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April 8, 2014 / Randy Coppinger

Rob Bridgett on Sound for Pre-School Games

Veteran game audio director Rob Bridget inspired me with his post-mortem on Zorbit’s Math Adventure for iOS and Android. These were my eight take aways…

1. Even among the few quality developers making compelling experiences for young ones, there are significant opportunities to improve the quality of the audio. More importantly, “the overall integration of sound and design seemed like huge missed opportunities in this genre.” Audio should be integral — not an afterthought — because sound plays a key role for a younger audience, especially dialog for pre-readers.

2. Rob suggests we owe pre-schoolers an especially safe loudness landscape in mobile games so as not to damage their hearing. From early concepting through audio implementation, sonic loudness was carefully managed. They even implemented an audio reduction (pad) scheme when headphones were inserted to help protect young ears.

3. Thinking about loudness early in production helped the team work more effectively toward that goal, but also helped simplify audio production in general.

4. Instead of simply ducking music anytime dialog plays, they decided to map the experience in two zones: player listens, player interacts. The music becomes more subdued (while keeping the same basic song structure) whenever dialog plays. This not only makes it easier to understand the dialog, it guides the player through the zones with an audible prompt. The subtle music tells the youngster it’s time to stop and listen. The return to the more active version of the music is the prompt to interact again. It’s an elegant audio design for user experience.

5. Some mobile users are going to wear headphones. Others are not. The audio presentation must work in mono on a tiny speaker. And on headphones.

6. Media made for kids should actually consider two audiences:
(1) The experience the child has, and
(2) The direct experience the parent may have, or indirect experience while the child interacts.
So the content — including audio — should engage the child, but also feel safe and fun for a parent.

7. “Consistent dialogue levels, clarity and performance were especially important for our design in terms of communicating the educational and instructional aspects of the experience so audibility and intelligibility at all times were critical.” But without sacrificing the fun! Balancing learning with entertainment rings true with my experiences in all educational media for kids. Sesame Street is so much better than a character shouting curriculum at the fourth wall.

8. In iterative build reviews they subtracted any dialog that was neither educational nor fun. This helped remove audio clutter, for a more focused user experience.

Throughout the post-mortem, Rob’s focus on possibility and opportunity — rather than limitations and problems — was the single most inspiring aspect of the entire article. Moving quickly from adversity to opportunity is more than just a positive way to view a situation. It’s a recipe for adding value to almost any situation, individually and as a team. So here’s to better audio as we anticipate opportunities to use these lessons from Rob.

Be inspired for yourself. Read the entire article.

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