Producing Interactive Audio

The Rules of Interactive Sound Design
 
Producing Interactive Audio
Introduction

The Rules of Interactive Sound Design

Creating an Adaptive Audio Engine

Case Study: The GEX Project

Only the Beginning

Tools of the Trade

Getting More Info about the IASIG

Over the years, I've worked on about 100 titles, 60 or so in a substantive way. I can distill much of what I have learned from this in a short set of rules.
  1. There will always be limitations. Hardware limitations, space limitations, design limitations… you name it, and it will be restricted at one time or another. The only resource that's never limited is your ability to come up with creative solutions to these problems.

  2. Every drop of energy that goes into being discouraged by the limitations of a particular project is energy taken away from making a great sound design.

  3. Know your role on the team. Projects need to be driven by a singular, cohesive vision usually espoused by a producer, lead designer, or director. Unless you're working on an "audio only" product, audio is a supporting member of the cast; it doesn't lead the design. Audio is no less important to the overall success of the project; but, it follows and supports the design ideas and constraints defined by the project's singular vision. The sound designer should become comfortable in this role so as to avoid great heartache and suffering. However, this doesn't mean that there is no opportunity for creativity. (See Rule 4.)

  4. This is the "two things" rule. Most of the time, you'll be taking direction from someone who knows less about audio than you do. By saying this, I don't mean to denigrate the skill of the project director; I'm just stating a simple fact. The sound designer is the expert when it comes to the details of audio. Yet the direction for the sound design must come from the person who is responsible the project's overall vision. Otherwise the sound will not hang together with the product. My highly unscientific experience has shown that a project director is unlikely to have more than two identifiable design needs for any given part of the sound design. If you, as the audio designer, satisfy these two things, you're usually free to complete the bulk of the task with your full creative input. It's best to know what these two things are before any significant amount of work is done.

  5. Run-time resources will always be shared among different disciplines.

  6. As soon as the artists or programmers figure out how to use something effectively, it will no longer be available for audio (for example, the CD-ROM drive on any game platform).

  7. Making audio interactive is a team effort. The application must be altered by designers and programmers to support interactive audio. Team buy-in is essential because interactive audio, although very valuable to a project, is more work for everybody.

  8. The likelihood of audio becoming interactive for any given product is inversely proportional to the amount of programming that's required of individuals who are not specifically assigned to the audio team.

  9. It's far better to determine how the sound design will interact with the world before you begin creating assets. Retrofitting interactivity into audio designs, especially music, is difficult at best, and severely compromised, if not impossible, at worst.

  10. Leverage off of existing technology wherever possible. If you plan to create new audio technology, use off-the-shelf tools whenever you can. For example, I can't conceive of a scenario where it would make sense to write your own MIDI sequencer. Programs such as Opcode's Vision and Logic Audio are great tools. I can't even begin to speculate on how many person-hours went into making them. It would be crazy to invest development dollars in a "roll your own" sequencer. Rather, we need to create additional tools that map out the territory that is unique to our endeavor. Such tools should begin with the output of commercial tools such as a MIDI sequencer and add functionality as needed.

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