Portal 2

So I just finished playing Portal 2… Wow! I have to say, it was everything I wanted it to be and more. I wanted it to be essentially the same mechanics, the same dark, dry comedy, the same awesome lateral thinking puzzles, but with extra new stuff like the Propulsion Gel and the Excursion Funnels I’d seen in trailers. What I didn’t expect was some of the best audio I’ve heard in a long time!

If you haven’t played Portal 2, do it. Now! Seriously though, on my Sound Design MSc course we quite often discussed the difference between sound design and music and where the line sometimes gets blurred. I also talked about the functional use of sound design and music in games in my academic thesis and explained the difficulty with using the term diegetic in game audio analysis. This presents a fine example.

When you use the Excursion Funnels and Hard Light Bridges you can hear this strange but calming electronic music eminating from them and when you use the Aerial Faith Plates, you hear percussive beats getting louder the higher you get then fading off as you reach the ground. This procedural soundtrack not only makes the music more interesting an open ended but it serves as the actual sound of the object in question almost giving it an audio icon type function. As well as this, the actual background music triggers at important parts of the game in the same way many game soundtracks do, but the procedurally generated tunes from each of the game elements fits perfectly in with the background music playing at the time….

Sound Guidance

Just thought I’d post a useful resource I found for any sound designer. Although it pays to be able to creatively come up with ideas for Foley techniques etc to create your own sounds, this list – The Guide to Sound Effects on the Epic Sound website provides an invaluable number of techniques by sound design industry veterans including Ben Burtt, my all time hero! Check it out!

Scary stuff…

I’ve been away from games for a wee while for a number of reasons. Had a few uni deadlines etc. and been trying to earn some money to feather my summer nest as well as being totally addicted to the Mars Trilogy of books by Kim Stanley Robinson (more on this at a later date)! I’ve also been taking advantage of the fantastic weather and going out cycling in my spare time.

Alas, the weather has turned rubbish again. On the plus though, I’ve gleened some precious gaming time. So I’ve decided to work my way through Amnesia: The Dark Descent. Admittedly I’m only a fraction of the way through but I just had to spill my opinions:

After watching trailers and clips of the game, I wasn’t entirely convinced on some of the amazing press it had been receiving. Just another FPS… but without weapons. Generally making a game different simply by removing a principle element isn’t a good idea in my experience! But you really have to play Amnesia to fully appreciate the awesomeness. I have honestly never felt so scared playing a game before! The fact you have to run away and hide from any enemies is bad enough, but the lack of any way of defending yourself makes it all the scarier! To add to this, if you look at your enemies for too long they will spot you, so you find yourself cowering in a cupboard unable to see the monster outside, just hearing the sound of its inhuman groans!

Speaking of sound, I don’t think Amnesia would have the same effect it does if it weren’t for the fantastic sound design of Tapio Liukkonen, which more than makes up for the slightly dated graphics. It’s the little things, for example when hiding in the dark the character starts heavily breathing evoking fear in the player, and the scratching, scraping noises that don’t seem to be coming from anywhere, implying the characters descent into insanity. The part that really got me was when you’re trying to escape a monster in the dark flooded passages of one section of the game. The fact you can’t actually see anything but the movement in the water, but hear the violent splashing accelerating towards you, or the animalistic grunts while it devours a human corpse, sent shivers down my spine like no other game has!

Like I said, I’m still not finished the game, and I wouldn’t usually recommend a game so highly before finishing but it’s not for the way the game works as a whole that I’m recommending it. It’s the experience you get from the word go which I highly doubt is going to diminish towards the end. Most probably it will get all the more scary which can make playing a little unpleasant at times… in a good way!

My advice: get on Steam and download Amnesia: The Dark Descent right now! Oh, and play it with the lights off and the sound up… if you’ve got the baws that is!

Casual Gaming

With the rise of casual gaming on Facebook, iPhone and iPad I found myself worrying about the future of game audio. I don’t doubt that audio will still remain an important part of games, but the shift onto internet and mobile gaming will have a negative effect on audio capabilities.

On Saturday the 26th of March I attended the Game in Scotland recruitment fair. There were a number of interesting discussions and lectures but most of the speakers seemed to hold the opinion that casual gaming is the future and consoles are on their way out with AAA gaming narrowed down to only a few big developers at best.  At first this worried me as – if gaming is focused towards iPhone, Facebook or the like – the first sacrifice will probably be to audio, owing largely to the amount of memory and CPU power needed to create some of the fantastic audio we have been hearing in AAA games of the last half a decade. With technology improving at a staggering rate, I always imagined a future of hyper-realistic gaming with audio that fully immerses the player in the environment. If what these guys were saying is true, this future could be unrealistic. The fact of the matter is that most game designers obviously put the art and animation far above audio. One of the speakers, when I spoke to him personally, actually said “I’m not sold on audio in games, I just don’t think it’s important.” He went on to say that people want to be able to play games while watching T.V or listening to their own music. After some of the epic masterpieces I’ve played in the last few years, is this dumbing down and simplifying really the future of games?

Thankfully, I really don’t think it is. The fact of the matter is that most of Dundee’s developers are small studios that develop solely for mobile devices. This is totally understandable just now and I can see how they think the future is casual and mobile from a business perspective. It makes more business sense to develop games that will appeal to everyone and not just full on gamers, especially after the disaster with Realtime Worlds. But these people need to remember that before casual gaming there were still gamers! The difference with casual gamers is that most of the Angry Birds or Farmville players probably wouldn’t describe themselves as gamers like console gamers would. These gamers still exist today, in fact the last generation of console gamers has been the biggest and – even if the numbers don’t grow at the same rate as the last decade – I sincerely doubt they will shrink. When the casual gaming market becomes saturated which – like almost any market growing at that speed – it will, developers will see that it is just like any other game development.

As much as making money and selling lots and lots is important, developers need to see games not just as a product that needs to be sold, but as an ever growing opportunity for expression. Taking the easy route to big bucks is not the attitude gamers want in game development. The key is in the word develop. Just look at the top 3 definitions on dictionary.com. Says it all really! Development should apply in the games themselves, not the marketing strategy.

Crunchtime

So the documentary on Dare to be Digital 2010 has finally aired. For those of you that don’t know me I took part in Dare last year although you may not know that from watching as I don’t appear very much in the programme.

It’s a well put together documentary and it’s good that Abertay University and the Dundee game industry in general are getting the press they deserve. Dare to be Digital was probably the best summer I’ve ever had and I’d recommend it to anyone interested in game development.

Unfortunately when watching it I felt they were slightly overstating the fact that, “Gamers aren’t geeks! Honestly, no really, they’re not geeks!”

It kind of feels like they are contradicting themselves through this repetitive statement. I think the world has already accepted that being a gamer doesn’t make you a geek!

Anyway, it’s worth a watch if you want to know a wee bit about Dare and it’s up on 4OD now.

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/crunchtime/4od

Halò saoghal!

So I’ve finally set up my website! Not without help and hosting. Thanks Mike!

There’s not much here just yet but I’ll be adding more posts and media over the next few weeks. Watch this space!