The BAFTA headquarters in Piccadilly, London opened its doors at the start of February to members of the audio community as the venue for the 41st AES International Conference, which this year focused once again on the audio for games industry, writes Mike Hillier. The three-day event brought together professionals, academics and students in the audio and gaming fields for a series of lectures, panel discussions and presentations on topics relating to audio in the computer games industry.
The themes discussed at the conference varied widely from the problems relating to loudness, which blight so much of the audio landscape, to the use of games for testing loudspeaker placement. However, three main topics appeared continually throughout the conference: audio asset management, the role of education in audio for games and reverb in games.
After an introduction to the middleware tools, such as Fmod and Wwise, used by audio professionals for dealing with audio assets and linking these in-game, Sony's principal audio programmer Nicholas Fournel gave a walkthrough of the various tools that Sony uses in-house to enhance its audio production for games. These included Audio Event Manager, AFEX audio feature analysis tool with built-in browser, DICTO a localisation and dialogue checking tool, SPARK a procedural audio engine and AGENT, which the engineers use to quickly populate a game
Compared to the middleware, the Sony software tools were staggeringly advanced, with integration between the various tools providing a complete workflow for game audio production. Later representatives from Binari Sonori, Roborto Pomoni and Francesco Zambon looked at how language localisation for games is handled, creating thousands more audio assets for games.
Reverb plays a key role in the audio industry, but nowhere is the problem of realistic real-time reverb so complex as it is in games, where sound sources and listener can be continually moving about within the space. In a workshop chaired by the conference Workshop and Tutorials chair Steve Martz (THX) and SONA Corp president Bike H Suzuki, a new statistical model for creating reverb tails was put forward by Tomoya Kishi (Capcom) and Masataka Nakahara (OnFuture).
The reverb model, which uses a new complexity index solves a problem associated with room shape and directionality that is otherwise ignored by conventional statistical reverb models. Capcom has already put the new reverb engine to work in the game Lost Planet 2. This model proved to be a talking point among guests throughout the conference, with many confessing that the maths might have gone a little over their heads.
Higher learning experience
Education played its part in the conference, with representatives from many universities and other institutes of higher learning presenting papers over the lunch breaks. While seminars on the role of education in audio for games and how audio for games could be integrated into the standard audio curriculum were given by Jeanine Cowen and Michael Sweet, representatives of Berklee College Of Music and Mark J Sarisky from The Art Institute of Austin, Texas. A strong argument was presented for a stronger curriculum, and many of the students present were keen on getting more information about the audio for games industry, as a way of utilising their skills outside the traditional music and film industries.
The keynote address was delivered by games audio veteran John Broomhall (X-COM, MechWarrior 3, American Idol/Pop Idol, Guitar Hero DLC) who opened his address in an unusual manner, by taking to the piano and performing a blues jam with another legend of the games industry; Ian Livingstone (co-author of the Fighting Fantasy series, co-founder of Games Workshop and Life President of Eidos).
The keynote address covered a brief history of the games audio industry from its early days with limited technology, both for composing and programming the audio and for playback, to the modern day where we have technology capable of huge realism, but have realised that this is not always appropriate. Looking forward Broomhall described games looking more towards the film industry for mix cues, using several scenes from Walter Murch's exceptional sound design for Apocalypse Now as an example of how escaping realism can provide greater immersion than absolute realism. Returning to the piano he jammed along to his original X-COM score, highlighting his speech in a spectacularly surreal manner, before closing on a series of quotes from colleagues which he'd collated for the event.
In addition to the main conference, attendees were given the opportunity to visit the Dolby (which along with Binari Sonori and iZotope were the event sponsors) UK headquarters on nearby Warwick Street for a demonstration of the Dolby Pro Logic IIz system. This system adds two additional front height channels into a standard 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound audio stream.