Applying for a job in the games industry (featuring the Codemasters audio department) – Part 2: Interviewing

Disclaimer: I’m by no means an expert when it comes to interviews; I’ve been both successful and unsuccessful when applying for jobs. Both myself and various colleagues here at Codies have interviewed applicants to work on our respective teams and as a result we’ve interviewed many applications over the years. None of this information is guaranteed to get you “that dream job” but hopefully it will help to give you an idea of what, at least some people in this industry look for when interviewing candidates.

The process

Interviews can come in a couple of flavours, sometimes you’ll have to attend more than one. From a phone interview, video interview or face-to-face interview, they can be quite daunting. Sometimes several people may grill you, other times the interview may feel more informal with the interviewer and the interviewee simply getting to know each other.

Research

Before arriving for an interview you’re going to want to do a bit of research on the company you are applying to work at. When I asked around the department everybody’s first response was to mention the importance of research. Audio lead on the DiRT franchise, Stuart Ross started off by stating “Do your research on the company, their games, recording techniques and middleware”. Dialogue producer Olly Johnson adds:

“Applicants should research the games we make as it provides a conversation starter and shows you have an interest in the company. If we can’t talk about our products then you are essentially cutting off a fair few questions I might want to ask you, putting you at a disadvantage”.

You will be quizzed by potential employers whether over the phone or in person – it’s only natural that they will want to gauge your interest in the job you are applying for. I recall a previous interview where the applicant was asked if he plays racing games his answer was “Yeah, one beginning with ‘A’ I think”. He then added “Well I haven’t played any Codemasters games but I did once play a game called Grid but I don’t think you made that”. I think he was slightly embarrassed when I mentioned that actually, Codemasters did develop Grid. Equally as strange, audio lead Jethro Dunn recalls asking an applicant what racing games they play. They avoided the answer by talking about the car a relative owns. The applicant could have simply spent a couple of hours playing a game or two and looked far better as a result.

hero_grid_2008-2Applying for a job? Make sure you know a little bit about the history of the company.

Research the company you are applying to work at. It might sound obvious but why not take half hour to browse their website and forum? Maybe head over to Wikipedia and look at a list of games the company have developed? Audio designer David Gurney was part of the interview process that saw us recruit our newest team member, Elias Browning. After an interview with Elias, Dave commented that he ‘…liked his enthusiasm, and he’d obviously done his research on the company and the staff’.

You don’t necessarily need to be the biggest fan of racing games to work here – indeed I know many developers who don’t play games or follow motorsport and they do fine. What you do need though is to show you are competent and have a vague grasp of where you are going to be working and show you are capable of at least doing a little research. Think about it this way, if we would have taken on that applicant how would I have had any confidence in him to go away and do a bit of research on a particular F1 circuit? Perhaps we want to write some interesting lines for the tannoy? Maybe we want to create ambience with the correct types of wildlife? If he didn’t research what games we’ve made in the last few years how could we expect him to research details like the length of Silverstone circuit?

http://thenewswheel.com/f1-set-for-pit-stop-changes-following-string-of-unsafe-releases/

You don’t need to be a race engineer to do the job. It does help to do a little research on your subject matter though.

I wasn’t a fan of F1 before moving onto the team but if I were an outsider applying for that job then I’d be sure to know who Lewis Hamilton is, a little something about the current hybrid V6 turbo power units or who’s the latest rookie destined to be a world champion? Charles Leclerc if you’re asking. If there’s not much in it between you and a fellow applicant don’t you think your chances of success might increase if you know a bit about the industry? I find myself doing these exercises even now; after all we work with F1 teams. For one this is useful when getting to know teams and engineers, you’re going to need something to talk to them about. Aside from being sociable though, imagine if I arrived in Barcelona and worked with a team I’d never heard of? Opportunities tend to crop up when you are passionate about the subject you work closely with. As such we’ve arranged further sessions or found out very useful information just by being embedded in the culture of F1. Could I feel confident sending somebody away on a recording session if they hadn’t got a clue? I realise this section has been very race-centric but this really does apply to interviews in general.

Regardless of the type of games you play you really should play or research games from the developer you are applying for. On one occasion I had an interview at a company and I’d never played any of their games so beforehand I borrowed a couple of their games and sat playing them over the weekend. You may be quizzed on the developer’s latest game or simply asked if you’ve played any of their games and if you like them. It doesn’t look particularly great to say “I’ve never played your games; er… they look good though”. Later we’ll talk more about the kind of questions you may be asked.

Arriving to a face-to-face interview

It may sound obvious but make sure you get to the interview on time. My recommendation would be to aim to arrive in the area an hour or so before the interview begins. This will allow for traffic and other hold ups and allow you to find the building. However, don’t announce your arrival hours early as your interviewer will most likely be busy with their day to day tasks or in other interviews.

Ideally you never want to be in a situation where you’re held up in traffic, you start to panic and sweat, run to the location then end up circling the building looking for the entrance. This will do nothing for your nerves and you’re probably going to look a bit of a state as well as stink upon arrival!

img_3414He might look scary at a face to face interview but Stuart Ross is a big Scottish softie really.

How to dress

So you’ve done some research on the developer, you’ve played a couple of their games and you’ve passed the phone interview. Now you’re asked to attend a face to face. So Cinderella, what do you wear?

I may be a bit of an anomaly here; I’ve never worn a suit to an interview. My advice would be to dress appropriately, now that may sound vague but it depends on the job. Obviously if you’re applying to be a solicitor or an estate agent perhaps a suit is quite fitting. I’m guessing if you are reading this article then you have no interest in selling houses or souls though.

The games industry is pretty laid back, casual clothes are common place, with suits generally being reserved for board members and upper management, and even that is by choice. It’s not unheard of to see people roaming corridors of a dev studio in socks, slippers or dressing gowns. Ok, the dressing gown might be a rarity but yes, I’m totally serious; I’ve observed all of these in my time. And while I wouldn’t recommend you interview in your night time wear, I’m just making the point that the industry as a whole doesn’t really focus on looking smart.

Upper left – Dave Gurney
Lower left – The Duke
Right – Lorenzo, casually dressed.  The mustache is an optional extra.

I doubt anybody would turn you down for a job if you arrive to the interview in a suit but you’ll look a little odd. The Duke and I once interviewed an applicant who arrived dressed in a 3 piece suit. He happened to be the best dressed person in the entire studio (and that includes senior management). Needless to say he turned a fair few heads on the way to my office; he clearly looked out of place. So what’s wrong with looking smart? It’s not the looking smart bit in itself that was the problem, indeed if he was clearly the best applicant he would haven’t been hired. The problem was he just didn’t seem to get the vibe. When working with a colleague day in day out you want to be sure you will gel with them and his attire screamed of “Hey, I don’t understand what the game’s industry is all about”. His dress was one of the main topics of conversation after he left the interview. He was a good applicant and it would have been totally sufficient for him to sell himself based on his skills, not his appearance.

Other applicants seemed to strike a good balance between not looking like they’ve crawled out of a wheelie bin and not trying to upstage a CEO. Birmingham team senior audio designer James “Duke Uterus” Kneen adds:

“The computer games industry has the advantage of being a very laid back sector to work in, however, just because your interviewer might be wearing a Slayer T Shirt and Bermuda shorts does not mean you should do the same. At the same time, dressing up too smart can show a lack of understanding of the industry. A three piece suit, pocket watch and monocle aren’t going to cut it here. So what to wear? Smart jeans or trousers, casual shoes or trainers (not dirty) a shirt and jumper would be good. Personal hygiene matters just as much as in any industry. Piercings and “creative” hairstyle like dreadlocks are cool, as long as you present reasonably clean and smart”.

How to conduct yourself

I’d expect anybody attending an interview to be their selves but maybe dial any personality traits back a few notches! When James and I interviewed Dave Gurney we could tell he would fit right in with us. A personality won’t get you the job over somebody much more skilled at an interview but it will help if you are one of a handful of candidates that the interviewers are really keen on but can’t choose between. Don’t forget, these are people you will probably end up seeing more than your own family, you have to make sure you will all get on well. After getting to know Dave his personality came out a lot more, we have a rapport and a similar sense of humour and the 3 of us can joke around but also get the work done.

Conversely James and I have interviewed applicants who are over confident, some of them come across so confident that they almost give the impression that the job is so easy it is beneath them. James adds:

“Although you don’t want to come across as a nervous wreck, be careful not to appear over confident. If you really want the position you will naturally be a little nervous. This isn’t a bad thing and shows you are respectful of the interview process and want to do well.”

One particularly overconfident candidate proceeded to talk to James and myself about RT60 (the measuring of reverb) at a race track. James glanced over at me with an odd look on his face. What was particularly odd about this was that nobody on a daily basis in this line of work refers to reverb tasks as “RT60”. This simply seemed a way for the applicant (who was applying for a junior audio design role) to let us know how much he knew about audio. It really wasn’t needed and he could have impressed us more by being down to earth and simply talking in real terms about audio design for games.

Naturally nerves will probably come through in an interview and that’s ok, just try not to let them overwhelm you. We interviewed an applicant for work experience several years back and he was actually shaking and stuttering because of how nervous he was. My only advice here would be to go into the interview and make it known that you are very nervous and hope that stating the obvious puts you a little more at ease and breaks the ice. Your interviewers might even have some words of advice to help calm you down.

Stuart Ross advises applicants to try and be concise. He’d rather somebody tell him that they don’t have an answer to a question rather than trying to make something up on the spot. He adds “In the interview be honest with your answers as waffling and buzz words don’t impress”.

Common questions

Whether a phone interview or a face to face you’re probably going to come across a couple of these questions:

  • How did you create “X” in your show reel?

If you’ve provided a show reel you may be asked exactly how you created a certain element. It’s worth considering this as you are creating a show reel and perhaps apply a variety of techniques just so you have something interesting to talk about. I recall creating a show reel several years back where I decided to record some assets, create assets on a synth and use some library assets. This way I’d be able to talk about several different ways that I’d obtained assets rather than “I used library sounds and stuck them all in a timeline”.

  • What do you think of the audio in our game?

I love this question; I quite often add to the applicant that I’d like it if they could critique the audio and suggest improvements. For me this is a great question to get some brownie points on rather than saying “Your game is brilliant, I love it. The audio is great.” I’d actually prefer to know what you are going to bring to the team and how you think you could help us achieve something great, rather than telling us you already think we have nailed it. You don’t have to be derogatory here; you can simply pick something you think is perhaps not as strong as other areas. Even if you don’t know how to improve this area it’s nice to see you are thinking about improvements. You might even flag up a set of assets or a system that the developers are already aware is lacking.

The type of answer I’d like to hear is something along the lines of “The impacts you have in game do not always reflect the type of material you are hitting. There doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between hitting a small object and a large object. If I had the chance to rework this system I’d add a larger variety of assets (memory permitting) at different levels of intensity. I’d also split the objects up into different material types so metal sounds like metal and concrete sounds like concrete rather than both sounding like generic impacts”.

  • What games have you been playing recently?

The answer to this question may not be what’s important here. What the interviewer might actually be getting at is “Do you play games and do you have an interest in gaming?” The obvious point here is that even if you don’t get much time to play games you should probably check out what’s going on in the industry right now, what games people are talking about and squeeze in at least a few hours on a game or two. This question also shows that you are aware of what other games are currently doing and how competitor’s tech stacks up. It’s always better to take somebody on who has an idea of how they can improve and push existing tech forward and be aware of what is possible by looking at other games.

As we touched upon earlier you should also really be playing games developed by the company you are applying for.

witcher3_en_screenshot_screenshot_9_1920x1080_1433341621Been having fun playing The Witcher? Be sure to mention it. Bonus points awarded for mentioning anything you like / dislike.

  • Why do you want to work here? / Why do you want to leave your current employer?

I find these ones very difficult to answer but what I’d like to hear from a candidate is something along the lines of “I think I’ve got a skill set and ideas that I can bring to the project and I’m ready for a new challenge and I’m really interested in working on racing games, especially at a Company with a track record of creating some of the best games in the genre.” I would refrain from being overly critical of your current employer but if pressed for reasons you could reword your original answer; “I want a fresh challenge”.

  • What are the considerations for a game like “X”?

Jethro recently asked applicants to spend 30 minutes coming up with a list of considerations for audio design and implementation for a racing game. This became a good talking point for the interview as applicants could then discuss the importance of areas they had focused on as well as talk about areas they had completely missed. Experienced audio designer Lorenzo Salvadori adds:

“I’d expect an applicant to point out common parameters (such as Wwise RTPCs) used in racing games to control things like tyre force. With this parameter we could then hook up skid assets and determine at what force to trigger these assets.”

Other considerations could be things like RPM values coming in from physics. We could then consider just how many other mechanical values we might receive that are being modelled. You might want a parameter for turbo pressure, clutch engagement, suspension etc… These systems will all need setting up with appropriate assets. Aside from the vehicle itself there are plenty of other considerations. There might be a parameter for how wet or dry the weather is or the time of day. What type of car has the player selected? Do different systems and parameters take effect with different vehicles? How does the system control music? Is it being triggered and left to run or is the music interactive? If so what affects the music? Is there a state being set to determine what area of the game you are in and select a new section of music? Perhaps the music evolves based on the action in game, in which case does a state change this or is there an intensity parameter that brings in new elements?

Memory management is a further consideration that could be discussed. Are you going to be loading and unloading banks based on different areas of the game? For example are banks going to be loaded just for a specific track or are all assets used across every track in game always loaded into memory? Consider in a shooting game for example, perhaps weapon assets are created to never exceed a specific file size. In which case we could look at a fixed pool of memory being reserved for a weapon which can be hot-loaded in and out as a new weapon is picked up and a previous one dropped.

  • Where do you see yourself in “X” years?

James often asks questions along these lines. He states:

“There are two answers I’d be looking for here. The first would be an interest in promotions and moving up the ladder while the second would be that the applicant would hope they would be a valued member of the team, possibly specialising or having ownership over certain systems or roles within the department.”

bsslveviaaa495iOne day you could be in the hot seat. The first step is getting through the interview.

  • Is there anything you’d like to ask us?

Here’s a chance for you to be keen, don’t just assume the answer should be “no”. When interviewing for his job, Dave Gurney asked us quite a good question. He stated: “Within 6 months how would you be expecting me to be performing and settling in?” This was actually a great opportunity to show us that he really wanted to be a part of the team and fit in. It showed that he was concerned about making sure he was doing a good job and he wanted some way to gauge his own progress. Dave goes on to add:

“I think the important thing is to not only answer the questions honestly and confidently but to also ask some good ones in return – helps to establish a two way relationship and lets both parties know where each other stands on certain issues. ‘How much holiday will I get?’ is not a good question.

I remember also asking if you had any concerns about the match between my skill set and the job because I wanted to know if there was any weaknesses you saw that I could address.”

Summary

  • Research the company
  • Research relevant games
  • Be punctual
  • Be yourself but act accordingly to the situation
  • Think about some answers to common questions beforehand

F1 2018 – Audio Reviews

hero_f1_2018_V2.jpg

Game Informer
https://www.gameinformer.com/review/f1-2018/a-real-team-effort
Hearing the differences between the current cars and the historic ones is hypnotic, even for those of us who wouldn’t know the difference anyway.

Atomix
http://atomix.vg/review-f1-2018/
…an unparalleled audio mix. Each of the engines sounds different depending on your brand and of course, the V10 in some classic F1, will take you back to those awesome times of Formula 1

IGN Italia
https://it.ign.com/f1-2018-ps4/143813/review/f1-2018-la-recensione
…excellent in the reproduction of the sounds of the race and the engines

The Sixth Axis
http://www.thesixthaxis.com/2018/08/17/f1-2018-review/
This latter car is an absolute dream to drive, with a screaming engine as your soundtrack

Eurogamer
https://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2018-08-17-f1-2018-marginal-gains-make-for-codemasters-best-f1-game-to-date
Much of F1 2018’s appeal can be found in those small details. How, having earned a seat at Ferrari early on in my first season after putting the McLaren on the podium across a string of races, the engine note was noticeably different, sounding like the exhaust was being put through a fuzz pedal at low revs.

PC Invasion
https://www.pcinvasion.com/f1-2018-review/
The roar of the engines is especially engaging, though. Hearing the screams and whines of these turbocharged beasts on straightaways never gets old. Even their soft wind-down while slowing for a turn is music to my ears. Codemasters’ sound department should be proud; the engine captures are commendable.

Xbox Tavern
https://www.xboxtavern.com/f1-2018-review/
The high level of visual and audio detail, grouped with the care and attention to authenticity, collectively makes for an experience that’s robust, faithful and deep. Codemasters’ subtle yet noticeable changes over F1 2017 takes an already distinguished racer and makes it bigger and better than ever.

F1 2018 looks and sounds outstanding.

F118_screenshot_011.jpg

Hardcore Gamer
https://www.hardcoregamer.com/2018/08/17/review-f1-2018/309140/
The sounds of the cars are beyond wonderful in F1 2018. Each manufacturer has a distinctive engine sound and little things such as the exhaust under braking are noticeable and appreciative. Then there are the historic cars and each one of them blares wonderfully and distinctively.

Xbox Achievements
https://www.xboxachievements.com/game/f1-2018/review/
Each car sounds distinctive, while pit crew chatter keeps you well informed during a race. Menu music is nice enough, and commentary setting up events makes F1 2018 feel like a proper TV-style broadcast.

Twinfinite
https://twinfinite.net/2018/08/f1-2018-review/
The impressive levels of detail also extend to the visuals and sound. Engines rumble at the precise tone, tires squeal as you bounce over curbs, and the familiar voice of David Croft is there to introduce the sessions. All the sounds work together to create an immersive race-day atmosphere, and even the introduction media scene is complemented by the sound of the turnstiles at Melbourne, recorded directly from the track itself.

Playstation Country
http://www.playstationcountry.com/f1-2018-ps4-review/
Sound also remains stellar with the older machinery sounding thunderous and cars bottoming out on long, bumpy straights.

F118_screenshot_012.jpg

GT Planet
https://www.gtplanet.net/f1-2018-xbox-one-xreview/
Presentation has been improved with the visuals and audio doing a great job of creating atmosphere…

On the face of it, this seems like an easy job for Codemasters compared to other racing game devs. Record the ten modern cars, add in the classics, and get the usual gamut of track-side sounds. It’s not like the team has to source hundreds of cars, right?

But there’s so much more to F1 2018’s audio package than that. It starts with the spatial modelling. “We’ve overhauled the distance tones this year,” explains lead audio designer Brad Porter. “We’re actually getting authentic sounds of F1 cars at distance and blending between the on-board and the external shots and it’s created a far more believable broadcast sound.”

The team has also improved sound reverb and reflection — the latter is particularly useful for players to subconsciously determine their distance to walls, says Porter. He’s right; there’s not a lot of peripheral vision when you’re strapped into an F1 car, so the audio clues make it easier to know where you are on the track.

Each of the modern cars sound different to one another, if however faintly. Naturally, it’s the classics that really make an impression. As you wind the Renault R26’s 2.4-liter V8 past 20,000rpm, it lets out a banshee shriek that transports you right back to its championship-winning 2006 season. Step further back into any of the ’70s era cars — all new for F1 2018 — and the smooth, tech-laden scream is replaced with a more raw, natural battle cry.

It’s no less impressive; instead, the game acts as a hands-on history lesson, showcasing how the sport has changed over the decades.

Being a sports title as well as a racing one means plenty of commentary. This is really where F1 2018 can stretch its legs over the competition, while simultaneously immersing the player. You’ll hear quips about on-track action, summaries of the season’s highs and lows, and stand-out performances by other drivers. As a more casual fan of the sport, there’s some cool trivia in there too: when the season gets to Paul Ricard, Anthony Davidson drops the fact that the last time F1 was there, Prost won — making it the 100th grand prix win for Ferrari — and half of the current grid wasn’t even born yet!

While the character models may not be the most convincing, the voiceover work on all of them is excellent. Claire sounds genuinely excited to grill you post-race — or understandably dejected if you don’t answer — and every member of your team feels like a real person when they’re talking to you, not a simple script reader.

Special mention goes to the dynamic soundtrack too. As you flit between the menus of the game, the instruments check out or re-introduce themselves in real time. It’s subtle, but it gives the whole game a cohesive identity.

Critical Hit
https://www.criticalhit.net/review/f1-2018/
Nothing is spared too in the visual and sound departments, with the high-pitched roars of an F1 engine vibrating your eardrums

Applying for a job in the games industry (featuring the Codemasters audio department) – Part 1: Writing a CV

Disclaimer: I’m by no means an expert when it comes to job applications; I’ve been both successful and unsuccessful when applying for jobs. Both myself and various colleagues here at Codies have interviewed applicants to work on our respective teams and as a result we’ve seen many applications over the years. None of this information is guaranteed to get you “that dream job” but hopefully it will help to give you an idea of what, at least some people in this industry look for when assessing your cover letter and CV.

The Cover Letter

First and foremost is the cover letter, I’ve received everything from no cover letter at all to a 4 page document detailing everything said applicant has done from birth up to the moment they clicked “send”. Writing a cover letter that covers everything in your CV in very minute detail is not a good idea. Cover letters should be brief (a paragraph or two), address the employer and give a brief indication of why you wish to apply for the job. The cover letter doesn’t need to go into great detail about how when you were 8 years old, your grandmother bought you a copy of Colin McRae Rally on PlayStation 1 and you’ve been hooked on Codies games ever since. Instead focus on a few succinct points. Something along the lines of “I’m passionate about video games and motorsport and I believe my skill set and qualifications make me a great fit for the role of audio designer at Codemasters.”

IMG_2026Don’t you wish your CV was hot like me?
Brad – Silverstone GP weekend 2018

CV Length

Much like the cover letter, I’ve received everything from a 1 page CV to mammoth 5 or 6 page submissions that go largely unread. Most industry professionals will agree that a CV should be around 1-2 pages long. In fact, the first point everybody in the Codies audio department mentioned when I asked what they look for in a CV was the length! Think of the person reading not only your CV but many others, they don’t want to be scouring through 5 pages of information to extract the core details. An overly long CV may actually damage your chances of getting an interview as it may be skimmed over just to get through it quickly or worse yet, the potential employee may simply sigh at the length and ignore it completely.

Jethro Dunn, Principle audio designer here at Codies adds:

“The last time we were hiring I had around 40 or 50 CVs to go through. I don’t want to be looking at that many CVs if they’re all 4 or 5 pages. Keep it to 2 pages maximum and only include relevant employment history and education and keep it simple”.

P1020403.jpgJethro likes working here, he doesn’t like bad CVs. Don’t make Jethro angry.
Jethro – On location

So, let’s break down what you should be including and how you can be concise.

Employment History

Generally I’d advise that you tailor a CV towards the type of job you are applying for. What do I mean by this? For example, now that I’ve worked in the games industry for over a decade I don’t really need to list every retail job I’ve worked at and my “very important” responsibilities I had during those roles. Does a prospective employer really need to know that not only could I gut and skin a salmon while on the fish counter but I was also trained to serve on checkouts and use the cardboard compactor safely? Think about how much relevant experience you have as you create your CV. If this is indeed your first job in the industry and your last job was a retail position that you held down for 8 years then add it. If you’ve worked as a developer already and you’ve had 7 menial jobs in supermarkets and pubs then feel free to leave them out all together or spare the reader every detail about your irrelevant skills.

Senior audio designer James Kneen comments:

“Especially when you’re in your advanced years you really don’t need to list every job you’ve ever had, just the most recent and relevant ones. Bullet points for the notable skills are also fine – the more concise the better”.

IMG_1293.JPGWrite a good CV and you too could drink hot camels milk in Abu Dhabi.
James – Yas Marina F1 test session 2017

I’d also point out for comedic sake that James toyed with changing “advanced years” to “Past noon” or “twilight years” (He’s only 50).

I’d advise you hold work experience at a developer in higher regard than your bar job if you’re applying for further developer work. James Kneen and I previously mentored an audio intern and had advised him to apply for a QA job. After an afternoon of updating his CV we noticed he’d left off his work experience at Codemasters (his only relevant developer work). If you’re applying for a temporary QA job or a work experience placement and then return to retail or bar work, feel free to once again tailor your CV. A bar is going to be far more interested in your previous 2 years working at another bar than your knowledge of Jira, the difference between class 1 and class 3 bugs or that you know how to stream a build to an Xbox One dev kit.

This approach should also be taken into account when you decide what developers to apply for. As Codies dialogue producer Olly Johnson states:

“If you’re applying for a writing job at Naughty Dog then you probably want to work on a narrative driven experience and have an interest in storytelling and defining strong characters. You should have an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema, literature, and storytelling techniques. If you’re applying for a job at Codemasters then you should know we are passionate about motorsport and want to contribute to representing the different racing types as realistically as possible, and to have a good understanding of racing terminology, and preferably be a keen racing gamer with plenty of opinions on the subject”.

Feel free to list any work experience you have completed but make sure it is relevant and not already superseded by more recent professional or relevant work. For example, my CV around the time I was graduating listed work experience I’d completed running the mixing desk at a local bar and a brief stint at a college working with the audio department. These were both relevant and at the time I’d had no better “professional” experience to list.

Education

Short and sweet also applies to your education; by all means add all relevant qualifications but perhaps go easy on listing every GCSE and A level that you achieved. If your CV is light on actual relevant professional experience you could add more detailed information about the skills you picked up, performances organised or even a brief description of what your dissertation focused on. For example, when I was applying for my first role in the industry I added a few bullet points about the interactive live event I organised and performed in while at Uni. I also had a bullet point that mentioned the focus of my dissertation (how improving audio quality can subjectively lead to a perceived improvement in graphical quality). These were two relevant areas during my time at uni that would at least indicate to a developer that I have an interest in audio and video games and had actively been tailoring my final projects towards these areas.

David Gurney, audio designer on the F1 franchise adds:

“Don’t give high regard to menial qualifications if you’ve got a degree or masters. I’ve seen CVs that list individual GCSE results as bullet points and even elaborate on certain subjects by stating how well they’ve done.”

IMG_8787.JPGThis is Dave, Dave writes good CV’s that’s why he now works with us instead of cleaning floors.
Dave – Silverstone GP weekend 2016

General content to avoid

There are a few things I find to be really overused in CVs, particularly word clouds or generalised sentences about how great you are. “I am a hard working individual who can work well as part of a team but is equally happy to work on solo tasks” is one of the classic personal statements. I’ve also seen word clouds with generic feel good phrases and positive descriptors about the applicant. Words like “motivated”, “hard working”, “creative”, “thoughtful”, “Resourceful”. It’s just a bit overdone and who would define themselves to an employer as anything but positive descriptors?

CVs also don’t need to detail every extracurricular activity you embark upon. Feel free to add a few bits about yourself but leave out the 20+ activities you take part in at your local church. I received a CV once that had a large paragraph stating that the applicant is involved in their local church community. The applicant had listed things like “part of the church band”, “very active at the local church”, “helps run church camping weekends”, “mentors and helps with church band members”. Not only were the majority of these points utterly redundant to the job they were applying for but the church section took up around a quarter of the CV.

Finally, don’t exaggerate or you will get caught out! Olly Johnson adds:

“I would always question details in your CV and cover letter to ensure you do really want to work for a company that deals in a racing and motorsport niche. Don’t overplay your interest in something, or your skill set and previous experience.  Ultimately, a great CV should give us plenty of talking points to discuss in the interview phase, and not for it to feel like an interrogation.  If you love writing… but have never watched an F1 race, it would always be better to say you are passionate about delivering great dialogue first and foremost, and that should you be given the chance, you would be keen to dig deep into any subject that was thrown your way.  An honest answer always trumps even a slight fabrication”.

41375499_301739793949417_6588902839098015744_nOlly likes to ruin cables, he does not like to ruin CVs though.
Olly – Not on location

Structure

As we’ve already covered you should prioritise both previous employment and education in terms of importance. Don’t have your GCSEs at the top of your CV, if your education is first and foremost on your CV then prioritise in terms of most recent, highest qualifications earned. A potential employer will be far more interested in your masters degree than the A you got in woodwork at GCSE.

Base the structure around relevance and experience, if you’ve never had a job in the industry (or any relevant work experience) then perhaps have your education at the top of your CV. This way an employer can quickly and easily see that you have a degree in your chosen field. On the other hand, if you’ve worked at Naughty Dog for a couple of years and perhaps done a year’s stint in QA at a small developer then have your professional experience at the top of your CV. You’ve already proved you are capable of working in the industry, make this obvious to your employer! Bury the retail job you had 10 years ago at the bottom of your employment section.

Check your links and details

Check all links and addresses then check them again. I’ve received links to show reels that either don’t work or ask for a login. I once reached out to one applicant to let them know a link didn’t work and we spent several emails back and forth trying to rectify why I couldn’t access the show reel. I’d imagine a lot of people (especially if they have a stack of good quality CVs to get through) may give up at this point and move on to the next applicant. Likewise check everything from your email address, website links and your name…yes, even your name! I received an application once that had a different name on the CV to the name the applicant had put in their email. Not only was I confused and had to clarify with the applicant but it’s also a good way for your application to get lost in the ether.

Summary

  • Keep it short and sweet
  • Include relevant details first and foremost
  • Avoid exaggerating your talents or feigning interest in subjects
  • Check all of your details
  • 2 pages or less

In the next article we will go on to discuss the interview process.

Making the most of work experience in the games industry. An Interview with Jamie White.

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Meet Jamie, a student on the Level 3 extended diploma in Games Design at the City of Wolverhampton College. Jamie recently completed a work experience placement at Codies in the Birmingham audio department. The placement would last for two weeks and would mainly be focused on audio QA. Students weren’t necessarily required to be primarily interested in audio; rather we were looking for keen students, interested in finding bugs. Work placement would also involve engaging in basic audio department maintenance while getting an inside look into the world of game development.

Jamie’s interest in gaming started from an early age, as he recalls some of his favourite games (which make me feel old) included Crash Bandicoot, Rayman Raving Rabbids and Pokemon. Although gaming had always been a hobby of Jamie’s he never actually intended to pursue a career in the industry – in fact he’d already started working as a chef. The Halo Wars 2 trailer, E3 2016 changed everything for him though and set him on his current path. He recalls:

“It gave me goose bumps as I watched it, I loved how they could compose such a piece of art, it blew my mind how much effort must have gone into making it. I decided right then and there that was what I wanted to work towards. It was a huge risk for me, as I had invested so much of my life into my previous career”.

IMG_0526.jpgSenior audio designer James “Duke Uterus” Kneen showing Jamie the ropes

One of the key points mentioned here is that Jamie had to take a huge risk, he’d already set out to become a chef. Suddenly he’d decided that he could become a developer, providing he worked hard and applied himself. After meeting Jamie it became clear that he is driven and has so far taken all necessary steps to ensure his dream becomes a reality. Jamie stood out amongst his peers at College and secured a work experience placement and it quickly became apparent why. During his two weeks, Jamie was attentive, valued our feedback and advice, networked as much as possible, asked questions and made an effort to seek out any opportunities presented to him.

Although Jamie would be primarily testing audio, I wanted to figure out how work experience could best benefit him as well as us. I wanted to ensure Jamie had ample opportunities to network, improve his own portfolio and figure out his next steps and experience how different disciplines within game development interact to create the final product.

model23.pngJamie’s in progress modeling work

Jamie revealed his main interest is video editing, he remarks “I love watching cinematic trailers; I think there is nothing better than a clean, well done and polished trailer”. Even while Jamie was a chef he spent time picking apart trailers, analysing how they had been composed and what effects had been used. He would then take what he’d learnt and try and create his own trailers for fun. Based on this I encouraged Jamie to talk to the video editing department and any other disciplines that were of interest to him. I’d already explained to Jamie that the key here is to make yourself known without being a pest. Keep in touch and network, let developers know you are keen and work on your show reel and a portfolio but don’t hassle. Jamie took the initiative and quickly sent his show reel to one of the video editors and asked for feedback.

Jamie also took the time to introduce himself to our animation department, who were willing to sit with him and offer advice and feedback. It can’t be overstated how important a step like this could be to Jamie’s career. Not only did he have the opportunity to talk directly to developers and get feedback on his show reel but he was also networking and putting his name forward. As a student on the outside it can often be difficult to know truly how good your work is and what you need to improve upon without feedback from professionals. College and University lecturers are useful resources but even their feedback can’t replace good critiquing from industry veterans who work in development for a living. It can also be challenging to approach and get feedback from developers via email, they have no obligation to reply to you and emails can often get lost in the void – but being right there, face to face next to a developer who specialises in your area of study? Now that is a rarity. Weeks later Jamie would remark:

“The most important thing I took away from my experience is the links I have created with people from the industry; at my age you can’t put a price on networking with industry veterans”.

IMG_0524.jpgJamie working his way through our audio test plan for F1 2017

As his time with us was coming to an end Jamie asked what other opportunities he might be able to get involved with. We got talking about the possibility of doing a bit of extra work experience directly for the QA department, after all he’d been working through our audio test plans for the last two weeks so he’d already had a taste of what to expect. I had previously mentioned to Jamie that the QA department was my foot in the door (read more about that here) and it might be beneficial to him in two respects. Firstly Jamie would get a bit of experience working in an important and often underappreciated game development role. Secondly if any paid work came up in the months and years ahead he’d likely land himself a position (providing he had done a good job during his work experience placement). Several weeks later Jamie did indeed start 2 weeks of work experience with QA at the Southam studio.

With a month of work experience under his belt I’d asked Jamie how he now felt about the industry. He commented that it was “exactly what I hoped it would be like” and interestingly he now felt that pursuing game development as a career was well within his grasp, rather than the pipe dream it had once been. Jamie has also been hard at work on his portfolio since his work experience came to an end and he now feels he has a goal to work towards as he remarks:

“It was great seeing how a professional studio works; how everyone’s individual skills have such a massive effect on the game. What was great about this was that I could see what level of expertise I need to be hitting to make it into the industry”.

GameJam1.pngPokemon style art assets created by Jamie for a gamejam

Before Jamie starts his career in the industry he plans to continue his education by enrolling at Teesside University in Middlesbrough. Aside from his education Jamie intends to build more relationships with fellow developers before pursuing a career in video game cinematography.

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/

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.

What makes a great sounding game?

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That well known phenomena we as sound designers experience, if the game sounds great nobody bats an eyelid. If the game has any audio issues at all they are quickly picked up on in reviews and on forums. And so the most obvious question to ask is what makes a great sounding game? I put this to Alyx Jones, a recent graduate of the University of Surry. “It might sound a bit pretentious…” she begins, “…but I think the best sounding games are those with something a bit different or memorable about the music”. Alyx believes games that allow for more experimentation are much easier to write music for and therefore lead to better sound design. She also stresses the importance of silence adding “I think it’s really important to know when not to put music or sound in places, Limbo is a really good example of this”.

After graduating with a very respectable 2:1 honours degree in Creative Music Technology Alyx had wasted no time in diving into this fast moving, often cut throat industry. The caveat being however that she was to do things her way and work on small scale indie developments, and so Silver Box Games was born. Not content with working on one project Alyx also began working on her own Oculus Rift project titled Wanderift. Why games development though? Surely for somebody primarily interested in composition she would have an easier time working in TV or film? “…film and TV is a very static experience” she states. Alyx elaborates by explaining how within a linear experience there is only one story to tell, and that’s done by the director. A game on the other hand is shaped by the player. I ask Alyx why a non-linear approach particularly appealing to her. She responds by informing me that:

“…it gives total immersion and I suppose an escape in so many aspects that watching a film doesn’t provide. To be able to create your own character and shape your own story and environment is so much more exciting than sitting and watching the latest episode of Eastenders.”

Growing up Alyx’s Gameboy never left her sight and playing games quickly became her favourite means of entertainment. With her love of music and technology the games industry seemed like the obvious choice. Alyx finds far more possibilities to experiment with audio in the world of games rather than film or TV, after all she states “technology is always changing and improving so the ability to constantly adapt and learn new things is a fantastic process to constantly be involved with.” But I digress, why was I asking Alyx about great sounding games in the first place?

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As it transpires she’s also a freelance editor over at The Sound Architect, an online audio resource for professionals and enthusiasts alike. Since early 2015 Alyx has been critiquing a range of smaller scale games including PSN releases such as Rain, Sound Shapes and the recently released Volume. With Limbo in mind I asked Alyx to give a little insight into what it is about the sound design in that game that is particularly appealing to her.

“Well, Limbo is quite a dark game and I think the music and sound design create that intense atmosphere so perfectly. The composer used a lot of analogue equipment to reflect the distant, bleak imagery of the game. It’s used sparingly in places, sometimes you can be walking and the only sound is your footsteps. I find the whole soundtrack quite experimental and creative, it’s mostly drones and he doesn’t use any real rhythms but I always remember how I felt playing that game.”

Sonically, another stand out game for Alyx is Proteus, an indie game in which the landscapes are procedurally generated giving different objects in the world their own unique sounds. Alyx remarks that “the audio is procedurally generated so if the sound were separated from the game it wouldn’t exist”. I thought this was an interesting choice as in some ways Proteus takes some of the sound design, or at least the presentation of the audio away from the sound designer and into the hands of the player. I posed this to Alyx who suggested “…if you have a soundtrack that’s just generic it’s not quite going to fit. How can you write music for a different environment every time? There are so many possibilities, it would be very time consuming!” So does this mean Proteus wouldn’t have worked as well with a standard approach to its sound design? Alyx doesn’t necessarily think the approach was better, but rather “more interesting” leading to “a different kind of experience”. This kind of process could lead to some interesting situations though; could the audio turn into a disaster if the procedurally generated landscape was a mess? “Well yes it could be considered “a mess” by the average listener”, Alyx remarks. I asked her to elaborate on this, she added:

“There are multiple approaches from a completely random selection of notes, chords, effects etc to a very structured system that might utilize music theory that would tailor more to a “western” listening audience. A totally random approach could use any pitch (not even adhering to western tuning), any velocity, any rhythm and note durations (the list goes on) so it is likely to not sound “pleasant”. It’s likely that a random approach wouldn’t be used commonly in games unless they were particularly experimental. Most composers have their own recognizable sound, the same as they aim to give particular games trademark sounds, so it’s perhaps a better approach to find a generative system that you can set certain rules that would give the game its own consistent sound (probably more likely in the case of Proteus).”

Proteus-2013-01-04-96uPuB55673686-0004

Having an understanding of how sound travels and interacts with its environment is also very useful. Take for example a racing game. Real world phenomena such as occlusion, reverb and Doppler can all be made use of to improve the sound design and make for a more immersive experience whether in a realistic game or a fantasy setting. How can you achieve an authentic sounding racing experience if sound is not reflected off walls or other cars as it would be in real life? This may seem like a subtle technique but it breathes life and subtle cues into the game world. When another car passes by how can you achieve a sense of realism and more importantly speed without Doppler? Wouldn’t you also expect a car’s engine sound to be occluded when it disappears behind a mountain?

So we’ve established that some boundaries have to be put in place to ensure a pleasant audible experience is achieved. So what would an audio designer have to take into account when designing such a pallet of sounds and how do they ensure that these elements work well together? I proposed this to Alyx:

“To ensure elements work together you might group stems together by key or tempo and compose them in such a way that at regular intervals they might be changeable. It’s a similar approach to reactive music in games that would perhaps bring in a percussive beat as an enemy approaches to signify their presence in-game. Multiple layers are synched alongside each other and can either be switched seamlessly or use a stinger to cover up the “switch” when adding another layer or skipping to a new part of the composition. If you were being more experimental you might compose without rhythm or tempo, or maybe even without a key. You could create a soundscape in the same way by maybe grouping stems by timbre or frequency range, or a combination of both approaches. It really depends what you’re doing!”

Whatever the approach, one thing’s for certain, Alyx is sure that the music and sound design are both integral to the overall audible experience. She explains to me how important it is to have a good understanding of sound design within an interactive medium if the composer is to write an “informed piece of music to function as well as it needs to.” I thought this really backed up what Alyx had already touched upon when talking about Proteus. If Proteus were an indie film for example there would have been a linear soundscape, no matter how obscure the film was. Take this very same concept and apply it to an interactive medium that can be procedurally generated and you have a very different beast on your hands. Alyx goes on to explain this point by adding:

“… You may need to have a lot of layers that can be switched between but that can all play independently and in any combination; it’s very different from writing a 3-minute loop or a “score to picture”. There are no time limits, your music and sound environment need to have the ability to play infinitely and adjust to the player and game environment.”

So does Alyx consider herself a sound designer, a composer or both? After applying for several jobs in the games industry she realised that it wasn’t actually sound design she was primarily interested in. Instead she had subconsciously already decided she wanted to focus more on composition. After figuring this out she resigned herself to freelance work which is a wise move as very rarely these days will a company employ a full time composer. Generally audio staff are employed as sound designers; they might also create music as part of their job role but quite often a freelance composer will be hired. I really doubted that Alyx would have been able to take on a full time job even if she wanted to as her schedule is already pretty busy what with writing game audio reviews, working on indie games and taking on her recent role tutoring school children in the art of sound design, game design and programming during after school classes. On top of this Alyx also plans on returning to the University of Surry in 2016 to complete her masters in music composition.

We’d briefly touched up sound design going hand in hand with composition so I asked Alyx to name a few games she considered to have great soundtracks. The first to come to mind for her was thatgamecompany’s masterpiece, Journey which she describes as “…just so beautiful”. I then asked Alyx if she is influenced by her favourite works when creating her own compositions. Not exactly, rather she takes influence “more from the product as a whole” in that she does indeed use orchestral instruments but not to create classical or epic orchestral scores. In the case of Journey, rather than taking inspiration directly from the score Alyx is instead inspired by the feelings Journey’s music invokes. Another favourite is the Dragonborn theme from Skyrim, she elaborates on its impact by adding:

“I suppose on some level all the music I listen to shapes me as a composer. Perhaps in a way, I might listen to Skyrim and be really struck by the powerful vocals and the way the human voice can be used in a new language (the dragon language in Skyrim) to evoke that sense of power. I might use a similar kind of technique or think about how the voice can be used in different ways.”

Reviewing game audio and taking influences from her favourite scores all goes some way towards improving her own compositions. Alyx believes that the review process helps her understand and make decisions with her own projects and analyse why something may not be working. Alyx notes however that critiquing other peoples work is quite a difficult task.  She approaches a review by taking an analytical and logical approach, playing the game to completion and listening to the score during natural game play (where the developers intended it to be heard). Alyx doesn’t listen to the music in isolation as many scores created for games aren’t really designed to be linear pieces. “It’s the same when I’m writing music”, she adds. In much the same way as she reviews games Alyx doesn’t construct her music in a linear fashion as a continuous 3 minute piece for example as that’s not how the player will primarily experience it. Although over critical of her own work she does share some advice for other composers, “Take a break”! While she adds “asking friends for feedback is much better than trying to be too critical of your own work.”

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And so to answer my original question “what makes a great sounding game?” Different games can sound great for a variety of reasons from Limbo’s very minimalistic but atmospheric approach to Skyrim’s epic theme song and Proteus’ almost user generated soundscape. Music and sound design need to work in harmony by complimenting each other, not only in terms of frequency range but also in terms of placement. That said, the sound design must also be sympathetic to the visual style of a game, take Minecraft. By no means are the sounds in Minecraft the most unique, high fidelity assets yet they perfectly suit the blocky textures that Minecraft sports. A great sounding game can certainly be subjective but we have covered several factors that can ensure the sound design works from a technical and artistic point of view.  Analysing other great sounding games is a good place to start, as is experimenting with different techniques. Knowing what to use and where to use it, how sound interacts with the environment and how music should be woven in and out of that experience all help the audio to sit within the game world, blending into the experience. And so we come full circle by creating a sound design experience that the average player is oblivious towards but the audiophiles out there might appreciate.

Alyx and her work can be found on the following sites:
http://www.alyxjones.co.uk/
http://www.thesoundarchitect.co.uk/