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  1. Unlock Audio

    Learning to Embrace Criticism

    A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to work on a trailer with a very established music producer. To give you an idea: he had recently finished contributing to a Rihanna album. I was ecstatic for the opportunity. I get to work with and learn from this guy?! YASS! We listened through the music track I had written and he began picking out potential improvements with the arrangement, mix, production, etc. I scribbled down everything I could, taking no offense whatsoever. I mean, who was I to question what he was telling me? We talked for a bit - I had some questions on how to tackle some of the issues he brought up. The session ended with me having some serious homework. But I was STOKED! I spent five days moving things around, changing settings, making small tweaks. This was me giving my all. I wanted to impress him SO much. By the time we met next, I couldn't think/hear of any way I could do better. The next step was to watch his face light up when he heard how good I was. Right? We pushed play and he seemed to like it. He listened all the way through without stopping and even had a positive look on his face. Not the utterly enthusiastic reaction I was looking for, but hey, he was kind of a quirky personality. When it ended, we sat in silence for a few seconds before I asked "what do you think?" "B+" B+?! Hey! That's not bad! I mean, if he's saying B+, then for most people it's really good! Maybe a few small tweaks and we're good to go. For a second there, I was SO HAPPY! Then he says, "Unfortunately, we're in a business where it's either A+ or F." He then proceeded to list off even more homework than he had given the last time we met. It was a bit devastating - I felt like I had given 110%. And it definitely seemed like I hadn't impressed him. It’s moments like this that can crush your spirit and make you feel like giving up on a piece of creative work. While in the short term that experience stung, I realized criticism is actually an opportunity and encouraging, though it can be perceived very differently for any creative artist than for most other professions. For many amateur artists, to criticize their work is not criticizing a thing they did, it is criticizing an intrinsic part of themselves. There's a lot to unpack here. First, it's important for an artist to realize the criticism is not about direct attacks on their self-worth. The issue is how criticism is expressed so that it aids communication, the experimentation process, or it's execution - not a personal, intimate artistic failure. As a creative whenever you put a piece of work forward people will have opinions about it. It will naturally feel like they are attacking your level of skill. You must develop a thicker skin. Second, the fact that someone is criticizing your work means they think it's worth having a potentially uncomfortable conversation about. Not only that, they think you're worth having that conversation with. Think about it - we all have people in our lives who we've kinda given up on. - They always talk about the things they're going to do but never actually attempt them. - Everything is someone else's fault - not theirs. - Their idea is so bad that you can't even begin to determine how to communicate everything that's wrong with it. At a certain point, we stop caring. We stop saying "I don't know if that's a good idea.." We stop pointing out what doesn't work or what does. We stop expecting them to follow through. Ultimately, we stop taking them seriously. To that end, we stop objecting. We stop trying. We stop criticizing - because we feel the idea is so terrible, or the person won't or can't act upon our input. So why try to help? If someone criticizes your work, it means they think the potential of your idea is worth being uncomfortable about. It means they think that if they tell you their thoughts, you'll understand them and are capable of implementing them. Criticism means someone thinks you and your idea are worth helping. It means they think you and your ideas have value and can be better than they currently are. While my additional homework from the producer was initially disappointing, it also meant we were making progress. My music was worth working on and I was worth talking to. It took a while, but we ended up with one of the best overall tracks I've made. Those sessions became a learning experience in craft and in self. Be happy if someone is willing to tell you that something isn't A+ and why. Welcome it. Embrace the criticism! Be sure to check out Unlock Audio and grab some free stuff. Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com Elliot Callighan is a composer and sound designer, and the owner of Unlock Audio. He also teaches in the film and game programs at DePaul University and is an Officer in the Army National Guard.
  2. It's amazing how much a change in our attitude and mindset towards fear can alter literally everything. Game development can be a lot of looking into the unknown and fearing the decision you have taken is the right one. There's the fantasy football draft board from my main league this year. I got into it a little later than most of my friends, and I've always felt like I've had to play catch-up with their knowledge of players as well as the dynamics at play. You can see my team with a thick border around it - I went third this year. If you've never played fantasy football before, every round you get to pick a player to add to your roster. We start at the top left and follow a snake pattern. If you went first in round 1, you will go last in round 2, etc. What this means is it's not only about your knowledge of the players/teams/schedule, etc. But it's also a matter of looking at what other people are doing. - What position is everyone else going for? - Will that player be available that round? - Is he/she going to take my pick?! Plus, there's always the moments when someone makes a bad pick or didn't know this player was out for a few games. We're friends, so it's fine when we give each other a hard time (definitely a big part of the fun) - but I'm surprised how often in business and in our lives we're focused on what everyone else is doing and what they would do in our situation. So this year, I made a plan, trusted my gut and used my instincts. Instincts in business and development is a simple way of saying “I trusted the accumulated knowledge and experience I have accumulated over the years to make this decision”. Back to my Fantasy Football team; positions are worth more than others in most leagues, but our scoring makes Defenses and Tight Ends potentially very valuable. There are only a couple of players worth getting at those positions every year (in my opinion), so I decided to target those positions specifically. And when I did, look at what happened. Everyone else began snatching those positions after I went for them first - you can see the picks of the same position by color. Right after I made my pick, the rest of the "worthwhile" players at the position were very quickly gone. I had decided before the draft what position I was going for in each round. Everyone groaned when I went for Travis Kelce and the Bears Defense, but then they reacted to (and even emulated!) my picks. Going for a Tight End in the third round is traditionally, a bad move. And a Defense in the seventh? Ridiculous! Sure, other teams were able to get good or ok players, but I got the best at two different slots on my team. I had given serious thought towards my strategy and was confident in it because I knew why I was making the "ridiculous" picks. Because of my willingness to use a bold strategy, I forced other teams to react to me instead of me reacting to them. At the end of this draft, my team ended up receiving the highest score on every rating service we checked. While anything can happen this season, I'm in a great spot. Now I'm not trying to say you should have exclusively individual ideas that you just know are awesome. Quite the opposite - you should definitely run your ideas by others and consider their input voraciously, especially if they have years on you. All of it informs what you do and why. And while it's easy to say "take risks!", putting it into practice can be far more difficult. It's one thing to take risk in a fantasy football league - quite another to add risk to your professional, business, and personal lives. But if we are willing to be as bold and purposeful in the rest of our lives as we are in fantasy, Halo, or poker, we would "win" a lot more. Noone's approached game audio the way Unlock is - but being confident in our research and the reasons why it's a better option for indie and mid-level teams is a huge part of why we're doing it! Don't discount your thought process, strategy, and instinct. There's a reason you're doing what you do. Be sure to check out Unlock Audio and grab some free stuff. Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com
  3. Unlock Audio

    Just Keep Going

    Time and time again, I'm reminded how so much of success is based on a willingness to keep going when times get tough and challenges seem insurmountable. Whether it's hitting the aesthetic that's right for the project, finding more clients and collaborators, or responding to obstacles and setbacks, endurance and being able to constantly chip away at progress always seem to be what really determines success. This guy here is Andy Dufresne, and he escaped prison after being wrongly convicted by slowly chipping away at a concrete wall at night for almost 20 years. He had many setbacks and obstacles in the form of people, walls, lack of resources, criminal status, and a massive lack of sleep. But giving up wasn't an option. Even after devoting that amount of time, he still had a serious struggle to finally escape. You'd think he was entitled to finally reap some rewards, right? But he still had to crawl through a literal pipe full of s***! Yes, he's the main character from The Shawshank Redemption. Both the movie and Rovio (Angry Birds team) are great examples of illustrating this mindset. We need to put in time and sweat knowing none of it entitles us to success, but it all brings us that much closer to it. At any point, Andy could have dwelled on how much of a victim he was, focused on how much wall was left, lost sight of his ultimate goal or began prioritizing things outside of the life he wanted. He could have said he was tired and would dig away at that concrete wall tomorrow. Or, Rovio could have used their past "failures" as an excuse to stop trying. We all have these choices before us on a daily basis. And once we begin to make the "wrong" easy choices, it gets harder and harder to make the "right" ones. Adopting a disciplined and focused mindset is incredibly powerful and healthy. It can help develop your craft(s), increase our output and in many ways be a serious mental health-saver in difficult moments. Huge problems become smaller when you just put one foot in front of the other. Over time those small steps add up to massive progress. So much of life is dealing with obstacles that others seemingly don't have to, or paying your dues yet again (especially for professional creatives/artists!). Just take a deep breath. Think. Have confidence in your efforts, and know you are bringing yourself that much closer to where you want to be one small step at a time. Be sure to check out Unlock Audio and grab some free stuff. Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com Elliot Callighan is a composer and sound designer, and the owner of Unlock Audio. He also teaches in the film and game programs at DePaul University and is an Officer in the Army National Guard.
  4. Unlock Audio

    Bad People are Trying to Be Good

    No one's actually trying to be the "bad guy" Sometimes in the games industry, we're confronted with people and situations that make us immediately fume. We can't possibly imagine how someone could think in a certain way. Don't they have common sense? Are they that unaware? That selfish? What an incredibly evil, terrible person! While all those things may be true to us, this way of thinking only propagates more blame towards that person. It makes us frame them as someone who is intentionally hurting us or others for the sake of being terrible. They relish wrong and love being evil! Our brains have a habit of filling in knowledge voids with negative hypotheticals. Unfortunately, it's then very easy to treat these hypotheticals as factual explanations. This is especially true when it's a challenging relationship or situation which often occurs in a high-stress environment such as games development. Some people even use this for their own gain - politics these days... *Tough pill to swallow warning* Ultimately, no one is trying to be a "bad guy." After an exchange of ideas or opinions, especially with a passionate or heated debate, we may hear people publicly declare that someone is a bad person. “They don’t listen” or are “too stupid to understand” but there is always an underlying attempt at being "good" behind all of it. It’s a matter of perspective. Yes, this is even true (sometimes) for politicians! This guy literally joined the Dark Side. But as episodes 2 & 3 show, it's a lot more complicated than just deciding to be evil. If you're not sure who he really is deep down, check out episode 6. Maybe it's not about hurting you or making your life harder. It may be about protecting their business commitments, or their employees and by connection, their families. Perhaps there's a vehement belief that the ends justify some despicable means. They may see a valuable experience or lesson by having you take the hard path, or maybe they're just not aware of how their actions are affecting you. Ultimately, they're trying to do what's right, or what they think is right. This is true for even the most difficult and frustrating people and relationships we have. Someone may be blunt or dismissive to you because they have been through similar hardships before and are trying to avoid their perceived pain points again - to protect themselves. They may be cold or unenthused because of a personal problem they're struggling with outside of the office and they're coping with it the best way they know how. They may be pushing you away because of how they view themselves and this is their attempt to help protect you from them. This way of thinking may not be the most digestible - especially with certain ***holes! But it can be incredibly valuable in business as well as our personal relationships to try and be empathic during conversations. You may with some effort uncover deeper underlying reasons for their judgments which allow you to convince them of a certain course of action. If nothing else, it will help us to be a bit more understanding, forgiving, and patient, so we can place our attention where it's most valuable. Be sure to check out Unlock Audio and grab some free stuff. Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com Elliot Callighan is a composer and sound designer, and the owner of Unlock Audio. He also teaches in the film and game programs at DePaul University and is an Officer in the Army National Guard.
  5. Unlock Audio

    Game Audio: What we were doing wrong

    No problem, happy you find it useful 😀
  6. Unlock Audio

    Functions of Sound in Games

    One of the wonderful things about sound is that it can accomplish many different things. Additionally, the same sound used in one context can have a completely different meaning in another. This is true from an emotional, informative and clarity standpoint. In my game audio classes at DePaul University, I always point out moments when we hear the same thing in games but have a very different response or reaction to them. Sound is powerful – and if you work in games, you should think about its capabilities for your project or work with someone who understands what effects it can have and all the ways it can be used. A single sound can be doing many different things at once! So with that in mind, here are eight ways sound can be used in games: Contextual/Narrative Sound This is probably the most straightforward entry on this list. When an action happens such as a character moving, using an ability, or the player selecting something in the UI, we need to hear something that seems “appropriate” concurrently. If we don’t hear something when expected, it can be one of the most immediate ways to lose that sense of suspending disbelief or “buying” into the experience. These sounds need to be present but also need to be choreographed to the visual gesture. Starting or stopping “out of sync” is just as much of a glaring error as not having the sound at all. Pretty much every game is chocked full of sound filling this role, but for an even more visceral example, check out the game, Perception. The premise of Perception is everything we see is based on sound reflected from the world. Think of it as similar to echolocation. If something isn’t generating sound on its own, the only way we see it is if sound travels out and bounces off surfaces in the environment, and returns to the listener. Everything we see is based off of sound, so if we see anything, it is because that action/object/event has an intrinsic sound with it. For some, seeing all the sounds that populate our game worlds can help make it clear how vital the sounds are. Focuses Attention A very powerful intent from a design perspective is what our player is focusing on. Are they marveling at the art or environment of a new area in an RPG with a massive world? Will they be able to make the jump from one level to another in a platformer? Do they need to be ready to dodge an enemy attack? Most times, the auditory and visual cues work in conjunction with one another. This makes it very persuasive in telling the player that something is important and deserves their attention. However, having separate visual and auditory cues can be very powerful and have incredible effects on the player. Look at this sequence from Amnesia: A sense of danger is communicated through an invisible monster splashing through the water chasing you as you jump from box to box. Can you imagine how boring hopping between boxes would be without hearing the splashing footsteps coming after you? Are the boxes the real focus this whole time? No, not at all! That constant auditory reminder of impending doom is so strong! So strong that the player doesn’t need to see the footsteps of the monster in the water to be utterly terrified of it. Defines Space We are used to different spaces sounding differently. If you yell in a small room, it sounds very different than yelling in an empty sports arena. Not only does it take longer for sound to reach a listener’s ear in a larger space, but when we are in large spaces, most of what we hear is reflected sound as opposed to direct sound. The sound of our voice goes out in every direction, with very little of it going directly to a listener’s ear when we’re in a large space like an arena. A listener may still hear this sound even if it doesn’t travel directly to their ears, but not after it’s bounced off a number of surfaces. This is what’s called reflected sound, and it’s most of what we’ll hear in a large space. In a small space, our listener will be closer to us. This means more of our voice will go directly to their ear, and the reflected sound will take less time to reach their ear. This gives a very different character to everything we hear in a small space as opposed to a large space. Additionally, the materials present in these spaces play a huge part in what sounds we hear. We hear certain types of sounds more when hard flat surfaces are present as opposed to curved cloth couches. If we don’t acknowledge and emulate these sound characteristics, our game worlds will never feel real. Game audio folks spend a lot of time ensuring game worlds feel real. Here is a portion of the implementation used in Hitman 2 to ensure this happened: Creates Atmosphere/Mood This is referencing the emotion a player feels while experiencing your game. While the previous point was pertaining to making a space feel right in terms of physics, this point is in terms of emotion. A large space can be awe-inspiring, majestic, threatening, magical, exciting, intense, etc. – the list could go on forever! Every sound and note we hear has the ability to give an emotional impression, but only if we want it to - and know how to execute it well. Watch the opening to Bioshock on mute. It looks creepy, but this experience lacks any sort of visceral emotional response. Now, play the opening with the sound on and close your eyes. Pay attention to how much emotion you feel with no visual component! Of course, the real impact is achieved when we have both the visual and working together, but pay attention to where the emotional part of the experience is coming from. Emphasizes/Intensifies Action My favorite example of this is Doom as well as any Tarantino movie. More than having a sound be present for a gesture, audio can add a layer of intensity that isn’t naturally there. Any team creating an experience that is highly “stylized” will have given significant thought to how the audio contributes to the overall aesthetic because it is that important! Case in point – if it hadn’t been incredibly thoughtful about what the nature of Doom was, the end experience could have missed the whole point of their world! Don’t believe me? Listen to this: A far cry from the intended experience of Doom, right? Heres the correct audio. This effect can be true for entire soundscapes like in Doom, but it can also be true for single ability or action sounds. There are certain sounds that just aren’t appropriate for a healing spell, right? How can we communicate something positive, negative, disorienting, dangerous, all in a single sound? Here are a number of ability sounds I created for the game Card Chronicles: Sentinels that all needed to communicate the nature of the ability being used by the quality of its corresponding sound. What makes the healing spell sound feel appropriate for a healing spell? Promotes Immersion (VR) This is very different than the contextual/narrative and space-defining audio we looked already. While you could describe both these capabilities of audio as making something in your game feel “believable,” immersion is the sense of the player actually being in that space. Immersion is getting someone to lose the sense of their physical self and feel like they are actually in another space or occupying a body other than their own. Your attention shifts from controlling something in a digital world using your physical body to feeling as if you are actually occupying the digital world. That is a huge jump. Advancements and accessibility of technology have made techniques such as spatial and ambisonic audio integral to the VR experience. More than hearing something to your left or right, we can accurately simulate that qualities of sound emulating from different points in 3D space in different sized spaces, with different materials, and when you’re looking in one direction versus another. But the ultimate audio sensation of immersion is through binaural audio experiences. Not only do we hear the qualities of sound being affected by different spaces, but we can experience how the human ear perceives audio in that space as well. While ambisonic and spatial audio are incredible experiences, they are ultimately taking “believability” to a higher level. Ambisonics audio, in particular, has many applications to VR since it is a format of an entire sphere of sound around a point in physical space, and can be converted to playback in headphones. However, for the most immersive audio experience, nothing beats binaural audio. This audio format makes you feel like you are actually there. If you want to better understand what this difference in experience is, grab some headphones and listen to this: Pretty amazing, isn’t it? Now the drawback with binaural audio is that it is generated relative to where a microphone or listener is. Since we usually move in our game environments, it’s not easy to replicate accurately, and it can cause motion sickness if not used correctly. That’s how powerful this stuff is! Sets Pace as Gameplay Function The most common example of this is used in rhythm games. If you’ve ever seen a serious Dance Dance Revolution tournament or players, you know how fast and intense these games can be! A big reason the player is able to quickly and accurately time their feet to the visual cues is because of the music giving them a constant frame of reference. A different example of this is any sort of timer that has an associated audio cue. Many games have a timer that is ever-present, but when we get to our last 10 seconds or so, the timer’s audio either becomes audible or is louder in the mix. It definitely gets the point across that you need to complete an action/puzzle/objective sooner rather than later! Smooths Transitions There are a couple of different flavors to this one and many more than what I can speak about depending on the genre and mechanics of your game. But, the two that I can touch on with good certainty that they’ll be relevant to you are: transitioning between story/cinematic and gameplay as well as loading screens. Especially in many AAA titles, we are potentially switching between linear story elements and gameplay sequences regularly. In the playthroughs I’ve had with recent military shooters, 15 minutes of the game can have 2-3 moments of linear story. Using audio in conjunction with a visual effect or shift can make this transition feel effortless and seamless – almost like playing through a movie as opposed to pausing your gameplay experience. Another flavor of smoothing transitions is during loading screens. Developers have come up with a ton of great ways to make loading screens less of a “drag” on the experience such as Namco having the Star Blade mini-game. But sometimes a traditional loading screen is inevitable, and audio and music can help make these moments much more interesting. Mute the video below if you want to see how much a loading screen with audio can be a complete bore. Let’s Wrap Up! We’ve looked at eight different ways audio can enhance your game, but there are many others as well! In order to ensure your game has an engaging experience, the audio needs to hit on all of these dimensions and be purposeful in its execution. Time and thought need to be given to what you’re trying to accomplish and how audio can help achieve it. Without that, a game will be missing an entire dimension of an effective and engaging experience. Be sure to check out all the game audio awesomeness at Unlock Audio! To reach out, hello@unlockaudio.com
  7. Communication can be the hardest part of any collaborative creative process. Many times the most difficult part is understanding the other party. This is especially true in art, and it’s definitely true in audio. Every community and discipline has their own language, their own slang, and their preferred way of communicating. So today, I’ll be talking about some of the ways us audio folks like to communicate and some of the ways you can be awesome at talking about audio. Now before I begin, I do want to say that any audio person or composer worth a grain of salt has (hopefully) realized that part of their job is to act as an interpreter and translator for non-audio/music people. This is true even within the audio community - composers need to know sound-design and non-musical audio terms just like sound-designers need some basic music lingo. If your audio people aren’t trying to find different ways to communicate and understand what you want/need, they’re not doing part of their job! Alright, let’s talk about some things you can bring to the table that will make audio communication easy. References If you take only one thing away from this article, please make it this! References are incredibly helpful for any type of audio person. Again, so much of the difficulty we’re discussing is communication. You can take out a massive amount of potential miscommunication by being able to hit play or send a link and say “like this.” Phrases like “make it sound heavier” , “bigger” , “higher” , “darker” , “harder” , all make perfect sense to the person saying them, but there are a myriad of ways to make something sound “higher” or “darker”, etc. On top of that, it’s not only a matter of executing the idea, but understanding the idea of the intended sound itself. Don’t be the person that says “it should sound more blue” and think you’ve effectively communicated. It may make perfect sense to you - but trust me, your audio people have no idea what that means. This is especially true when talking through emotional content and experience for music (there are LOTS of different types of “sad” music!). Have some references - know what you like about them - and say “like this.” Vocabulary Even with references, having some basic terms in your pocket that audio people know will help you immensely. In the game audio courses I teach at DePaul University, we spend a considerable amount of time getting students to talk about audio in a way they haven’t before. There are lots of words used to describe audio and music, but below are some of the most common and universally accepted. Use these, and your audio discussions will be much more efficient and productive. Pitch - the psychological perception of frequency. AKA, playing different notes on a piano. Don’t just say make it “higher.” Say “higher pitched” or “raise the pitch.” Your audio folks will know exactly what you mean. Loudness - how loud we perceive a sound to be. Using words like louder and quieter do a pretty good job of communicating this, but it happens all the time that non-audio people will try to talk about loudness and use terms like “lower” , “higher” or “softer.” These words can have lots of different meanings in the world of audio. So, anytime you want to talk about how loud or quiet something is and want to be super purposeful, throw the term loudness in there. Timbre (pronounced tamber) - the tone quality or “color” of a sound. If you play middle C on a piano just as loud as playing middle C on a viola, the difference between these sounds is their timbre. Similar to loudness, people use “higher” , “lower” , “softer” to describe timbre as well. This is fine, but you can see how easily these words can be misinterpreted. Want to be extra sure you’re communicating what you want? Use timbre into your sentence. There are many other terms us audio folks use to be very specific when talking about audio, but if you begin to use the three I’ve listed above, you will save yourself (and your audio people) so much time and headache! Your Game! No, you don’t need to wait until the game is almost done to bring in an audio person. Quite the opposite, actually! But you do need something to help you communicate your game and the world you’re creating to your audio people, even if the game is in its early stages. (Quick side note, you should totally bring in your audio collaborators as early as possible. You will be so much happier with your end audio experience. If you do this already, YOU ROCK!) For more emotional types of audio such as voice acting and music, having character, concept or environment art can be a fantastic resource if actual gameplay isn’t available. Also, if you have a significant backstory or lore you’ve created, this can be great for helping decide how this character should sound and/or how the world should “feel.” But even with these, audio folks need to know a basic outline of what the gameplay is going to be like and any sort of progression to it. There are many ways we can tailor audio to closely “fit” the game and gameplay experience, but we need to know these considerations as early as possible. Consider a stealth-action game: knowing that there is a stealth mechanic with different stages of intensity can open up a world of possibilities for composing and implementing an interactive score. For less-emotional audio, the best thing is to have video of animations or events. When I worked at a large corporate developer in the past, sometimes I would literally walk over to an animator or programmer’s desk and take video with my phone to begin the sound design. Because of the processes in place, they couldn’t send the animation to me as “final,” but I could begin the experimentation process. Plus, 90% of the time, it was the final version anyway. Realistic Expectations Audio and music are both a process - and that’s ok! It rarely happens that the first version of a sound or piece of music is ready to go into the final game. Exploration, experimentation and sometimes failure are just part of the gig. Knowing that you are always getting closer to your goal is important - especially when you’re excited to hear what your audio people have been cooking up, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. That being said, if version 15 basically sounds the same as the previous 14 versions, that’s just a terrible audio person or serious lack of effective communication. Each version needs to be trying another interpretation of your notes or adding to what they had before. Creating multiple versions and using the differences between them can also be very helpful to communicate. But in order to do that, we first need to create those couple different versions. Overall, if you take the time to think about and purposefully communicate with your audio person instead of improvising descriptions and goals on the spot, you should be in great shape. Pair that with good references, some basic audio vocabulary and game materials (art, animations, gameplay) and your audio folks should be able to dive right in. Be sure to check out Unlock Audio! Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com
  8. Unlock Audio

    Getting the best from your audio department

    Communication can be the hardest part of any collaborative creative process. This is especially true in art, and it’s definitely true in audio. Every community and discipline has their own language, their own slang, and their preferred way of communicating. So today, I’ll be talking about some of the ways us audio folks like to communicate and some of the ways you can be awesome at talking about audio. Now before I begin, I do want to say that any audio person or composer worth a grain of salt has (hopefully) realized that part of their job is to act as an interpreter and translator for non-audio/music people. This is true even within the audio community - composers need to know sound-design and non-musical audio terms just like sound-designers need some basic music lingo. If your audio people aren’t trying to find different ways to communicate and understand what you want/need, they’re not doing part of their job! Alright, let’s talk about some things you can bring to the table that will make audio communication easy. References If you take only one thing away from this article, please make it this! References are incredibly helpful for any type of audio person. Again, so much of the difficulty we’re discussing is communication. You can take out a massive amount of potential miscommunication by being able to hit play or send a link and say “like this.” Phrases like “make it sound heavier” , “bigger” , “higher” , “darker” , “harder” , all make perfect sense to the person saying them, but there are a myriad of ways to make something sound “higher” or “darker”, etc. On top of that, it’s not only a matter of executing the idea, but understanding the idea of the intended sound itself. Don’t be the person that says “it should sound more blue” and think you’ve effectively communicated. It may make perfect sense to you - but trust me, your audio people have no idea what that means. This is especially true when talking through emotional content and experience for music (there are LOTS of different types of “sad” music!). Have some references - know what you like about them - and say “like this.” Vocabulary Even with references, having some basic terms in your pocket that audio people know will help you immensely. In the game audio courses I teach at DePaul University, we spend a considerable amount of time getting students to talk about audio in a way they haven’t before. There are lots of words used to describe audio and music, but below are some of the most common and universally accepted. Use these, and your audio discussions will be much more efficient and productive. Pitch - the psychological perception of frequency. AKA, playing different notes on a piano. Don’t just say make it “higher.” Say “higher pitched” or “raise the pitch.” Your audio folks will know exactly what you mean. Loudness - how loud we perceive a sound to be. Using words like louder and quieter do a pretty good job of communicating this, but it happens all the time that non-audio people will try to talk about loudness and use terms like “lower” , “higher” or “softer.” These words can have lots of different meanings in the world of audio. So, anytime you want to talk about how loud or quiet something is and want to be super purposeful, throw the term loudness in there. Timbre (pronounced tamber) - the tone quality or “color” of a sound. If you play middle C on a piano just as loud as playing middle C on a viola, the difference between these sounds is their timbre. Similar to loudness, people use “higher” , “lower” , “softer” to describe timbre as well. This is fine, but you can see how easily these words can be misinterpreted. Want to be extra sure you’re communicating what you want? Use timbre in your sentence. There are many other terms us audio folks use to be very specific when talking about audio, but if you begin to use the three I’ve listed above, you will save yourself (and your audio people) so much time and headache! Your Game! No, you don’t need to wait until the game is almost done to bring in an audio person. Quite the opposite, actually! But you do need something to help you communicate your game and the world you’re creating to your audio people, even if the game is in its early stages. (Quick side note, you should totally bring in your audio collaborators as early as possible. You will be so much happier with your end audio experience. If you do this already, YOU ROCK!) For more emotional types of audio such as voice acting and music, having character, concept or environment art can be a fantastic resource if actual gameplay isn’t available. Also, if you have a significant backstory or lore you’ve created, this can be great for helping decide how this character should sound and/or how the world should “feel.” But even with these, audio folks need to know a basic outline of what the gameplay is going to be like and any sort of progression to it. There are many ways we can tailor audio to closely “fit” the game and gameplay experience, but we need to know these considerations as early as possible. Consider a stealth-action game: knowing that there is a stealth mechanic with different stages of intensity can open up a world of possibilities for composing and implementing an interactive score. For less-emotional audio, the best thing is to have video of animations or events. When I worked at a large corporate developer in the past, sometimes I would literally walk over to an animator or programmer’s desk and take video with my phone to begin the sound design. Because of the processes in place, they couldn’t send the animation to me as “final,” but I could begin the experimentation process. Plus, 90% of the time, it was the final version anyway. Realistic Expectations Audio and music are both a process - and that’s ok! It rarely happens that the first version of a sound or piece of music is ready to go into the final game. Exploration, experimentation and sometimes failure are just part of the gig. Knowing that you are always getting closer to your goal is important - especially when you’re excited to hear what your audio people have been cooking up, but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. That being said, if version 15 basically sounds the same as the previous 14 versions, that’s just a terrible audio person or serious lack of effective communication. Each version needs to be trying another interpretation of your notes or adding to what they had before. Creating multiple versions and using the differences between them can also be very helpful to communicate. But in order to do that, we first need to create those couple different versions. Overall, if you take the time to think about and purposefully communicate with your audio person instead of improvising descriptions and goals on the spot, you should be in great shape. Pair that with good references, some basic audio vocabulary and game materials (art, animations, gameplay) and your audio folks should be able to dive right in. Be sure to check out Unlock Audio! Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com
  9. Unlock Audio

    Furious Seas Music Walkthrough

    Hi there! Let's look at how we can create a a cohesive and holistic score by looking at some of the music composed for the VR game, Furious Seas! We'll talk about how each individual piece of music relates to one another, some of the theory and composition techniques, and how the music interacts with moments and progression through the game itself. Feel free to ask anything and to give me feedback on this video!
  10. From a business and collaboration standpoint, we’ve been doing audio wrong. Well, not totally wrong. Understandably wrong. Want to know why I think so? Lots of research and design/innovation thinking. TL:DR – Here’s a video that walks through the rest of this article. If that’s more your style, check it out: https://youtu.be/_M2s0ZbeGe8 Hey all – my name’s Elliot Callighan. I’m a Composer and Sound Designer based in Chicago, IL and I’ve got something to say to all us game folks. Some background: I began playing violin at the age of four, piano at eight, guitar at 12 and the computer at 20. I enlisted in the Army National Guard to use the education benefits to study composition and cinema audio production. Up until late last year I had been working in many industries – film, commercials, TV music & SFX libraries, trailers, and of course games. At the same time I had been teaching sound and music courses at DePaul University and found myself filling a game audio niche. I was the only faculty that knew considerations for game audio asset creation, implementation, or the use of middleware. Much of my work outside DePaul was coming from games, and being a gamer my whole life (starting with Streets of Rage on Genesis), I was happy to be working in games as both an educator and practitioner. So, I decided late last year to embrace the situation life was giving me and plunge into games head-first. My wife, Stacy, being the wonderful person that she is offered to help me research the game audio industry. She’s helped companies such as United Airlines, Nike and FedEx think through offerings and user experiences from phone apps to football stadiums, so I was ecstatic to have her help. We set out on a 5-month quest to identify what was lacking in terms of audio for developers and create a process driven by the needs and desires of indie and mid-level teams. We started out looking at 21 game audio freelancers from most to least successful in order to understand the low points & high points in their marketing and craft. Next, we analyzed 32 indie and mid-level development teams to see how they approach audio. This included researching how teams find an audio group to collaborate with and how their collaboration experiences and end audio products could improve. Lastly, we had in depth interviews with four developers (all non-audio people) to validate and challenge the patterns we were seeing and unveil further insights that had yet to come up. From this research, we heard three regularly recurring themes: “Be the Audio Guru” Teams wanted one person or group to take care of all their audio needs. Too many audio folks are currently treating themselves like a silo by only doing one aspect of audio (ie. only composing, mixing, or only SFX). Having a single audio guru would allow dev teams to communicate fluidly and decrease the existing complications from both a creative & business standpoint “ Think Like a Developer” We heard many dev teams struggling with the current quoting, pricing and creative process with their audio collaborators. First, it can be difficult to predict how many or what type of audio assets are needed while the game is still in development in order to get an accurate quote. Second, many audio groups are coming from industries outside of gaming making it difficult to collaborate in terms that are comfortable for development teams. “Teach Importance of Emotion” In our research, we uncovered developers either highly valuing the importance of audio or viewing it as a last-minute need. However, those who put an emphasis on audio from beginning to end typically had more successful campaigns and games than those who didn't - showing a true opportunity for audio to be a holistic aspect of development versus a one-off. Solutions: With these learnings in place, we began brainstorming how to activate each theme into an actionable opportunity. The first one was pretty easy – offer a one-stop total music, sound design, dialogue, trailer/promotional music and implementation solution. Check. The second one, however, was far more complicated. Instead of grouping services in audio terms such as dialogue, sound design, foley, etc, we heard developers desiring support that aligned with their process. Terms like “character”, “location/level” and “interface” were commonplace – foley was not. We also heard developers talk about their process from conception, to creation, to implementation. Most audio folks are only filling one part of this process, and don’t offer their services with this overall development process in mind. At this point, we identified evolved service offerings for audio needs and a more defined process these services support. We then looked at the intersection of dev services and the development process to create modules that would exactly fit a developer’s needs. The initial feedback we received on these modules was fantastic, but our next challenge was to test the system and determine how to best price it. Articles 2 and 3 available here Be sure to check out some of Unlock Audio’s work! Want to reach out? hello@unlockaudio.com
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