By now, even the skeptics have to admit that there’s more to video games than shooting demons, and that making them is no mean feat.
For players and creators alike, video games lie at the intersection of right- and left-brain thinking, requiring a unique balance of skills. They are at once beautiful and logical, stimulating and relaxing, ponderous and playful, with no shortage of puzzles and shooting demons along the way.It’s no surprise then that some of today’s biggest releases have reached the same level of critical attention as more traditional forms of media, with many commentators citing gameplay, graphics, storyline, and voice acting as key points of attention in their reviews.
But too many of these reviews neglect a critical component.
There’s not a lot of games you’d wish to play on mute, and for good reason. Leading developers place tremendous emphasis on gaming audio and have large teams dedicated to creating a rich auditory experience for players. Soundtracks, dialogue, special audio effects—each plays a critical role in a video game’s success.
To get a better sense of what the world of audio for gaming has to offer, and what we can expect from it in the future, IVY partnered with Sennheiser to host a fascinating discussion. Since 1945, Sennheiser has been a pioneer in audio. They are continuously working to transform and redefine audio to create unique sound experiences.
IVY Members had the opportunity to sit in on an intriguing conversation between Sennheiser’s very own Gio Jacuzzi, a 3D Audio Engineer with expertise in immersive spatial audio and mixed reality experiences, and Valve Corporation’s Mike Morasky, a known visual-audio effects artist who scored several of the developer’s games and worked on The Matrix and The Lord of the Rings.
The two offered their combined insights on the history of spatial and 3D audio, its misconceptions, and the future of audio within gaming. Following the talk, IVY Magazine sat down with Mike to learn more about his experience and to dive deeper into the world of audio gaming. What follows is an edited Q&A between us.
Most of us don’t think about the relationship between musical composition and video games—tell us more about your craft.
In many ways it’s like film composition but the music is juxtaposed against a non-linear, interactive experience and therefore the multi-sensory result is particularly unique to the craft. The tools are also unique as we composers are also game/interaction designers; we just happen to use music as our brush in the medium of games.
How does your work in visual effects compliment your work in audio engineering and composition?
It’s funny, I recall doing my first stop-motion animation in early elementary school, which was shortly after the first seeds of music were planted but before I became serious about really pursuing music. I guess at the end of the day I consider myself a “temporal artist” and as such, the details of execution aside, the types of things I create and the way they are experienced are all so similar in my perspective that the skills of my work are ultimately transferable in either direction and are really about the dynamics of mental and emotional experiences over time whether it’s images, sounds, music, symbols or physical actions.
You wear many hats. Composer, special effects artist, director, programmer—how do you balance it all?
People often say that I must get bored easily but it’s quite the opposite. I find that there is so much to get excited about and inspired by that it’s hard to just do one thing for too long. I’m also deeply interested in the overall process of creation which tends to give me a broad enough perspective that going in for the “deep dive” in any one domain is just about (re)mastering the details, and luckily, computers are excellent aids for such tasks. As I get older though, those types of details do become more tedious and difficult to shift through so I tend to switch domains more slowly and less often.
With virtual and augmented reality on the rise, it’s clear gaming experiences are getting more immersive. What can we expect going forward? What is the role audio plays in all of this?
Audio is arguably the most integral and important form of sensory input we have. However, because of its temporal complexity and it’s near omni-directional capabilities we tend to process the vast majority of sound in a pre-consciously abstract way. This means we also tend to have a hard time identifying and discussing specifics of sound. As we delve further into more immersive forms of media, audio will continue to not only play the important role it already does in experiential entertainment, it will likely expand into increasingly more abstract forms that we can’t really foresee. As we start to explore BCI (brain computer interface) our relationship to experiential input will change significantly enough that sound, a medium we already enjoy as an abstraction, will be in a unique position to explore new and completely radical types of experiences.
What are some of the most common misconceptions you see in your position? How would you address them?
Almost everyone in the world consumes and enjoys music. This makes all of us “experts”. However, as mentioned above, most people can’t actually identify and/or properly discuss the audio arts. This disconnect between the expertise of consumption versus that of creation is not particularly unique to audio/music but it does seem to create some particularly strong opinions in folks. I find that patience in understanding and discussing whatever topic is at hand, no matter how complex, is pretty much always the best way to solve situations and problems that a lack of understanding has created.
What are you most excited going forward?
Enjoy the conversation? Look forward to our upcoming IVY event, The Future of Audio in Film, powered by Sennheiser Audio on August 2 in San Francisco. We will gather with experts from the music and film industries at the new Sennheiser flagship store for a conversation about the future of how people will interact with 3D sound as well as the technology behind it.