John Broomhall talks to Sony Computer Entertainment Europe’s Michael Kelly about the current state of game audio and the Audio Engineering Society’s new involvement in the field…
Game audio is all grown up. Increasingly featured in the mainstream and specialist media, celebrated by awards bodies worldwide and with our own Develop Conference audio track attracting film and television practitioners alike, we now inhabit a world where recording studios, post-production houses and freelancers across the audio board are eyeing up the games business with interest. Many students aspire to a career in game sound, while academics find immediate, practical relevance in the medium for their cutting edge research work on acoustics, spatial audio, perception of audio and DSP programming.
So, will a growing involvement in game audio by the wider mainstream technical and academic communities bring us benefits?
SCEE’s Michael Kelly, who is also co-chair of the Audio Engineering Society’s (AES) technical committee on Audio for Games believes so, seeing the AES as providing an important meeting ground.
“The AES offers a forum for in-depth technical discussion. It brings together academics and technical practitioners – scientists and engineers – to see how we’ll push the envelope technically in future. And with the industry desperately needing more audio programmers, the AES can help by focusing on the technical content of educational courses to ensure appropriate skill sets. The other area is standards: AES is a recognised and respected pro-audio body for invoking, maintaining and developing standards – both its own, and those of others, such as the MMA. There’s a real need for this technical forum that isn’t fulfilled by other organisations,” says Kelly.
These aspirations were evidenced during a recent AES event in London, centred firmly on the technical aspects of game audio, featuring a keynote from Codemasters’ Stephen Root and presentations from Codie’s technical audio guru, Simon Goodwin.
“There was a fresh emphasis on the need for standardisation – to agree on ways we do things, but standardising in ways that aren’t limiting, for instance, MIDI doesn’t make you write 4/4 dance music just because someone else uses it to do that – you can represent all types of music,” Kelly continues.
“There was broad agreement on the need for all parties to jointly define education curricula and a useful dialogue was commenced. Then there was the low-level technical discussion on DSP algorithms and the like. As well as sound designers, audio programmers and academic researchers, we were delighted to welcome representatives from Genelec, Phillips and various plug-in manufacturers – all there to engage with game audio and help define its technical future.
“You didn’t have to understand all the maths of, say, building hybrid reverbs with convolution qualities – although it was there if you wanted it! The meeting of academic and industry minds was fascinating, and that community and collaboration now continues online via our LinkedIn group.”
An AES focus on game audio demonstrates just how far we’ve come, and it’s good news for consumers. Today’s discussion will spawn tomorrow’s innovations and ultimately better sound in videogames.
Next, two experts offer their perspective on game audio.
Director of audio at Codemasters and keynote speaker at the AES event
“Research centres are currently pioneering technologies which will shape future game audio experiences, while universities are educating the next generation of game audio practitioners, so it’s really important that our industry engages fully with these sectors. I personally found it very exciting to have the chance to discuss my own hopes and visions for game audio with such a diverse range of audio contributors.
“At Codemasters, we take collaboration with academia very seriously. We already have some joint research projects in the pipeline, and as a result of the event we now have far better links and more exciting opportunities to explore. I hope the AES can follow up on the success of the event, I think we all stand to benefit – and ultimately so will gamers.”
Principal audio programmer, Codemasters
“We’ve reached a tipping point in which the needs of games now drive the audio industry, rather than making do with tech intended for cinema. Game audio is more demanding and often more advanced than movie sound. Accurate audio is the key way to inform players of what’s happening off-screen, and potentially a matter of life and death for gamers. Headphone and surround audio will benefit greatly from industry links the AES has fostered.
“The packed 3D7.1 demonstrations on PC and PS3 over HDMI, using Codemasters’ EGO game engine, went down a storm. We’ve shown that true 3D audio, with height, is practical on 7.1 speaker systems, while preserving compatibility with CD and DVD audio. This is no pipe-dream – it works now in titles like DiRT and Race Driver GRID.
“While this is a significant first for Codemasters and EGO, industry consensus on the details is vital – we can’t afford multiple standards, or the confusion that still exists in 5.1 horizontal surround, with game and cinema expectations divergent and poorly understood. As an independent international authority the AES is collating the interests of equipment and game makers – including EA, Rockstar, Sony and Microsoft – who all backed Codemasters’ mission to take game audio into true 3D at AES.”