Profession of Game Audio

You should be watching ‘Reel Talk’

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Every Thursday at 1600 PST, unrepentant Canadians Kevin Regamey and Matt Marteinsson head over to Twitch to watch a couple of game audio demo reels, and it’s pretty much the only source of honest, professional feedback most people can get on their reels. Better than your roommate or your mom, actual audio leads who make hiring decisions providing insight, advice, and a good bit of praise. Smart critique is an important part of getting better at any creative craft, and in a specialized discipline, finding people with experience to judge your work is incredibly valuable. The fact that the chat has emoji support is only a bonus. Reels are tough. Most of us hate our old stuff, and know we can do better now. That’s usually true, but a reel will always be past work*, so make it the best it can be.

To do that, I’m a big fan of Kevin and Matt’s approach, and have pulled out a few notes from their dozens of critiques:

Reel Talk’s Rules for a Good Reel

  • Keep it short. Aim for 1 minute. If it’s 2, it better be amazing. If it’s 3… don’t make it 3.
  • Make it yours. Your work, your games, your music, your SFX, your redesigns. Class projects are fine, but not the same 3 demos everybody has seen.
  • Clear titles and cards. Name, professional email, twitter, site, etc. on a card at the start and end. And please change the default iMovie or WMM font.
  • Get right into it. Don’t do 10 seconds of titles or a long stinger. Punch in, show 1 minute, get out.
  • Say what you did. This means lower thirds for each segment that describe what you’re showing and your role. Redesign/original score/game jam project/whatever. Don’t make the viewer guess which part is you.
  • Don’t include other people’s work, and if you do, credit it. Work with someone else on this? Put their name, too. Capture this footage? Cite the game.
  • Don’t include work you don’t like. Hate that redesign of Mirror’s Edge you did? Don’t include it just to fill time or because you “need to show it.”
  • Don’t mix sound design and music. Even if you did both, feature one or the other, and if you didn’t do both, what’s other people’s work doing in your reel?
  • Make your website look pro. This can be as simple as paying $15 for a domain (use Hover) or $100 a year for Squarespace (with promo code uh… listen to any podcast).
  • No Blizzard. No Star Wars.
  • Target your reel for the job you want. I mostly work in dialog, so my reel is mostly talking. Want a AAA gig? Show AAA style games. Want to be an indie darling? Throw a rock at Steam.
  • Idiot check it. Really. Watch it on your TV. Listen on speakers, headphones, and earbuds. Make sure the mix is solid, and check your LUFS. Does the embedded player cover the lower thirds? Does the embed not work in Edge? Is your name spelled right? Is something missing? What about the ambiance? Is it suddenly in mono?

tl;dr: 1 minute of your best work. Put your name on it. Don’t mix music and SFX. Label everything.

*Blatantly stolen from guest host Gordon McGladdery on today’s episode of ‘Reel Talk’

Gear

Microphone Shootout – Goooooooooold!

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As mentioned here, I recently purchased a $16 Floureon off the Amazon Deal of the Day. Is it a good mic? Oh no, nononononono, but it’s fun, as evidenced by how many people are playing with it. And it’s gold! What’s not to love? Well, okay, the build quality, and the sound, but other than that…

For a bit of fun, I dragged the Floureon into the studio at work and threw it on a stand (that cost more) and plugged it in (with a cable that cost more) and did a quick voice shootout. It’s below. Enjoy! (more…)

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GDC 2017 – 3 Pairs of Earplugs, 1 Pair of Headphones

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It’s a almost two weeks past GDC and I’m almost recovered. Figure it’s better to throw some thoughts on here where I can look back in year, lament that I don’t scale my photos consistently, and remember the blur that was GDC 2017. Abridged version, I learned a lot, hung out with the game audio crowd, and lost all sense of my being and was transformed. Pretty normal year, really.

The big takeaway for 2017 is we’re a tight knit bunch, but working on being more inclusive to new voices and new ideas is important, even if they are filthy Mac users. (more…)

Development

Reflection on Constraints

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When I was starting to bake regularly, I tended to use what my wife describes as, “Every bowl in the goddamn house.” This is hyperbole, there were still one or two in the cabinets. Somewhere. This caused problems, from mixing the wrong ingredients, mismeasuring, and the dreaded, “Wait, what’s that and when was I supposed to add it?” I learned to prepare better, “Okay, this is 12 ingredients, but only 4 need to be scaled (ahahahaha, no, they all go on the scale now. I was so young…), and I can do this in 4 bowls.” Now it’s usually two, one for wet, one for dry. Prep gets done first, and no more little bowls for every ingredient like you see on TV. Fewer dishes to wash, less chance of forgetting something, and a better result thanks to 90 seconds of planning. Walk through the procedure. What should I expect when I do this? What do I need to do and is there a time limit?

 I said  fewer  dishes, and some of those are from lunch.
I said fewer  dishes, and some of those are from lunch.

I apply that to my job, too. I don’t buy a lot of plugins. In fact, I only used stock plugins for about a dozen years. “What could you need that isn’t built in to PT or Sound Forge?” I thought. I only bought a couple. Then a couple more… Then Waves Gold and suddenly I’m up to my eyeballs in chorus effects I never use. Sure my PT > SF > Reaper > RX > Reaper workflow was pretty clever, but then I had to hand it off to someone and she wasn’t about to buy Sound Forge to run one script, and oh, right, it has to be exactly the same version because I left this bug in there, and then the namespace changed… Flour everywhere. Egg whites on the ceiling.

So I took a step back. Simple dialog setup, one compressor, one EQ, some clever ReaScript, that’s it. Cut the chain down to as few links as possible. Use tools with as few dependencies as possible, especially paid dependencies. Design a workflow that doesn’t switch tools too much, and only has hands on, audio experience required, on steps that are worth doing by hand. If the computer can do it, let it. If the student can do it, let him. Putting every task on my plate just made me busy, managing a workflow that was unsustainable. It meant dragging an Ilok around from machine to machine, not being able to sync projects to my work laptop, and running into annoying $400 barriers. Good tools pay for themselves, but that doesn’t mean you need to break out the big guns for every project. Except RX, RX is magic.

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Make America Bake Again

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Sure we’re all a bit surprised that, ya know, whatsisname is going to be president (barring that meteor… Come on meteor!) but it’s at times like this I bake. Why? Because I’m compulsive, and elections make me anxious. That was another life, and a lot of cases of Yuengling ago. (more…)

Automation

I can automate it for you wholesale

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I’m not much of a video editor. You need your short film cut? Yeaaaahhhh…. I’m not the guy. You need 10,000 video clips trimmed by exactly 1 second, then transcoded into 3 different formats, all automatically in the middle of the night? That, that I can do. Between Adobe Media Encoder (expensive, heavy, but effective) and a cron job watching a folder on the video server, most of my video editing is of the, “I’ll kick it when I’m back at my desk” variety. This month though, things have been a bit different. (more…)

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FFmpeg does not love you

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Yesterday, one of the researchers I work with asked me about transcoding some video for ELAN. I’d setup their ELAN workflow a few years ago, but since then a few staff had moved around, ELAN had seen a few releases, and they’d upgraded their camcorders. This meant the old script I’d written (cough cough batch file with YOURFILEHERE scrawled all over it cough) had been lost, mangled, or was otherwise indisposed. No big deal, how hard could it be to concatenate a few MTS’s and then transcode to something ELAN would like? (more…)