So, having loosely established the kind of companies out there that might need your skills, lets take a look at the skills themselves and how they might differ from their nearest non-game counterparts.
This can mean anything from writing and recording a song or instrumental piece in any style you can think of which is placed into the game either in a diegetic or non diegetic way just like in film or television. This means music can be composed bespoke or pre-existing tracks can be placed into a game environment just like they can in television programs. So no real differences there.
What sets game music apart from film and television music is the way it can often require a composer to create music for an ‘interactive’ or ‘dynamic’ score. I should really go into more details about the nuts and bolts of this fascinating way of working in a future article, but for now I’ll just say that its a way of making music that can ‘react’ to what is happening in the game. It is a non-linear art form, and this means it can either be something simple like a multi-track set of stems which fade up or down on top of each other, or a more elegant system involving intros, loops, outros, transition cues, stingers, and so on.
This latter approach is capable of creating a more film-like effect and can be a strong emotional tool if wielded appropriately. It also requires a different skill set to that required for composing linear music, but can easily be learned, experimented with, and perfected.
Alistair worked on the modern classic Darwinia. A game with a rich sound palette
Loosely speaking this means the conception and creation of sound effects that are then placed into the virtual world of the video game. Sound design is a huge field with a multi-faceted diversity of styles that range from realism, to larger-than-life, to the surreal and beyond.If you are the sole sound designer for an entire game you will be creating the sounds of everything that the player is going to need to ‘hear’ in that virtual world. This includes the ambient environments they will explore, the items and entities that they will encounter and interact with, as well as any other categories such as graphical user interface (GUI for short) sounds (button clicks, rollover sounds) etc.
In larger teams you can find yourself assigned one area of the sound design to work on while your colleagues work on other areas.
Exactly how these sound effects are ‘made’ varies; you might be grabbing source sounds from a sound fx library, or perhaps recording your own using your field recording skills to capture real world events and activities, or alternatively recording any number of essential game specific elements in your studio.
At some point you will need to edit and develop these sounds in software packages like Wavelab or Sound Forge, or your favourite DAW, and the degree to which you tweak the sounds will vary also according to what is required to achieve each specific brief.
Finally you may be required to ‘place’ the sounds into the game world. Also referred to as ‘implementation’, this job can vary as much in complexity as it does the tool sets (sometimes called level editors, debug editors, or game audio engines) needed to do it. By the way, some developers like to make their own implementation tools, and others like to use third-party tools such as WWISE or FMOD.
If you can arrange musical elements together to create a mix then you can do the same with sound fx to make a sound scape. If you have never tried it before why not give it a go. Its lots of fun if you can think of a little story to tell using just sound fx, or a hypothetical situation to ‘simulate’ in sound.
The official trailer for Prison Architect demonstrates the vast range of sound effects and audio landscapes that Alistair has created
A lot of games feature voice acting as a fundamental part of the game play experience.
Depending on the scale and the budget of the game you are working on this might mean anything from recording yourself and other members of the development team, to capturing the performances of professional actors. You could be directing the actors yourself, or you may simply be responsible for ensuring a good recording is captured. It just depends on the size and scope of the project you are working on.
This dialogue must then be edited and possibly also treated to some processing where appropriate. Ultimately these recordings must be implemented into the game and sound as professional as possible.
If you have never tried recording dialogue why not give it a go. You could always expand on the sound design experiments detailed above and embellish your ‘sound story’ or your ‘situation simulation’ with some dialogue and maybe friends or family might let you stick a microphone up and practice your recording and directing chops.
Not necessarily a distinct discipline this role is nonetheless vital to the quality of the overall sound scape of a game. All the sound design elements, all of the music, and all of the dialogue must fit together in a coherent and emotive way. They need to add up to be greater than the sum of their parts, and to achieve this they must all live together and not fight one another.
Whether it is just one person doing this or a whole team of people, the task must be scheduled, carried out, and finessed if a game is to sound good, and its players are to feel totally immersed in the overall game-play experience.