Technology evolves fast, every year new barriers are broken. Some innovations make the news, such as the James Webbs Telescope, or Meta, while some are known only by those inside a specific field. Today we are shining some light on videogame audio technology with Tommaso Annoni, a media Composer and Sound Designer, who recently gave a speech at the Game Music and Sound Design Conference.
What is the hidden part of the iceberg for what concerns game audio?
Tommaso: Game Audio is definitely a complex and ever evolving field. First of all, differently from a movie, the flow of a game is controlled by the player. This means that there is no control over what will happen next and when, therefore, to change the mood closely following the action, the audio system needs to be able to adapt to this fundamental notion. For example, the music has to be split in various “layers” that can work on top of each other, and/or will require transitional elements, always ready to be triggered at any point, and able to “fit in” at any musical moment.
This require expert composition and also programming abilities. Then, there is the spatialization element: since everything is been rendered in real time as a virtual 3D world, there are many necessary audio features elaborated in real time, such as location, reverb, occlusion, etc. The technology has done incredible steps from its emergence decades ago, and it is still going forward.
Recently the game engine Unreal has released its fifth iteration, what are the innovations on its audio capabilities, and what its limits?
Tommaso: Unreal 5 strengthened its core audio system enhancing its features, and brought a new tool, called Meta Sounds, which allows a simplified creation of procedural audio. This can be very useful for generating sounds in real time with parameters that allow the music to follow gameplay events seamlessly.
But, while this system is great for real-time generated music, when it comes to pre-composed interactive music and complex dialog systems, audio programmers will probably keep using audio middleware tools, such as Fmod and Wwise, which allow greater control over more complex audio systems.
In your experience working on games, what is the impact of music and sound effects?
Tommaso: Music has a magical power: it can strengthen an emotion, but it can also substantially change the perception of what is happening. For example, while writing for Two Interviewees [a game that tackles gender discrimination in workplaces, awarded at the Treccani Award for Excellence in the Italian Web, ndr], I realized that, while the topic was serious, the approach was on the edge of satirical, and I suggested to the game designer to go with an ironic feel in the music. They agreed, and after we play-tested it, it was clear that a switch in music not only made the game more fun, but also made the discoveries along the story more bittersweet and meaningful. Sound effects are also very important for the player feel and feedback. For example, in the game Wisper, where the player is the wind itself, it was both challenging and important to give the right feel of movement through the sound effects.