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VRDC Speaker Q&A: Richard Ludlow on crafting audio for interactive VR experiences

Richard Ludlow is the audio Ddirector at Hexany Audio, and will be at VRDC 2017. His talk aims educate and empower VR developers by exploring advanced immersion techniques with regards to audio.

Emma Kidwell, Contributor

September 14, 2017

4 Min Read

Richard Ludlow is the Audio Director at Hexany Audio, and will be at VRDC 2017 to present his talk Crafting Immersive Audio Experiences in VR.

The talk aims educate and empower VR developers by exploring advanced immersion techniques with regards to audio. Here, Ludlow gives us some information about himself and the broader VR market.  

Attend VRDC Fall 2017 to learn about immersive games & entertainment, brand experiences, and innovative use cases across industries.

Tell us about yourself and your work in VR/AR

My company Hexany Audio produces original sound and music for video games and interactive VR experiences. For the past couple years we’ve been actively involved in the VR scene, crafting audio for VR experiences on traditional PC HMDs, mobile, and also proprietary wireless technology for theme parks and installations. It’s been such a ride watching audio design techniques for VR evolve and change, and we’ve been thrilled to be a part of it.

Without spoiling it too much, tell us what you’ll be talking about at VRDC

My talk at VRDC is a bit of a postmortem on all that we’ve learned over the past two years. VR requires a level of immersion with audio that goes far beyond traditional games, and there are certain techniques and methods that we’ve started to use in our experiences that I’m looking forward to sharing so other developers can benefit from them as well. There are also numerous additional considerations that need to be taken into account when developing audio for a VR experience, so I hope to shed some light on those as well.

What excites you most about VR/AR?

I think the most exciting thing about VR right now is just how new and uncharted it is. It’s the wild west, and we’re all here at the outset and birth of a new medium. I think it has a lot of potential, and it will be very interesting to see where it ends up ten years from now. But right now it’s just quite a privilege to be work in a new medium that doesn’t have fully established standards or practices yet. We don’t yet have preconceptions of how things should be done, so it doesn’t limit our creative ideas on how to approach something.

What do you think is the biggest challenge to realizing VR/AR’s potential?

In the immediate future, I believe the biggest hurdle to overcome in realizing VR/AR’s potential is the barrier to entry for consumers. It’s very expensive right now to get a high quality experience, and if developers take shortcuts in an attempt to deliver cheaper solutions to the masses sooner, initial reaction by consumers could be that experiences aren’t living up to the hype. I think this new medium has amazing potential, but I’ve also played a lot of bad games in VR/AR. If those creep their way into the consumer experience too early, it’s possible public opinion toward VR/AR could be tainted and difficult to recover from. But who knows, we’ll just have to see.

How is designing audio different for VR?

Designing audio for VR is much more time consuming than a traditional gaming experience. First off, the function of audio is not just important- it’s critical. Things outside the field of view in VR might very well mean that a player has no idea where they need to look- and sometimes the best way to indicate this is through an aural cue. Also, as with all aspects of the medium, player expectation for a more “realistic” experience is much higher. If that audio source for something passing by you isn’t positioned accurately or doesn’t sound convincing, it’s going to be even more obvious than in a traditional game. What’s more, the time spent mixing is significantly increased, because to do it right at the present, you need someone playing the game with headphones providing feedback about what sounds good and what’s working, and someone mixing the game (not in the HMD) with a duplicate set of headphones. So that’s double the manpower right there.

What is the biggest challenge of implementing audio for an immersive VR environment?

Implementing audio for VR has more technical requirements than a traditional game due to the frequent use of spatialization plugins and algorithms that allow for players to better localize sound sources in the virtual world. For example, we might take a single sound of thunder and put the initial clap in a 3D spatializer plugin so the player can localize it better, coupled with another non-spatializer (but still 3D) layer that provides a more frequency rich sound, coupled with yet another quad or stereo sweeter element. And you also have to be aware of how things fold down from stereo to mono sources (as that can cause bad phasing in some plugins). It really affects things right from the design phase in a way that isn’t present in traditional experiences. So there’s a lot to consider that is different.

Register for VRDC Fall 2017 to hear more about audio in VR from Richard, and join other creators of amazing, immersive experiences at the premier industry event.

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