that off my chest, it's time to get back to work!

AES 2010 - Game Audio Track Wrap

It is a special privilege to be able to connect to other like minded individuals out there in the world today. Whether trolling the internets, tweeting the hottness, or conversing in person; it's a beautiful thing to share your geek with peeps that are into it. It was with this appreciation that I descended upon San Francisco this past weekend to take part in and contribute to the 2011 Audio Engineering Society Game Audio Track.

Having been to a handful of Game Developer Conferences in the past 5 years, I had never made the pilgrimage to AES. Either due to circumstances, or what seemed like a lack of technically inspired game audio programming, the annual GDC has always matched or exceeded what was offered at the emerging AES Game Audio Track. Couple that with the high volume of game geeks present at GDC and the scales have always tipped in favor of connecting with the development tribe of professionals I'm so used to working with.

After having spent the weekend soaking in the current state of affairs I feel like I'm quickly coming to terms with exactly what Game Audio is and could be to the AES. As an example of where my line of thinking is leading, the mission of Siggraph is to "promote the generation and dissemination of information on computer graphics and interactive techniques." What comes of that statement is a successful cross pollination of very technical white papers focused on furthering the state of the art and the adoption and absorption of such idea's by today's computer graphics creative leaders.

I think there is a growing correlation between what is going on with crossover at Siggraph in the potentials for crossover at AES with regard to game audio. In addition to several presentations targeted at the general audio professionals in attendance, there was a slice of technical and future focused talks that helped cement game audio as an industry that belongs as part of the AES whose acknowledged role is as "an international organization that unites audio engineers, creative artists, scientists and students worldwide by promoting advances in audio and disseminating new knowledge and research."

Here's a brief rundown of the things I found most exciting.

Technically Speaking

Thursday Peter "pdx" Drescher helped educate attendee's in the fundamentals of C++ through the use of FMOD Ex and FMOD Designer in conjunction with a custom written program that enabled functionality from outside the provided toolsets. He has uploaded the FMOD Xcode Project so that others may benefit from his awesomeness!

Friday saw Kristoffer Larson waxing philosophical on the use of high level programming language Lua in games and went on to illustrate it's accessibility and use in an open source 2D game engine called "LÖVE" which utilizes OpenAL to play back audio.

Later that day Michael Kelly followed up with an overview of XML for use in games.

Highlight Up My Life

Richard Dekkard and Tim Gedemer dug into 5.1 Orchestral recording and ended up unloading a pile of technical information about how sound is handled in games. Their stories from the trenches and wisdom regarding process and motivation made for a great introduction for audio professionals coming from outside the game industry.

David Mollerstedts presentation on 'Mixing the DICE Way' was a well placed and laid back presentation disguised as a treasure trove of technical implementation that illustrated (warts and all) the HDR approach to Battlefield Muti-Player and the need for additional creative control moving forward with their single player campaign. Needless to say the topic of interactive and dynamic mixing is a hot topic these days, and the solution that DICE has implemented seems to be serving their aesthetic design quite well. If that wasn't enough David is also one of the great minds behind the Teenage Engineering OP-1, the only piece of hardware to have me salivating in recent years. (or at least since the Tenori-On)

Adam Levenson gave a lunchtime keynote on the "Trappings of Hollywood" during which he crystallized my favorite theme of the conference when he suggested that the future of interactive audio involves synthesis and procedural techniques to a great degree. This was echoed by a whitepaper written and presented on by Simon Hendry entitled "Physical Modeling and Synthesis of Motor Noise for Replication of a Sound Effects Library" in which Max/MSP was used to simulate the sound of DC motors for interactive applications. Moving every step a little bit closer to a believable model of reality.

Closing things out on Sunday afternoon, the 'Physics Psychosis' panel I had the pleasure of kicking off was one that (obviously) had a special place in my heart. After having presented several time on the technical side of physics in games, I chose to pull back and instead focus on the artistic considerations of approaching a dynamic physics system, while laying down some fundamentals and illustrating with examples from The Force Unleashed. I joined the audience in what was set to be a ramp up in technical detail as Stephen Hodde from Volition proceeded to blow minds with footage and information from the forthcoming Red faction installment and iteration of their GeoMod technology. Of special interest was a super-sexy debug fly-through that enabled visualization of the different sounds emanating from a structure during it's destruction.A beautiful sight to behold. Next up in the continuation of rapid technical acceleration was Jay Weinland from Bungie showing off the Bonobo Toolset that they've been building behind closed doors for the past 10 years. What looked like a powerhouse of properties and potential for the customization of sound playback in games resulted in very articulate and accurate playback of the 100's of surface types and potential object interactions. The cleanup crew was brought in shortly after to clean up grey matter from the room dividers after the spontaneous explosion of several attendee's.

Wrap it Up

Which brings me to an interesting intersection that occured en-route to the convention while reading the latest copy of Computer Graphics World. In an article by Noriko Kurachi presenting an overview of technologies from this years Siggraph she outlines one of the idea's presented that was based on "sound rendering" and Harmonic Fluids. Essentially the simulation of fluid dynamics tied inherently to the synthesis and reproduction of sound, based on the simulation in realtime. This convergence of graphics and sound at an unabashedly graphics focused conference makes me long for the same symbiosis between the acedemic and practical in game audio.
My head is still spinning from the overspilling information that I was witness to during the conference, but my key take-away is that feeling of belonging to a group of people who is as passionate about audio as I am. It's during ties like these that I feel like it's important to note that in alot of ways we are all on our own solving the same problems; whether it's Physics, Mixing, Synthesis, or Surround. Industry events where people can come together and share their experiences and dream a brighter future are the petri dishes where the state of the art get's challenged and eventually pushed forward.

See you at GDC 2011!



Audio Recordings of sessions and presentations are available for sale via convention recording service Mobiltape:

The Geek

Code Monkey Part 1: What Game Audio Content Providers Need to Know About C++ Programming
Code Monkey Part 2: LUA is not a Hawaiian Picnic - The Basics of Scripting for Dynamic Audio Implementation
Code Monkey Part3: XML

The Tweak:

The Wide Wonderful World of 5.1 Orchestral Recordings
Mixing the DICE Way - Battlefield, HDR Audio, and Instantiated Mixing
Physics Psychosis

The Freak:

Audio Cage Match!

The Biz:

Takin' Care of Business

The Buzz:

Lunchtime Keynote: Adam Levenson

There's other good ones in there, for a summary of these see above!