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October 22, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

Dynamic Mixing for Games

My notes from Game Audio 7 Dynamic Mixing for Games at 137th AES Convention 2014, Los Angeles
Presented Oct 10 by Simon Ashby

Dynamic Mixing defined: A system that dynamically changes the audio mix based on currently playing sounds and game situations.

Middleware such as Wwise creates channels between the game engine and the audio engine. In Wwise these are called Sends.

Simon Ashby of Audiokinetic discusses  Dynamic Mixing for Game Audio

Dynamic mixing can help keep things interesting by modifying sounds on the fly to keep from hearing the exact same thing repeatedly. But it can also provide feedback to the user such as volume going down to indicate greater distance from the player / camera.

In the same way live sound mixers can use snapshots to quickly go from cue to cue, middleware mix snapshots can be attached to triggers / mechanics in the game.

Side-chain is not just for ducking. It can drive other parameters such as EQ, pitch, sends, etc. In other words, you can drive a parameter setting based on the audio level of a different channel.

HDR: High Dynamic Range. The audio version of HDR photos. Inputs have high dynamic range going into the HDR buss. Delivery system ducks lower volume inputs to allow the louder ones to be heard. It is more complex than buss compression or ducking. The result is actually lower dynamic range but seems to have more range than compression or unmastered audio.

Audiokinetic has a YouTube Channel that includes some information about HDR.

Adaptive Loudness and Compression, as heard in mix by Rob Bridgett in Zorbit’s Math Adventure. Mix snapshots are triggered by output state of device: headphones, speaker, AirPlay. This can help protect user’s hearing and otherwise optimize for the listening scenario. Compression was also applied based on the volume measured at the mic input of the device. This was designed to help the listener hear better when playing in a loud environment. This was only applied to headphones because speaker and AirPlay would form a loop back into the microphone.

October 20, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

Game Audio Middleware

My notes from Game Audio 5 Audio Middleware for the Next Generation at 137th AES Convention 2014, Los Angeles
Presented Oct 10 by Steve Horowitz and Scott Looney

The key thing that separates linear media production from interactive is: indeterminacy. Middleware helps us manage this difference.

Justification of middleware: (1) Puts more audio control in the hands of audio people, and (2) Simplifies work for coders.

Steve Horowitz of Game Audio Institute presents at AES 2014 Los Angeles

Middleware for multiple development platforms: FMOD, Wwise
Unity specific middleware: Fabric, Master Audio

FMOD Studio is now sample based, not frame based.

Master Audio seems ideally suited for 2D and casual games. It is Open Source. It supports all systems to which Unity can publish, including web. It has better documentation than Fabric.

Middleware Resources: Game Audio Institute, iasig.org, IGDA, Game Sound Con

October 9, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

Game Audio Sound Design and Mix

My notes from Game Audio 3 Sound Design and Mix: Challenges and Solutions – Games, Film, Advertisement at 137th AES Convention 2014, Los Angeles
Presented Oct 9 by a panel of industry veterans: Charles Deenen, John Fasal, Tim Gedemer, Csaba Wagner, and Bryan Watkins.

There were many comparisons in working between game audio and film sound.

The short timelines and high quality standards seem similar for both.

Game audio folks seem less set in their ways, more collaborative with sound professionals, than people who make film trailers. This may be related to the veteran status of film trailer folks (typically 20+ years) to game audio (typically under 20 years of experience). One area of overlap: when people who are good at game trailers expand their career, there is a somewhat natural transition to film trailers.

Game audio source is typically pretty clean: studio recordings, ADR. Film source is typically noisy production audio that may need significant cleanup.

The expected playback system for a game trailer is a desktop or laptop computer, with limited frequency response, especially in the low end. Film trailers enjoy higher fidelity in movie theaters, home theaters. Also, volume measurement standards and best practices for loudness are different for theaters than the internet.

Deenan mentioned a unifying concept for his work in both film and game audio is trying to reduce source elements to cleaner, more fundamental sounds. Layers seem to combine better when they are stripped down, simplified.

Fasal showed a picture where a bike rack was attached to a car as a microphone mounting system. He also said that every car seems to need attention to where mikes are placed to get the best sounds… that there is no “tried and true” recipe. Though recording technology has changed in the last 30 years, the opportunity to listen, choose great sources, and carefully place microphones remains.

October 9, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

Interactive Music Systems

My notes from Game Audio 2 Effective Interactive Music Systems: The Nuts and Bolts of Dynamic Musical Content at 137th AES Convention 2014, Los Angeles
Presented Oct 9 by Winifred Phillips

We tend to think interactive music started with video games like Frogger, but Mozart held public concerts where musicians would play a score arranged by audience participation of throwing dice (“Musikalsches Würfelspiel”). What was true then is also true now: people enjoy influencing how music is played, or interacting with proxies that cause changes in music. Interactive music is often employed to reduce listener fatigue, because people tend to spend more time in a given play pattern than listening to the same music cue in linear media.

Horizontal Sequencing: using crossfades to switch between two different streams, or rearranging the order in which different musical “chunks” are presented.

Vertical Layering: Additive, where one, some or all layers can play simultaneously and everything still works; or Interchange, where some layers are mutually exclusive.

Music Data: Individual notes/samples are available to play and a separate instruction stream (a la player piano roll) sequences how to play them. Examples include MIDI and MOD.

Generative Music, also known as Algorithmic Composition
Some random element is introduced to support indeterminancy, like rolling dice. Rules govern how likely different musical events may happen. Wind chimes are a kind of generative music system.

As powerful and compelling as these interactive music forms are, linear music continues to play an important role, often being the best solution for a given situation in a video game.

Winifred Phillips presents about Interactive Music

Dig deeper in Winifred’s new book A Composer’s Guide to Game Music. You can also follow her on Twitter and read her blog.

October 9, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

All About The Decibel

My notes from Tutorial 7 All About The Decibel at 137th AES Convention 2014, Los Angeles
Presented Oct 9 by Alex U. Case

In the same way that Octave describes a ratio between two numbers, Decibel is a ratio of two numbers.

Although logarithms may seem intimidating, they do something really valuable for recordists as part of the decibel formula: they convert multiplication to addition and exponents to multiplication. Significantly vast quantities are “ranged down” using logarithms, providing a measurement that audio engineers can more readily communicate.

The decibel is useful for people concerned with intricate amplitude variations over time (recording engineers), not necessarily artists. Recordists help bridge the gap between art and technology for artists and the folks who make our recording gear. Decibel is the practical measure for those of us who’s job it is to be technically minded.

Alex U. Case presentation on decibel

Did Alex post more details from his presentation on his blog recordingology? You can also follow him on Twitter.

July 1, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

Headphone Alternatives for Voice Actors

If an actor is self recording an audition, the choice to use headphones is pretty simple: use them or don’t. But if there are other people involved — voice director, client, engineer, etc. — headphones may be useful for hearing those folks. As previously discussed, headphones may be causing some problems, but they might also help an actor hear collaborators. The decision to completely ditch headphones may not be simple. Some additional options would be helpful.

LESS OF ME
If the headphones let one hear the actor’s mic, the director’s talkback mic, and the engineer’s talkback mic, then one simple solution would be to lower or mute the signal from the actor’s mic. Most of the distractions from hearing oneself go away if the signal from the actor’s mic doesn’t feed the actor’s headphones. A professional recording engineer can configure it if you simply ask.

SPEAKER
Sometimes the headphones just need to go away. A speaker in the room with the actor can be used to replace the headphones. BUT — and this is important — the audio from the actor’s mic should NOT feed the speaker or feedback may occur. Again, the recording engineer is responsible to set this up correctly.

SAME ROOM
On some big sound stages I’ve seen a table for the director, script supervisor, and others. The actor doesn’t need headphones to hear these people because they’re all in the same room. The engineer (in another room) may use a talkback speaker and/or headphones may still be helpful, but much of the critical communication over headphones goes away with lots of folks together in the same room. And you don’t need a major film studio budget. You can ditch the actor’s headphones in small scale recording setups if you just put everyone in the same room.

One Ear Off Technique for Voice ActorsONE EAR OFF
Another compromise is to work with one ear off, or use a single eared headphone. This may be enough of a change to minimize the distraction while still being able to hear collaborators. Just taking a side off is a quick fix that a voice actor can make without help from others and without taking time away from the session. Studio singers, musicians, and radio announcers have been doing this effectively for years.

TIPS FOR ONE EAR OFF
When someone takes an ear off from stereo headphones and there is sound coming out, this makes feedback more likely. If the actor “wears” that open headphone speaker on the head behind the ear, it covers it up as if it were being worn on the ear. Placing the open speaker behind the ear helps the actor and engineer by keeping feedback to a minimum.

An engineer may proactively mute the signal to the open ear using a pan, mute, dead patch, etc. No output from the unused headphone means the actor doesn’t have to cover it to help prevent feedback.

June 24, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

Voice Actors and Headphones

Headphones are commonly used in recording situations. When recording voice, what are some effective uses for headphones? What are some pitfalls to avoid?

NOW HEAR THIS!
Headphones for a Voice Actor to Record AuditionsSometimes recording technology can exaggerate the sounds that voice actors make: plosives, sibilance, proximity effect, mouth noise. If it isn’t too distracting, it may be valuable for a voice actor to hear these undesirable sounds. Actors can perform some sounds more softly, change their mic technique, or have a drink of water if they know they are contributing to an issue because they can hear it in their headphones. When actors are recording themselves (for an audition for example) headphones can save time by allowing the actor to adjust during the recording, rather than re-recording because the problem was heard afterward.

SOUND-ALIKE
Veteran voice actor and favorite human Jennifer Hale made the point that headphones are important for actors to monitor their performance when voice matching. If actors can listen to the target voice then hear their own performance in headphones it helps them get closer.

DISTRACTION
But if voice actors are not matching, monitoring their own performance may be more of a distraction than an aid. Jennifer reminded that voice director Kris Zimmerman intentionally asks recording engineers to NOT put out headphones for actors so that they give a better performance. But why? I believe it is because active listening requires brain power. If actors can be free from the burden of listening they have more attention to give their acting.

Likewise, hearing technical problems and worrying about them can be distracting. First and foremost actors need the space and comfort to act. Instead of helping, headphones may work against a great performance by focusing attention on problematic plosives, sibilance, proximity effect, mouth noise, etc. instead of crafting a believable character.

In addition, headphones may provide the illusion that an actor is speaking loudly. Some people find it difficult to project while wearing headphones. Sometimes the engineer can lower the actor’s level to the headphones to encourage the actor to perform more loudly, but projection is typically restored by simply removing the headphones all together.

For any of these distractions the simple solution may be: take off the headphones. If headphones are uncomfortable (don’t fit well, are too hot, cause listening fatigue) then removing them may be appropriate. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should wear headphones. Use them if they are helpful, make a change if they are not helpful.

Of course there are situations where headphones seem like a problem, but there are also good reasons to wear them. Are there any good options? Next: Headphone Alternatives for Voice Actors.

Additional topics: dealing with headphone cables, headphone sizing, clicky/rattling headphones, and more.

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On Facebook, Sean Hebert brought Balanced Armature technology to my attention. It’s fascinating stuff you can read about, along with other useful information about how headphones work, on this Wikipedia entry.

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