Reflective Journal: Using Middleware For Game Audio

Reflective Journal: Using Middleware For Game Audio

Recently I had the pleasure of working with Chris Ware on doing the music and sound design for two games and a TVC. As we performed these projects at the same time we decided to sit down and have a conversation about the processes that we went through and challenges faced. This is the second of three blogs from this conversation.

Chris: We chose to use the middleware FMOD to create sound design for the two games projects Hearth and Transmutation...

A: ...because Unity looks like a headache to put in audio and when I did research it, it looks like more of a headache then I even imagined. You basically have to make a digital mixer up from scratch and seemed just too confusing. It just seems really weird I don't even know how to explain it. Or if you could crossfade between tracks and events?

C: But if you could, you would have to program it.

A: Well it was your idea to use middleware, which was a lot simpler and we can make it ourselves in FMOD.

C: I do recall the gaming students had not heard of FMOD. So that was a concern at the beginning. You have to integrate FMOD with Unity, which runs FMOD live, which allows us to mix the game in context to the image. Whether or not this was going to be a smooth or drawn out process with the gaming students. Turned out to be a simple process and the programmers were happier once they realised we shortened the amount of time needed to program the sound into Unity far shorter. One line of code, done.

A: One hing I was concerned about when they said they hadn't heard of it. They didn't seem to have interest in it, I was worried they weren't going to bother.

C: I was concerned that I would have to do the programming.

A: I was also concerned about that, which is why I also tried to learn it.

C: We both spent time learning how to code within Unity. It was tricky, without a build of the actual games. Which was concerning as we knew getting a build of each game was unlikely before the final week.

A: Another challenge in FMOD was the music, a completely different style of composition. Having different intensities, then having a parameter that went between them.

The reference track we used was "Pentagon" by Sean Murray (check out my analysis blog of Pentagon here).

C: Just to clarify, the intensity was linked to the health parameter in Transmutation, which I think is a massive part of immersion in games. I think if I had pursued composing music for the game, it would've been bare.

A: I wanted it to be good. Adaptive music in games has always fascinated me. So the way I went about writing it was that I just got some creepy and spacey sounding synth patches from within Ableton to lay the base, low intensity. I had the intention to eventually make my own patches for these but never got the chance to go back to it by our deadline. I then decided on a key and tempo and thought that a 24 bar loop would be sufficient.

C: Once Ash had recorded the guitar he sent them to me to program the drums and then sent them back to Ash to put them into FMOD. But there was some issues.

A: My issues were more dealing with your technical issues, you know? Having to send back music tracks because they didn't loop properly.

C: *Chuckling* I should explain that. This happened across all of the samples, not just the music. In my sessions I would print the audio within Pro Tools. Whenever I would do this, Pro Tools would insert a millisecond of silence at the beginning or end of my loop.

A: Annoyingly for some reason editing on my end wouldn't fix it.

C: I guess that process of working separately at home was interesting at times. I think early on at times we were using the FMOD session at the same time.

A: At first we didn't communicate it properly.

C: No, but nothing bad happened...In terms of file management, it was pretty good. Nothing went missing. Working from home was quite good. I have Kontact and all I need at home and Ash has all he needs at home, it makes more sense for us to be working from home then trying to work in the studio or on campus at all.

A: That is the convenience of doing work at home, you can work on other stuff until you get what you need and then once you get it your equipment is already there. You sent me the drums, I needed to record new guitar. It took half an hour, if that. So quick. Same thing I asked you for new drums and you had it back in half an hour. Easy.

Around a week after this conversation we were able to attend the exhibition where the two games were being showcased. Unfortunately both teams had last minute issues with the coding in their games, which really affected the audio assets we had created and the way that we had utilised FMOD. In Transmutation the intensity parameter wasn't working as it should so the music was stuck to one intensity. We did make an edit of the music so that it would move through the intensities to a time scale but the programmers ran out of time to add it to the final build. Other small sounds such as footsteps and character sounds didn't make it to the final build of either game. This is definitely something to learn from as in the future we can have better communication with the designers and programmers in the preproduction process as to what is realistic to be achieved in a limited time frame. Listen to the sample music track below.