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I am attempting to move into game sound design from/along side film sound design. So far I have done some 2D flash & Java based games that are winding up on mobile devices. I am still trying to figure out what the best way to master these are. Its seems like most of these games I see are "mixed" like music, upto 0 dBfs.

However, my largest problem is conceptualizing the sounds. I am so used to creating things in sync with picture that I am having to create many re-iterations of sound so get things right. And a lot of times I am asked to start the sound work before I see anything.

Can anyone share any ideas or techniques that you have for conceptualizing sounds for games?

Thanks!

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Well, it's difficult/impossible, if you can't see anything. So ideally you should always see something prior to doing something. But the game development cycle can be such that the audio can be left little time to work on the sound after the code and graphics are already in place (basically, you mostly start your job, when the others have already finished theirs), possibly because other team members think that it's the easiest way (which it may well be) or may even think that audio can be done quickly, when it's needed, rather than having the audio work follow the main development constantly by passing around files (animations, recent builds) during the main development, so you can work on small bits at a time whenever something is considered 'finished'. What you should really focus on is communicating with the graphic artists and animators and getting 'finished' animation files asap to use for SFX and dialogue creation, because compared to animation files, having a running build is not that essential until when finishing up the project (like if you have budgeted time for final mixing, after all code and graphics are working and you've managed to do the final soundtrack pieces, like music, near the end of the development ), depending on the size of the game of course. But the animation files would be what I'd stick to acquiring, and make sound using those as a reference (in the typical linear DAW way).

This may give you some thoughts: The Game Developer and Audio Designer Handshake - Youtube

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Having the animations and the visuals together at the last minute is part of the game development process. Unlike film, the idea of post production phase in the traditional sense doesn't really exist. Working without or with limited visuals is an important part of the skill set of a game audio designer, what you are effectively having to do is work in parellel with all the other disciplines.

There are 2 main challenges for getting the audio correct. Firstly like you mentioned is conceptualising the sound, the second is getting the sounds in sync. For conceptualising what we do at Remedy is firstly gather all the information on the feature we can, concept art, scripts, game design documents, then we sit down with the creative director and art director and come up with a collection of descriptive words, we usually come up with 2 or to describe a feature, e.g. cold, shocking, quick, brutal etc. This at least ensures we are all using the same vocabulary. Then we compare that description to how it fits with other descriptions of other features. From this you kinda get a balance of how the sound you are designing fits into the game. Then we go and create a collection of sounds that fit the description, and compare them against the visuals as they are developed. Sometimes it can turn out that the audio drives the visual design. The more you work with a team the better you can guess what really going to happen ;).

Sync is another issue - another thing I try to determine very early on is how changeable a feature is. e.g. is it something that will be baked and then left alone, or has it got lots of tweakable variables that will change into the last second. If it is baked then we can design sounds that sync offline working more like syncing to picture, syncing part is done really late in the process. The variable we usually granulate the sound design and design systems that stitch it all together at runtime. This means that whatever the designers change the sound design will follow it automatically. With this system we try to get our sounds in as early as possible.

Hopefully some of this helps.

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Yeah, it's really difficult if you've got nothing to go by. I always find it easier to have something visual on the timeline to design to. Ideally this is a video capture of the gameplay, you can then design your variations to the picture and put them in the places where the game would trigger them. You can even put in a music temp track or atmos to help contextualise them. If there's literally no gameplay video available then concept art maybe the best thing you can get. Sometimes concept art can actually be better as it can be more evocative, especially for things like designing atmos. I don't want to get into a debate about its audio capabilities, but one of the great things about using Vegas for sound design is that you can throw pretty much any type of media on a timeline - pictures along with most video formats. I wish ProTools would let me do that.

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