Archive for the ‘Audio&Games’ Category

Sound dynamic

Sunday, September 5th, 2021

It’s a perfect example of the perfect storm of history, technology and lack of understanding that there’s no middle class anymore.

Historically, sound is king in the theater. So sound engineers always aimed to reproduce that experience. Because theaters are acoustically far different from standard living rooms, it never made any sense except on paper: let’s try to give folks the best sonic experience. Except that before 00s, everything was standardized through analog technology and sound was fine: you could listen to movies and hear everything perfectly fine even on a mono, 13 inches TV.

Technology showed up. DVD players —finally the TRUE movie experience is at home—, surround sound systems exploded in popularity while movie sets and production transitioned to fully digital.

This is where and when sound became a second thought. Too low? Now people have digital devices, they can crank up the volume at three different levels, let’s not bother. Too loud? Well, it’s loud because you’re using a cheap or not-calibrated 5.1 system and you should be happy about shaking your room! Cinema at home, yay!

No. People are trying to enjoy a movie and shaking the room with basses or filling the room with whispers is not necessary better for the experience. If they wanted that, they’d go to that thing called movie theater.

Broadcast loudness standards are too many: standard TV, movies, US/Europe, Netflix, Amazon. Everyone has a different one or with enough variations that the standard isn’t standard. Why? Because it’s easy to re-calibrate digital audio and do your own recipe, compared to the analog days where you didn’t have non-destructive edit options. So everyone is trying to impose their shit.

That digital edit easiness has permeated video as well: they edit shows as if you were watching them in a dark, movie theater, which is why you need to play with brightness on TV too now. Because the digital panel making your TV really is showing black when it’s supposed to be black: pre-2000 tech didn’t allow you to have perfect black. Yes, perfect tech can be a problem because our senses are variables and differ from one individual to another.

But also, middle class. Producers look at market research that says “well, people bought a lot of surround systems”. And that’s it, they aim that. The reality is that no one really uses surround systems. And hasn’t in the past 20 years. People bought one system, saw that it was annoying, are back to TV speakers usually with a soundbar (which is another level of craziness in terms of sound reproduction because of all those dumb ass DSPs but anyways). The idea that a decent amount of folks use 5.1 systems is a total myth.

People most likely watch shows in good old stereo, through speakers or headphones, aka there’s no need for the movie theater sound mixing paradigm. Just balance dialog, music and effects, you’re done. Don’t try to add so much dynamic (dynamic being the difference between the softest sound and the loudest: the bigger the difference, the better). It’s like artificial dramatization, it’s kind of weird.

Which makes me think that it might be the issue here: there’s just too much entertainment, and people producing it don’t have the experience/knowledge to create “stand-alone” stuff and rely on tricks: dramatization of sound, ultra slow meetings between characters while nothing happens for fucking 10 minutes, very long  and complacent shots etc.

Psychonauts 2

Wednesday, September 1st, 2021

The game finally came out and looks like it’s really good? I really enjoyed the first one, even through its flaws.

I love that character design.

Anyway, Tim Schafer and his team are always on point with universes. He’s a beast at curating them. I was reading on Full Throttle recently, remembering how much I wanted so much more from that weird and interesting setting.

Grim Fandango still sits right up there in terms of originality that just immediately works. That’s hard to pull off and Grim is so unique. Absolutely needs a sequel as well.

Congrats to DoubleFine, the entire team (we love you QA), the contractors and everyone involved. Thank you!


Wednesday, August 25th, 2021

Games are so potent because the underlying content is a platform for multiplayer storytelling, rather than a linear narrative.

Nah, the multiplayer storytelling is attractive and fun, not potent. Games are so potent these days because they optimize every psychological tricks known and discovered through social media and web games (Farmville) in the early 2010s.

Publishers, developers have leveraged that knowledge and it is lucrative as hell with generations who don’t know anything else.

GaaS is just Pachinko business. Buy tokens, get into the slot machine vibe, boom. All the spectacular numbers we hear about gaming today are thanks to whales that we exploit nurture as much as possible.

Games haven’t changed much if at all in twenty years. But gaming has, dramatically.


Thursday, August 5th, 2021

Game development is in dire need of candid conversations. It’s suffocating these days.

For instance, game development’s average career is now five years.

How dare we call that a career? Like what in the actual fuck five years are going to do for one’s life? And you go to a game design school for a 3-year degree, $30K in debt for that? How ludicrous it is that we simply turn our heads away from such a terrible deal that is the reality for the padawans out there? My god.

Gaming was worth $7.8B in 2000. It is now worth $180B.

That’s 23 times more in 20 years, and careers are shorter than ever???? Make THAT make sense. Wait don’t, it absolutely doesn’t make sense at all.

We very much need those conversations.


Tuesday, July 27th, 2021

I did read about the Blizzard Activision stuff. It’s rather awful, it’s rather a bit everywhere in this industry and I don’t know how this could change at this point.

If the biggest studios at the highest levels allow and hide those stories from Blizzard to Ubisoft, that this is also happening in indie spheres as well, for years and years, it looks like it’s a wrap. Bad apples stay anyway. This is endemic.

It’s really hard to look at  the outside of game culture —progressive, humble, inclusive—and realize that inside it’s conservative, arrogant and dismissive to 11.

It’s painful to look back at how much time I spent caring so much about this medium. *puts on red nose*

Steam Deck

Friday, July 16th, 2021

Interesting move from Valve.

I see a big issue in terms of market.

Two categories here: broke people, and not broke people. There is pretty much nothing else.

Broke people already have their portable game device and probably will not buy a new one at that price.

Not broke people probably own most of all the current portable game device options. They can afford to try a $400 portable console that allows them to play the games they’ve been already playing on big monitors or powerful laptops but the truth is, it’s not necessary for them. They might become Steam Deck ambassadors.

Steam Deck is a luxury gaming accessory. In this economy, in this uncertainty, in this panny? Bold move.

Then there’s of course the issues with software compatibility, fixing a machine that has built-in controllers and storage upgrades.

Good luck.

Game Music 2021

Monday, May 31st, 2021

Ha, the classic question. If you look at most games of the past twenty years, you will find two genres in videogame music: orchestra and bleep bloop. There are also basically two feels in videogame music: serious as fuck and whimsical as hell. Yes, you might have the quirky Lo-Fi Hip-Hop loop in the in-game’s shop or the jazzy nostalgic music in the game menu but overall let’s be real: videogame music follows the most rigid aesthetic and in general never really expanded, ever.

Which is why we’re collectively wondering regularly about what videogame music can be. Short answer: everything.

I grouped the most interesting —most liked— answers to Alex’s question.

That’s definitely out of the usual. There is some in Guacamelee but sadly they added 8bit stuff (I have a hard time with SQUARE leads, always had) and electronica on top of it.

Two things: boldness of an aesthetic statement VS game development ultra pragmatism

Game development is insane, with a million things to deal with. Aesthetic boldness is usually expressed through graphics, while music and sound design will be aesthetically “following”, that is, they will be pretty much as boringly expected as possible. Let’s take the example of a “serious” space-themed game. You will have Vangelis type of background music because that’s what everyone in the team will want and settle on. Because it is a safe choice. Games are so complicated to make that they become even more a team’s baby than any other creative output I’ve seen. Therefore taking risks, making bold aesthetic statements like adding some jazz that only two folks in the team feel, will not be done. Even if the public might absolutely love it.

It doesn’t matter that in this example you could say “Cowboy Bebop did it and it works so wonderfully people still talk about it 20+ years later”. If the lead programmer or creative director believes that it’s wrong or that it would only work in anime (or that he/she hates anime), then it’s not happening. There’s never much iteration on music genres in games, if at all. I mean probably at Nintendo, but you know by now that they are the exception (and the metric we’re still humbly trying to match).

SO TRUE. All the technical excellence and overall quality of music can be easily forgotten if you can’t hum something you heard sometimes for hundreds of hours. Nintendo is the King at this. I can hum many of their leitmotif coming to me randomly, decades later (water level in Mario64, I don’t know why). Nintendo always cared.

Music is never thought as an integral part of western game development, it’s always just a layer put on top. Therefore balancing things out cannot be done because it is already far too late and game designers have already moved on to (way bigger) problems. Western game development doesn’t care about music like that. Just slap a big composer name if you can, fade out the music if you can (or just abruptly end it), done. I wish it would change, for sure.

This happens actually quite a lot, it’s just that most people don’t notice :) We have complex game audio engines today (FMOD-Wwise) taking care of that. Why is it usually a bit dull or in the background? Because sudden changes in audio is not a good feeling nor good design. Our ears simply don’t like that. It needs to flow and be fluid. Now, wouldn’t it be cool if we could mute/unmute tracks within the music? Yes it would, but it’s asking the game audio engines to deal with huge amounts of audio data to move around very quickly and, games being EXTREMELY sensitive to anything impairing performance, it’s basically never worth it. Could we do that with less data, with say a MIDI track muting/unmuting MIDI channels? Yes, but it’s still a lot of work and a complex one: it’s a blend of music composing, game integration and iteration with level design to see what works best and what does not. It’s also an aesthetic issue: not every music genre works well with MIDI-only, and telling composers to not worry about their raw audio output is heretic.

The world of audio and music likes to stay rigid and is quite often, conservative. Which is very much the opposite of how games are developed: it’s all about finding new ways to do something better, hacking and tweaking your ways through it.

GIRL. I wish that too! I thought it was obvious that this was needed. I can’t believe —yet it makes sense that we still mention twenty year old games thanks to their music.

Funk is inherently a playful genre of music that Japanese composers have rightfully started to incorporate in their 80s and 90s games and on (I can’t remember which arcade game has straight James Brown samples in it, but yeah). Funk became the backbone of R&B which became known as K-Pop in the late 2000s, go figure.

It has to be said: in the western world of game development, composing that type of breakbeat/funky stuff music is not really considered composing. You compose music only if there are cellos and timpanis otherwise you still compose music but. Anyway.

Vocal samples are to me one of the most iconic and unique aspect of game audio. It’s what made arcades so amazing: those funny, energetic sounding machines, that digital laugh, the corny lines, blasting in sync with flashing lights and screens. It’s all fun and part of the culture. Who doesn’t have a “it’s me Mario” or a “Heavy Machine Gun!” popping up in their minds from time to time, I know I do.

Right! It’s super hard to do. Not so much to sync audio and gameplay, though that can be tricky, but to make a rhythm-based gameplay interesting and not feel like a fad after two minutes. Also it needs to never break and that’s where things usually fall apart. If few games have done that, it’s because it doesn’t work very well.

Dear game developers: people LOVE music diversity. Please offer it, hire folks who can do that (shameless plug: I CAN) don’t deny it for things like “I personally don’t like that stuff so it shouldn’t be in the game I work on”.

I just started watching a new game, Scarlet Nexus. The game begins with slow jazzy, sad chords on a solo piano for the main screen and the first mission starts with fast pop-ish, dubstep-ish house music. And then contemplative breakbeat in slow moments. And of course, it’s all working and exciting and fun and dope.

Why this seems impossible to  create in a western development team, I don’t know but let’s change that.

Oh, the game audio scene LOVES diegetic music. That’s film school influence. I feel like it happens often enough to not be something lacking in games, but I can see how it could be happening more often or in a more subtle way.

The thing that we need to keep in mind with game music: we can do everything. Aesthetically, technically, there are basically no limits besides our own.

English major in the System

Saturday, March 20th, 2021

He was, as he puts it, “a liberal-arts nobody with no coding skills or direct industry experience, thrown onto arguably the most accomplished and leading-edge videogame production team ever assembled. It’s hard to explain how unlikely that was, and how fish-out-of-water I felt.” Nevertheless, there he was — and System Shock was all the better for his presence.

On System Shock, a remarkable and very important 90s game.

It’s just interesting to read that, as this would never happen today. People with all the skills don’t get hired nowadays.

On game creators responsibilities

Friday, March 19th, 2021

Here, then, we come to the fatal flaw that undermines almost all applications of this argument. Its proponents would seemingly have you believe that the games of which they speak are rhetorically neutral sandboxes, exact mirror images of some tangible objective reality. But this they are not. Even if they purport to “simulate” real events to one degree or another, they can hope to capture only a tiny sliver of their lived experience, shot through with the conscious and subconscious interests and biases of the people who make them. These last are often most clearly revealed through a game’s victory conditions, as they are in the case of Colonization. To play Colonization the “right” way — to play it as the designers intended it to be played — requires you to exploit and subjugate the people who were already in the New World millennia before your country arrived to claim it. Again, then, we’re forced to confront the fact that every example of a creative expression is a statement about its creators’ worldview, whether those creators consciously wish it to be such a thing or not. Labeling it a simulation does nothing to change this.

The handling — or rather non-handling — of slavery by Colonization is an even more telling case in point. By excising slavery entirely, Colonization loses all claim to being a simulation of real history to any recognizable degree whatsoever, given how deeply intertwined the Peculiar Institution was with everything the game does deign to depict.

Jimmy Maher, at it again, being such a treat to read.

“A creative expression is a statement about its creators’ worldview”. Very powerful and very true. It is the reason why creators have to expand their knowledge, to go broad rather than deep but I digress.

Game developers still don’t do a great job at grasping consequences and outcomes. It’s not a surprise that we talk so much more about tools and new tech or production than morality, gameplay and what kind of fictional reality game developers create for their players.

Spending all kinds of energy to avoid accountability doesn’t scream maturity.

SFII Audio

Tuesday, March 16th, 2021

Guile looking like he spittin spittin.

Dhalsim about to DROP it.

Chun li playing fat bass lines on her Moog.

Zangief definitely on some Chicago House mix.