When considering 'quality' in both the output and processes of a game audio department, there are, more often than not, three key areas that need to be considered and attended to before an audio team even stands a chance of delivering the goods. These three areas all place the user experience first and foremost...
QUALITY SOURCE & SIGNAL PATH
The first area is that of quality source materials. In audio, everything is a part of a chain (or signal path), and if you put bad quality sound in, you tend to get bad quality sound out. A high quality and organized recording process is critical to maintaining high quality source assets. A clean, undistorted signal path is essential in gathering the highest possible source sound assets, recorded at the highest resolutions i.e. 24bit 96khz (to allow for sample manipulation) and organized into an easily accessible, catalogued, searchable library. Originally recorded material, gathered especially for the requirements of the project will often yield the finest results. Considerations should always be made to the context that something is required to be recorded in, i.e. is it outdoors, indoors, distant, close, wet, dry etc. This applies equally for voices and sound effects. Another essential element is the signal path/output itself; I/O signal path (easily re-configurable mixer hierarchies and parametization of sound), controllable, carefully measurable, predictable and trackable output levels.
QUALITY TOOLS / PIPELINES
Secondly, is the consideration of quality audio creation & implementation tools. This can be measured and made more efficient by scrutinizing the time it takes a sound designer to iterate on a sound implementation (create a system flow diagram like this one to find out where your inefficiencies are). The time it takes from creating a source sound asset to hearing it in the game must be the shortest possible, and also offer the least resistance to the designer through ease-of-use and stability. Improvement of tool & game-engine UX should be made a focus: All frustrations should be noted, targeted and removed from the software and pipelines. The more a sound designer is able to iterate on a sound, the closer the experience will get to something that is tuned and satisfactory for the end-listener / player.
QUALITY COLLABORATION / INTERACTION
Finally, the quality of interactions between team members, of both the sound team and the rest of the multi-discipline team is critical to quality of feature development and execution. If a sound team member can interact in a free flowing, professional and respectful way with the members of the team, and not have to constantly push through barriers or fight against bureaucracy the better for the implementation of features at a high quality, but also the better for innovation and development of emergent, opportunistic sound design and x-discipline influences. Communication must be unclouded, efficient and clear, as must the studio culture that supports the team members and development process in this regard.
As a secondary part to quality collaboration are good audio TONE TARGETS, as these will play a key role in establishing direction and the resolution of any conflicting ideas. Having a central place for high quality, easy to understand documentation as well as video and audio inspiration is essential in creating and maintaining a healthy decision making process inside the team. Key to consider for tone target material: ‘How Should the Player Feel?’ / What are the Key Adjectives (e.g. Hard, Digital, Harsh, Distortion, Cold, Dark vs Warm, Safe, Soft, Protected etc / ) In conflict resolution: Stay focussed on which proposal delivers best on the tone target.
With these three areas in place and receiving consistent attention, tuning and tweaking, team audio can begin/continue to fulfil its role as a key collaborator in studio culture and the development process and always focus on what is the most important thing: delivering the highest quality experience for the player.