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Feature: 'Sound Concepting: Selling the Game, Creating its Auditory Style'

Sound concepting plays a vital role in a game's creative direction in several ways, as sound designer Brad Meyer illustrates in this feature with an example from Sh
Sound concepting plays a vital role in a game's creative direction in several ways, as sound designer Brad Meyer illustrates in this feature with an example from Shaba Games and Treyarch's Spider Man: Web of Shadows. Just as concept art can develop the visual look and feel for a game in preproduction, sound concepting can be used to to solidify an audio direction, create sound palettes, prototype various effects and ideas, define the audio characteristics of the game state, develop an understanding of the importance of audio to a project, and even help sell the game to a publisher: "Sound concepting consists of many exercises, both creative and functional -- but for this discussion, "sound concepting" refers to the construction of sounds used as a basis to derive sonic ideas for a project. Sound concepts are not just mockups, but a serious study into how the aspects of the world should sound in the game. These concepts may be a series of ideas for a single sound, a short soundscape, or a complex sound synced to an animatic -- basically, anything which can be used as future reference for the sound designer's vision. Sound concepts are just that: concepts, not final assets. However, studies developed during the concept phase often evolve in some form into finished sounds. Concepting entails various exercises, experiments, and studies used to create a framework from which a game's audio can develop. It affords the audio team the opportunity to find the game's voice creatively, and begin to work out any technical issues to ensure the team's vision and ideas are possible and iterated upon. In practice, sound concepting is the act of mixing the "designer" side of the sound designer with the "sound" aspect. The point of sound concepting is to experiment freely, and test concepts against other to help them evolve. The designer should create without constraints, until he or she finds what works best sonically, and then figure out how to make these ideas work within the game engine." In Meyer's most recent project, Spider-Man: Web of Shadows, he had to develop the sounds accompanying this strange symbiote goo, which the team called ichor. In the game, the ichor takes over the city of New York, infecting citizens and turning them into vicious monsters, who in turn spawn more ichor and create more hideous monsters: "The ichor itself was a very important thematic set of sounds to get right, so I chose it for sound concepting work. Early in development, I was given a concept animation of what the ichor may look like, and from it I constructed a palette of various sounds which would give these various forms of the alien life. These sounds were created after watching the movie numerous times and talking to various artists and designers about their intentions for the ichor.

I engaged in field recordings and foley work to capture various appropriately slimy, gloppy, and gooey materials. Since the ichor was also "alive" I wanted to inject some subtle vocalizations into the movement as well, and did so with various human vocalizations, as well as some pig squeals, cat growls, and my brother's dog, Ke-K'oa. I then 'scored' the concept animation with a mix of how I envisioned the ichor would sound in game. This was a very early concept in production, and now it is amusing to compare this concept to what we have in the finished product. The creatures in the game do not sound or look at all like this movie, but the concepting provided a realm for experimentation, helped solidify the design of the ichor, and also created a library of sounds I could pull from when designing our various symbiote-infected enemies." You can read the full feature, which includes more details and examples on prototyping, setting the mood, and selling a project with sound concepts (no registration required, please feel free to link to this feature from external websites).

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