[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday-opinion piece, Volition's senior audio designer Ariel Gross lists the different scenarios when different departments will want to notify their audio team about what they're working on.]
I bet you don't realize how much audio relies on you to inform us of stuff. Well, maybe you do, in your endless brilliance, but it seems like most people don't, in their endless ignorance.
I don't mean ignorance in a bad way, like how someone might refer to a racist person as ignorant, and it carries that nasty, negative connotation. And I don't mean to imply that people who don't realize this are dumb, either. Obviously game developers aren't dumb. Well, most of them aren't dumb. Ok, some of them.
Point is, I mean it in a way that implies innocence. Like someone riding a bike who is ignorant of the 18-wheeler that's about to hit them from behind. Coincidentally, this is how Team Audio can feel when you don't realize how much we really do rely on you.
People Just Want To Do Their Thang, Though…
We get it. We want you to do your thang. Your thang is what keeps us audio guys relevant. Your thang could be designing missions, it could be creating artwork, it could be making animations, it could be updating pipelines, it could be almost anything, and you may never know that it affects us in the distant, green pastures of audioland. But so often, it does.
And this isn't your fault. If there's blame to go around, I believe that it should mostly be shouldered by your friendly audio team. They're the ones that need to be educating the world of their woes. It's their responsibility to advocate for themselves, ideally to people who can then advocate for them, and so on. I'm an audio guy, and I'm putting my pants on and marching over to you to educate you on this issue. At least I hope I remembered to put my pants on. Did I? I did. Good.
You weren't "supposed to know" this information, by the way. In fact, from all accounts that I've heard, most of you won't be taught this information in school. Except for maybe the school of hard knocks. You're also usually not the one suffering the consequences, so it's possible that even if you do learn that audio relies on you, it might not stick. But I want to make it stick. I want to make it stick so badly.
Why Does Team Audio Care About My Stuff So Much?
As mentioned in my previous ADBAD post titled Team Audio vs. The Milestone
, the nature of audio is such that we typically can't call our work completed until you call your work completed.
If you're making a bombastic explosion, then we can't call our explosion sound effect completed until we can see your final explosion visual. If you're designing a system that increases the fire rate on a rifle, then we can't call our rifle sound effects completed until that fire rate is dialed in.
If you're creating an animation of someone's eyeball being impaled by a Triscuit, then we can't call our sound effect completed until the timing of that animation is locked down, and possibly until we see the white goo oozing from the ocular cavity. Just sayin'.
How Do We Know When Team Audio Gives A Crap?
So, my pants are on, and it's time for me to attempt to educate a little bit. Here are a bunch of grossly generalized per-discipline lists of when you should let Team Audio know. This is not comprehensive by any means, but hopefully it is helpful.
Team Animation! We rely on you…
…to let us know if you think there's a chance that the animation you're working on will need audio in the first place.
…to let us know if you're planning on changing an existing animation that already has sound effects, particularly if your change is going to change the timing of the animation.
…to let us know if you're replacing an animation wholesale, even if we haven't designed the sounds for it yet.
…to let us know if any animations with related audio triggers change timing (e.g. a footstep trigger).
Team VFX! We rely on you…
…to let us know if you think there's a chance that the effect that you're working on will need audio in the first place.
…to let us know if you're changing the timing, color, shape, size, or motion of your effect.
…to let us know if you're using tons of miniature effects to comprise what we may think is one big effect.
…to let us know if you're reusing an effect in more than one way (e.g. this steam effect will be coming out of this dragon's nostrils, and it will also be used on this chimney).
Team Environment Art! We rely on you…
…to let us know when you've locked down an area in the game and it's ready for some audio love.
…to let us know that you've placed some object in the world that has movement associated with it.
…to let us know when you're relocating some landmark, piece of terrain, or anything else that already has sounds associated with it.
…to let us know the emotional direction of an area (e.g. this graveyard is supposed to be somber, so please don't put ghostly moans and women shrieking in the background).
Team Prop Art! We rely on you…
…to let us know if your props are going to have moving pieces.
…to let us know what the intended materials of your props are.
…to let us know if your prop is going to end up having VFX attached to it.
…to let us know if the prop you're designing is static or dynamic.
Team Mission Design! We rely on you…
…to let us know when you're thinking about adding something new to your mission. Doesn't matter what it is.
…to let us know when you think a sound for your mission isn't conveying what it needs to convey, including the emotional goal for that segment of the mission.
…to let us know when parts of your mission are considered final and locked down, but only if they truly are final and locked down and nothing else is going to change.
…to let us know if you're going to have a meeting about your mission. We'll probably want to be there.
Team Systems Design! We rely on you…
…to let us know if you're planning a new system that could even remotely affect audio.
…to let us know if there are changes planned for any system that has an audio component involved.
…to let us know when you're done tweaking values on any system that could affect audio (e.g. weapon fire rate, vehicle RPM ranges, player reload speeds, etc).
…to let us know if you're working on a system and you think that there may be a way for audio to piggyback on that system.
Team Writing! We rely on you…
…to let us know your writing schedule, or if your existing schedule is changing, so we can help figure out the recording schedule.
…to let us know when you're done writing a line and you'd like to get some temporary voice over in-game to give it a test run.
…to let us know if a line isn't working for your in-game, if it seems out of context, anything like that.
…to let us know, if you know, that a line is going to need processing, like if it's said over a walkie-talkie.
Team Programming! We rely on you…
…to let us know the second you hear that memory is being freed up. We'd like a chance to make a case for it.
…to let us know if you see an issue with an audio system. The audio programmer doesn't need to bear this burden alone.
…to let us know when you start to suspect that our seemingly simple request is blossoming into more work than you first realized.
…to let us know if you have any cool audio ideas, or if you have feedback on the game audio. Don't be shy! Everyone has ears, even you. Unless you don't. That would be really strange, though.
I'm sure there are lots of people that I'm forgetting. Don't take it personally. Let me know if I've left you out in the comments of this post. I'll make an effort to include you. Despite appearances, I'm not perfect. I know, I know. It's true, though.
A Note To My Colleagues At Volition
If you're a Volitionite reading this, I want you to know that all of these things still apply, but that I also salute you for doing such an extraordinary job of communicating with audio. You guys are heroes.
Yes, there are still improvements to be made, and we still have a lot of education to go so that we can work together even better, but by and large, you guys get it, and you've done more than you probably realize to make our games sound great. So, thank you.
[This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]