AUDIO SPECIAL: Creativity vs. Technology - which will win the battle for the future?

Future Music

Is the future of game audio 19.1 speaker systems, or does it lie more in creativity rather than technology? High Score’s Hugh Edwards gives us his view of where we’re going…

Imagine being able to have quite literally any kind of audio you could ever dream of in your game. Is that so unrealistic? If you can hear it, you can record it. If you can imagine it, you can synthesise it. If you have the tools and the expertise, you can manipulate it.

So what’s new for the future of audio in games? Primarily, most forms of audio are relatively linear at their origin, be it music, voiceover or sound design. Many of the newer tools that are available to audio engineers, however – such as FMOD and Wwise – have built on this to the point where audio can now dynamically change within sound-scapes. This shift can’t be underestimated.

Over the last few projects one of our main focuses has been on education, and helping developers and publishers to understand the possibilities that are now available to them, from dynamic music interaction to real-time mixing and even mastering reactive to gameplay.

For example, have you ever reached a point in a game where a character is speaking but the music at that particular point in time drowns out what is being said? No problem, we can show you how to program a side-chain compressor into your code which will dynamically duck the music against the speech, to ensure that no matter where you in the audio spectrum, everything is crystal clear.

To expand on this, we’ve recently started work on an undisclosed game where we have shown the developer how we can record specific vehicles, build their realistic engines and then shape those engines in-game. And we can do this not only for first and third-person views, but dynamically for multiplayer using volume, enveloping, real-time compression and reverb as well as specific filtering to create a truly realistic sound – and conversely, we can show you how to create incredibly unrealistic sounds for those types of games where you really want to stray from reality.

There are many game developers out there who do not have a whole raft of in-house audio experts to advise them on what can be achieved today and in the future with audio and its implementation; but they do have the imagination. Working together early on in the production process is the key to this success.

Here at High Score, we’ve also developed a completely new and innovative approach to voiceover production, by putting all the stages of our project into a new toolset we’ve had specifically created based on years of experience in voice direction, recording, post-production and QA. We’ve been creating this over the past few voice projects such as Il2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey, Jambo Safari and some other unannounced games, and the system has incredible benefits, removing the human error in processing and allowing focus on the areas where it’s needed.

Specifically with QA, this tool allows us to provide a genuine advantage over existing methodologies where we can guarantee accuracy with individual voice files and the project as a whole. The tool also works with video as well as audio and as we move more into recording speech directly from mo-cap actors, this is going to be essential.

Another exciting new area of audio that is emerging comes with record companies now being prepared to release stems, or individually recorded tracks, from the original recording sessions. This means we can take these files and create new and exciting mixes, even in real-time. Of course, Rock Band and SingStar initiated this process, but if you understand that we can now break music down to its core component level, it only takes imagination to create some seriously interesting titles that aren’t just based around a catalogue of Beatles hits. Imagine recording your entire orchestra in stems and then allowing the gameplay to build dynamic mixes of your music, changing every time you played.

So what’s new for the future of audio in games? It isn’t with a new discovery. It isn’t with a fourth dimension, or 19.1 surround sound. The future lies in the expertise of truly understanding what and how sound can be manipulated, and then using imagination to achieve whatever our minds can conjure. It’s not magic, but it can be breathtaking.

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