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Interview with Firelight Technologies

By Nathan Madsen | Published Nov 19 2010 12:21 PM in Interviews

fmod big game sound support audio firelight effects new
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As the game industry become larger, more complex and more expensive the need to streamline development became vital. The emergence of middleware software was inevitable. Middleware offers many great features, help teams meet deadlines, lower production costs and can help elevate the results of any project - large or small. Over time middleware has touched nearly ever discipline of the game industry and the feature sets, benefits and depth of these tools is becoming staggering. FMOD, the premiere audio middleware platform is no exception. I recently got to talk with Martin Wilkes, Sales & Business Manager from Firelight Technologies, the company behind FMOD, to talk about the stature of the toolset, exciting developments coming just around the corner and how the company’s philosophy attributed to the success of FMOD.

FMOD has become a staple in several of the major engines available on the market including CryENGINE, Unity, Unreal Engine 3, BigWorld and Trinigy’ Vision Engine. Congrats! That’s quite an accomplishment! If you can, what are some of the next big milestones Firelight hopes to tackle in the coming months and years?


Martin:
Yes, the whole team here at FMOD are really pleased with the engine partnerships. We have worked with many such as the Crytek team for quite a while now, and to add companies such as Unity and their fantastic engine, as well as the Trinigy Vision Engine and Bigworld is something that we hope helps the developers that use the different engines. So looking into the future, FMOD Studio is our biggie. But that will be next year.

For that we are looking forward to some announcements with the team at Pyramind in San Francisco. Can’t say too much, but keep your eyes out for the new FMOD training videos.

One area where FMOD has focused is that of the Simulator markets for both civil and defence. It has been a long path towards getting these markets to look at the tech from the video game markets and recognize, both its suitability and its cost. We are using some of the most advanced tech in the world market to build games. So FMOD has worked hard to expose the advantages of the game development technology with some awesome results.

We have a heap now using FMOD for their audio playback, and these include some of the biggest brands in the world such as Lockheed Martin and Kraus Krauss-Maffei Wegmann, (who make Panzer tanks). Another big one would be the partnership with Total Immersion for their DARPA funded military engine.


Being a sound designer myself, I’m very excited to hear FMOD is supporting iPhone and iPad game development! What more can you tell our readers about this, as the native audio engine for those Apple products is fairly limited in what it can do.


We are big fans of the iPhone and iPad, not just because they are cool, but for what they have done to the market place and the opportunities that they have provided to many indie developers. FMOD has been designed from the ground up to be scalable and runs on many low-spec platforms, so we are used to maximising functionality on limited hardware. There are some really clever games around. The Tapulos guys have done some really clever work with the audio on their rhythm games. With some prebaking of audio effects, it leaves a little space to add effects during game play.

So in terms of the FMOD iPhone product, it provides support for FMODs full suite of cross platform features. It offers hand optimized resampling and mixing routines for best performance on all iOS devices. This is cool. And the big one, it utilizes built in hardware decoding capabilities of iOS devices, abstracted behind FMODs interface. That is a big win for developers.


Since FMOD is beginning to support mobile entertainment on Apple products, can we expect something for other mobile platforms such as the Droid or Windows mobile devices?

Unfortunately we are unable to support the Windows 7 Mobile platform due to technical reasons. As for Android, we have versions under testing at the moment. Interestingly, we still see more enquiries for the Apple products. Not sure if it is across all territories, for we are still waiting for both to gain some more momentum. Not in terms of apps, which seem to be strong on Droid, but more in terms of games, where with some of the big publishers such as EA pushing into the space, the Apple products seem to have a stronger hold.

But the one we are really excited about would be Nintendo 3DS. That looks cool!!


I worked extensively with FMOD while creating sounds and music for LEGO Universe and one of the things that really made a strong impact on me was how fluid and deep FMOD was. I could create a sound then quickly and easily implement a situation where that sound’s playback was always different and unique. I’ve read that FMOD Designer 2010 has an improved layout and will further enhance workflow. Care to expound on that?


One of the big requests that we have seen is for support on managing large projects. Games are getting so full of content and some will have 1,000’s of sound files to manage. To help with this we played with the setup of the interface, made the windows as floating panes and reorganised most of the commonly used features. Then we also added what we call the “bird’s eye view”. This gives a graphic view of every sound in the project and can read different parameters from volume to roll off. This then allows the sound designer to quickly scan across their entire project and leap directly into individual event and alter them quickly. It’s a great graphical representation of all the sounds and allows the designer to alter quickly and also identify any incorrect levels.

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We’ve also added a simplified editor for creating all the basic sound effects in a game. With this new editor the sound designer can setup a playlist, apply randomization, and assign bank and resampling settings all in the one screen. This will really speed up the creation of assets in projects large and small.

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So, a partnership with Izotope is in the works? That should really add to the already impressive DSP power of FMOD! Tell us more about that!

Yes, and totally excited by this. One area that game developers have suffered in, is that of DSP plug ins that are such a part of premium audio, both music and film. So to partner with a company like Izotope is fantastic. They have some of the best DSP effects available, and we have finally met a company that is willing to put in the time to understand our game development market. It is different to what Izotope are used to and big Kudos to them for putting in the effort to work with a company like FMOD to get an understanding of what we are looking for and some of the barriers such as memory and CPU that DSP effects must deal with . Alex and his team sound like they are going to be a great addition to the global game development market and by working with Izotope, we have found a system in FMOD that can support the effects., And these are Pro-Audio effects that are what we at FMOD and almost all our developers have been chasing for a long time now. We are meeting with Izotope next week and we are both working with one of the premium publishers on a title that is going to push the boundaries in this field. This gives both Izotope and FMOD a great opp to get this right for the market. We expect to be offering this not long after the next GameSound Con in San Francisco in November.


One of the biggest attributes to FMOD and Firelight is the fantastic customer support! Any time I (or someone on my team) sent off an email to Firelight, we’d usually hear back between 6-12 hours later. Considering that we were in the US and Firelight is in Australia, that’s very impressive! Tell me about the company’s culture and philosophy regarding customer support and relations.

There is nothing more important.

When a developer needs an issue resolved, any major delay in solving that issue puts pressure on everyone, and when the projects are in their final stages and deadlines are looming, this is vital.

So yes, this is a priority at FMOD and we are lucky as we are based in Sunny Australia. Which is nice for lifestyle (best food, coffee, sport, beaches and clubs) but more importantly it puts between the two large development regions, being the USA and Europe. So that means we have contact during work hours into both territories, which allows us to chat as well as have quick email responses. It does help that the FMOD community has been around for a long time now, so heaps of smaller questions are answered by the community on the forum. This allows us to focus and respond to larger questions.


What other ways is FMOD striving to reach out to new users as well as support current users?

We are working hard to put together a heap of supporting videos and tutorials to assist the FMOD users. We have already set up a new FMOD TV page on You Tube and will begin to post a heap of videos there. We are also looking forward to the announcement with Pyramind, which will be a ripper. Yes, more videos, and with some of the best audio production houses.

We also have something in the wings that will be another video offering. We hope that this really suits the sound designers, something along the lines of a post production review of some of the big titles that are using FMOD.


I’d like to add that for a non-commercial, hobby project, FMOD is free! This certainly allows young sound designers and hobbyist teams to have access to this great toolset and get their feet wet with it. I find it very encouraging that Firelight adopts this attitude towards new, young developers.

Absolutely. We are big fans of the indie’s so free to use for all hobbyist and non commercial projects. Also free to all schools and universities that want to use FMOD in class to teach game audio. There are heaps of these.


Certainly sounds like 2010 has been a stellar year for FMOD with major updates to the product, new partnerships, many shipped games using FMOD and now several awards! Small Business Exporter of the Year and FMOD was the Arts category with commendations! Awesome. I bet the mood around the office is one of excitement, pride and energy towards the next year to come!

We love it!! We love games, we love audio and people give us awards for doing it. How good is that?!

But seriously, a big thanks to our local government in Victoria, Australia for the support they are giving our industry. Our first visits to China were with the government, and that is a fantastic markets. Still plenty to learn, but so keen to do it. Yes, it has been a good year, but it all moves quickly. Let’s see if our hard work on projects such as the new FMOD Studio comes off. But again, we will have to wait until GDC.


Gamedev: Thanks so much for your time and the great info Martin! Continued success to you and the folks at Firelight!

Firelight Technologies was started in May 2002 and is located in Melbourne, Australia. More information can be found at: http://www.fmod.org/.



About the Author(s)


Nathan Madsen is a composer-sound designer highly active in the video game, anime and indie film markets. He also serves as a moderator for Gamedev’s Music and Sound forum, is a published author, book reviewer and clinician. More information can be found at: [url="http://www.madsenstudios.com/"]www.madsenstudios.com[/url].




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