The Unique Approach to Implementing Game Audio

 In TSM Studio Blog

It goes without saying that watching a movie on mute or playing a video game in silence would drastically impact the audio-visual experience. Watching a Star Wars film without Ben Burtt’s iconic lightsaber sounds or playing Mortal Kombat without the satisfaction of hearing the “Finish Him!” voice line just wouldn’t be the same.

While audio remains an integral component to all forms of multimedia content, the process of implementing sound effects and music into a video game requires a unique set of tools and approaches that are exclusive to game development.

What Sets Video Games Apart?

Sounds not only need to be developed in tandem with the art team to enhance animation sequences and the overall aesthetic, but they also need to feel flexible, dynamic and satisfying. You may be thinking:

“Well, don’t they also need to feel flexible, dynamic and satisfying in television and films too?”

To which, the answer is yes!

However, while film and television fall under the category of linear media, video games are a form of non-linear media (to view our article outlining the comprehensive differences between the two, click here).

In short, a television series or movie follows a consistent narrative timeline that never changes. If you were to watch the movie “Inception” 100 times back-to-back, it would be the same film each and every time you viewed it. The scenes would follow the same series of events and the characters would deliver the same dialogue regardless of how many times you re-watched the movie.

With video games, there is no set timeline of events. The player has independent control over how fast or slow they decide to play through the game. Along with a gameplay experience that must provide infinite user-dependent possibilities comes the need for a game’s soundscape to be equally as dynamic.

So How Are These Captivating Soundscapes Created?

Anyone who has previously worked on the audio team for a video game can attest to the fact that actually creating the music and sound effect assets tends to make up only a small portion of their job responsibilities. While roles differ from studio to studio and may be more specialized in certain work environments, the overwhelming majority of AAA studios expect their sound designers to not only create high-quality sound assets within a Digital Audio Workstation, but to also assure that they interact and function properly within the context of a video game.

What tools are used to implement these sounds into the game?

While all AAA and Indie game studios operate differently and may or may not contain their own set of in-house, proprietary tools, there are a number of commonly used software applications.

Because our article focuses on the implementation of game audio, we’ll direct our focus to the tools primarily used by sound designers, often referred to as audio middleware software.

While most of the game’s development takes place within a game engine such as Unity, Unreal, Godot, GameMaker or any other studio’s internal game engine, most audio work is frequently conducted within an audio middleware software.

Audio middleware software can be defined as a third-party program that specializes in the implementation, management and function of audio assets. These middleware programs are designed to work in tandem with a game engine in order to provide an audio team with specified tools to carry out their implementation. As the term, “middleware” suggests, these programs act as the middle man between the Digital Audio Workstation in which most sounds are created and the game engine in which components and game objects are developed.

Examples of audio middleware software include Audiokinetic’s Wwise and Firelight Technologies’ FMOD, however many game studios offer their own proprietary middleware software for personalized integration within their game engine.

Audio departments work to design sounds that not only augment a player’s experience and root it in that particular universe, but that also interact with the player’s decisions by matching their choices, actions and movement.

What Other Skills Should a Sound Designer in Game Audio Develop?

On top of the multi-faceted skillset needed to become a game audio sound designer, they need to be able to work efficiently due to the amorphous nature of the industry. Being that there’s a technological renaissance occurring in the year 2021 with the recent announcement of Unreal Engine’s MetaHuman Creator along with constantly evolving facial and voice recognition technologies, working in game development has never required more new skills to be developed on such a frequent basis.

To make matters even more dynamic, audio teams are brought into the development process at varying stages in the game’s production cycle. Some audio teams are present during the initial pre-production stages in which early concepts are discussed and developed while more often than not, an audio team is brought onboard once art assets are both defined and playable.

In Closing…

While a career working as a sound designer for video games differs substantially from that of a linear media audio artist, many of the same skills are ubiquitous.