Why developers should consider investing in a quality sound engine - MCV

Why developers should consider investing in a quality sound engine

We ask the experts what specialised audio tools offer
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Many engines today handle almost every aspect of development, giving games-makers a one-stop shop for their projects. However, some elements can benefit from a more specialised focus, with audio being a prime example.

Companies such as Audiokinetic and Firelight Technologies have built their businesses on offering devs comprehensive sound engines, which offer more in-depth features for audio engineers.

“Audio is often an afterthought for full game engines, since it’s a much tougher feature to highlight in a sizzle reel,” says Audiokinetic’s director of developer relations Mike Drummelsmith. “They’ll offer means to add features that are missing, but then they have to develop and maintain features that might already exist in the dedicated sound engines.

“Sound engines will have had years or decades more development put into them, and will still have a huge advantage in terms of features, usability and stability.”

Sounds good

The advantages of products such as Wwise and FMOD are numerous, but FMOD Studio product lead Raymond Biggs says it comes down to one important factor.

“It frees you to focus on the most interesting part: the content,” he says. “Even if you have specific requirements, using a mature audio API lets you focus on the what’s going to set your game apart, without needing to reinvent the wheel.

“The other great thing about using these engines is they allow you to iterate quickly. You can start with a rough sketch of the audio in your game, using placeholder assets, and continually refine. By offloading the implementation to an audio engine, the content is free to evolve without touching any code.”

Of course, ambitious studios can attempt to develop their own sound engine if they have specific features and audio effects in mind, but Drummelsmith warns that it can be more efficient to avoid doing so.

“When compared to writing your own sound engine, a dedicated product will always have more features from the start,” he says. “It will also be more tested and stable and have stronger integration tools.

“More importantly, potential hires to your team are infinitely more likely to already be trained on the dedicated sound engine versus the in-house solution.”

By offloading the implementation to an audio engine, the content is free to evolve without touching any code.

Raymond Biggs, Firelight Technologies

Biggs adds that there is an even more pressing concern: cost.

“For games of any budget – and especially those under $100,000 – the benefits of using an audio engine far outweighs the cost of developing your own solution,” he says.

Drummelsmith agrees: “Even taking licensing costs of the sound engines into account, the overall cost is often much less expensive when compared to staffing up, training internally, and developing and maintaining an in-house solution over the years and on new platforms.”

Updated tools

If you prefer to stick to the audio features of established game engines, both Firelight and Audiokinetic assure users that they endeavour to keep their products in line with leading tools such as Unreal and Unity.

“As with any external technology, or tool outside of your game engine, you have to be aware that sometimes versions may lag behind a little bit, or planned features might take time to develop and release,” explains Drummelsmith.

“When a new release of the core game engine comes out, it’s possible that you might have to wait a couple of weeks for the new integration with the sound engine. This is normal, but often teams will get excited about new core features, and then realise after the fact that they should have waited for all of their tools to catch up.”

Both firms are also keen to stress that they are open and responsive when it comes to future versions of their own tools.

Drummelsmith concludes: “The teams behind sound engines are generally always open to working with developers to scope new features and implement them.

“When you’re working with any other third-party tool, it really pays to engage with them: ask questions, request features. Most importantly, don’t hide things unless you have to. If you approach a software maker with a feature request but then don’t explain what your goal is, the odds increase that what gets developed isn’t exactly what you were looking for.”

Image credit: Matt Holloway

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