Key Release: PapaEngine

Key Release: PapaEngine
Will Freeman

By Will Freeman

April 29th 2013 at 10:00AM

Develop tunes in to an engine designed for spatialised audio creation

[This feature was published in the April edition of Develop magazine, which is available through your browser and on iPad.]

What is it? The PapaEngine provides a streamlined way to spatialise a mono sound source in a 3D space, offering binaural sound without the need for complex recording
Company: Somethin’ Else
www.papaengine.com

When East London outfit Somethin’ Else developed mobile game Papa Sangre it created a very special title.
The game, loosely themed around the Mexican Festival of the Dead, turned convention on its head, offering a detailed world where visuals played second fiddle to audio. Quite simply, it was a game you could play with your eyes closed, that challenged users to understand a 3D space with their ears.

And now the company has refined the binaural tech behind Papa Sangre and released it as a middleware solution.

“The PapaEngine lets you spacialise mono sounds, so you can position those sounds in the space around your head, in true binaural audio,” explains Somethin’ Else’s head of products Nicky Birch.

In other words, it lets developers build a 3D soundscape via a simple API library, and its greatest strength is that it provides such binaural audio for mobile titles.

FROM EAR-TO-EAR

Binaural audio typically uses a special recording technique – using a dummy head with two microphones placed in detailed representations of human ear canals – that offers playback through headphones that simulate the real world experience of hearing sound in a 3D space.

With the PapaEngine, however, developers can create a binaural soundscape without the need for a binaural recording session, taking their existing mono audio files and placing them into a mobile game world.

And, says Somethin’ Else’s CCO and executive director Paul Bennun, the engine fills a surprisingly empty gap in the middleware market.

“We’ve found that there’s nothing, actually, in terms of audio of this kind, that’s really optimised for mobile,” he explains.

“And we haven’t made this as some small, alternative engine. The sophistication of the PapaEngine is way up there, and it’s got a couple of things that are unique about it; namely its binaural abilities. The fact that it can do proper binaural on the fly processing for mobile is really important. OpenAL can’t do it, and there’s a bunch of other desktop based solutions that can do head related transfer function-based on the fly binaural processing, but this is the only one that can perform like that on a mobile device.”

Conceived to serve developers and mobile games of every kind and size, the PapaEngine is also a solution with ambitions for establishing 3D audio games as a genre in its own right.

“To a degree, as we make audio games, which is a genre that barely exists. We realised we could help create more potential in our specialty,” offers Birch. “If we get this platform out there, then it will help us lay a foundation for a bigger audio game market.”

And the engine does much to take the pain out of positioning aural objects in a 3D space, letting studios devote time to their creative endevours rather than crafting tech.

“Our API puts a piece of technology into the hands of developers who can then be as creative as they want,” states Somethin’ Else digital project manager Neville Daniel.

“If you’ve got a large-scale idea, then our technology means you can facilitate that. It’s as powerful as your aspirations really.”

The PapaEngine’s architecture focuses on minimising memory usage, and while it is currently dedicated to iOS, Somethin’ Else is considering adding Android support.

HEAR GOES

“At the very top level it’s a very simple library for a gameplay developer to be able to, for example, set up a room environment with a certain size and therefore a certain sound to it, with characteristics such as reverb and distance between objects,” says Daniel, returning to the core function of the PapaEngine.

“You can set up all these properties using simple set events, and then you can place objects in positions within that room, and the PapaEngine will let the player understand where sound is coming from.”

And that, insists Bennun, means developers with pioneer spirit can push their games into a new realm.

“Spatialised audio is the next frontier of immersion. And if you want to do spacialised audio on mobile, the success of Papa Sangre from a technical and artistic perspective shows that PapaEngine is the best option.”

With Papa Sangre 2 in development, and the original game being reworked with the PapaEngine, it’s a busy time for Somethin’ Else.

Those interested in licensing PapaEngine, which is soon to be released, should contact: hello@papaengine.com.

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