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Computer Game Designers Electronic Arts (part 4)

Electronic Arts have recently completed their new games audio studio, which is rather like a cross between a music recording studio and a post production facility, since they need to be able to handle all of the elements of sound in their productions...


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A Games Audio Studio

Electronic Arts have recently completed their new games audio studio, which is rather like a cross between a music recording studio and a post production facility, since they need to be able to handle all of the elements of sound in their productions. The studio is linked to a number of rooms populated by the in-house team of sound designers and composers who work on their own elements of a game's sound track before taking their work to be combined with material recorded in the studio itself. One of the key pieces of equipment used in both music and effects is the Kurzweil K2000 synth/sampler, one of which is provided in all the rooms. The K2000 has the useful ability of being able to be linked via a PC to a network, so when a sound element is completed, it can be piped directly into the studio to be incorporated into the sound track using Pro Tools. In addition to the K2000, Electronic Arts also rely heavily on their portable DAT machines and take a creative approach to sound design, collecting explosions, laser blasts and plasma weapons from natural sources, rather than from standard effects libraries. Software tools such as the growing range of TDM plug ins for Digidesign systems are also exploited fully for their creative potential in changing and adapting these natural sounds into suitable material for accompanying games.

In designing the studio, Electronic Arts took the view that the most important element would be the infrastructure, and that the acoustic and general pleasantness of the space were more important in the early stages than cramming the racks chock full of equipment from the word go. Designed by Recording Architecture, the studio has a small recording area, similar in size to what you might find in a post production facility, and a large comfortable control room. Recordings are normally made of voice or single instruments directly into Pro Tools, so a huge live room was not considered necessary, but the control room is acoustically very precise for monitoring and mixing. Since the audio is eventually going to be heard on small computer-style speakers, enormous main monitors are not going to be used all that often, although Electronic Arts do have a pair of ATCs for when one feels the need for a rather greater adrenalin rush during the track laying process. Mixing is usually done on the traditional Yamaha NS10Ms. It may be an insult to Yamaha to say that their sound is compatible with computer speakers, but it remains true that if you can get a mix to sound good on the Yamahas, it will sound good almost anywhere else. To supplement the currently fairly modest equipment collection which already features the Lexicon and Eventide brand names prominently, Electronic Arts hope to build up their collection of quality equipment with, for instance, SSL EQ and compression modules, API equalisers etc. Favourite mic at the moment is the Neumann TLM 193 which usually goes directly through a Focusrite mic amp to Pro Tools, missing out the Mackie 8-bus console.

The State of Play

If you are not a games enthusiast, then that's probably not your fault. Shoot 'em up style games may continue to have a boyish appeal, but there is still a lot of scope for creativity in the field of problem solving or exploratory games, to devise ways to make them appeal to a broader based audience. What has been limited so far is the range of interaction with the subject matter - the normal response usually being to blow it away! Also, the characters of the games have been very superficial in terms of their story telling capabilities. Usually they are there as targets. Electronic Arts envisage a wider range of interactions and solutions. Games such as The Darkening and Wing Commander use real actors to characterise the parts, giving them more life than a computer graphic could. The extra dimension of motion captured actors can take a game beyond the normal range of computer limitations. If you are a games enthusiast then you will know all about this, but if you still regard games as being a rather lower status art form than music, film or television entertainment, then you shouldn't ignore what is happening. I reckon that if you could draw a parallel between the development of the games industry and the development of the film industry, we have just started the talking picture era. The games equivalent of the golden age of Hollywood is yet to come. Do you want to be a player?

By David Mellor Thursday January 1, 2004