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A Revolution in Sound: Break Down the Walls!
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A Revolution in Sound: Break Down the Walls!

May 16, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Until These Studios Are Built, We Need to Have a Workaround

Having an audio department be a visible, available, active participant in the team culture and problem solving process is something I believe is all too often missing from the wider culture of video game development, despite valiant efforts on the part of some groundbreaking audio leaders within our industry.

Damian Kastbauer recently pointed out one such incredible design effort on the part of sound designer Stephen Hodde, whereby he devised a series of beautiful cigar-box audio switchers to encourage, and make simpler, the process of team members listening to the sound of the game across different platforms.

Greater collaboration between the sonic, visual, technical, design, and story elements of video game production are essential at every part of the production process.

So I issue this rallying call -- though it may fall on, if not deaf, at least tired ears.

Sound teams have to get outside the studio cell. They need to be a more active participant in development on the team floor, in the team space and in team life. They have to be mobile, agile, and comfortable working in an interdisciplinary context.

Sound ideas are not tied to or dependent upon the availability of a studio, or even a computer, although we cling on to these old ideas. Collaborative conversations and ideas can happen anywhere; they may only be capable of realization at the sound workstation (another concept that probably needs reevaluation), but the most powerful part of any idea is the conversation that brings the idea into being as a working part of a larger idea.

These ideas and ideals may be easier for a smaller agile team to achieve, but there is absolutely no reason that larger teams cannot be at the vanguard, and many more reasons why they need to be.

A Path to Interdisciplinary Problem Solving

Below are a few notes for growing a more collaborative environment between the sound team and the wider development team. These are probably also some of the core principles for the design of a future development studio architecture, but I believe that as we start to work more collaboratively, these spaces may evolve naturally.

  • Leave the sound studio, even if only once a day, to walk around the team space and engage in conversations. Establish a routine that works, changing that routine when it becomes stale.
  • Invite others into the studio spaces; open up these spaces for meetings, impromptu or otherwise. Whether you are there in a creative capacity or just sharing the space, allowing team members not to be intimidated by the sound studio is a huge step to breaking down any unconscious, or conscious, barriers to collaboration.
  • Encourage everyone on the team to contribute ideas about the sound of the game. In whatever method works, be it email, open idea sessions, beer nights (a favorite) -- ideas can come from anywhere, and even if initially seem not to have an immediate application, can feed further ideas or pop up again later when least expected.
  • Play and critique competitors' games together as a multi-discipline group. Critical faculties are often sharper than creative ones, yet are a part of the same thinking. Rather than just the sound team critiquing the sound of a game, having a multidisciplinary group play and dissect together will provide enlightenment to the differing reasons and thinking that is done by say, artists and designers. Something may sound terrible to the audio guys, but may be fulfilling a crucial role for gameplay. Discovering and discussing these differences in perspective holds value on all sides.

Fostering and maintaining this environment among the pressures of a production cycle is difficult. At some point the sound asset creation and mixing work takes over and needs to get done. However, I believe that an architectural solution can provide a sea change in some problematic thinking within the industry, and if sound is present at the inception of any project, the collaborative spirit, mutual accountability, respect and trust will continue to be of influence throughout production itself.

"Non-audio" collaborators (a term I also hope will dissolve eventually) will feel more comfortable expressing ideas and feedback, and sound designers and directors will feel more at ease with the communication of ideas themselves, as well as being a more trusted and prominent collaborative voice in video game development.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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