Can you summarize the role of Audio Director in the videogame development process?
Sure. It’s responsibility for all things audio – all things that make sound in the game, from the music, to the sound effects, voice over, and also having a say in the way it’s implemented into the game. That could mean anything from using specific tools, converting to certain file formats, scripting in parameters for each type of sound and how the player will hear it in the game. It’s as technical as it is creative.
What are some of the day-to-day tasks you undertake in a typical workday?
It changes so often based on priority. I’m a one man service department of all things audio. One day I’ll work on a new music track, the next I’m mixing sound for a trailer, the next I’m recording a tutorial narration, the next I’m sound designing, and on top of that, each days tasks might be for a different project. It’s like flipping switches in your brain constantly! Fortunately I’m used to it and have no problem making those quick adjustments. That’s where time management is key.
You have been involved with the audio side of videogame development for decades. You have composed some of the most recognizable music for some of the most popular and influential franchises in videogame history. After all this time and acclaim, how do you approach a new project like Battle Battalions in terms of inspiration and originality?
It starts off establishing a direction that both the development team and / or publisher are on the same page with. Sometimes I have more creative freedom then others, and sometimes adjustments have to be made along the way to suit the design of the gameplay. Playing the game early on with the team is helpful in determining that. In terms of originality, there isn’t much that hasn’t been done musically, so it becomes more about style and approach, as well as what sorts of instrumentation I can fuse together in different ways. This game focused more on the way it was implemented during gameplay, while still retaining some of my approach to it.
The creation of any given audio or musical asset cannot help but reflect the mindset, style and preferences of its creator. How do you handle criticism when your audio creations are considered off the mark?
Always remember that you need to do what’s best for the game – the client wants what they are paying for. If that means you need to rework some things, so be it. It’s part of the process. As audio director I also have a say and can offer suggestion and if that’s agreeable to the team, then I move forward in that way. Otherwise, if there’s something that needs to be significantly different, I try to encourage sharing of examples so that I can really focus on what they are referring to.
The contribution of audio and musicality to the gaming experience is often undeservedly overshadowed by the visuals, effects and graphics. Yet, when a game contains underwhelming music or sub-par audio effects, it is instantly called out in reviews and critiques. What do you see as the role of sound, music and audio to the enduser’s gaming experience?
Yeah, it’s generally a perception that if it’s good, then it fits seemingly unnoticed, but if it’s bad it sticks out like a sore thumb. I think that just comes down to immersion. If the player is successfully immersed in the game then it’s because all of the components are working together the way they should. The whole point is to have the audio compliment what the player is doing or seeing to set the emotion and bring it to life. The bigger challenge is how to do that in a way that adds character and style.
Can you highlight the most rewarding aspect of working on Battle Battalions?
Really for me it’s about being able to play the finished product. We found the fun in this game early on, so we were lucky enough to capitalize on that and it continued to get better from there. I usually want to take a break from playing after we finish working on a game, but I found myself enjoying the quick matches and clever tactics I noticed the community using long after launch.
Can you name a specific challenge you encountered during the development of Battle Battalions and how you overcame it?
When I first started working on the soundtrack my intent was to go more contemporary, but what we found later was that it didn’t fit as well in order to exaggerate intensity building once we had percentage of map control being called out. It felt like the music needed to accent that more to build on the emotion of the match. So I overcame that by reworking things so that in the beginning, there would be a short introductory theme upon entering the map, then coming back in when early progress was made with low tempo scores, then increasing the tempo at halfway mark, and by the last third of the match its at it’s most intense. The juxtaposition of using orchestral themes early and then having it end with something more rocking helped to drive the contrast of intensity.
What is your favorite Battalion to play in the game and why?
I like the Juggernauts the most. I like the idea of them being big powerhouses that can take a beating while holding an objective for as long as possible. It really seems to help in a team match so I let everyone else chase each other down while I’m helping rack up points in objectives.
If you could counsel up-and-comers aspiring to pursue a career in the videogame audio field, what is the one piece of advice would you offer?
Do it only if you know you love it, investing in yourself to have the proper tools at your disposal gets expensive – so it’s good to be totally sure it’s what you want to do. Be willing to not only put in the time to get your skill up, but also put in the business effort to network and hit up smaller indie devs and mod communities in order to gain some experience with doing smaller game related audio. And of course I always encourage doing audio for all media, not just pursuing games. Every bit of experience helps because it all still applies.