Pulling some #gameaudiotips together

So about a year ago Gord from A Shell In The Pit kicked off a #gameaudiotips hashtag on Twitter. A bunch of us jumped on board and shared a lot of great tips and advice for doing game audio. I’ve decieded to pull all mine together from that into one spot and see what still holds up a year later. I’m going to put all of them as they are on twitter (just taking out hashtag stuff) and add in any comments that I think can be expanded on out side of Twitter character limits and if I’d change any of that advice now.

So on to all the tips.

1. don’t ever forget that “you don’t ship with your game”. if a sound or piece of music takes explanation before it works for someone then it needs to be reworked. you’re not there to give that explanation to everyone that buys the game. I hope.

2. Don’t judge your work until it’s in the game. Context can change everything. What might sound good, or bad, will change once it’s working with all the other sounds and visuals and mechanics of the game.

3. Get your work into the game as quick/soon as you can. The faster it’s in the game the sooner you can judge it in context and then iterate on it with the right feedback.

4. “Kill Yur Babies”. When a sound/song doesn’t work, revise/rework it! Don’t get caught up that your creation is so special that it can’t not work. Don’t get hung up on things like how much time you spent on it. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work.

5. Leave yourself room to fail. Some of your best design decisions will come from crazy ideas that might not work. If you don’t give yourself the time and space to try those you might not hit your most creative strides.

unnumbered #gameaudiotips of today…. take the weekend off. or what ever days you want if freelance. but take breaks. you need to recharge. (no more tips from me till monday)

6. always serve the game. we can do a lot of really cool tricky audio things but if they don’t serve the game then they’re a waste. which leads to the next one.

7. Audio in a game should do 1 of 2 things. 1. Inform the player. 2. Build the world. If you’re sound or music isn’t adding to one of those areas naturally nuke it.

8. doing is more important than having the best gear. gear is nice and can make things easier but you can get up and running with a lot of cheap gear. don’t get scared off by people telling you what you HAVE to have.

9. When you get tempted to buy a new plugin look at @AShellinthePit‘s tip 12. have you done that with all the plugins you own? if not maybe rethink that purchase. (that tweet was about really getting to know your plugins. learn them inside and out.)

10. Not audio specific, be aware of who you’re getting advice too. Do they have the experience to back that advice up? Have they actually done that thing? Done it lately? Who taught it to them? Are they in that area? Who/what have they been “burned” by? and don’t think I’m bashing on #gameaudiotips with this. I actually want to see more people sharing their own tips! just always be aware where your info is coming from.

11. practical. to make loops, take your content. split it. move the back half to be the front half so your split is now your beginning and end. overlap it some and cross fade.

12. the dollar store can be a treasure trove of stuff to record. all kinds of stuff there. and cheap to so you’ll not be afraid of destroying it in the recording. often when I’m stumped on a sound I’ll walk to our close by store and wander the isles.

13. practical. for making HUD/UI/Interface sounds. record a bunch of sounds and put them in a folder. pull stuff from your library that will be useful and put them in that folder. now create everything only using the sounds in that folder. This can be a great way to find some unity to your games interface.

14. pick a master channel plugin set and use it for all the sounds on the game. Really think about the tone and character you want the sounds to add to the game and use a plugin set that helps emphasize that.

15. when you’re making sounds. really have a hard look at how many layers you’ve used to create something. is each of those layers actually contributing something? go and listen while muting each layer. delete the ones that aren’t actually adding anything.

16. if you can, get your hands on a controller with some knobs or faders. map it to your plugins. run your loops while recording a bunch of automation from your knob twiddling. there’s something real nice about using your hands vs penciling it in.

17. Your voice can be used for so so so many things. Grab a mic and start making sounds into it. Creatures. Wind. Cars. Weapons. UI. Whooshes. It really could be the most powerful tool you have. Get practicing with it.

18. Give it some time. After you’ve made a sound give it a rest. Rest your ears. Get away from that sound. Come back and listen to it again in a bit. You might be surprised how different it sounds after a break or the next morning.

19. with all our fancy time correct pitch manipulation these days don’t for get plain old varispeed is still incredibly useful (time+pitch linked) I probably still find my self using it more often then any other pitch manipulation.

20. practical and specific. for some squishy sounds, I found pudding and jello mixed together squished via yo hands sounds better than just pudding or jello on their own.

21. touchyfeely tip. take some time to sit back and enjoy what you do. what we do is a pretty awesome fun thing to do. make some time to live in that joy. make something in a way that’s really fun for you.

22. general learning. offering to buy a person coffee or lunch when you want to pick their brain on a topic goes really far. lots of us want to share our knowledge. showing you value that time we’re giving goes a long way. And if you’re in a spot to give that kind of advice, it’s always nice to buy the coffees yourself when offered.

23. #alwaysberecording. any sound recorded, regardless of gear, is better than a sound not recorded. if you come across a cool sound, get it recorded. even if it’s just your phone. but don’t stress that you always need to be “on” and working. dedicated Not Recording times is good to have too.

24. This is my starting preset for Decapitator. I use this all the time to thicken things up but not get hard distortion. This is basically my most used compressor. I start here and tweak.

25. get out of yur sound design comfort zone. take your fav plug ins, yur crutches, and nuke them for a week. only use a 2 track editor for design. shake things up. we can to easily fall into the same thoughts and processes and not grow. use the first plugin you bought. only use stock DAW plugins. give yourself some rules that make you work different.

26. remember your career in game audio is a marathon not a sprint. burn out is real. keep yourself in check for the long run. don’t be the flash in the pan. be the slow burn that’s around for a long time.

27. I use audiosuite processing in my design a lot. biggest reason for this is to commit and move on. don’t need PT and audiosuite to do that. can waste a lot of time second guessing yourself. it’s often better to just run with something and see where it goes.

28. early access. (but regular releases too). I’ve found players more perceptive of sounds that are to loud more than sounds that are missing. worry more about the mix than coverage if you have to prioritize.

29. early access. players are great sources of pointing to where’s wrong but not necessarily what’s wrong. if they’re complaining about an area or HUD sounds or what not really have a look at that area but not what they’re saying to fix.

30. I may have said this before. But saying it again. Add to the conversation not the noise. be it tweets, forums, tutorials, blog posts. You want to add to the community. Not just “generate content”.

31. don’t rely on one source of feedback. that means get more than one person to give you feedback on something. singular feedback on your work means you’ll end up making just what they want. and not necessarily what works for a broader range of people

32. write stuff down. physically, digitally, what ever works for you. there was going to be a better tip but I forgot it cause I didn’t write it down. make notes. document your processes. tell yourself what you did and what you want to do.

33. It’s probably not best to brand yourself as “budget” or “cheap”. You can certainly do work for low budgets but if your branding is based on that getting high paying gigs might actually be real hard. don’t lock yourself into that one market.

34 when recreating old sfx think about how they were originally created and what the tools of the time where. you’ll get a lot closer to period correct if you use the right tools in question. and that doesn’t mean you have to do it exactly that way. but emulations of those tools will be a step in the right direction.

35. Don’t forget no sound is heard outside of the game and the mix. If it doesn’t work in context it doesn’t matter how cool it is on it’s own, it still doesn’t work.

36. don’t be afraid to go back with revisions. sometimes you don’t realize how good something actually is till you put it up against something else. sometimes creating a new version will reveal the strengths of the original.

37. worry less about how you’re making a sound and more the end result. my EQing when sound design will make my music mixing side want to cry 🙂 but it’s what gets me to the sound I want/need. don’t always worry about the “right way” to do it. just worry about the end results. (but not all the time. sometimes the right way is the right way)

and…. never forget that so much classic sound design has come from simple creative recordings. always be aware of the things around you in life and what sounds they make. there’s incredible depth in reinterpreting sounds.

So there you go. A bunch of tips I wrote up a year ago. I think they still hold up pretty well.

Kill yur babies

About time I wrote some more. So this time around I want to talk about one of my often quoted, by myself, phrases Kill Yur Babies. Now this isn’t advocating infanticide. A little more tame way that some people say it is Kill Your Darlings. Basically what this means is don’t hold anything you make to be to precious or on to high of a pedestal that you aren’t open to criticism of it. That anything you create for a game you need to be open to changing it for any number of good reasons. And to not get upset about that.

Just about every game you make will be made as a team. It’ll be rare, if ever, that you make a game entirely by yourself. That means there will be several voices on what is best and right for the game. And the majority of the time you’re not going to be the lead voice in that choir. You’ll most likely be working towards someone else’s overall vision. And in that case you have to be open to critique and revision.

Now we’ll start with the assumption that everything you’re creating you think is the right and perfect sound or song for it’s purpose you intended. But just because you think so doesn’t mean everyone does. And to be a professional that people are going to want to work with again you have to be open to changes that those different views are going to have.

This isn’t saying roll over and submit to any change that is asked of you but that you need to not take it personal when changes are asked. Being asked for revisions and changes isn’t a personal attack and sometimes we can have a hard time remembering that because we’ve put so much into our sounds and songs. So it’s good to present what you think is right for the game but be ready to take on advice and make changes when another vision is presented. And do it so graciously with out getting to personally invested in ejecting your creations.

Who am I

So I figure you should know a little about me if you’re going to read this blog and have any trust in me regarding what I’m talking about. And idea of where my biases might be coming from.

I started out recording music. I had a background in jazz (played sax) and composition through high school but afterwards knew I didn’t want to be a professional musician. So I went to school and came out a recording engineer. I worked at recording and being an assistant engineer for about 5 years before deciding that recording and the other odd jobs I was doing wasn’t cutting it as far as the bills went. So through a local paper I found a job listing for QA at a big studio in town. Figured I could do that for the summer and then get back to recording. While I was there I ran back into someone I had gone to school with who was already doing game audio. And from that I got my foot in the door.

My first game audio job was in 2003. I was the low man on the ladder doing all the things that the other two guys on the team couldn’t get to or have time for. I loved it. I realized this is what I really wanted to do. I loved recording music but this was this cool full brain work out of technical and creative processes. Working with a team to create something bigger that people can interact with. So after that first audio contract on NHL 2004 I bounced around EA Canada with a bunch of contracts and landed a full time spot with a new team there doing PSP games.

I had a great time there, shipped a bunch of games and learned a lot. In 2007 I went freelance and continued to ship various games and keep skilling up as I went. I worked with both local and not so local studios. Then through a connection I made at a local studio I got an interview at Klei Entertainment. Honestly I thought it was going to be for another freelance contract. Much to my pleasant surprise I was hired for a full time postion. So since 2011 that’s been my home. I’ve gotten to do audio on amazing games that have gotten critical praise, won awards, sold units and had a really great community grow behind. I continue to get to work with great people on great projects.

Around all of that I started to want to give back in some way. In 2014 I started Beards, Cats and Indie Game Audio with my co-host Gordon. We felt we had enough to say that maybe other people would like to hear and learn something from. We’ve managed an episode a month since we started with some amazing guests on to share knowledge. I’ve also helped out Gord with his organizing of the Vancouver Sound Design meetup group. And spearheaded with the help of Damian and John a twice yearly meetup in Bellingham to get our Vancouver and Seattle audio communities together for a day. I’ve also done talks at GDC, Indievelopment and Full Indie Summit on various audio topics. I actually have grown to really like talking in front of a crowd. (I have an ask me questions stance I’ve been told.)

So that’s a bit of where I came from and what I’m up to. I’m hoping to use this blog to pass on some mid-ground knowledge to people. I’m not going to get to crazy but I’m not looking to cover the basics. Lots of people are writing on that out there.