MAKING GAMES IS HARD

Inspired by the support I got from my last post, my blog writing bug has returned. Whilst I aim to cover a range of topics pertinent to game audio, I stumbled across something today that was again unfortunate to see and I felt inclined to put in to words.

This has already been widely discussed on Twitter so I don’t feel afraid to mention more specific details. As many of you may know, in coalition with Game Grumps, Vernon Shaw, Leighton Gray and co. are developing their soon-to-be-released project ‘Dream Daddy’. The game has a wide following, all of which are eagerly awaiting its release, and having a keen following is great, until something goes wrong.

The team have announced, and quite rightly so, the official release is undergoing a minor delay because they’ve discovered some last minute bugs they would like to fix, and simply are physically incapable of being fixed before their original deadline. Whilst credit is due for the fact that many people supported what is an inevitably difficult decision, many responses were insensitive, insulting and downright ignorant.

Now, believe me when I say that I understand the disappointment you feel when a game you are excited for gets delayed, particularly when it happens near to the original release date. However, I feel some clarification needs to be made about why delays actually happen.

So here are some important things to remember:

  • Firstly, as renowned composer Ben Prunty stated in response to the team’s announcement, “MAKING GAMES IS HARD”. There are many people that sadly do not appreciate just how much goes in to making the games that they play. Games are hungry beasts. They require art, animation, programming, audio, QA, marketing, design, narrative and so much more. And all of these things require time, money, effort, passion and a fierce sense of dedication. And consequently all of these things need people willing to have those attributes and contribute them to the industry. And I emphasise people because that’s what we are: people. Not robots that can work without ever requiring a break. We’re actual humans who need sleep and mental, physical and emotional stability to keep going.

 

  • Crunching is not healthy and it is certainly not sustainable. In development, all games will have a crunch period and some games have many. Development is always continuous but it will always reach a point where the deadline is looming and everyone is working overtime. Often whilst getting little to no sleep and undergoing copious amounts of stress. But despite our very best efforts, sometimes we don’t manage to get to where we originally intended to be and we don’t hit our deadline. That’s normal, it happens to everyone at some point in their lives, and it is not something that people should be made to feel ashamed about. We can only do what we can do; it’s not physically possible to do more than that.

 

  • Devs don’t do this deliberately. No developer makes the decision to delay lightly. It is a tough choice that they know will cause disappointment, and that disappointment is felt just as much by them as it is by you. But as aforementioned, delays happen for genuine reasons. Problems can’t be solved and games can’t be made by people that are sleep deprived or not in a sound and healthy state of mind. As much as we love games, developing them is still work, and challenging work at that. A team wouldn’t be expected to finish building a house if they were exhausted and not in a fit state, and the same is applicable to building a game. We want our developers to be safe and healthy!

 

  • “A delayed game is eventually good. A rushed game is forever bad.” ~ Shigeru Miyamoto. An individual tweeted this quote in response to the announcement and I think it needs to be iterated a thousand times over. Delays mean the game will be better: it’ll be stronger, more polished, less buggy, and more enjoyable to play. What some people fail to realise is that a buggy game being released on time will be more disappointing than a polished game being released a bit late. And the irony is that the backlash about bugs would be given by the same people back lashing about the delay.

“This needs fixing, why isn’t this sorted?”

“God, this has so many issues, why have they released it unfinished?”

“All of this build up and the game has bugs, what the hell”?

It benefits everyone to have some patience and get to play a game that works as it is supposed to, and it’s important to think about whether you would genuinely feel happier if you bought the game and it had problems, rather than waiting a few days to buy it when it doesn’t? Game development delays are much more common than they used to be. Developers are constantly pushing themselves and creating games that are more innovative, more complex and ultimately have higher standards to reach. I have seen many games that have been delayed and have come out much better, smoother and stronger as a result, so it needs to be emphasised that delays aren’t a bad thing.

 

  • Scheduling a release is HARD. With the amount of work that developing a game requires, actually planning an accurate date is really difficult to do. You can ascertain roughly how long things might take, but you can never predict what issues and what bugs you will encounter along the way. Personal situations crop up, things break when they  shouldn’t, technical breakdowns happen, data sometimes gets lost. There are an absolute miscellany of issues and hurdles that all companies overcome throughout a game’s development cycle, and unfortunately some of these things take longer to tackle than others. It simply cannot be helped. And it’s essential to emphasise that these hurdles are particularly hard to overcome when you’re working with a small team. Whilst bigger companies often develop bigger games, it is more feasible for them to distribute the workload, hire in additional staff, have someone take over if someone else needs time out and more. With indie companies, they don’t always have that luxury. They are stuck there for the long haul and they don’t always have other people to turn to, to help out.

 

In conclusion, game development is emotionally draining, a lot of work and a lot of pressure, so please don’t make that worse. These individuals don’t have to develop games, but they do it because they love to make people happy and give them something they can enjoy. How can it then make sense to throw that back in their face by being unsupportive and ungrateful? Every game we play is a product of an individual or a team’s investment of their time, passion, money, patience, social life, talent and so much more. They are a beautiful combination of efforts and should be valued, understood and appreciated every step of the way.

So overall, or TL;DR:

  • Have more appreciation
  • Show some support
  • Have some empathy
  • Respect the development process
  • Love games
  • Be a good person

Your developers are doing this for you as much as they are doing it for them, so please take some time to digest and appreciate that. The industry will be a better place if we have happy people making games and those people will be much happier if we support them along the way, no matter what happens. We’re only human, we’re not invincible and life is short, so let people prioritise what’s important when it’s necessary, and be assured that it is in everyone’s best interest.

Stay safe!

 

 

 

 

 

Support your industry!

Recently I stumbled across a post on a Facebook forum from an individual who had taken the bold decision to quit their job in pursuit of their passion for video game composition. Largely, the post was met by positivity and support with people commending their bravery and wishing them luck for the future. I thought it was lovely to see, until I started reading the comments.

I was both surprised and disgusted to see several individuals spouting insults and negativity regarding the individual’s work, and essentially telling them they had no place in the industry. I was absolutely stunned firstly that these people felt they had a right to take their entirely subjective viewpoint and communicate it as though it was fact, and even more stunned that they could be heartless enough to embarrass a fellow member of their industry and hurt their aspirations.

As far as I am concerned, there is no place in our industry for such vilifying attitudes. Having been involved in the wonderful game audio community for a couple of years now, I have been fortunate to be consistently surrounded by supportive people. So, I was naturally surprised to see that people with such attitudes still rear their heads in our community. There is a vast and very damaging difference between providing someone with constructive advice and feedback, and meaninglessly insulting their ability.

In this industry, relationships are everything and a surprising number of people will remember your name and face if you present yourself in an unsavoury fashion. Those that hire you will hire you more for your personality than they will for your skill. Quite simply, decent people wish to surround themselves with other decent people. There are unfortunately some people who fail to realise this and think that having a survival of the fittest attitude will benefit their career’s development. Realistically, with such a vast network of jobs and aspiring audio designers, you will rarely come in to direct competition with those you interact with on the internet. Therefore, surely it makes sense to form friendships and make contacts, rather than burn bridges and create enemies?

Amongst the game audio network, I have encountered multiple instances where several of my friends, including myself, have been applying for the same jobs. Yet despite being in direct competition, we are still supportive of one another and only ever congratulatory if we lose the position to one of our friends. We are all in the same position and we all appreciate how hard it can be to get in to this industry. Therefore, we all work our utmost to be encouraging of one another. After all, shouldn’t that be what being a community is about?

Like many creative industries, game audio can be a very isolated path, particularly if you are working freelance or starting out for the first time. Therefore, having a strong network around you is one of the most beneficial things you can have. As aforementioned, those of us in the game audio industry do work hard to ensure that, that strong network is maintained. Many of us consciously invest time in helping those that are starting out and share tips, information and resources with those around us. That undoubtedly is one of the many things that make the game audio community so great, and something that I hope forever continues.

There is never a need or an excuse for putting down those around us. We all have a shared passion and shared aspirations to be a part of this fantastic and ever-growing industry. Despite what some may think, there is enough room for everyone who wants to work their way in to it. It does take perseverance and dedication, but that’s what makes it worth it. So if you are just starting out, please don’t ever let unnecessary criticism stop you from pursuing your passion. We all start at the bottom, and we all only ever get to the top by continually practising, learning and honing our craft. So keep practising, keep pursuing and keep positive! For want of a less cheesy phrase, we’re all in this together.

Know Your Arsenal: Investing Time vs Money

Anyone interested in audio can often feel intimidated by the amount of technology it involves. Composers and sound designers in particular can find it easy to become lost in the sea of plugins, sound libraries and virtual instruments that are available for purchase. It’s easy to buy everything that you set your eyes on, convinced it will push you above the competition or bring you closer to your idols, but not all of us have such financial luxury. Software is expensive, incredibly expensive if you want high quality, so what do you do when you don’t have the money?

I recently did a talk for the wonderful VideoBrains event that takes place monthly at the Secret Weapon pub in Stratford, London. Here, I’ve included the slides in the hope that it will be of use to those that sometimes feel pressured or disheartened about not having every library under the sun. It takes time to build up your software, and it is imperative that you learn how to really make the most out of the software that you do buy. You will be surprised at what results you can achieve, what skills you can improve upon and what problems you can solve by knowing how to use your gear. Time is money after all, so invest it!

Sounds of the Seasons: WINTER -Footsteps – Icy Grass and Frozen Puddles

I’ve been thinking about setting myself some small briefs or topics for my field recordings and decided this would be a nice place to start. ‘Sounds of the Seasons’ will be a long-term project based on recording sound effects revolving around each of the seasons, snow or icy footsteps for winter, leaves for autumn, the beach for summer and so on! Given where we are now, it made sense to start with winter!

So it’s been pretty darn chilly lately and whilst walking my dog, I discovered a puddle that had completely frozen over. I trod on it tentatively and hearing that satisfying crack, I knew it would be great fun to record. Unfortunately, as it’s located near a busy road, I knew it would be impossible to do during the day. Thus, I returned home and lied in wait until around 1am, and then off I went out with my cans and recorder to hand and my brother to provide some much needed light! The intention was just to record the puddle, but I also realised all of the grass had frozen over too and, being quite overgrown, I thought that would be a nice add on.

I’ve been wanting to record some decent grass footsteps for a while and often you find freezing things tends to add a bit more depth to a sound, almost like a natural form of saturation. Sometimes when people record crunches and breaks with vegetables, they can freeze them first to get a bit more bite out of the sound. That’s exactly what the ice did for these footsteps. The grass itself was quite dry and coupled with the frost, I got a lovely sharp crunch out of my footsteps. I did a range of patterns, some slow steady footsteps, some firmer bolder steps and some softer quicker steps. When doing this sort of performance recording, (i.e. me dancing foot to foot with a recorder in my hand), getting a decent technique can be tricky but I got enough content to play around with, and I may go out and get some more once it freezes over again.

The ice cracks came out surprisingly well. There seemed to be a lot of background noise with the occasional car or person still being around but none of that seemed to affect the recording. The only downside of these sounds was that the squeak of the rubber on my trainers can be heard and so it does limit its potential to be used for anything that doesn’t have a character wearing trainers! Nevertheless, I was pleased with the results and there are some nicely details cracked in there that I will still use for educational and implementation purposes and also to edit up, post-process and make some cool sounds out of.

Overall, some of the sounds came out slightly phasey. I’m not 100% sure why, unless it was due to reflections from a nearby fence, so as a result I would re-record them if I was to implement them in to an official project. However, the reason I do this blog and make these recordings is to learn, learn and learn some more and it definitely contributed in that regard!

As always, your feedback is appreciated, I hope you enjoy and you can find the tracks above and below to listen to!

Ring of Honor – Crowd Recordings

So a while ago, a good friend of mine treated my brother and I to tickets to Ring of Honor for his birthday and I couldn’t help but think it would be a fantastic opportunity to record some crowd sounds, and I was definitely chuffed with the results!

The most challenging thing about recording in this kind of environment was the positioning and location. In order to get a decent background crowd sound, I wanted to be fairly central. Anywhere too far to the left or right of the arena would give me a less impactful and more focused recording which was the opposite of what I wanted. Being seated in the audience myself would mean all the recordings would reflect that and I would get the bias of having some people really close to me and everyone else far away, which doesn’t really work for an ambience or background effect.

In the end, pondering my dilemma over a cold (and extortionately priced) pint of beer, I realised I was actually standing in the perfect spot: the bar. With the venue’s layout, the bar is slap bang in the centre opposite the ring, with half of the crowd seated on the left and the other half on the right. Perfect! The only downside of being in the bar was unsurprisingly the bar chit-chat. I managed to position myself as close to the entrance as possible and hold my recorder out to capture the crowd more than the people in the bar. Inevitably some of the recordings do have snippets of people cheering, chanting or shouting closer to me than the rest of the audience. Similar to the situation I would have faced sitting in my seat, it detracts from the whole “background crowd ambience” because you’ve got hundreds of people that are distant but then one or two that sound really close to the microphone. However, by and large, I recorded enough to ensure that I would have some strong takes without this issue, and I even think the ones with the closer voice recordings included have a nice touch too as they are a bit more immersive, making you feel as though you are standing in the room yourself.

The atmosphere at the show was absolutely incredible and for anyone looking to get some good crowd recordings, I highly recommend a similar event. It’s high energy, everyone gets involved and there are some excellent crowd chants that people like to throw out which make for some fun recordings. I’ve included a link to some of the sounds I recorded below. These are all raw recordings from my Tascam DR-05. Enjoy!

 

Lake District Recordings – Ambiences

Being in an ambient place, it only made sense to record some ambiences and the Lake District was full of them. The battle was finding the ambiences that wouldn’t be impacted by surrounding tourists, vehicles, planes, wind etc (the usual field recording issues!). Dalegarth was a fantastic area for ambiences as, despite its beautiful natural walks, it was extremely quiet on the tourist front. As well as the waterfall and stream recordings, I caught several ambient soundscapes whilst walking through the forest. The trees were full of birds that were busy chatting away to one another, and so the first one I did was a mixture of a stream and bird ambience. Once again, these ambiences were recorded on my Tascam DR-05 (with my nifty pink sock over the mics as a temporary wind guard).

Another gorgeous place we visited before going to the Lake District was the Isle of Arran. A picturesque island off of the West coast of Scotland, it was not unlike the Lake District with its scenic walks, rivers and streams and also had some rolling hills and beaches to boot. Unfortunately, the Isle of Arran’s main road runs around the entire circumference of the island and so many of the streams and sea openings I wanted to record were affected by passing traffic, and also tractors working away in the fields. However, after doing some more out-of-the-way hill walks, I recorded some nice rain ambience in one of the forests, and also some waterfalls which can be heard here!

Ambiences are definitely something that I plan to experiment with more in the future. It’s a wonderful thing to be able to go somewhere and take home a listenable souvenir of somewhere that you’ve been. Whilst I found the ambiences some of the hardest recordings to do from an extraneous noise perspective, I was happy with what I have had for a first attempt and will keep this updated with any I do in the near future!

Lake District Recordings – The Thunderstorm

If there’s one thing I love, it’s thunderstorms and if there’s one thing I love even more, it’s recording them! Whilst in the Lake District, I was bizarrely thrilled to find out we were due a thunderstorm and got prepped to record it. The thunderstorm started to brew on the horizon and whilst parked up in the van, I had a great view of it approaching from the distance. Ominous black clouds hung over and I sat out of the window of the van watching the lightning scattering between them, it was mind-blowing!

Annoyingly, the thunderstorm didn’t reach us until the early hours of the morning when I was fast asleep, but conveniently a huge clap of thunder woke me up which was obviously a greater force not wanting me to miss out on the opportunity! Sleepy eyed, I fumbled for my recorder and popped on my headphones. As it was absolutely pouring outside and I had no cover for my recorder, I couldn’t brave recording it outside, but I did snag some cool recordings of it from inside the van. Having the rain thundering on the roof of the van instead of on the ground created a different recording altogether and one that I was still chuffed with. I find it quite cosy to listen to, remembering how snug I was tucked up in blankets whilst the storm raged outside.

As always, I’ve included a link. Check it out below!

Lake District Recordings – Water Sources

So the main feature of my recordings at the Lake District were water sources; rivers, lakes, waterfalls, streams and so on. Rather than making a dozen individual posts, I thought it would make sense to do one post for any I wanted to upload as the recording process was often the same. Taken from my introductory post about my Lake District recording series, this snippet sums up what I loved about recording various water sources:

“I instantly found myself admiring just how unique every single sound was. It’s something I’ve often appreciated but sitting down and recording water sources back to back, I started to analyse how the slightest changes can have the biggest impacts. If I moved some of the rocks around, suddenly the sound took on an entirely new personality. If there was a large branch in the way, I would hear how the water splits. If it dropped over a verge, I would get the splash, gurgle and bubble of the water making its descent. Adversely, if it was just a straight stretch, I got the calm and consistent trickle of the water’s uninterrupted journey. I had a blast, recording big waterfalls and gushing streams, and also tiny trickles and small spouting water sources. There was an infinite supply of material and I was in my element.”

As with all of the sounds in this series, they were recorded on my Tascam DR-05. It served me well on all manner of recording material throughout my trip, and the omni-directional condensers acquired a lovely crisp clarity from most, if not all, of the sources I tested it on. Below are some of the water recordings I took, with a brief summary of where and what it was.

This was the first recording I did on holiday on a delicate little stream running by the roadside of the Isle of Arran. The stream had some lovely square stepping stones across it so I held my recorder between the stones and caught the sound of the stream rippling through the gap between them. It created a really nuanced trickling sound but unfortunately I was only able to catch small snippets due to passing cars on a nearby road.

Here is another snippet of a miniature waterfall I recorded in Dalegarth Forest in the Lake District. This was a spout of water coming out of a small hole between some rocks. It was near a stream which is why some underlying stream ambience can be heard underneath, but my ears managed to draw this to my attention and I had to get my recorder in closer to have a listen. This was the result:

Whilst in Dalegarth, we also visited the Dalegarth Falls. The path winds up a continual incline until you reach the point where you can see the waterfall’s exit. Due to the nature of the path, it’s not possible to get close to it so I was only able to record an overall ambience from a distance. Due to the constant velocity of the water, there isn’t as much detail as I’ve managed to get in recordings from other sources, but it was another one for the sound bank!

This recording was another interesting one to make. On the Isle of Arran, I found a man-made open top tunnel that had been built to help funnel the water down from the waterfall. The water was coming through with such a huge force, I thought it would make a nice contrast to the delicate streams I had been recording. Once again, due to the constant velocity of the water, it didn’t make for the best recording but it was still good material to get nonetheless.

Finally, I caught a little gem from another miniature Dalegarth waterfall. This source had quite a lot of natural low end so made for a quirky gurgling sound rather than the standard crisp trickle.

So this blog series has just been a small collection of the near 500 recordings I got whilst I was away. I cannot recommend both Scotland and the Lake District enough, both as beautiful places to visit as well as great places to record. It was a fantastic first trip for me and my Tascam and considering it was my first time field recording, I was extremely chuffed with the results! I will be keeping this blog updated periodically with new material I record or create, and also music here and there. This started as a place for me to go in to a bit more depth about my field recordings but I think it would be a great place for me to elaborate on my composing process too.

I hope you enjoyed what I’ve uploaded so far. As always, I warmly welcome feedback and advice. Feel free to contact me with any questions, and stay tuned!

Lake District Recordings – SHEEP!

This was such a chuckle to record. Taking a walk up in Dalegarth through the gorgeous forests, I came across a huge field of sheep that you cross to get to the public footpath. The sheep were fairly quiet on the first walk through, keeping to their own business. On the way back, I found myself in the middle of full-blown sheep chitchat. I’ve never heard sheep baa like this before and I had to have iron lips to stop myself laughing over these recordings. The thing that I loved the most was how scattered the sheep were so it provided a full 360 effect with them baaing to each other from every direction. As with all of my Lake District recordings, these were caught on my Tascam DR-05. I didn’t have much to consider when recording this, the sheep did everything for me and I simply stood in the middle and hit record. It was definitely a memorable experience and although a few recordings got affected by a plane flying over ahead and other extraneous sounds, I was really pleased at how this came out!

For these uploads, I haven’t edited out any hiccups or interruptions as I wanted to show the raw recordings how they are. As a result, you may hear the occasional footsteps or button click (particularly at the beginning) as I adjust the recorder levels. For actual use (whatever that use may be), I would edit these out to create an unblemished version!

So, without further ado, I present the Dalegarth Sheep Experience.

Lake District Recordings – Dalegarth Train Journey

Whilst in the Lake District, we took a ride on a small train track through the country from Ravenglass to Dalegarth. We had the option of riding a steam train or a diesel train but as my father’s a diesel fan, we opted for the latter. The journey lasted for about an hour and ran through some of the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen. What’s more, I got to capture some cool recordings! I had a bit of trouble getting the right level for these recordings because of the range of different sounds the microphone picked up. Being so sensitive, the DR-05’s condensers were picking up every nook and cranny and with so much metal clanking around, when I often thought I had a good level, it would suddenly clip as the train’s joints would strike or the wheels would hit a bump in the track. The DR-05 can be a little frustrating as the monitoring level is not always an accurate reflection of what is being recorded. Often when it suggests it’s clipping and I turn it down, I then upload them to the PC and listen to discover they were absolutely fine and could have done with being a bit louder. It’s just a case of me getting to know the recorder, as is always the case when you pick up a new bit of gear, but needless to say I got some usable material.

As mentioned in my introduction post about these Lake District recordings (see here), places like this are rampant with tourists but thankfully I was able to get a carriage right at the front that was empty, which meant I could capture all of the detail of the engine and keep my door open to capture the wheels on the track without disturbing anyone else or having anyone talking over the recording. The trip went up to Dalegarth and back again and whilst we had a quick break in Dalegarth, I could listen back to what I had recorded to see if anything was indeed clipping. There were a few things I wanted to change and I adjusted my recorder to suit, but then unfortunately couldn’t get an empty carriage on the way back and struggled to get recordings without other passengers talking. A common dilemma when recording things like this!

Problems aside, this was great fun to record and ultimately I was happy with the end result. Whilst the DR-05 isn’t perfect for things like this, it certainly does a good job for the money it costs. The thing that I love most is that is does pick up a lot of fine detail and every take I did had its own unique elements which is both a blessing and a curse when it comes to editing! I’ve attached a link below to some snippets of what I recorded and, as always, comments and feedback are appreciated. Enjoy!

Listen here:

And a picture to boot: