In Action – Codemasters F1 Audio Team (Interview)

Note: This article was originally published on both the Sound Devices and SoundWorks Collection websites, August 2017

Codemasters’ audio team revs up the realism with Sound Devices MixPre-6 trackside while capturing the incredible sounds of Formula One racing for their award-winning videogame franchise.

Birmingham, UK – For three decades, Codemasters® has been one of the United Kingdom’s leading videogame developers with such classics like the TOCA series of touring car games, as well as Dizzy, DiRT, GRID Autosport, and the official games of FORMULA ONE™. The F1 racing series is created by a team of professional artists and sound designers headquartered at the company’s Birmingham studio.

Image from F1 2017 Videogame

Image from the F1 2017 videogame

The Audio Lead on F1 is Brad Porter, who worked his way up to that position after landing a job as a quality assurance tester in the competitive gaming industry. “I’ve always been a gamer since I was about 6, so (eventually) I started looking into game audio, and I tailored my third year projects at university toward game audio.”

Rounding out the F1 team is the Senior Audio Designer, James Kneen, who got his start burning games onto CDs. He has been with “Codies”, as the company is affectionately known, for about nine years, while the Junior Audio Designer on F1, David Gurney, joined the team in early 2016, just before completing a research degree in game audio.

The trio has worked exclusively on F1 2017 in recent months, and they always take audio very seriously.

Codemasters' F1 Audio Team

Codemasters’ F1 Audio Team: (L-R) James Kneen, Brad Porter, and David Gurney

“Racing is sort of a niche genre, especially something like F1,” Brad says. “Obviously with racing games, they’re not really one of those games you can play with the volume on mute. We have quite a lot of fan feedback if we get anything wrong. Fans like to hear the engine tone, and they like to know, based on the engine tone, when to shift gears and all that. So we work really hard to try and get that right, and get our vehicles sounding as authentic as possible.”

Over the years, the company’s audio teams have used a range of audio gear, including a Sound Devices 788T-SSD, which was used on projects like the DiRT franchise and GRID Autosport, where the 12-track recorder was onboard the vehicles with the sound designer adjusting levels on the fly. But when it came to capturing the high-octane sounds of Formula 1 racing, Brad says they needed something different.

“We’ve still got the 788T-SDD, and that still gets used. Although it doesn’t really get used for F1 because of its size. We’d never get that in an F1 car. We have to go with smaller devices.”

That meant turning to other smaller, prosumer audio recorders, but using them has posed some issues.

“One problem we have with some of our other non-Sound Devices recorders is the gain controls can get knocked quite easily,” Brad says, “so you’ll set the gain and want it to remain at that level all the time, but quite often on our other recorders, that gets knocked, and it’s actually ruined takes for us before. You know the levels have been way too hot or we’ve recorded nothing at all on occasions. One thing we were looking for when we were looking at other devices to replace some of our other (recorders) was the ability to lock out the gain controls so you can now use the rotaries as just volume faders.”

They found that ability when two team members purchased MixPre-6 audio recorders from Sound Devices for personal use.

“I’d never really used a Sound Devices piece of gear before,” admits James. “I knew of Sound Devices, I know (the company) has a really good reputation. The MixPre-6 in particular—the specs were what I was looking at—4 XLR inputs. I’ve been thinking about using it with the Sennheiser Ambeo mic, so it was important to have those inputs. I just thought the form-factor of the thing was very attractive. It’s a nice little, buff, compact unit.”

Other features attracted David. “Preamp quality was one thing that really drew me to the MixPre-6 over some of the others,” he says. “When you’re out in the field, having clear access to all of the interface, it’s not feeling small, and everything is tactile. You can record very easily with it and get good results out of it, and I saw that potential when I was looking at the videos online.”

David Gurney trackside at F1 race

David Gurney is trackside at an F1 race.

Brad adds, “All three of us were watching some video reviews while we were comparing the Sound Devices MixPre-6 to some of the competitors, and they were preamp tests, and Sound Devices on every video was coming up with the cleanest sounding preamp.”

So, James and David placed orders as soon as the new audio recorder, with its ultra-low-noise, Class-A Kashmir™ preamps, was available in the UK. Once the team had the MixPre-6 recorders in hand, they put them through their own trial runs.

“The first thing that strikes you is the build quality and form factor. It’s really beautifully engineered. It’s quite gorgeous. The preamps are amazing quality. They’re really focused, warm and smooth, and lovely,” says James, adding, “We did some internal tests between the MixPre-6 and a competitor’s recorder. We found that—we don’t do a lot of dialog ourselves—but the actual quality of the dialog on the MixPre was more intimate and warmer. It doesn’t sound as harsh…. It’s an amazing product.”

“Yeah, (the sound) is more like you hear it,” David says, “and with the projects that we work on, it needs to be accurate, and these recorders seem like they do that.

“For personal use, I’ve got a few recorders, but the MixPre-6 is my only Sound Devices, and it’s my recorder of choice,” David says, then laughs, adding, “when the application requires something that’s decent. There are others to use if you’ve got to be discrete, but this is the recorder I take with me to do almost anything.”

Although purchased for personal use, it didn’t take long for the lightweight MixPre-6s to find a way into the team’s professional gear bags and on location trackside for race day.

“Obviously, with our job, we’re trackside quite often,” Brad says. “We’ve recently been to Budapest, and it was really hot and sunny. There’s not much shade around, and again… I had one of our other recorders, and I was struggling to see the display on mine in the sunlight, but Dave had no problems—”

David jokingly chimes in, “I had to turn the backlight down on the Sound Devices, because it was burning my eyes.”

“Some of the takes I was doing,” Brad continues, “Because I couldn’t see my display properly on the device I was using, sometimes the levels were too hot. I had to keep shielding the screen so I could see what the levels were peaking at, but we don’t have that problem anymore…using (the MixPre-6s) trackside, and that’s been real useful for us.”

Brad Porter trackside

Brad Porter’s ready to capture sounds at an F1 racing event

So useful, the company now plans to invest in Sound Devices gear for future projects.

“We’ll be buying at least one MixPre-6 for the company in the next few months, followed by another one a year later,” Brad discloses. “Now that the MixPre-6 is here, they’re at an affordable price-point now, which is why I think (Sound Devices) has found a bit of a niche in the market. You’re competing with some of the recorders we would’ve bought in the past, but you’re offering amazing quality for that price.”

For the most accurate sound effects possible, the team does on-board recordings during test laps at the tracks and records externals on race day using K-tek boom poles with Rycote windshields. They pair their audio recorders with a wide variety of microphones, including miniature DPA 4061s and 4062s, shotgun mics like the Sennheiser MKH 60 or Rode NTG3, and stereo mics like the Rode NT4.

Being able to handle an assortment of microphones is one requirement the team considers vital in an audio recorder, but another feature that has proven beneficial during long sessions at the track is powering. The MixPre-6 offers several powering options from USB-C to AA batteries or L-mount Lithium-Ion batteries. For portability and longevity, the F1 audio team prefers to use the optional accessory called the MX-LMount battery sled.

James Kneen at F1 racing event

James Kneen in pit area at F1 racing event

“The L-mount batteries are awesome,” James says. “The Orca bag that I’ve got gives me access to the two sides of the L-mount sled. I found I can put one battery in, and when that’s getting low, I can put another battery on and unplug the other one, and you can constantly hotswap them. That is really useful track-side…. The L-mount accessory is great.”

When not recording the hum of powerful racing engines, the audio team has found other on-the-job uses for the MixPre-6 in the studio, such as when called upon to record team member interviews for the company’s Marketing Department.

Brad adds, “It’s great for that because it’s such a small form factor as well. You don’t have to carry a bunch of gear around with you. We can go anywhere. We can just take a MixPre-6 with us and a microphone, and we’re good to go.”

Size, inputs, and preamps are all qualities that make the MixPre-6 a “go-to” recorder for Codies’ F1 audio team, but sometimes it’s what a device doesn’t have that’s just as impressive.

David says, “While the MixPre-6 has loads of features, it doesn’t have loads of stuff that we don’t need, because what we do is different—”

“It’s not cluttered,” Brad interjects.

“Right, I mean we don’t use timecode and all that sort of stuff,” David continues, “So we don’t need a timecode generator built into the device, and it just makes it far simpler.”

“Every function feels important,” James finishes. “It’s perfect.”

“Trackside – Goodwood Circuit” was recorded by Codemasters Junior Sound Designer David Gurney. These sounds were recorded trackside at Goodwood Circuit in the UK in 2017. It features a flyover of Hawk T1s by the Royal Air Force Red Arrows aerobatic team followed by passing race cars on the track. To make the recording, he used the MixPre-6 in an Orca bag with a Superlux S502 stereo mic and Rycote baby ball gags.

Brad Porter at Drift Championship 2012Brad capturing audio trackside at a Drift Championship race a few years ago.

# # #

Founded in 1986, Codemasters is one of the UK’s most successful games developers. Based outside of Royal Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, the Southern campus is the global headquarters for Codemasters Software Company Limited and houses teams that create titles including the DiRT franchise. Other locations include studios in Birmingham where the Formula One series is developed and Runcorn, Cheshire which houses the Evolutions Studios success with Driveclub and Motorstorm. The company also has supporting teams in Malaysia and India. For more information, visit Codies’ website at: www.codemasters.com.

F1 Artwork with Logo

F1 2017 – Available Worldwide on Friday, August 25, 2017
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F1 2017 – Audio Reviews

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“They… sound fantastic”
http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/08/25/f1-2017-review#article_comments

“…how emotive these vehicles can be for a certain vintage of F1 nerd, and how beautiful they are to behold in F1 2017. Those sounds are spot on, and enough to send a shiver down the spine…”
http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-08-21-f1-2017-review

“It’s the audio that really takes the cake in F1 2017, though. The cars sound absolutely fantastic”
http://wccftech.com/review/f1-2017-taking-pole-position/

“The end result is a recipe for what is perhaps the series’ best sound direction to date”
https://www.gtplanet.net/f1-2017-review/

“Overall, the sound quality is spectacular in F1 2017.”
http://www.hardcoregamer.com/2017/08/21/review-f1-2017/268712/

“The car sounds are also intense.”
https://www.gamingnexus.com/Article/5457/F1-2017/

“audio and sound effects are loyal and electrifying”
http://it.ign.com/f1-2017-ps4/129772/review/f1-2017-la-recensione

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“the audio quality is excellent throughout.”
https://www.gamereactor.eu/reviews/584573/F1+2017/

“sounds superb with engines as realistic as their life like brothers”
http://www.gamehype.co.uk/review-f1-2017/

“All the sound in this game is great anyway, but the sound of the classics really emphasizes the hard work that went into them.”
http://www.vpdaily.com/f1-2017-review-setting-the-pace/

“the engine sounds … are thunderous – particularly in some of those aforementioned classic cars.”
http://www.pushsquare.com/reviews/ps4/f1_2017?utm_source=pushsquare&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=review-notification

“Spectacular audio mix”
http://atomix.vg/review-f1-2017/

“the audio of the roaring engines… really does make for a truly impressive entry to the series.”
http://www.thexboxhub.com/f1-2017-review/

Saturday Spotlight: Sounding Out F1 2017’s Audio (Interview)

Note: This article was originally published on the Codies Blog, June 2017

When you’re driving F1 cars in-game, both classic or modern, what they sound like really makes the difference – from hearing the 2017 Scuderia Ferrari overtake you around Spa, or hearing the charm of those screaming V10s or V8s. As there’s nothing that puts a smile on our face more here at Codemasters than the sound of an F1 car driven around a circuit in anger, we sat down with F1 2017’s Audio Lead Brad Porter and Audio Designer David Gurney to sound them out about F1 2017’s audio.

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What’s new for F1 2017?

Brad: As an audio team F1 2016 was our maiden voyage, taking over from the previous audio designers. As a team we decided that an important part of our job going forward was to communicate with and take feedback from the community. So going into F1 2017 we’ve listened and we’ve made improvements as well as added many new features. As always we’re very active on the forum, on social media and on YouTube so feel free to continue sending in comments, feedback and letting us know about any issues you find. We’re really proud of what we’ve achieved as an audio team for F1 2017 and we can’t wait for you to hear the results!

David: For 2017, we’ve made a host of improvements, but the two biggest ones have been around how sound propagates through the virtual world. These are occlusion and convolution reverb. Previously, when a car disappeared behind something, like through the tunnel at Monaco, you might have been able to hear it through the wall. If a car drives behind a building or something now, the audio should change according to what is in the way. The second one is quite nerdy, but it sounds super cool. We previously used algorithmic reverb, but now we use convolution reverb. What this allows us to do is to take an ‘impulse’ of a real world location, for example a real tunnel, and apply that effect to our Monaco tunnel. We have a bunch of different impulses that are used in different environments, so each one has more character and sounds more accurate.

Williams-1992-end-1024x576

How have you recorded the sound for F1 2017?

David: We attend events (with the cars) and organise our own. We take a bunch of microphones and stands, memory cards, and batteries on trips. Almost all of our recording trips take place ‘in the field’, so we have to be prepared for bad weather – like the rain at the British Grand Prix in 2016 – and good weather – like the second stage of the 2017 pre-season testing in Barcelona, where one side of my body was burnt from being stood trackside pointing a microphone all day! Recording trips are a huge amount of fun, especially when they involve my favourite sport, but they are tiring and sometimes challenging.

When it comes to recording the cars themselves, we grab as much trackside reference as we can, from as many different angles as we can, and we work alongside teams to record their cars. As you may know, car engines and exhausts are very hot to the touch – especially on high performance cars like these – so we have to be very careful with microphone placement and preparation, since we don’t want any melted cables or the microphones themselves being damaged. We generally give the equipment to the teams’ engineers who will mic the car up, according to our guidance, as they know how to balance the weight of the equipment to maintain performance.

Brad: We’ve been out and about doing some crowd recording sessions, you may have even seen us next to the podium at the Silverstone 2016 GP! We also recruited some willing Codies staff to perform chants and other crowd noise for us so if you’re lucky there’s now also a chance you’ll hear the crowd chanting driver names. We’ve also made great efforts this year to research the little details that fans may not even realise unless they visit a circuit. We’ve researched pit horns for example and ensure to the best of our knowledge that each track now has authentic pit horns triggering whenever a car enters the pit lane. Where possible we’ve grabbed the actual pit horn used on each track. With the help of some teams we’ve even recorded different types of air blowers.

What should people listen out for in F1 2017, that they might not otherwise notice?

David: One thing that I think is that when audio works well, it doesn’t get noticed.

Brad: Our new occlusion and reverb systems. We’re now using convolution in game so audio with the world now sounds far more like it belongs in that world, while tunnels now sound like tunnels and grandstands now sound like grandstands!

What’s your favourite thing about your job?

David: This job suits me down to the ground, based on my experience and interest in audio, my love for video games, and my passion for all things motorsport. It’s almost like the job was made for me. It’s a joy to work on this project, with this team. And I love Mondays.

Brad: I get to work with two other great audio guys and we’re all on the same page about how we want to drive audio forward for F1 2017 and beyond. We all have our own particular strengths and we gel really well as a team as a result, so in almost a decade of working at Codies I’m having more fun than I’ve ever had here.

What are you playing at the moment?

David: When I was asked this question, I said Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild because it had just been released. I would be lying if I said I had completed it, Hyrule is soooo big. And Mario Kart 8. Both are fantastic games.

Brad: I have a big backlog, including some games of a daunting size like The Witcher 3 but I’m renovating a house and I have a 1 year old son so I’m finding it increasingly difficult to put aside time. Right now I’m playing the odd bit of Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and I’ve just started Rise of the Tomb Raider.

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We can’t wait for you to hear what both the modern and classic cars of F1 2017 sounds like, and fortunately we’ve only got until the 25th August to wait! Don’t forget that you can pre-order F1 2017 now on Steam here.

Develop – Get That Job (Interview)

Note: This article was originally published in Develop, June 2017 #183, p.44IMG_8781

This month:Brad Porter, Formula 1 audio lead at racing game developer Codemasters

What qualifications and/or experience do you need?
15 years ago or so, many audio designers were taken on with little-to-no qualifications – but today, setting yourself apart from the rest is more important than ever – so qualifications are a must.

In terms of experience, that really depends on the job role. Experience with common software such as Soundforge, audio middleware like Wise or Fmod and audio library software such as Basehead are also really good to have under your belt, regardless of the job level you are going in at.

In terms of the audio lead role, that’s normally a position you’d work your way up to based on experience, years in the industry, and a vacant position. I started in the industry with a degree in music technology but I had basically no experience with game audio. I worked my way up the ranks at Codemasters, and almost a decade later a lead role opened up. In previous roles (and still today) I was big on organisation, documenting workflow and processes, training new starters and fixing and simplifying audio systems. I think these are good strengths to have in my current job role.

If you were interviewing someone, what do you look for?
It depends on the job role we are looking to fill. Our Junior designer was taken on last year and he had no professional experience – but a general rule of thumb for juniors, I’d be expecting applicants to have a related degree – so something music tech based. With fierce competition about and more applicants than there are jobs, I’m increasingly seeing applicants with a Master’s degrees!  If we were hiring for something like an experienced or senior role, typically I’d be expecting the applicant to have put in several years within the games industry and have credits on at least one or two titles.

What opportunities are there for career progression?
I guess I’m a good example of career progression, as I started at Codies immediately after my degree as a temporary QA technician. I’ve built my way up through audio from an “associate” audio designer to a project lead. It’s taken time and I’ve had a big learning curve, So I’ve had to work closely with my peers to pick up the various skills I’ve needed along the way. There’s certainly a lot of variety in what we do and plenty of opportunities to specialise and diversify, as well as working your way up the ranks.

We’re encouraged to take many opportunities, from recording Hypercars in Italy, to F1 in Bahrain, to learning new tools and software, to interviewing applicants for new roles, to managing your own staff.

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Leave Luck to Being Rescued – Alexis Mavropoulos

Alexis Mavropoulos
Audio Designer
Codemasters

Notable games Alexis has been involved with: LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens, LEGO Dimensions, DiRT 4

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Believe it or not, this is actually the first time I’ve done a “Leave Luck to Being Rescued” with a fellow Codies employee. Alexis is one of our newest members of the audio team and he’s fairly new to the industry, after dabbling in other audio roles and a brief stint in QA over at Tt Games. We chat a bit about the audio department, QA, his Master’s degree and working at Codemasters.

Brad: After completing your BSc what made you decide to study for your master’s degree? After all, you’re one of only 2 audio designers in the department to have studied for this qualification.

Alexis: It was a combination of different reasons really. After completing my BSc in Music Technology, I decided to postpone my academic studies for the time being to see what I could do in the ‘real world’, solely with my degree. I thought this would also be a good opportunity for me to test the water and evaluate if I wanted to further pursue an academic path.

During this period, I decided to move to London and full heartedly go for it, in pursuit of what would be the start of my audio career. Upon arrival, I was fortunate enough to secure an assistant sound engineer position at ‘The Limehouse’, a high-end music recording studio.  Combined with other jobs outside of audio such as bar-tending, I worked as an assistant for a number of months to follow. This period was a great learning opportunity for me not only in terms of audio, but also life in general and it will always be cherished. For various reasons, however, I gradually began to feel less passionate about the whole situation I was in and slowly lost interest and motivation. The main reason is that I felt that I wasn’t really reaching my full potential and that I had a lot more to offer, especially creatively. This is when a master’s increasingly started to make more and more sense. Furthermore, I generally felt a bit lost in a sea of other graduates who had general music tech degrees like me. I didn’t really feel qualified enough in order to competently work in a world filled with rapidly evolving technologies, where sound can be created and applied in so many new and exciting ways. This made me seriously consider a master’s degree even more, so long story short; I decided to take the plunge.

 

Brad: When did you decide to get into the games industry? Were you open to other audio professions or did you always plan on getting into sound for games?

Alexis: I’ve always enjoyed playing video games and really liked how a good piece of music or memorable sound effects were often present in games. Growing up, I had no idea about how the whole implementation side of things worked, or that it is someone’s actual job to create sound effects and music in order to make them work in-game. It was just one of those cases where I remember thinking to myself “How do they put the sounds in the game? How do they make them change like that depending on what you do?”, but never really investigated it further. I certainly didn’t picture myself working in the industry back in those times.

Years later, when I was already in London making my first professional steps in audio, I found out a bit more about video game sound design. I got really intrigued by it and as I learned more and more about it, I started to seriously consider it as a potential career path. Up until now, game audio was still a bit of a mystery to me compared to other areas such as post production, where everything is linear based. I knew that I was capable of producing audio content that would potentially suit a game, but I was lacking a lot of the technical knowledge in implementation and other areas that you need to posses, in order to pursue a career in it.

In one of my MSc modules, I started learning about Fmod and Wwise and different game engines like Unity and how you could implement audio and I became hooked! I was even designing my own levels, trying to make little mini games that I would add audio to. There was something about game audio that I just found fascinating. The fact that sound was dynamically evolving in real-time blew my mind and it opened up a whole new world for me. From that point on, I started learning as much as I could about game audio through my course and my own personal endeavours and put all my efforts into one day getting into the games industry as a sound designer.

Naturally, I was also open to other audio related opportunities in order to build up my portfolio and CV and did quite a bit of freelance work on different media related projects before I landed my first official game audio job.

Brad: How did you find the transition from QA into an audio role?

Alexis: The transition was pretty smooth to be honest. Obviously, going from working on small projects that needed sound to being an audio designer for a major title like Dirt 4, there was a steep learning curve in the beginning-especially in terms of implementation. However, I was already familiar with a lot of key concepts surrounding game audio, so it didn’t take me very long to adjust to the project.

Brad: Did the experience you gained while in QA help prepare you for your current role or do you find there is little overlap?

Alexis: My prior QA experience definitely helped a lot in this also. Working in QA was very useful as I was introduced to many aspects of game development such as bug fixing, JIRA workflows, dev menus and platform specific testing, which is still a big part of my job today. Also, working with audio bugs and testing games early on in development gave me a great insight of what goes on ‘behind the scenes’.

Brad: How difficult did you find it to land your first game audio job? Did you apply for many jobs beforehand?

Alexis: It’s a known fact that breaking into game audio, especially in a junior position, can be quite difficult. I most definitely didn’t find it easy but, in retrospect, it wasn’t as bad as I had expected either. I’d say perseverance combined with constantly developing yourself is a key factor more than anything in landing your first job. And, yes, I did apply to quite a few places.

Brad: Did you tailor your portfolio and CV to suit the jobs you were applying for?

Alexis: I didn’t really feel the need to tailor my CV each time apart from certain minor adjustments here and there that would potentially suit a role better. As for my portfolio, I basically tried to have what I thought was my best work combined into a single, game audio specific show reel. I’m not saying this is the best way to do things-this is simply how I did it.

Brad: Before working at Codies did you already have an interest in racing games? If yes what are some memorable racing games that you grew up playing? Do you think it is important to be interested in the genre of games you are developing or is this something you get into once in that role?

Alexis: I had an interest in racing games, although I definitely wouldn’t call myself a ‘petrol head’ or anything like that. I generally enjoyed a well made, fun racing game. Some memorable racing titles (of varying style) for me growing up were Mario Kart 64, Diddy Kong Racing, F-Zero X, Collin McCrae Rally, Star Wars Episode 1: Racer and a few of the Need for Speed games.

I wouldn’t say it’s essential to be fully interested in the genre of games you are developing, but it definitely helps. In my case, I found myself getting a lot more interested in racing games after I actually started working on one as a developer. I guess you get so involved with what you are creating that you naturally grow fond of it. Also, when new titles of the same genre come out from other companies you want to compare them to your game, so you’ll spend some time playing the competitor’s games as well.

Brad: I agree with this, I found that myself when working on various games. I also think it helps to be able to really get into what you’re working on. Before working on F1 I never watched F1 races but now I find myself watching a lot of content and following various stats and reading a bunch of F1 articles on a regular basis.

What’s a typical day like for a junior audio designer at Codemasters? Is it what you were expecting?

Alexis: A typical day would normally involve getting to work in the morning, grabbing some coffee and then having an audio department daily meeting or ‘scrum’. During these meetings we all gather round and mainly discuss our work progress, any issues we may have and our thoughts and ideas concerning the development of the game. After our meeting is over, I’ll go work on whatever sound design or implementation task I have assigned to me for the rest of the day. Depending on how far into the development cycle we are, work will shift more and more towards problem solving and bug fixing and less towards the creation and implementation of new features.

Working at Codies, I was fortunate enough to be quickly trusted to work on major areas of the game like front end, ambiences, reflections, reverbs and various environmental assets. I also helped other members of the team with bits and bobs of work whenever I could. To be honest, as a junior, I was expecting to probably do more tedious, dogsbody work, but that hasn’t been the case and I am really thankful for that.

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Brad: Ok, well it’s time for you to go on a recording trip.

Unfortunately while off on location the Evo X you were in breaks down with you inside, with no idea where you are you head for a derelict tower block. Obviously this was used as a games warehouse, so heading on over to a box you remove the layer of dust off of the games on show. They just so happen to be your 5 favourite games and 1 soundtrack, what are they?

Alexis: What a series of coincidences! Most of my favourite games are old so I guess the derelict tower block scenario works just fine…

Top 5 (in no particular order) would have to be:

1) Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (PS2)

I’m a big fan of the MGS series but ‘Sons of Liberty’ stands out a bit more than the rest for me. That moment in the tanker incident intro where Solid Snake jumps off the bridge in the rain accompanied by that amazing Harry Gregson-Williams piece…epic! Electronic music nerd fact: This piece of music was also sampled by Burial in his track ‘Archangel’.

2) Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3 (PS2)

If you were, or still are, a skater and you’re currently in your 20s-30s, chances are you most probably played a THPS game growing up. I chose 3 as it has the best selection of music, levels and pro skaters.

3) HλLF-LIFE2 (PC)

Great gameplay, smart level design and memorable sound effects.  The gravity gun was definitely one of my favourite features.

4) Portal (PC)

Need I say more? Such a brilliant game concept!

5) The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (N64)

Although a few people I’ve spoken to aren’t a fan of this game compared to other Zelda games, it is by far my favourite. I’m a big fan of the dark, eerie theme that the game has throughout both visually and sonically.

Soundtrack – Deus Ex

Very synthy! The ‘UNATCO Headquarters’ theme is an amazing piece of music!

About the choices

Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty 

Developer – Konami Computer Entertainment Japan
Platform – PlayStation 2
Release – 8th March 2002

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 3

Developer – Neversoft
Platform – PlayStation 2
Release – 30th November 2001

HλLF-LIFE2

Developer – Valve Corporation
Platform – PC
Release – 16th November 2004

Portal

Developer – Valve Corporation
Platform – PC
Release – 18th October 2007

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

Developer – Nintendo EAD
Platform – N64
Release – 26th October 2000

The Problem With… Nintendo Apologists

bundle_gray_tabletopI’ve pre-ordered a Switch. I do however still stand by my original stance that the Switch isn’t an impressive system; it’s ugly, under-powered and will struggle to get 3rd parties back on board. So why then have I pre-ordered? I’ve been a Nintendo fan since back in the NES days and their games still have that something special that keeps me coming back. Don’t get me wrong, they do occasionally churn out some shit. Even big franchises like The Legend of Zelda have the occasional “miss”; I thought both Spirit Tracks and Skyward Sword were among the worst in the franchise. I also like the idea of taking some potentially great games like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild with me while I travel. These days I find myself playing handheld systems like my Vita more often than my home consoles so the Switch might be a great setup for me.

I understand Nintendo get a lot wrong (as we’ll delve into in this article) but there’s a lot of fans who I guess we’d call “fanboys” who are so blinded by their sheer love for everything Nintendo that they cannot and will not accept any criticism thrown at the company. Now to be clear, there’s die hards in both the Sony and Microsoft camps too but Nintendo breed a special kind of loyal fan. In the past I’ve been labelled a Nintendo fanboy and a Sony fanboy but honestly, I’m neither. I criticise things I hate with all 3 video game giants, I just have a tendency to enjoy first party Nintendo games and in recent years my consoles of choice tend to be Sony devices – that’s my personal preference. So let’s explore the special flowers that are Nintendo apologists. I’m going to use a few personal anecdotes in this article which I’m ok with as I’m specifically making an argument about these types of fans, not Nintendo fans in general.

I recently got into a debate on a Facebook group when I saw a post stating “That explains why the pro controller is more expensive, that’s insane it has that all built in. Glad to know that”. The post was accompanied by a brief description of its features. The tech inside the pro controller boasts features such as “motion controls”, “HD rumble” (whatever that will end up being) and “built in amiibo functionality”. Firstly, I’m not totally convinced that these features do explain the high cost of this controller. Doing a quick search, the Xbox One controller retails for around $50 and includes their own version of updated rumble in the form of “Impulse Triggers”. A PS4 DualShock 4 can also be picked up new for a similar price and they too feature new tech such as the light bar, speaker (new to PlayStation controllers) and a “Clickable touchpad”. Arguably of course the Switches HD rumble might be a revolution compared to the rumble of old but do an NFC reader and a fancy update to rumble justify a full $20 increase over the competition? Let’s give the poster the benefit of the doubt here and agree that this “new” tech actually does justify the $20 increase. WHY DO I NEED IT? And here’s my argument that I posted in response:

“That doesn’t mean the majority of players want all that tech. Does everything in your house really need to have the ability to scan amiibo? Or would the main screen be sufficient? I’d certainly take the lack of amiibo scanning in a specific controller if it meant the price was £15 less.”11396097-6244453754475000

A second poster then argued that indeed, this same logic could be applied to PS4 or Xbox One controllers. I agreed that indeed that is true but that doesn’t justify Nintendo bumping the cost of their controller up significantly. We as consumers come to expect a certain price bracket for consoles and accessories and indeed on this matter gamers will vote with their wallets I’m sure. The worst part about this is that the pro controller isn’t even the most expensive controller on offer. A set of Joy-Cons will set you back around $90! Journalists and fans alike (well, except for Nintendo apologists) seem up in arms about the price, Polygon seemed to have done the work for me here, after checking Twitter Ben Kuchera stated “I checked Twitter to see if I was just suffering from a case of unrealistic expectations and nope, there seems to be some serious pushback from others about the price of these accessories”1. Jim Sterling commented after the reveal “Let’s look at everything else Nintendo did to kill my interest in the switch”2 before going on to complain about the price of not only the pro controller but other accessories. Colin Moriarty explained on his new show “Colin Was Right”:

“You do have to do something to keep people around. The games aren’t there and they aren’t going to be there and these ridiculous peripheral prices are simply isolating potential customers even more.”3

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Gamers could chose to take or leave the console and any accessories; Nintendo has every right to charge whatever they feel is reasonable but get this. Since the NES we’ve seen a notable decline in install base throughout all of their home consoles4, with the Wii being the one anomaly here. The NES for example shifted over 60 million units whereas the Wii U has managed fewer than 14 million units and with the Switch releasing in less than 2 months that figure isn’t likely to creep up much further. With that I’d consider it a reasonable expectation that Nintendo should do everything they can to win back a bit of loyalty. Maybe sell the console for a significant loss in order to get the install base back up? After all they’d make a killing on software, much like the business model Sony and Microsoft have used many times in the past.5 How about charge a reasonable price for extra controllers? Maybe bundle in the ability to charge the Joy-Cons with the included grip rather than having to shell out for a special charging grip?6 So the slightly higher than expected price of controllers and accessories alone isn’t the only issue here. I think a Facebook post I wrote summaries this nicely:

“What exactly would Nintendo have to do in order for you to call them out on it? Shit on your lawn? There are a stack of issues surrounding the switch and so many Nintendo apologists are coming out with excuse after excuse.

Look, it’s not JUST the charging issue here, that’s merely the icing on the cake or should that be cack?”

Let’s address some of the other points then that are contributing to this mess. The launch line-up is really weak, on the launch day itself we have The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Ok, here’s a decent first party franchise) and 1-2 Switch in terms of first party titles. As for 3rd party? Skylanders something or another, Just Dance 20 whatever year it is and Super Bomberman R.7 Nothing really to write home about. And as for Zelda, well although this is a beloved Nintendo franchise it really isn’t a big system seller; just take a look at past Nintendo sales figures.8 I’d also add that out of these games 1-2 Switch and Super Bomberman R are the only exclusives, Zelda is also on Wii U and the rest of the bunch are coming to multiple platforms. Ok, so how about games released during 2017? Notable “big” games include Super Mario Odyssey, Xenoblade Chronicles 2, FIFA, NBA 2K18, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2 and ARMS. Notice the absence of a lot of major cross platform games? Where are Call of Duty, Battlefield, Resident Evil 7, Kingdom Hearts III, Mass Effect Andromeda, Metal Gear Survive, Red Dead Redemption 2 and South Park: Fractured But Whole to named but a few. Sure, as the saying goes “people buy a Nintendo or Nintendo games, not cross-platform games”. Hmmm, I’d be convinced of that if only the sales figures showed that to be the case. The fact is when most households chose to splash out on a console they are clearly picking the Sony or Microsoft boxes that can play a few great exclusives as well as being supported extensively by 3rd party developers. Think about it, gamers with a bit of excess cash might buy 2 or even all 3 of these home systems but many kids or adults on lower incomes will only buy one console. And these consumers will certainly want a box that gives them a decent variety of games, including games that their friends are talking about.  And this brings me to the next comment I found on Facebook:

“The hybrid nature of the console will hold it back from being a mainstream success. But it will likely do pretty well, Zelda at launch, MK8 Splatoon and Mario Odyssey all in the first year, will keep the system selling well all the way through its first year.”

My response to this statement?

“4 games in a year will not “keep the system selling well”, especially when 2 of them are essentially “deluxe” versions of existing games and zelda is not an exclusive.”

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The conversation continued with this user stating that I was “forgetting those are four of the biggest games Nintendo has”. The problem is that these “biggest” franchises also made appearances on Wii U and they didn’t shift enough consoles so what makes him think they will just because they are coming to a new platform? Another user then chimed in to tell me games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe aren’t simply ports like we saw from PS3 to PS4. I’m not sure what he’d consider a port then when Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is (as the name implies) a Deluxe version of an old game, it includes all previous DLC and a couple of extra bits and pieces to sweeten the deal. It is by no means a brand new game and it isn’t being marketed in that way either. To top off this debate the original user then informed me that these games did in fact sell the Wii U console. Really? REALLY? The 85 million or so gamers who bought a Wii but didn’t buy a Wii U might disagree with you there! The final comment from the original user was also a bit of a surprise after I’d mentioned to him that you only have to look at how the media reacted after the second reveal. Proving my point that Nintendo apologists are almost blind to any criticism he noted:

“The “buzz surrounding it died”? In what world are you living in? Ever major gaming, tech, nerd , and even news outlet has covered the Switch conference.”

Well I’m actually referring to the likes of the Jimquisition episode9 on this subject where Jim Sterling does a fine job of highlighting some of the points (and others) that I’ve mentioned here. Jim specifically mentions at the end of the video that he made the episode out of frustration because he believes Nintendo has “the potential to be the best platform holder…”.10 I’m doing much the same thing here, I haven’t written this article to slate Nintendo – I’ve ordered the Switch! I’ve wrote this article to vent my frustration at a company which makes so many stupid mistakes that they really shouldn’t make.

Would you like more proof that the buzz died after the reveal? How about the Kinda Funny guys? Colin specifically stated after the Nintendo reveal11 back in October 2016 “I’m excited to pre-order”.12 After the second reveal Colin commented that he was “not very excited”13 before the guys commented negatively on the price of the accessories14 and everything else for that matter!15 Anecdotally I might also add that during the original reveal I left several comments on forums expressing my dislike of the Switch’s ugly, clumsy design. I was pretty much shot down immediately, not a lot of people agreed with me. Fast forward to the second reveal and forums are now seemly divided down the middle with arguments revolving around the high price of the accessories, the Nintendo network becoming a premium service (more on this soon) and the sparse launch line up. And then there’s the articles, of course it wouldn’t be fair to say that all the Switch press was negative. There are indeed a lot of positive posts and many fans and journalists alike have been won over. But just look at a few of these headlines and I think you’ll agree that Nintendo haven’t exactly knocked it out of the park:

The pricing on Nintendo Switch accessories is a bad, bad joke1
Nintendo Switch online service’s ‘free’ monthly games come with a huge catch161-2-Switch is not the killer app the Nintendo Switch needs17
Nintendo Switch will launch with fewer games than the Wii, Wii U or 3DS18
Nintendo Switch’s bundled Joy-Con grip doesn’t charge controllers19

And I think that sums up Nintendo, there are always caveats with their services, games and products. And talking of services, let’s take a look at Nintendo’s new offerings. First of all there’s news that the Switch’s voice chat is done…wait for it… via a smart phone app!20 That’s right folks, there is no native voice chat built into the Switch, and here’s the reasoning behind it according to NOA’s head honcho Reggie Fils-Aime:

“we want to reinforce the capability to take your experience with you on the go…. The ability to do matchmaking, voice chat through your phone, it’s a hell of a lot more convenient than having a gamer headset stuck into your backpack trying to do that. That’s why we’re doing it the way we are. We see the convenience, we see the ease of delivery. We think it’s going to lead to a better experience.”20

This is another common problem with Nintendo, they do things so against the grain that it defies all logic yet Nintendo will outright defend these decisions, as will their apologists. If the issue here is parental controls then implement controls to block this feature for children. If however the issue really is convenience then why can’t we have the best of both worlds and include voice chat out of the box as well as via a smart device app? Is Reggie seriously trying to say voice chat via a phone is more convenient? Not only does this mean anybody who wants to voice chat needs a couple of hundred pounds worth of mobile phone, but it needs to be charged, have a decent signal and be used separately from the Switch’s interface. And how about the “gamer headset stuck into your backpack”? Is he suggesting you no longer need a headset? So I just sit on the train with my phone next to my ear or with the speaker blearing out? Or do I use a small set of headphones with a microphone? If the latter then why can’t I use that with a Switch instead of the massively inconvenient headset Reggie assumes I need if voice chat was native to the console?

splatoon2

For the record, personally I don’t care about voice chat, especially on a Nintendo console as I’m not a big online gamer. Like voice chat or not though, there’s a hell of a lot of gamers out there who use this feature daily on the PS4 and Xbox One. How can Nintendo ever hope to gain a big fan base when online gamers are denied basic features like this? Yet again though, the apologists help justify Nintendo’s absurd decision. One Facebooker commented “When you make things more difficult for people to use – voice chat – you deserve to be endlessly mocked.” Perhaps he was trolling a little as this was on the Nintendo Voice Chat Facebook group, however, just look at this response “I don’t agree. Nintendo is pivoting towards mobile as a focal point. They approach online differently as such. So, it may not be for you, but mocking is for kids online.” “Pivoting towards mobile”? So that’s the justification for shafting core online gamers?

It seems that voice chat isn’t the only online feature Nintendo is having a stab at butchering either. Much like Xbox Live and PSN, Nintendo will now also start charging for online functionality and in return gamers can expect online lobbies with voice chat, exclusive deals and monthly game downloads from the NES and SNES libraries.21 Here’s the catch, not only have Nintendo miserably failed with all online ventures on previous consoles when compared to Sony and Microsoft but their new paid for service will be giving fans access to an 8 or 16-bit game for one month only!22 Ok, so I’m a firm believer that gameplay is king and I also think that some of the finest games in existence can be found on both the NES and SNES but there’s no denying that offering gamers limited access to 20 or 30 year old games for a month isn’t exactly on par with their competitors. Sony alone offers 6 games per month (2 on each platform from PS3, PS4 and Vita), not forgetting that quite often a selection of these games are also cross-platform so the argument of “I only have a PS4 though” doesn’t wash here. Arguably a lot of these games aren’t worth the bandwidth they use to download but there have also been some great games on the service over the years. And what’s more, both Sony and Microsoft let you play these games for the entirety of your subscription. Having now been a subscriber for 5 or 6 years myself I literally have access to hundreds of games.

I actually put this question to members of the Nintendo Voice Chat Facebook group and in general most responses agreed with me. There were however a couple which tried to justify Nintendo’s decisions and put a positive spin on things. Here’s a couple:

“I like it the flavor of the month concept to it. In reality most of these games take a few hours to beat. So a month should be more than enough time with an NES or SNES game.”

“In a way wouldn’t having it only as a month motivate people to play right away, fill the online modes and most will be done with NES and SNES games after a month anyway? Just a thought.”

“The good thing about the monthly thing would that it would encourage a lot of people to play it that month. This would make it a lot easier to find people to play online with during that month.”

“I like it, i think it will be great for everyone to have access to the same title at the same time.”

Now, I understand what the first commenter is suggesting. In general a lot of NES / SNES era games can realistically be beaten with a couple of hours. However, what I don’t agree with is justifying this decision just because a game is short. Let’s put it this way, sometimes I might buy a game or get one free with PS+ but not actually get around to playing it for months, or even years in some cases. Why would Nintendo putting a restriction on the availability of the game be a good thing? Isn’t it better for the gamer to decide when they want to play the game instead of having it dictated to them?

I’d urge you all to throw away your nostalgia and throw away your biases and really take a look at Nintendo’s decisions. This is a company I grew up with, I love their consoles and love their games but there’s nothing wrong with calling out a company when they do something shitty. It’s pretty clear from Nintendo’s dwindling sales figures that they are struggling to stay relevant and keep up with Microsoft and Sony and if they at least don’t try and offer similar services and technology they will eventually fall.

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Finally, please go and watch both the Colin Was Right episode “Same Old Nintendo” and the Jimquisition episode “What Nintendo Fucked Up With The Switch So Far”. Both of these episodes are excellent, level headed and delivered by Nintendo fans.

A note about any Facebook quotations I’ve used.
I’ve left quotes unaltered, including spelling and typos. I felt this was the best way to avoid misquoting anybody. I’ve left out any citation here; they are simply being used as anecdotes to protect the users anonymity.

1 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14261342/nintendo-switch-extra-controller-price-terrible
2 – https://youtu.be/7fH_wl8ceAg?t=341
3 – https://youtu.be/LenzNAyRnWU?list=PLy3mMHt2i7RJjrxBVoVL5tDTbhimG4NFz&t=540
4 – https://www.nintendo.co.jp/ir/en/sales/hard_soft/
5 – http://www.pcworld.com/article/127906/article.html
6 – http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-01-16-nintendo-switchs-basic-joy-con-grip-doesnt-charge-controllers
7 – https://twitter.com/NintendoAmerica/status/820006323328864256/photo/1?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw
8 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2014/01/29/these-are-nintendos-lifetime-hardware-and-software-numbers
9 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fH_wl8ceAg&t=352s
10 – https://youtu.be/7fH_wl8ceAg?t=681
11 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5uik5fgIaI
12 – https://youtu.be/HONQAWV5nxQ?t=754
13 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=333
14 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=452
15 – https://youtu.be/QdNiaVEzrwM?t=511
16 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14266290/nintendo-switch-monthly-games-not-free
17 – http://www.polygon.com/2017/1/13/14268204/1-2-switch-nintendo-switch-pre-review
18 – http://www.polygon.com/nintendo-switch/2017/1/13/14263186/nintendo-switch-lineup-wii-wiiu-3ds-comparison
19 – http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-01-16-nintendo-switchs-basic-joy-con-grip-doesnt-charge-controllers
20 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/01/14/nintendo-talks-voice-chat-online-approach-for-switch
21 – http://uk.ign.com/articles/2017/01/13/nintendo-switch-online-services-will-be-free-at-first
22 – https://twitter.com/kobunheat/status/819956802741747712?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw

So you want a job in the games industry? Musings from Codemasters Birmingham audio department.

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I’m occasionally asked how I got into the games industry and while my path is fairly straight forward I can ask almost anybody else at Codies and they’ll tell a different story of their own path into audio design. The core audio department here at Codies Birmingham consists of three audio designers, myself in a senior position as the project lead designer, James “Duke Uterus” Kneen in a senior position and Dave Gurney in a junior audio designer role. Here we share those three stories.

I never formally interviewed for a job in audio when I was originally taken on. I’d started out as a QA technician at Codies and got talking to the audio department and one of the audio programmers. As well as continuing with my general QA bug reporting I also went out of my way to add each and every audio related bug I could find for each project I worked on. The benefit here was that I was immediately identified by the audio department due to how few people in QA seemed to concentrate on entering audio bugs at the time. On top of that I’d make it my mission to go over and chat with the audio guys that I knew a couple of times a month – not so often that I’d become annoying but not too infrequent that they’d forget about me. The important thing to remember here was that I’d never normally get a great opportunity like this had I not worked in QA. I couldn’t exactly turn up unannounced at game companies for a chat with the audio guys. Even handing in CVs and show reels and bugging designers via email doesn’t have quite the same impact as being able to walk across the office and interact with people face to face.

Luckily, at this stage two great steps forward happened, firstly the audio guys mentioned that there might be some “dog’s body” work coming up. Generally this would be tasks such as chopping and organising assets or adding regions and markers to projects. The second step was that one of the audio teams really needed somebody to focus on audio bugs for a particular game – having seen my list of audio focused bugs on the database and knowing I had an interest in audio they approached QA management and asked if I’d be interested in some focused QA audio work. Even to this day this is quiet a rarity; it involved me temporarily moving over to the audio department and specifically working with the audio guys to identify as many audio bugs as I could, all while still under QA management and budget. You can read more about my QA job role here:

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/02/09/working-in-qa/

06062008287.jpgNew beginnings – My first desk in QA.

After several months of working with the audio team they decided to take me on permanently in a junior capacity. It’s worth adding that before working in QA I’d been studying music technology for 3 years at college and a further 3 years at University. I then gained around 1 ½ years of QA experience which in itself provides great background knowledge when moving into games development. Two of my previous articles go into more detail on my time in education:

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/09/07/studying-music-technology-at-college/

https://leavelucktogames.wordpress.com/2013/05/03/is-an-education-really-needed/

I’m actually the only member of Birmingham audio who started off in a QA role, Dave (our junior) completed a master’s degree in game audio before applying for the junior role we opened up. Both Dave and I enrolled on generalised audio / visual media degrees but Dave furthered his education with a game audio master’s degree where he got to grips with middleware such as FMOD and Wwise. At degree level neither of us went into game audio territory, the assignments I completed during my 3rd year were specifically massaged to steer towards game audio but there was no training with any middleware or any game audio practices.

Dave applied to us straight after his master’s so he had gained no previous professional experience. One of the audio designers at Codies contacted him through Linkedin after seeing his profile, at which point Dave sent in his CV and show reel for us to consider. James and I looked through all the CVs that were handed in before narrowing down the candidate list to around 6 or so or of our favourites. This decision was based on multiple factors such as the applicant’s previous experience, the quality of their show reel and how excited they seemed to be about working on racing games. For us it wasn’t essential that our junior be into racing or racing games but let’s say in a situation where two very similar applicants applied then somebody with a good interest in motorsport would have the edge. Not only would this mean the applicant is less likely to tire of the sort of audio design work we do but they’d also be more likely to be excited to attend recording sessions, watch reference footage and suggest and work on very specific features present in motorsport. This might include things like turbo systems, detonations, engine bundles, mechanical tools and so on.

img_0146David Gurney – We insist he wears this hat when working on critical tasks.

Once we had narrowed down our search we held a skype or phone call interview with each candidate. James and I went through each candidates show reel; before we gave them feedback we asked them to critique their own show reel to see if they understood where their short comings and strengths lay. We then provided our own feedback on the show reel before going over each applicants CV and asking them for further questions. Typical lines of enquiry here were questions such as “Why do you want to leave your current job?”, “What games do you play?”, “Do you play any Codemasters games?”, “How do you feel about re-locating?”. After narrowing our search down further we finally invited our candidates in for a face to face interview. By this stage we were finding it difficult to choose one applicant, there wasn’t a lot in it and in all honesty I’m sure any one of these guys would have fitted in just fine. The main goal here then was to talk to each candidate to see how well they would fit in and so we discussed their hobbies, games, audio and other generalised chat. Importantly though, Dave was also excited at the prospect of working on a motorsport game; he suggested ideas for systems and asked us how existing systems were implemented. He’d asked questions about recording sessions and what we’d be expecting from him. He showed a clear interest in what we were doing and how he’d like to help build upon our work if he were given the opportunity. James and I both felt it was important to take on somebody that we could get on with as a friend as well as a colleague; after all we have to work very closely with each other day in day out.

Unlike Dave and myself, James doesn’t have any formal education in audio design. James seemed destined for a job in the audio industry; he grew up with a passion for all things sci-fi and audio related. Sometimes I wonder if he’s part synth – both of the android and musical instrument varieties. The “Duke” as we affectionately call him here at Codies first became interested in audio when his parents bought him a portable cassette recorder when he was a child. He started off recording joke “radio” shows and silly sounds before moving on to recording episodes of Doctor Who. Listening back to these recordings sparked an interest in sound effects and synthesis. This passion stuck with James through his teenage years and the first wave of hip-hop only helped cement this passion. From here on out James decided that he’d like one day to become a sound designer. With no qualifications to speak of James decided to go down the experience route and seek out a tape operator position in a studio. Unfortunately James found this extremely difficult to secure and ultimately failed.

Capture.PNGExterminate! – Where it all began for James.

Although James remained passionate about audio and production he decided to seek alternative employment and instead tried to break into the games industry. James considered trying to start a career in QA (similar to my own route into games audio). By his early 30s he found himself working for Empire Interactive but rather than a QA role he found himself burning game builds to disc. This ultimately would form the basis of his path into game audio. After a few years James made the move over to EA in a similar role and during his time here he’d spotted the recording studio and over time became friends with the audio studio head. Not one to miss a great opportunity James sweet talked his way into using the studio for a few evenings a week. A junior audio designer role eventually came up and after cutting his teeth with the EA studio gear James decided to apply. Once again the Duke was on the cusp of making it into one of his dream jobs but it was not to be. Although interviewing well, James lost out to an applicant with current experience.

IMG_0148.jpgJames “Duke Uterus” Kneen – He’s really not that grumpy, he really is that old though.

An audio assistant role eventually came up which James did secure – finally he was in! By this point James was into his late 30s, so a relatively late starter. James currently holds a senior audio designer role here at Codies Birmingham and readily admits how difficult his path to this position has been. I’d asked him for advice to pass onto up and coming audio designers seeking a position within the industry to which he replied:

“Securing a position in game audio is difficult, but not impossible. It’s about your attitude, passion for audio and your tenacity. If you keep on keeping on, you will do it. I am of course biased but I reckon it’s the most interesting and fun job on the planet.”

Three designers all with different paths into the industry; so where does that leave you if you’re seeking the best way to secure a job? Well you’ve still got to carve your own path out but here’s some general advice to help you along the way.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The important points to remember are to network and gain some experience and while these steps are by no means sure fire ways to success they’ll greatly help you out. About a year ago I had a situation where two budding audio designers contacted me about work experience; one was a recent college graduate who was mainly interested in composition while the second was on a temporary contract in QA. Both prospective designers had graduated from sound related courses at college and both had at least started out on the right track; they’d done what many in my opinion fail to do. They had both contacted me and politely introduced themselves and shown some level of enthusiasm. As always I asked both of them for a show reel and a CV and asked them what they wanted to get out of any work experience. The guy in QA replied to tell me he would have to update his CV – I heard back from him about 4 months later! I politely informed him that unfortunately he’d missed the boat on this occasion as I’d taken on somebody else who’d replied with the information I’d asked for. The college graduate who applied was given a shot, despite primarily being interested in composition.

F1_2016_May_012_WM-823x436.pngF1 2016 – Sound design by Brad, James and Dave.

A decent education does help and in all honesty these days I don’t know of many young audio designers without a degree or higher. That being said, you could land a 1st class honours followed up by a master’s in game audio and you’d still not be guaranteed a job. Considering most of the other candidates will also have a degree it probably won’t do a lot to help you stand out. Think of your education then as a good fundamental framework once you’ve landed the job. It’s pretty obvious when we’ve spoken to or taken on work experience designers which are from a University background and which are not. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions to this rule.

Experience is great but none of us in Birmingham audio took the work experience path and although it’s a great way to get a foot in the door we quickly discovered our work experience graduate didn’t have enough knowledge to be considered anywhere near ready enough for a job in the industry. I have however dealt with one intern here at Codies as well as managed a handful of University students on weeklong work experience. What I will say here is that you should only take on whatever work experience you feel you can manage. Generally you’ll find yourself forking out for travel and accommodation as well as working a full time, unpaid job! On top of that jumping in head first to something you’re totally unfamiliar with may actually deter a future employer from taking you on. Before taking on any experience try and find out what software the company uses, ask what their day today workload consists of then prepare yourself. Work experience is valuable and not easy to come by so if you do land a temporary position utilise it and make the most of it. Jump on new or unique tasks; ask the designers what they are currently working on and how different systems work. Don’t be too pushy but make it clear that you are interested in learning all you can in the limited time you have at the company.

Apply for the right positions and tailor your CV and show reel to appeal to these positions. We had various applicants apply for the role which Dave ultimately ended up getting. Dave handed in a show reel which highlighted various types of sound design, but importantly it also included motorsport. Not only did this show he was interested specifically in the role he was applying for but it also highlighted his aptitude for tailoring assets to suit motorsport content. Contrast this with some of our other applicants who handed in show reels full of low budget mobile games and no examples of motorsport. Some applicants occasionally send in show reels which only highlight compositional skills rather than sound design ability. We were specifically looking for a full time sound designer and there was no mention of music in the job specification so highlighting these skills didn’t really give us any idea as to whether the applicant was suitable for the position. It’s important to note at this point that I’ve had quite a few composers contact me over the years asking for advise, work experience or just to pass on their show reel and CV. I’ve explained to each of them (including our previous work experience graduate) that generally speaking not many game devs will take on a full time in-house composer – it’s just not something that happens. My advice here would be to go freelance or work on some small indie projects. If you are clued up on sound design you could get into the industry and eventually you may even find that you’ll be suited to score some of the projects you’re working on but composition shouldn’t be your primary driving factor.

Some of the really great applications we received showed off actual middleware implementation and video of middleware projects in action. I personally find this an excellent and interesting way to highlight sound design ability as well as the ability to implement finished assets and take into consideration variety and dynamically altering soundscapes. Audio for games is quite a different skill from track laying for linear media such as film so highlighting this ability proves you’re able to fulfil some of the requirements for a job in game audio.

Finally, as James experienced, don’t be deterred by rejection. We’d actually turned down a previous applicant because we were only taking on one designer. It pained us to turn him away as he was just as good as the applicant we offered the job to but we had to make a decision. Several months later we called him again and offered him a job on another project. You’ll apply for jobs and most likely you’ll be rejected for quite a few of them. This could be through no fault of your own, maybe another applicant took the position for a lower salary, maybe you were just as good but a coin flip decided on another applicant for the one vacant position, maybe your skills were tailored for a different role. Refine your CV, ask the company for feedback on why they didn’t proceed with your application, continue working on your show reel and continue applying.