Musical_hazelnutt

Question for composers/sound designers with professional experience - When do you generally start with work within the production pipeline?

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Hi guys!

I have a very specific question. 

My partner and I are currently composing and sound designing for our first real project, a game that was incredibly fortunate to be picked up by an international distributer. The game's production commenced in June, and is (formally) stated for an April/May release. 

We have been a part of the team and the game from the beggining, from mid 2016, but this was very very early in the dev process and the game has changed drastically since (for the better).

Our engagement was due to begin on the 1st of August and end on December 1st (we weren't involved in this decision, it was handed to us), plus 1 month of engagement in the post production phase, and the current status of the game simply doesn't, at least in my very green perception, allow for us to complete our job within the timeline. Specifically, the game will have a strong artistic feel, and the music/sound design plays a pivotal role in the feel of the game (there is no dialogue of any kind and the communication is mostly through gestures). Having said that, the game is currently still in deep development, it consists of three acts, the first act is near the finish line (about 30 percent of the game), the second and third are in very early prototype form with the models/level design still to b integrated/specified. The animations and cutscenes have only just started with production, and as I have stated, they too will play an incredibly important part of the story, and I am yet to see any version of them, I know only the global ideas for them. The levels are pretty complex and considering there aren't any loading screens anywhere, a smooth flow isn't very simple to conceive without seeing some specific posts within the levels themselves.

So, my question is, in your experience, did you formally begin working further on down the development process, and were you expected to finish this early? From what I have gathered from  fellow sound designers and composers, it was my understanding they were involved up until the release, so come post production time, that was the height of their engagement, and we aren't even near the alpha phase.

I am friends with the team, we have known each other for two years so if I receive information about different practices within the game development community regarding composing/sound design timeframes, it shouldn't be a problem talking about a different deal.  They are also good and kind people, but very ambitious and eager (which is why I don't want to dissapoint in any way).

Also, this is a first project for all of us, so we are not savy with common practices, and considering the complexity of the soundtrack itself (it will feature heavy interactive audio implementation and a soundtrack of over an hour and half) you can understand my dilemma. I truly want to deliver as best as possible, but I feel that this isn't the right way to do it.

The distributers have so far been happy with our work, and we do not feel any pressure on that front as well.

And lastly, we have sketches for all the segments of the game (we are finalising the first act so we can coincide with their completion of it), and in an optimistic scenario, hope to have all the ingame tracks finished by the deadline, with all the SFX done until our formal deadline. 

To summise, the sitch; we have a formal time slot within the development, but it doesn't seem realistic considering the game is nowhere near its representative state, when did you generally enter within the development process? Oh and yes, for that extra time we would, hopefully negotiate, we would of course not seek for additional funding. We will stick by our first arrangment of five months contract, but this is all for us to get the work done right.


So guys, if anyone could share their experiences and whether you have any solid advice, I would really appreciate it because we want to communicate this in the best way possible. This really has all the engridients of a special game and we don't want to do something superficially.


Huge thanks to anyone in advance, and sorry for the abundance of info, but I found it all to be important to convey the whole picture due to the specific situation :)

Edited by Musical_hazelnutt

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Musical,

It's not unusual for a game project manager to overlook audio (including music) until too late, or to underestimate the audio effort. You say you are not savvy and the team is not savvy to the process, and you ask for other people's experience stories. Those other stories will likely not help you. You say you are friends with the team; the best way to preserve that friendship might be to simply do your best to cooperate with their wishes in good faith. You can do good work and the project can fail; you can make good and reasonable arguments and lose the friendship. 

What can go wrong? You could be compensated too little for your work. You could be criticized for not being a team player. The project could fail. You could lose the friendship. Which one of those is the worst? Which one matters the least?

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1 hour ago, Tom Sloper said:

Musical,

It's not unusual for a game project manager to overlook audio (including music) until too late, or to underestimate the audio effort. You say you are not savvy and the team is not savvy to the process, and you ask for other people's experience stories. Those other stories will likely not help you. You say you are friends with the team; the best way to preserve that friendship might be to simply do your best to cooperate with their wishes in good faith. You can do good work and the project can fail; you can make good and reasonable arguments and lose the friendship. 

What can go wrong? You could be compensated too little for your work. You could be criticized for not being a team player. The project could fail. You could lose the friendship. Which one of those is the worst? Which one matters the least?

Tom, thank you for your response! :)

 

The thing is, my team realises that they are not savvy, and as such, would very much listen if I were to tell them "guys, i heard from a couple of sources that it was not orthodoxed for audio to be completed before the alpha of the game".

Also, they have made severe miscalculations even for their end of the dev process before, so I would say that their vision of our deadline is more of a shot in the dark, than a wish, which I did not know how to comment due to my own inexperience.

 

Having said all that, the question still stands,and literally any concrete reference or personal experience would mean a lot :)

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It's not unusual for audio to be done/complete when the game reaches Alpha. Especially audio that is part of gameplay (sounds, voice). Alpha is "asset complete and feature complete." After Alpha, the rest of the effort is polishing. Music might be rightly considered polish, depending on the game.

23 minutes ago, Musical_hazelnutt said:

Also, they have made severe miscalculations even for their end of the dev process before, so I would say that their vision of our deadline is more of a shot in the dark, than a wish, which I did not know how to comment due to my own inexperience.

You risk losing the friendship if you pursue this point. Is the game's success your priority, over the friendship?

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Musical_hazelnutt, audio being overlooked or neglected is not uncommon, even for professionals.

And severe miscalculations of scheduling in the dev process are almost expected, never mind common.

You shouldn't be worrying about what is 'normal' or what you think they 'should' have done - you should just communicate what you believe you need, in order to deliver what you promised. If you merely promised to create and deliver assets as required, do that. If you agreed to make them in a way that requires you to have seen more of the finished game, mention this to them, while being aware that you could basically end up stretching your own work commitments out for no additional money, which isn't ideal. If you just need extra direction from them so you can work without the whole game being ready, maybe they can provide that.

But the key thing is - talk to them, don't look for a 'standard' collaboration process, because there isn't one.

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1 hour ago, Kylotan said:

Musical_hazelnutt, audio being overlooked or neglected is not uncommon, even for professionals.

And severe miscalculations of scheduling in the dev process are almost expected, never mind common.

You shouldn't be worrying about what is 'normal' or what you think they 'should' have done - you should just communicate what you believe you need, in order to deliver what you promised. If you merely promised to create and deliver assets as required, do that. If you agreed to make them in a way that requires you to have seen more of the finished game, mention this to them, while being aware that you could basically end up stretching your own work commitments out for no additional money, which isn't ideal. If you just need extra direction from them so you can work without the whole game being ready, maybe they can provide that.

But the key thing is - talk to them, don't look for a 'standard' collaboration process, because there isn't one.


That's great advice Kylo, thank you for it very much :) I am most likely to proceed with this approach.  The "If you agreed to make them in a way that requires you to have seen more of the finished game, mention this to them" part is key. It all comes down to that the first attempts are always the most challenging due to no actual references in any segment of production, especially the logistics department.
The stretching of my own  commitments is something that's ok with me considering this is my very first gig, and I kind of see it as a setting stone for things to come. With that in mind, I want to get it as far as I can!

 

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Well... it depends!

 

In all the projects I've been part I've had a good timing for creating all the tracks, I entered in the early/mid stage of the development.

I think the main differences between film music and videogame music is that film composers usually can't start creating the music until the late stage of the process because the film isn't still finished for them to start syncing the music.

In videogames it's more common for the composer to be able to write the music while the team is still creating it because, for example, if a level is finished and closed, the composer can play the build and write the music that wil suit that zone. So, I think that in terms of timing, we videogame composers have a more easy life hahaha ;)

 

Regarding to your problem in the post, I would recommend you to talk a lot with the developers if you find you don't have an appropiate time to do your task, diplomacy it's the key! ;)

 

 

 

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I begin working as soon as I'm brought on board, with the understanding that redirection is always very likely. The closer I work with the team and am kept in the loop, the better it becomes a collaborative effort. There are many times that audio can help steer the production's direction or inspire new and fresh ideas. Plus, since this is a game, it's very important to be working closely with the developers to ensure that you have all of the audio features you need to make your vision (even an evolving one) come to life. 

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