keskiviikko 28. joulukuuta 2016

Odd piece of mind text written during a flight very tired

Ah back to using this blogspot thingie, it's been awhile hasn't it? Hahahahah.... I wrote a odd piece of text in a very tired mindset on my return flight from Japan back to Finland, it's kinda amusing how aggressive it is in a sense and how I drift around the point but hey, fuck it, here it is all unedited, my tired stream of mind with little to no sleep under it! I thought it would be good to just get this out of my system and no one reads my posts so that's even better :D OK, here we go:

As I am flying back to Finland after a interesting and inspiring trip in Japan due to the awarding of Downwell for PlayStation, I though to write about sound design from another perspective other than the basics or the usual technical approach.
During the trip I got to chat with people from different circles be it game design or visual art or music and I was shown around Japan by Ojiro Fumoto (the creator of Downwell) and accompanied by Eirik Suhrke (great composer and game designer). While having all these chats about design and ways of creating and meaning of things it struck a chord of realisation in me,
usually when I read about sound design it's about the technical or very specific audio mumbling that atleast to me, is very boring and uninspiring if not even verging of being outdated every few years?
I realised that I would like to read about sound design in a very personal manner, about the meanings and ideas, thoughts behind the scenes. So I thought I would start briefly with writing down my routines and random thought processes behind my designs and see where that
leads us.
The start of a project, to me the most important part of jumping into a game.
This is where we get to talk about the game, what's the world like, what's in the game, how does it work, what's the core idea? Important step with bouncing around ideas and jamming on possibilities, realising what everyone wants and how to achieve it. Usually when I start on a game I take a good solid chunk of time, maybe a few weeks or a month or so just figuring out what we want based on our initial chats and I start writing down my "world-guide" in which I write down all of these questions.
As a example with Nuclear Throne, a game by Vlambeer in which I was the sound designer in, I started by writing down the feel I wanted:
A C-Grade Sci-Fi movie sound from the 70/80/90's with a hot overdriven feel, unclean and mean, punchy and organic. As always, with the games I work on I want the world to feel consistent and believable, to me just making single sound effects and chugging them into a game without thought of how they work together coherently is just not interesting and rarely very original. So with Nuclear Throne
as I wondered about how to make all the inhabitants feel believable and make them all tie into a believable mutant world I decided to take some extra time designing the world and I came up with a all original written and spoken language for them with some forms of dialect
to separate friendly characters from mean characters. I didn't stop there, I also decided during these phases to separate different vocal qualities from the player characters and enemies by using different microphones, pre-amplifiers and settings.
This was a fun way to get to know the characters, to get a proper feel of who they are and what the world is like to both them and for the player. I feel like, if you get that chance to get so familiar with the details like that it's easy to build the sound scape around it and just know what belongs where and why. If you get this far with the planning phases alone, you're most probably in for a good time.
Another game I worked on called Bleed 2 by Ian Campbell (Bootdisk Rev), I wanted the world to feel oddly two sided with two forms of physicality.
First form of physics was "real life"-like with more organic materials for stuff like the players (a human character) actions, cars, ceiling crumbling and earth shattering and what have you, to give the player a sense of familiarity of the world.
Second form was for the enemies, being robotic invaders and other beings, for these I made sounds out of musical instruments such as electric guitars, synthesisers and resampled sounds to make them feel different and un-familiar, a bit provoking and intimidating at times. Like this the game already started feeling like its own unique entity and giving me a palette that I could work out of quite freely.
I made myself a rule set where I decided that each enemy, each boss, each weapon and animation would have its own sounds just to make everything sound as detailed as the delicate animation was. Like this the simplest of attack already oozed of "oh it's this fellas laser!!!"-like familiarity which I personally think is pretty interesting and makes discoveries feel fresh.
On the BADLAND game series by Frogmind Games the idea was to have a freely breathing full blown physics based organic realistic world where the small feel small and the huge feel huge. This game I approached by planning what objects to record and how to make single objects work as multiple sound sources just by pitch shifting them or using various parts of sounds
in a more 'inside the game' layer based thinking. So I would record a bunch of sewing machines, fans, doors, electric toothbrushes and what not that could be placed and layered together by me and the level designers inside the games level editor to make the world alive with its physics systems.
As you can probably see, all these games were kind of different in terms of how they were approached both artistically and by straight up work. These weren't "just make these sounds effects" instead these were their own unique pieces which brings me to another topic.
As a sound designer who works on mid sized games mostly, I have noticed the start of a project to be very important in another aspect that I think affects our "artistic-status" in the industry, that aspect being budget. A lot of studios seem to seek a person to do sounds just so that there is sound to make the game feel somewhat complete. This is the very basics of the deal, sure, but a lot of companies seem to be oblivious to the fact that this is one crucial step of making the game feel original, unique, better than just ok, this is a step that can make that "just ok" into a award winning masterpiece.
I feel like this is also a byproduct of something that people seem to be afraid of, asking for money, and that hinders us in many ways, especially in artistic ways.
This is a topic I would like to be a part of in a larger panel or a interview but I don't think this is the right one for that, instead, I'll just write down a few thoughts over the matter:
Our salary does not come from "the effect costs two euros in a catalog, here's two euros, just edit that", our salary comes from our professional guarantee to see the games sounds from planning the sound scape into a finished sonic world, or to as long as our deal is set. We all also work differently, just like visual artists or game designers I feel like we should be considered in a similar manner.
Some of us go out and record, there's wear and tear on equipment, some of us use libraries there's licensing and purchasing costs, these are the nuts and bolts of ours, tools to make our artistic visions come true, this is why there should be budget, then count your daily/weekly/monthly rates on top however you value your time and effort. Don't feel ashamed of it, I wouldn't clean apartments for free either. Having a decent budget laid out gives you more ease to create your best instead of worrying about costs and cutting corners.
Now this is where I feel like the chats at the start of the project come into play, I never price myself before I know what the game is, what does it require sound-wise both artistically and by sheer amount of work. Having a chat and some planning, a list of the currently known needed sounds and so on help on coming up with a realistic and reasonable price that should look and feel fair to all.
Mid project working, now to me this is mostly execution of the already laid out plans.
This is when you know what to paint and it's a matter of choosing colours and getting single elements done. This is also where I have noticed that it's not always the best idea to dwell on effects for too long, instead of immediately iterating I leave sounds in until everything is done to see whether they actually need iterating or not. I prefer to work in chunks and then send a good amount of sounds to immediately get a feel of the game as a whole. I see no real point in putting in a sound or two and then calling a meeting to see how they feel and analyse them, they aren't necessarily meant to sound like anything alone, they need the surrounding elements to place them in the designed world.
Sound is hard for most people to explain, it is something you can not take a picture of and say "that's what I want!" you rely on expressing feelings of past experiences that might differ from person to person. This all said I usually start with the player characters sounds first as I feel like
the extension of the player is the most important aspect be it controls or sounds or visuals and it acts as a good base to sort the rest out of. Then I would progress into what the player is interacting with as in enemies?, a football?, roadside fences?. From there I progress to what the player and X interact with, where are they placed? and so on until the world and game feels alive.
There is something to be said with getting a sound designer, or any designer, if their first few iterations and designs aren't the ones working for you, well, maybe they are wrong for this particular project? I have worked on games for which I have been the wrong choice clearly either by
the studio telling me they want me to work with them and then it turns out they want me to do something totally different than planned or by the game just changing into something I do not want to be a part of. There is nothing wrong of both deciding "ok, maybe we aren't the right match"
and changing plans. That doesn't mean either one is bad or unprofessional, I think it's quite the reverse. Knowing when something doesn't work it's good to then analyse why it doesn't work and discuss on how to proceed. That is professional and sane.
Communicating through out the project is very important to me, that is, to also know your client and how they prefer to interact with co-workers. Make sure what you are about to make is the right direction from the get go, knowing what the current plans are and if that feature is even going to be in anymore?
Some of the traps I have experienced is that a client has ordered a sound from me and then during making the sound it has been cut out and when I've finished it I receive a "oh, we didn't need that, surely we ain't paying that!" which sure enough is breaching a settled contract but it's not always as simple as that. It's a weird situation and something that should be in most cases preventable, also things like that happening affect my artistic output a lot, what if other stuff is being cut while I'm pouring my creative soul into it? Just something to keep in mind I guess.
Nearing the end of a project, this is where I go through everything and play the game a bunch and write down notes of my current feelings. My notes might be "this sound is too loud" "this sound could be raised up" "tone down the reload sound" "birds sound just right but the badger is too loud!"
and so on, I prefer to play the game from start to finish just like the players would, instead of getting stuck on perfecting something. Then I would play the game again and write down new notes and compare the runs I have done to see if I felt the same and then I would collect
the notes and send them onwards for fixing unless it's something that I can fix myself.
It is not always about sounding perfect and sterile, sometimes you need some feel-guides, just rely on your gut feeling is what I tell myself and having something interesting is just, interesting. Figuring out what is important to tell the player the necessary things and accentuating them
is key to having a game serve it's purpose, which I guess to me is, to have fun.
I hope my odd little thought piece was of any use to anyone, long flights tend to bring out random thoughts so yeah, hope I kept on track enough to give out a text piece that might help or interest you!
-Joonas Turner
A video game sound designer and voice actor
now doubling as a game designer with his own commercial game, Tormentor X Punisher.

Heh I love how I even made a citation thingie :D I fell asleep immediately after writing this and I kinda uncovered this "by accident" vaguely remembering that I wrote this, what a odd thing, well, hope it brings joy or discovery to anyone in any form :D