Wednesday, November 10, 2010

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!

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