More than two decades ago, a certain pro-audio magazine ran an article about game music and sound. It turned out you needed a Mac running a MIDI sequencer, some modest stereo editing software, and a Kurzweil K2000. It cast the game audio world of that time as awash with 8-bit quality sound, populated by somewhat less than ‘pro’ practitioners.
Understandably, it confidently forecast a time when the industry would ‘grow up’ and technical standards for fidelity would blossom to ‘CD quality’. The inference seemed to be – stand by, all you ‘proper’ engineers and studios with your Neve and SSL desks and fancy outboard – at some point this is all coming your way. Eventually these inexperienced bedroom audiomancers will no longer cut it. Ouch.
And yet the reality was that whilst talented game audio folks might have been aspiring to Hollywood sound and clutching at the coat-tails of film composers, their world was mostly lo-fi, low-budget and the pro-audio fraternity looked down its nose at them. How have things changed.
Who knew that recording technology itself was set to radically change, becoming more accessible than ever before? Creating superb master quality assets in less than top-end ‘pro-audio’ conditions was soon to become the norm. Arguably, at the advent of the now ubiquitous all-digital project studio, extremely software-savvy game audio creatives were well placed to harness the new recording tech – as at the same time they found their game tech making leaps and bounds.
Things moved fast. It became possible to ship games with believable 3D audio worlds replete with credible acoustic modelling, boasting occlusion and obstruction and a plethora of other DSP treatments. It wouldn’t be long before games would be replaying dozens of 3D audio channels rendered in surround, all running live via a sophisticated virtual digital mixing desk; an absolute revolution in interactive audio.
A NEW BEAT
These days, the game audio business happily uses established high-end movie talent and facilities for what it actually needs from them, and it’s commonplace for game scores to be recorded at Air or Abbey Road, with foley created at Shepperton.
Meanwhile, many of the original game audiophiles are alive and well, creating or overseeing top-class interactive audio content. Many, when confronted with that brave new ‘sink or swim’ world of high-end digital sound for games, actually took to the water with aplomb. And now the world of pro-audio and post-pro is deeply interested in game audio.
Being part of recent conference events like Game Music Connect and Sensoria Pro, both playing to packed houses, certainly reminds me that videogame music, sound and dialogue projects are now seen as highly desirable gigs. What’s more, in some instances, folks from other industries may even aspire to some of our best game sound design and perhaps be grabbing at the coat-tails of our composers.
In a recent Game Music Connect two-hour special on Classic FM, Howard Goodall commented on the unique creative opportunities game composers have, compared with their cousins in film and TV. Not to mention the growing importance of today’s games scores for jobbing orchestral musicians.
So, if this just happens to find you in crunch, harassed, sleep-deprived and not feeling quite as positive as your first rush of passion for game audio – or maybe not so much enjoying the particular title you’re working on right now – take heart. Actually, you have a quality problem.
Game audio has truly come of age and there are now armies of people out there who dream of breaking into our industry – and with an indie sector blossoming for game audio and VR tech shining on the horizon, the future looks very bright.