Luca Fusi Sound Design | Implementation

15May/170

You Can’t Kill the Hallway

I don't know where to start writing this or who it's for, but I need to do it.

Last week (it was 'yesterday' when I started this), PopCap Seattle fired some 40% of its staff as it leans up and refocuses.

There's an official statement you can read on it:

A message re: the 05/2017 PopCap layoffs.

It's a financially sensible move whose (inevitability / the fact that it has now happened) is nonetheless totally heartbreaking. Even handled with care, layoffs are a capricious and violent force. They disrupt, bringing what was in motion to a violent stop; or they accelerate a course of action that was just barely getting off the ground.

What they bring universally is change. Change, that steadfast guarantee that nothing ever stays that way. Change is at once life's most awe-inspiring principle and its most terrifying. Change is growth, discovery, curiosity, the intense and unexpected--but it's uncertainty, the passing of what is into what won't be anymore. Change marks time and reminds us that even life's greatest moments don't last forever. That are there are only so many moments we ever get. Dramatic change is worth a dramatic marking.

I want to talk about PopCap's audio team, for as much as I've gotten to know it, and one of the most remarkable chapters of my life so far. It's a chapter I never went looking for.

This is how it started.

This is how it started.

This first part is going to be really heavily about me, so if you're as annoyed by that thought as I am, you can skip it. But it's good context.

How did I get here?

Change is at once life's most awe-inspiring principle and its most terrifying.

If you know the PopCap audio team, you know that smallest unit of measure our science observes is the leap of faith that is the decision to work with the PopCap audio team. They are a diverse band of visionaries spanning decades and specialties, trailing stardust ribbons of renown behind everything they do alone; together, they are almost intergalactic. Their work touches millions and the hearts of those millions.

But in 2014, when I got this message from my friend, RJ, I thought I was doing pretty fucking good. I had learned lots on Project Spark and met my best friend, but had left it burnt out and feeling very post-in-house after just one gig. I am known for my resilience. Just angry, Matthew McConaghuey-style rants on the great helplessness of it all and how bullshit the machinations of game development become at the point where someone's answerable to shareholders. Stability is an illusion.

I had the chance of a lifetime to roll out of that and into collaboration / wide-eyed servitude with some incredible talent, remotely working on the sorts of titles I knew I wanted to. It was a lottery moment, and after a few months in the relationship, I was where I thought I wanted to be: able to work full-time on 2016's favorite puzzle game in my freaking pajamas.

(I didn't actually own pajamas then, but I do now. They say "PopCap" on them.)

And so I leapt from Microsoft not really knowing if all of this would totally come through on the other side, because it's scary to think about going independent, even as you're really always independent as a contractor, just temporarily sheltered. It seems very obvious now that this scenario was going to work. It was who I thought I should be and I would try it on for a while. Before I got too deep into it, though, I got that message from RJ.

I wasn't playing mobile titles. I wasn't looking to do something like this, or really, anything different at all, because pajamas. Putting myself in the headspace of that time, you can see why Popcap could seem like a good but still lateral move. Certainly not THE move. But, I had done my thing where I give a soft yes, and--because of something my therapist could probably point to--I hate disappointing people more than anything and I was now in it to at least talk to Becky. I talked to her, and she was wonderful.

I agreed to take a short design test for them the following weekend.

If I have to..

If I have to..

 

I really did not want to take a design test. I hate them the way you hate running and love them the way you love being done with running. I was suddenly sitting here looking at my already way-more-than-OK scenario and thinking, fuck. I have a design test this weekend. Why? Can I bail out of it?

*(I almost bailed out of it but, as happens every time, my guardian angel talked me off the ledge. I have bailed out of design tests and I don't recommend doing that. We are all works-in-progress.)

But I ran hot on it until 6AM Monday morning and had an incredible time trying to find the aesthetic involved. I was so stuck in Witness mode that I used Paulstretch on several design elements that definitely didn't need Paulstretch. The sounds I made were trying to be powerful and really textured, really literal, for the most part. Some of them were smudgy and terrible in ways I don't want to admit to now. Most of my design was very grey in sharp contrast to the colorful vibe of the test's cartoon aesthetic.

Nothing was working until I basically gave up and started pulling from the library. These things were lighthearted, funny. Forget making the best sounding leaves. What were funny sounds? I broke a previously unverbalized rule and started pulling from the really old stuff, the classic cartoon sounds you say you'll never use.

Dropping the first of those onto the track was the moment. Classing up old clunkers from the likes of Hanna Barbera with some higher frequency layers and sculpting them all together in WHOOSH was my first foray into a realm I'd go on to speak about almost a year later. I didn't know if they'd go for it, but I was having fun, just like Becky'd asked.

They did go for it. They called me back a few weeks later, and just about two and a half years ago, I grabbed coffee with Becky and Guy at the Uptown Espresso across the street from Popcap. It was the day I was headed home for Christmas.

This was my first facetime with Becky, and I'd only ever seen Guy from the middle audience row at his GDC talk on the music of Peggle 2. But the two of them felt like old friends as we spoke, mostly about sound design and what I'd done, but also about what we'd all like to see next in game audio. No hints of what I'd be working on, just a pure character assessment.

They took me upstairs to see the rest of the space. We rounded the 7th floor, the area where Bejeweled Stars was being built, and I was offered a drink from the friendly, arduino-driven drinkbot occupying the middle of the room. That day was the Christmas party and there were dozens of folks having a great time with each other in their terrible sweaters. Easily a few dozen more than I'd seen around the corridors of my last gig, and several dozen more than I was likely to run into in my pajamas. I was catching a glimpse of a culture that I'd never really thought about but was quickly becoming an unignorable factor.

We rounded the corner to the hallway. Damian was there. Damian, maybe the first voice of game audio I'd ever heard; in the days before my time at VFS, I'd pace lonely around rainy Vancouver while drowning my anxiety in the Game Audio Podcast. If I've posted this to my site, you can probably read all about it. RJ was there, too, excitedly showing off the way they were using RTPCs in Wwise to push MIDI around. I asked a lot of questions through the drink and hung out until it was time for everyone to get back to work.

I'm not sure if I left convinced, because I had a plane to catch that night and lots on my mind. But I left on the line. I was giving this place a chance, and it was hanging in. There was something to it. But I mostly put it out of my mind until a few weeks later.

I worked a bit through the holidays and returned to Seattle ready to settle in to the next several months' time freelancing, barring anything crazy coming up. A month later, I got the call from Becky--and the offer. I thought about it for a few days. Looking back at how everything's played out, the internal dialogue is still incredibly relevant; things would've worked out either way. But the idea of working in-person alongside that team, on that floor, moving into that tiny bit of culture I'd glimpsed.. I wanted to try it.

So, I jumped from my independent, post-in-house dream to a subsidiary of EA that developed casual titles for a platform I didn't play games on.

The easy choices aren't choices at all. It's the hard ones that really shape us.

This is not my beautiful team

And it's funny how that worked out. If RJ hadn't messaged me that day with the soft sell, I don't know if I'd ever have strayed into the orbit of this all-star team.

I knew I'd made the right choice so goddamn fast. We were throwing sounds into a prototype build within my first two weeks and off to GDC just days after that.

So, I jumped from my independent, post-in-house dream to a subsidiary of EA that developed casual titles for a platform I didn't play games on.

GDC 2015 was just a few weeks after my start date; we all went down. Guy / Jaclyn / RJ were speaking, Becky was paneling, Damian was suffusing. It was my first GDC as part of a big ol' audio team, and the company name on my badge still fit me like a hand-me-down. Even as I'd spend time with the team, I had one foot planted firmly outside, in the past. As my solo act. So I feel like I was still able to watch this team in action as anyone else in the audience would. I could not believe what I had stepped into. Everyone was so.. brilliant. They won a fucking GANG award! That talk was one of the best talks I've ever seen, and those three people work two doors down from me. They're my fucking coworkers. How the hell am I going to do this?

I kind of went hard in after we got back. I had this major chip on my shoulder for how amazing everyone else on the team was and I really wanted to be a part of it; I also totally acknowledged that I wasn't yet. I saw this as, let me do something cool for me, and hope they accept me in.

This attitude didn't do me any favors. I had all my armor up from previous projects and attacked meetings, tasks and all sorts of management outside my scope because I was used to it not getting done. I think I tried to do Becky's job, a little bit. I was kinda mean and we had disagreements. In my mind, it was probably pretty unclear to everyone whether I really fit in or not just yet.

Slowly, the positivity of the hallway started to wear me down. Things got done without calamity; interfacing with production wasn't so bad. I was coming in to benefit from all the developer goodwill that'd been built up by Team Audio in the years before me. That positivity wasn't to placate, or to make empty promises--it was the real deal. It's what made PopCap run like it did.

Also, weirdly, everyone in the audio hallway seemed to know the name of everyone else at the company. How does that happen?

I started to find the place where my voice crossed the PopCap vision, and that confidence let me move myself closer to that warm emotional center of the hallway. Over weeks and months, these people became my friends. They'd be in my office making silly voices, they were eyeing up my salads with concern, they got me to buy a car off fucking eBay in the middle of a voiceover session.

And the days go by

Later that year, we hit our first real crunch period on Heroes. Becky and I, in for weekends and weekends in a row. My grandfather got sick. My Mom got terrifyingly depressed, and it caught. I started going to therapy for anxiety; when it didn't work well enough, I saw my first psych. I kind of had to talk about it, even at work. It turns out that it was totally okay to talk about it.

I want to say that it's around here that I started really to fall in love with this group of people. When I realized that I could be my messiest self, whether I was trying to work on it or not, and have my entire department there for me as family.

I want to say that it's around here that I started really to fall in love with this group of people. When I realized that I could be my messiest self, whether I was trying to work on it or not, and have my entire department there for me as family. I say, 'the entire department,' but I feel like it was Becky who came first, and everyone else in time. Fair's fair. It is really something special to have a work environment where you can feel safe like that. You set it out there, you get the support back, you feel so unbelievably lucky and you find a foothold to push off and start making silly, joyful sounds again. You really can't make those when you're coming from a bad place.

Anyways, it was always good, but this is when it was the most good. As time went on, PopCap'd try something, not get it quite right and come back a little less confident in itself. Around the time I left my first contract, the world outside the hallway was changing. Bejeweled Stars, one of the most emotional and beautiful sounding games I've ever heard--a fucking Match-3, no less--launched to incredible acclaim, but couldn't stay there. I came back from three months' furlough to frantically join the GDC pitch session, where between us all we must've seven or eight proposals at the committee. It'd been two years since the last talk and we needed to share! I was so goddamn thrilled to be inside the walls and able to participate this time around. I belonged. The Hail Mary'd be a six person panel on Team Culture, and how cool would it be if we could just all sit up there and try to share the warmth of working together and get some of that out into the world of game audio.

We finished off off PvZ: Heroes, flying down to LA to post-mortem it at Game Sound Con before it'd even launched. It, too, hit hard out the gate, but we needed it to hit harder. I would say it was around the launch of Heroes when we knew that things were sliding down. It was sad for a while. I guess, in games, you kind of get inured to after a few years, but it still never feels good. People outside the hallway started leaving and, in January, we lost Jaclyn.

By now, the hallway was a warm huddle. Hugs happened constantly and without warning. We all came together in one final sprint to finish a huge wave of content together, moving one last wave of Post-Its across the whiteboard. I can't believe that was just last month.

Same as it ever was

I'm sorry that this is so light on useful information. History first. Maybe it's a bunch of in-club kinda personal grandstanding that no one will read, but maybe it'll click with you. Maybe it'll make you press for it in your next team.

And anyways it's kind of redundant: I realized after starting this love letter that we sort of already had our moment just a few months back, at this year's game development conference. A last reckoning, some lessons for the time capsule. It wasn't quite over then.

I didn't get to writing up a GDC post this year, but if you were at it, you probably saw us. I'm not sure what happened--probably the sweatshirts--but there is something about how we knew the end was coming down that drew us so tightly together as to start a fusion reaction. I felt like, and I say this with all due humility, PopCap was kind of a big deal this year. We all felt so responsible to spread whatever enthusiasm, whatever knowledge, whatever love we'd learned from one another over the years that we might've well glowed. I'm just a guy who makes sounds for a mobile game that didn't hit all that well, but this year, I felt like I had to be someone better than myself. Or maybe, to be my best self. Like we all owed the community that. I'm not sure? Am I crazy? You can't respond inline?

It's funny, re-watching the GDC 2017 panel now. A lot of talk about change, impermanence, evolution--Guy Whitmore's words coming out of my mouth. Boy, you'd think we all spent a lot of time together. What my indoctrination really says to me is that we've all knew this moment was coming for a while, and, I think, suspected that our best days within the hallway were behind us. And though the Actual Moment of it hurts, in the time between last week's send-off and right now, I really haven't seen so many tears from Team Audio. I think we were weirdly prepared. It was worse at Jaclyn's departure, the first crack in the ice shelf. The rest of it was just a matter of time.

If you are looking for takeaways, you want to watch that panel talk--they're in there, along with a lot more stuff like this. Right now, it's still locked behind Vault access, but I can't imagine that will last long.

I'll just add some personal ones here:

  • Seek out values like this in your next team. Gender balance, work-life balance, folks you think you could be friends with, that you'll be happy to see when things get really stressful. Teams over projects.
  • Be somewhere you can be yourself. Trust your coworkers to catch you on the other side of that.
  • Don't be afraid of working with friends. Friendship and commitment to a vision + an audience can coexist, and they completely support one another.

PopCap's taught me a lot, but its final lesson is a really universal one: that when you get moments like these you need that you need to squeeze them as tight as you can, because this shit doesn't last. For anyone.

Just as there was life before these years, there'll be life after it. The beautiful thing about change is that we'll just have to wait and see.

Okay, last lap. If you're reading this, you probably care a bit about game audio; you had probably heard of PopCap beforehand. I truly hope we helped you along your journey in some small, measurable way. If what we were doing hit you with even a fraction of what PopCap gave me, you are running inspired, rainbow batteries full of ideas and joy and enthusiasm enough to last you the next few projects. Grab the torch Guy, Becky, Damian, Jaclyn, RJ and I carried for those couple of years and run it all the way across the finish line. There may never be a six-person two in-house composer large mobile audio team again so this is on all of us now!

Uhhhh final takeaways: Think big about thinking small! MIDI belongs in Middleware. Make joy your North Star. Runtime sound design is funtime sound design. Use your mouth, filter everything, take the real out. Always be composing. Respect your audience.

Hug a lot.

And, as Becky told me all those years ago when she passed along the design test.. HAVE FUN!

..

Thanks, Team Audio. I love you.

 

 

Pictures

Videos

 

Thank You

And finally, Damian's Storified experience of the community response to his layoff news. The outpouring is real.

24Mar/160

GDC 2016

If you count on this site for nothing else, it should be for starry-eyed reflection on whatever year's Game Developer's Conference. So, here we are again.

Most of what can be said about #GameAudioGDC 2016's been said already, and I'll leave the rest of it to voices more capable, or rarely heard. But I was there, again. Through the coffee--the too damned early coffee--through the the exhaustion; I showed up as often as I could. Through the talks, hallways, through the barely-controlled screaming that passes for conversational volume at the Death Star, I spoke and listened. I drank. I slept, barely. I went to Denny's.

It's an unceasing read / write cycle on your soft tissue flash memory, and you end the week completely full up on ideas you fear you're about to lose.

As a completely selfish mnemonic act, here's what I thought and felt coming out of this year's GDC.

Observations on Year Five

GDC 2016 morning roundtable at Sightglass, Saturday edition.

The least packed of days.

*Six, technically, but five since I really started this sound thing.

Skip the talks. Skip the pass, even. My first piece of advice to game audio hopefuls and veterans alike has ever been "follow @lostlab," and this year, he did an interesting thing: he didn't attend a single talk. I mean, besides the ones he paneled on. No, this year, he went Full Sightglass, passing on most of the conference proper for meetings, time on the Expo floor and the morning conversations around the coffee table. Which, incidentally, was packed as fuck. Someday soon, we're gonna need a bigger boat, but that upstairs ain't taking on water just yet.

It's a strategy. The deeper you get into game audio, the more you've seen and done, the lesser the odds of That One Talk (or Any Talk) that's gonna crack your brain open. No one I'd talked to knew what they were planning on attending before the conference which, I think, speaks to the way your priorities shift as time goes on. The greatest experiences of GDC happen outside Moscone, and the really good ones that don't? Well, they tend to wind their way back to Sightglass each morning. Smart play, Damian.

tl;dr

If you're new to the show, or to the field, I can still totally recommend the Audio Pass. But the next time you're back, or the time after, you'll find it makes sense to shift tracks:

  • If you can speak (and you can!); if you've got a company that'll buy you a pass (you probably don't), you can go All Access. Extra-disciplinary talks are the best, 'cause you have to fight to make them relevant, extrapolate some meaning out of them that you can bring back to audio. Every year, all of my best ideas are borne out of that mental reframing that comes in the middle of a talk on AI or Art or Monetization and ask, "Why the heck am I here? What can I learn from this?" Try it. You'll be surprised!
  • If neither of the above apply, or you're burnt? Just go Expo Pass. Or nothing. Take the Damian approach, and reap 99% of the good stuff you'd get out of attending.

 

We Are Legion

GDC2016's Monday night VGM mixer at Terroir, San Francisco.

The VGM Mixer at Terroir. So this x3 was roughly Brewcade.

As @mattesque put it on this week's Bleeps and Bloops, "at some point game audio got to the point where people felt like they could win without other people losing."

My Gosh, but there are a lot of game audio professionals out there. Day Zero's Designing Sound Brewcade meetup had something like 260 RSVPs. 260!

The above quote is lifted from last year's recap, and it still rings. Because while we've got a fuckton of work to do, I think the game audio community's the best it's ever been. We've got the Slack, we've got Twitter, we've got a million and one write-ups exactly like mine but also completely different and they're all running in this glorious space where people are finding work and staying hopeful.

That's how I feel, anyways. I can't pretend to know how goddamn hard it is to get this career going from behind the ball of gender discrimination, racism, politics, terrorism and ignorance. But in the admittedly limited landscape I can survey from my point of privilege, things feel pretty welcoming. I'll do whatever I can to push that feeling out there and pull more of us together going forwards, and I know lots of others who will, too.

On to the non-touchy feely details.

VR

There's very little you could read about VR here that everyone hasn't said already. It's shit hot right now.

I couldn't find an X-Files Movie poster with this tagline on it, but trust me, this was super clever when I thought of it on the bus.

I do.

I'm no expert on VR, but I played one at GDC. Like many of us! But this is a safe place, and we can all be honest about it.

There's a raw, hopeful enthusiasm coursing through game development right now as we strip mine all the cruft away from that Golden Buddha that is VR As It Should Be. Who knows how many fumbly, derivative minigames and point-to-teleporters it'll take until we're there, but I think the experience we're chasing it clear: it's more of what you feel when you first tour the demos. The way your heart catches the first time you're on the edge of a building, staring off, right before you notice the lack of wind. Or face-to-face with a gentle giant, whose majesty strikes your lizard brain like a tuning fork. You--me, and the majority who've tried it, I hope--have undone those velcro straps and thought, "I wanna go back in."

VR game development seems nothing if not self-aware. We know these early products suck, or at least, that they will suck inevitably compared to where things'll be down the line. We've seen this before: films that wanted to be books, games that wanted to be films, the Internet that wanted to be TV. Given time, these media found their way (or have started to) and flowered into the full bloom of their craft. We've done this enough that we know where we stand.

I feel the marketing's more or less lining up the same way. (RemindMe! Christmas 2016) For all the hype around VR, there's a reassuring sense of restraint. The hype around it doesn't feel like this "4K 3D buy now you need it kind of hype," but more of a, "it's there, and if you're the type of person that likes buying New Things and Taking Risks, here it is" thing. It feels to me like no one's in a race to burn this thing out via overexposure--that if it and the tidal wave of investment behind it can hold out just long enough, we'll get to that killer application in time for things to latch.

So--what'll that killer app be like? And what does it mean for audio?

My favorite universal takeaway from the handful of VR talks I went to is that we don't know.

Three panels on Monday all kinda concluded with a final slide that said, "That was sixty minutes' of research and best practices--and here are half a dozen things you should try that would prove them all wrong."

And frankly, that's fucking thrilling. Because really, once we've got our wishlist of realtime geometry-based fourth-order Ambisonics reflections and occlusion and dead-on XYZ positioning and cheap A-format microphones and all of that decoding running on tiny Android devices that everyone's got Cardboards for, well. What next? We've modeled a very realistic way to localize sound. Film wasn't a solved problem with the invention of 5.1. It's the stuff we'll do next that's exciting; it's the stories we'll tell that count.

One nice thing about VR is that it makes the case for telling those stories through sound a much easier sell. 'Presence' doesn't happen without immersive audio. That's not a bullet point on my agency's pitch sheet, that's something that even the sound-blind layperson's picking up on as soon as they strap in. That inescapable link between quality audio and believing you're there (kind of the entire selling point of VR) should make fighting the cause for quality game audio a whole lot easier.

My VR experience at GDC has, if nothing else, got me flipping lots of perspectives and asking lots of questions about how sound should work, put a fire in me to try some new shit out just because it seems cool. I needed that. For however many Vives end up next to Rock Band guitars in a couple of years, those lessons are mine, and I'm glad to have them.

tl;dr

  • The tech's getting really cool, and we're on the eve of consumer availability, but I wouldn't worry about jumping in right now. It's still a ways before this stuff takes en masse. Potentially a long ways. If you're smart, communicative, can make good sounds and respect the art of telling a story, you'll be able to roll over and figure out how to bolt on a Ambisonics decoder some years down the line with little workflow interruption.
  • But if you do jump in now? Try everything.

Proactive Audio

Not the first, and not the last.

More like this pls

That label we were looking for for a while, for games that weren't rhythm games, but felt beat-driven, connected deeply to music: we has it now.

It isn't a new concept, but it's one that feels like it's about to go wide. Eric Robinson's a sound designer, audio programmer and developer of Koreographer, a bolt-on suite of Unity Audio functionality that makes it easy for devs to get their games taking cues from the sound. He gave a couple of presentations on the case for audio-driven gameplay, standalone and at this year's Audio Boot Camp, which were full of naturally extensible examples like snapping footstep rhythms to the beat.

The demo occasionally went a little far afield--tree branches that pulse and swell to the rhythm are kind of a tough sell unless you're working on some Aldous Huxley tribute--but was super compelling for something so simple. And that's great, because it's something that shows around. Eric's doing a lot of good work to push this case forward for the rest of us, and I'm stoked to have a bit of a movement going.

**

There was another talk. Martin Stig Andersen and the team at Playdead are making a thing after LIMBO, and are finally beginning to pull the curtains back on what it is.

I'll save that for another article, but suffice to say that the stuff Martin showed hit like a warhead, and it's squarely within this wave of games whose logic is slaved to audio for the sake of storytelling and impact. I can't wait for it to land. For all of these to, really, because every great new experience that's got audio at the foreground makes it easier to make the case for audio support the next time around.

tl;dr

  • Koreographer's a set of tools to lash your Unity Audio-driven game to the masthead of sounds and music. Structures for lining things up, stretching a rhythm through as many corners of the game as you can dream up. If you've thought this is a thing you wanted to do, you have some tools for it, now, and you also have a name for what those tools do.
  • If you're on Wwise, heads up for a set of similarly useful music and audio callbacks coming sometime in 2016.
  • At a wider dev culture level--start thinking about how you can have this conversation with the rest of your team. What if you made it easy, even natural, for everyone to do what they were doing while acknowledging the underlying meter of the game? A plug-in for Unity that turns subdivides the animation timeline into beats instead of frames. What kinds of systems might you get rolling subtly on rhythm to glue it all together? Coming off GDC, peopleare usually bristling with inspiration and ready to dream. Tap into that and start the dialogue up.

 

The Feels

I thought I was done with this stuff but had to make a detour back.

Each year, there's always one or two GDC talks that get to that universal, subsurface human stuff that goes too often unaddressed in the daily churn towards making games. The #1ReasonToBe talks are perennial winners, here. There was Manveer's 2014 talk on the under-addressed stereotyping our game narratives support; there's Brenda Romero's meditative "Jiro Dreams of Game Design".

"Everyone In This Room Is a Fraud" was that this year for me. And maybe it's just because I'm uniquely in this place in life when self-worth battles and therapy and weird empty thirty-something-What Now?-ness have become constant players on life's stage, but I really needed to hear all of these incredible people speak openly about the things they did. Life is hard; creativity is hard. When you peg so much of how you feel about yourself to your craft, a couple of bad days in the DAW can leave you feeling like a total zero. When you're really good at locking into that self-hatred spiral, bad days can turn into bad weeks. To know that even those you most admire deal with this on the daily--and to really feel it in this roundtable format where you just wanted to jump in and start talking like you were out to dinner with friends, these stories were so familiar--I'm so glad I got to experience that.

I hope they un-Vault this thing soon so we can all group hug about it.

This talk flipped a switch that sent me gushing downriver all over the Twitters, so I decided to Storify that: https://storify.com/lucafusi/gdc2016-imposter-syndrome

**

As you'll see there, and will have seen above, part of me still feels like I don't even get to feel these things, because I have been so, so lucky in life. (Holy shit. Am I imposter syndromeing right now, or can you tell this is genuine? Words suck.)

So with all that necessary privilege-disclaiming out of the way, I want to say that this year, it feels there's finally a movement afoot--or that the movement I've caught so many more open discussions on inclusion, diversification and the need for more voices in game audio this year than in years past. It seems better. I hope it's getting better. Shit like this still happens, but at the least, I wanna put a stake down and say that this year's been a personal turning point in how I see my role in all of this.

I feel like I don't think about the issue of gender and racial diversity in game audio often enough because from where I'm sitting, there's never felt like a reason to. That sounds horrible. And it is! But, everyone I've worked with has been great, and what they look like or where they're from hasn't factored into that at all. I work with people; I'm a person. This fear of wading into the minefield that is even addressing this stuff is, I think, a lot of what keeps otherwise nice and even-keeled folks who have had nothing but great experiences with audio teams of Human Beings of all sorts from saying anything at all.

But inaction is an of itself a harmful act. Playing the middle, being a nice guy, staying inoffensive and quiet--all of that doesn't help, and what doesn't help, hurts.

This stuff came up pre-GDC when a bunch of us were out at coffee a few weeks back, and I explained this feeling to my boss, who happens to be a woman in game audio: how tough it is to find a place to help, or talk about gender representation in game audio, because you don't really know how to say anything without pissing someone off--even when you know in your soul you want to do well. That I wanted to advance the conversation, but was looking for some sort of acknowledgement that I wasn't a bad guy.

Well, I didn't get it. Instead, she simply put back that that paralyzing mental juggling I do when I want to start saying anything about women in game audio? Imagine going through that with nearly everything you want to say about anything for every day of your career. And that's how the other side has it.

I was quiet for a long while after that.

So here's to hoping that all of us, whether vocal aggressors, hatemongers, clueless dolts or well-meaning passive observers in the shitty way things have come to be.. here's hoping that we can start acknowledging the ways in which we've fucked up and keep the conversation moving forwards however we can. To see opportunities where we don't need to be heard--where we shouldn't be heard--and to Step Back, Shut Up and Listen.

What's gonna be great is when it doesn't need to be a movement at all, anymore, and simply is. Until then, though, here's your impersonal Internet-delivered reminder to know when to surrender your spot to those who need it most, and do the right thing for all of our industry.

Man, I have a lot of reading to do.

tl;dr

  • Nope. Read the whole thing.

**

Thanks to everyone who made this year's GDC the best yet. I'll see you all at the Carousel before too long.

6Mar/160

A Personal Narrative

There's beauty, I hope, in vulnerability, and after finishing Marc Lewis' The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not A Disease yesterday, I felt like writing this.

I'm not sure of what sort of audience this'll reach, and it's sure going to look strange for folks to jump straight from five-year old reviews of my sound program and talks on GDC 2015 into this totally personal missive / book review. But hey, this URL is my actual name, and this outlet lives on it. Where else would I talk about it?


Lots of us in game audio are, I think, survivors of depression, or at least some form of creative anxiety. This goes for creative types generally, and is likely an unsurprising thing to read. There's a long-standing and romantic characterisation of the artist's internal struggle, some darkness she's got to wrestle down--or tap into--to produce truly meaningful work. We treasure the flaws of our storytellers, recognizing the stuff they've gone through as mirrors to our own experience.

But depression and its neurological kith and kin--anxiety, fear, self-doubt--are total motherfuckers: fair-weather friends to the artistic process, sure, but more often its antagonist. The reassurance that so many deal with it doesn't mean a lot when you're really in its grips.

"Nothing is a cliche when it happens to you." - Max Payne

"That's great," you think, "but I'm feeling this now." It's real, it's here, it's ravenous and persistent. It's your reality, and all you can do to stave it off is careen, bouncing down the cliffside as your internal dialogue piles on the blows: "These sounds are terrible. How'd you even get this gig? You lucked into this one, but the world's gonna catch up, discover the truth about how garbage your work really is. You're gonna get lapped. You're gonna get pushed out."

"I can submit it uncredited," you counter. "I can do just a little more work, enough to seal the deal, and then I'll move somewhere isolated, take a random day job, disappear. No one'll know me. No one'll be able to judge the work that I did. I can just hide, and I won't disappoint anymore."

These are real things I've said to myself, as recently as weeks back. I hope they don't ring too familiar, but in case they do--you're in the right place, and I hope this article's interesting.

(Also, you can reach out to me anytime at me@lucafusi.com to talk and I'm really good at letting people know the ways in which they're awesome. So DO IT!)

Obviously, this stuff is nonsense. Who talks to others that way? What sort of fucking monster could lay that on another human being? And yet!

Our brains are remarkably plastic. The systems that power learning and adaptation are complex in design, a self-correcting orchestra of glands, systems and neurotransmitters that knit our minds from basal clay into the personalities that make a Human Being. How our personalities--our learned characteristics--are formed is obviously a really complicated process, and look: I'm a fucking sound designer. I won't pretend to teach you all about them, here. But I've just finished Marc Lewis' "The Biology of Desire: Why Addiction Is Not A Disease", and I think he can.

That said, lemme try my hand at a really belabored and reductive metaphor:

How We Learn, Abridged

Trying something for the first time feels like a one-man expedition into the wild, panning for gold in a series of outcomes and experiments. Once the gold rush starts, your brain starts to clear out the underbrush, build trails to the source of this new good thing. It strings markers on the landmarks along the way--"if you're seeing this, feeling this, you're on the right track. Here's the path you want." Traffic increases. It's the quickest route to riches--why go any other way?

In response, the brain techs up your transit to match: trails become roads, roads highways without off-ramps. It upgrades trail markers to signs, to billboards. Your neurotransmitters, increasingly, have nowhere else to go. Or at least, no way they'd rather choose to go. This is the path of least resistance, and the path that works: stay on it.

We as a species owe everything to these very systems. They're what keep us breathing, tell us not to play with fire, let us know when we're hungry, when we're full, when we're in love. Through stimulus, trial and error, they align themselves eventually into fixed routes that help us do a thing again and again with increasing efficiency. They reinforce the circuits they need and prune those they don't. This takes work away from the conscious mind and ever frees us up to consider new challenges, 'cause the old ones are solved for.

But they're the same systems as the ones that get me depressed, make it so easy to talk myself down. As the first cues of some imagined shortcoming roll into view, my go-to response isn't an experimental probe into ways we can fix this thing, some scenic route through my better intuition. It's pedal down, screaming up the on-ramp of self-criticism, with little hope of changing course.

Psychological trauma like the kind described above--and worse, a million ways worse--can be really difficult to confront, especially by oneself. So for lots, the response is to try to escape it. Distract, block out, cover up, find some quick solution that rejects this reality and inserts something nicer: call a friend, talk it through; breathe deep, let it pass; go for a walk; go for a run; hit the bag for a few rounds. Have a snack. Have a smoke. Have a drink. Play games. Just get the heck out of your head for a while.

When you find something that works, another one of those learning processes fires up, and you're more likely than not to turn to that solution the next time around. That positive feedback loop knits the brain's motivational core and reward center ever more closely, while slowly pushing away those structures involved in considering the context and making that initial decision. As you start to intuitively learn that it feels good, the decision part of the process drops away. The familiar rhythms of wanting and getting, impulse and action move from a dazzling interplay of all the brains functions, including logic-sorting, emotional association and the envision of multiple outcomes to a blunt and exclusive duet: do and feel. Repeat.

Thereby, Lewis argues, addiction becomes another learned behavior.

My name is Luca, and I'm...

This is where I nervously begin to talk about why this book connected with me hard enough to write this article on my professional front page.

The addictions I deal with are minor in the grand scheme. I haven't lost a job, cut off a family member, bottomed out in some Behind the Music shit. But they, as depression experienced firsthand, are the realest thing I know, and exert an awful lot of influence in their ways. When things feel bad--when I make them feel bad (see above)--escapism feels good, and I can get real used to wanting it.

Here are a few of my favorites, the classic and the hilariously personal:

  • I'd sit upstairs, locked away in the games that'd propel me into the career I've got (at least, until this writing goes live), their stories and universes washing over my own.
  • I'd slip outside for a cigarette, because I just needed to step away for a bit.
  • I'd steal bits and pieces from convenience stores, playing games with their imagined camera perspective as if I were executing on some Metal Gear Solid shit--and because, I told myself, I needed to save the money.
  • I'd drink. After decades of relative disinterest, some part of me awoke to alcohol, and years of barely thought-of drinks with friends shifted towards hanging with friends because we'd drink. I'd feel that happy rush of the first drink settling in and think, Man, I kinda want more of this, my brain shuffling an otherwise happy and social foreground of friends to the back. I didn't feel like drinking early in the day because, hey, the comedown sucks--if I can drink up until I go to sleep, I don't really need to deal with it.
  • I'd get lit. Marijuana. Way easier to dip in and out of than booze--no nasty hangover, no raiding the peanut butter jar while under its throes (yet). A thrillingly conscious and fun-feeling escape that I could recover easily from, and it's so damn easy to get now! Bless Washington. I'm thinking about heading to the dispensary as I write this, and have been putting off that inevitable decision since the weekend began.
  • I'd eat, and not because I was hungry. Food, man. Food's kinda the worst, because you can't just stop food. A venture into exercise and Intermittent Fasting turned brought me a few years of being in the greatest shape of my life and, I was happy to find, unbounded discipline. This was the first blankly positive habit I'd ever formed. After a while, I wasn't just exercising because I had a goal--I was driven to it, had to do it at some really basal level. It'd become part of my routine and a defining feature of who Luca was. He eats tons, but it disappears. He does pull-ups with extra weights in his backpack. He has rings in his garage! As a guy who's only ever flung from routine to routine for a few months, I was thrilled to find that exercising, diet and health had Really Stuck. With the Intermittent Fasting, though, came a lot of association with big piles of food as an earned reward, and way more thought given towards food and meals and getting them than I'd ever really had. Where exercise had gone subliminal, food'd come to the forefront, and seemed always to be at odds with my drive to get fit, especially as I leaned out. In one determined surge towards a long-time health goal--the elusive six-pack--I dipped under 10% body fat some time late last year, the leanest I'd ever been--until body chemistry and anxiety snapped me the hell back. Out with that bullshit, monastic lifestyle and deprivation, in with the peanut butter and comfort eating and all the stuff I wanted. An apple before bedtime because two apples, two apples and a Quest bar, waking up in the middle of the night to head downstairs to forage. This still happens pretty much nightly, so sorry in advance, Topher, for the crunching you'll hear in the hostel in a few weeks.
  • Let's not even get into my salads. If you've met me, you know. They are a thing.

Self-Compassion

Why bother laying all this out?

Because the words "addict" and "addiction" are loaded labels. When you say those terms, you probably don't think of me, or you, or anyone you actually know who's ever struggled--you think of the down-and-out, Made for TV version of an addict. Someone who's fucked up, lost control, probably needs to check in to somewhere. Someone diseased. Maybe they're homeless, maybe they're divorced; they probably aren't someone you want to work or live with.

But if addiction can be thought of as just one particularly sticky outcome of this natural, human learning process, it becomes tougher to think of an 'addict' that way. It softens your worldview and invites compassion. If you've been branding yourself in such a way, that's compassion that's sorely needed.

Like I said, none of this stuff's really that bad. Your creative situation on your worst days is truly not that bad. Seeing it laid so nakedly in a WordPress box here will help you realize that.

But when your image of yourself and all you feel you've got to stand on is things that these habits are sabotaging, their impacts are real: "I get paid to make great sounds / I just had a shit day, several shit days, where I've made nothing"; "I'm the fit guy / I binged on a ton of food I didn't mean to, and now I feel terrible, and everyone'll soon see I'm not that fit guy anymore"; "I'm an extrovert and at my best around people / I'm totally alone at the end of each night".

These cycles breed shame, you escape to avoid the shame, the addiction eventually becomes both the source of and the relief from this problem you've created for yourself. Crazy, right?

So all of this is laid out in The Biology of Desire, which wraps with a bunch of strategies that build on this learning model of addiction to discuss the ways in which you might break it. A huge one for me was this concept of the Personal Narrative. The part of our brain responsible for making those decisions--the very one that's severed from the impulse-reward circuits as addiction grows--plays a major role in the act of envisioning outcomes, possible futures. Things to look forward to. Reasons not to do an addicted thing. If you can't see where you're going, you won't find a reason to move forwards.

An opportunity came earlier this week that got me thinking about me and what's next for the first time in a while, and that process opened up a lot of space for The Biology of Desire to work in and leave a mark. In pulling back and looking at the big picture--an exercise I hadn't done in many tormented months--I started finding reasons to change these things I don't like, goals that they'd keep me from and real reasons to cleave to my convictions. Lewis talks about this and the power of working through a Personal Narrative as a recovery strategy to bring that dorsolateral PFC back online, to re-knit it to the source, and I'll take it.

What To Do

If any of this rings true with you, here are the first and healthiest avenues out you need to consider:

Community. In isolation, we wither. The famous Rat Park Experiments found narcotic-addled rats were likely to give the stuff up of their own volition when placed suddenly in a cage full of others. Projecting, you might ascribe this to these rats discovering some purpose greater than getting ripped off cocaine water--but at the least, it's interesting stuff, and referenced a few times in Biology. At my lowest of low points, the last thing I usually want to do is reach out, get out, be amongst friends. But it's the best thing for you. I attribute a lot of the shit I've put myself through in the last several months to an ill-fitting living situation, and can say that every weekend I've resolved to get in the car and just get to people, I've felt lots better.

Meditation and Mindfulness. This is easily an entirely new post, but suffice to say that it's a very healthy exercise to learn to sit and be with your anxiety, recognizing it for the mess of emotions it is--and to begin looking at it as a thing that's Not You. Meditation and mindfulness are two excellent tools towards this end. If you want a starter kit, try grabbing the Headspace app on your phone. There are a million ways in to the core of meditation and I can't pretend to know the best ones, but the Internet's out there as a resource.

Therapy. Do not feel stigmatized or labeled if you choose to seek professional help with this stuff (and I strongly recommend that you do). I can tell you that therapy is incredibly common amongst the personal and professional company I keep, and I think nearly everyone should give it a go. In the worst case, you're out a few sessions' co-payments, and you stop going. More likely, though, is that once you find a therapist who suits you, you'll learn all about the opening chapters to your Personal Narrative and develop a much stronger grip on authoring what's next.

Self-Care. This is the most elemental way through. Tiny, tiny rituals like, saying something nice to yourself, going to the gym, dressing nicer than normal, anything to pick your self-image up. I absolutely batter my self-worth when depression cuts loose, so when it's dormant, it's extremely helpful to build these walls up. Love yourself enough and you might stop finding things to hate.


So: be kind to yourself, take a little time to consider your path, and maybe read this book if it seems up your alley.

Thanks for listening--I hope you found a little value in the telling, here.

...

Really not sure how I'll stop with the salads, though.

25Sep/140

Still Alive

It's been a few months. And as the days decompress and the hours return, my mind's pulling back towards updating, analyzing, writing. I hope to have some great content for you guys over the coming weeks and months, including updates to my reel, game audio discussions and whatever personal reflections I need to put to paper.

In the short term, here's what's new:

  • It's been a long summer. Back in May, I resumed my work with Microsoft and Team Dakota on Project Spark, which is now nearly out to sea. It'll be on store shelves on October 7th. I'm proud of what we've accomplished, and especially hope that we can keep it in the water long enough to realize everything else we're dreaming of. The game screams potential for awesome, reactive sound at every corner, and it's just about squaring those ambitions up against the realities of development. Lots in store if we can get to it.
  • The WUIS lays dead (or still) in the water for right now--resuming work at such a brutal pace didn't leave a lot of time for self-improvement outside of it. Now that things are settling, though, it's on me to start filling the time with pursuits outside the routine, doing things worth remembering. That may be a return to Unity jamming, or something else.

There's another thing I wanted to mention before I sign off.

Last year, I participated in Extra-Life, an annual fundraising drive where gamers around the world tap friends, family and loved ones for pledges supporting children's hospitals and cancer research around the world. In tribute, they put themselves through the ringer and ruin their sleep cycle on an unbroken 24 hours of playing games. I broadcast this last year on Twitch.tv, and it was great to have people tune in and keep me going with live donations and support while I slowly lost my mind.

I'm doing another fundraiser this year a few weeks in advance of the main Extra-Life event. Two weekends from now, OCT 4-5, I'll be online for a 24-hour marathon, and am collecting pledges for a special and personal cause: the Ann K. Cresswell Memorial Fund.

Ann was the mother of one of my close friends and a beautiful human being who left us a few weeks ago. She'd battled and triumphed over breast cancer over the past few years. Her sudden departure at the hands of what might've otherwise been a routine sickness is a reminder that our methods for treating cancer ravage the body even as they restore it; moreover, a reminder that life is precious and always rushing by.

Donations to the Cancer Research Institute via the Ann K. Cresswell memorial fund go towards furthering cancer understanding and treatment, that our loved ones may live full and healthy lives outside of the horrible shadow it throws.

You can contribute via my group's GoFundMe page here: http://www.gofundme.com/Berns-ExtraLife.

I'll be forwarding all pledges I collect to the Ann K. Cresswell Memorial Fund. If you'd like a direct link or to contribute anonymously, you can do that here: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/donate.aspx?eventid=155912&langpref=en-CA.

Additionally, the friends I'm doing this with are raising for local children's hospitals, if you'd like to support them (or both).

Talk more soon!

Some mood music for a rainy Seattle evening. I miss this game.

5May/140

One Week Later, Thoughts

Last week, I set the flag down and declared I'd be learning C# while I wait out this strange inter-contract abeyance.

I haven't made as much progress as I've hoped to. And typically, what I'd do is beat myself up over that. Why hasn't this thing taken root?, Why have you wasted other time doing XYZ when you know deeply that this is the best thing for you--that your mind craves those challenges, actually, on the days you've elected to do something else? and other such self-eroding lines of thought.

But that's a useless way of looking at things. There are lessons to be learned in our failures (probably even more than in our successes!) if we can find the clarity to wall off the sting of it, step back and analyze why things have gone wrong. Maybe you'll see some of yourself in this post and in the days' upcoming work logs. I don't mean for this site to turn into a self-help resource, but I don't mind exposing my flaws if it might help someone else.

The truth is that aligning my mind and body to want to work at this thing every day in a world full of easy, alluring--ultimately unsatisfying--escapist options, is really difficult. And as darkly reassuring as it would be to think that I'm alone in that, I suspect I'm not. Success on this front means building up good habits, like keeping the whole Luca unit running well on meditation, exercise, and a healthy diet, three things I've found to provide a lot of stability and satisfaction. Reflecting on how those things help has built some momentum towards keeping them going, and their upkeep becomes easier. As an aside, I've found that those three together are critically intertwined, and I can't really skip on any of them without the others falling apart. So that's something to troubleshoot.

I think it also means giving in to the bad habits, though, and seeing where they lead you. By not forbidding them, you naturally start to see that they don't provide you with the same satisfaction that all of your good habits do, or that their effects are totally impermanent. You naturally start to trend away from them, even as you've given yourself total permission to explore them in the face of your less sexy productive options.

This is what I'm finding in the face of some clarity today. Long as I'm learning--be it C# or how to short-circuit my natural tendencies towards more consistent progress--it's all good.


I wanted to share this song with someone after rediscovering it this morning.

Hooray For Earth - True Loves from Young Replicant on Vimeo.

 

I find this track irrepressibly beautiful and hopeful in a way I can't easily describe. And I've felt this way ever since stumbling across it three years ago.

Every little element comes together in just the right way to serve the meaning I've ascribed it. The thin, unpracticed vocals and kitchen sink percussion; that impossibly low bass line and how it wavers on the edge of breaking some oscillator or amp. The one, single variation on that chip sound when it bends up and down on the final chorus. And the terrible amount of reverb that glues it all together.

A friend of mine put it well: "There are a lot of songs that sound like this, actually...but this one is special."

What I think it is is that this track feels like being young as you experienced it--not as someone looking back.

Thanks for reading!

28Apr/140

Wwise, Unity and Starting Something

I've spent the last few months on contract break / forced sabbatical from my time at Microsoft. And through the professional void, it's been personally fruitful. Thanks to living like an antisocial monk for most of 2013, I'd put away enough to take a long trip into Southeast Asia and wander about for a month.

(That deserves its own post--which it may or may not get--but you can view my efforts at photojournaling the whole thing over on my Instagram. It starts here, and I wish there were an easier way to reverse-chronologically browse this thing.)

Travel led into more travel: I got to take a trip to the Italian homeland with my dad and brother for a week's skiing, eating and pacing around downtown Rome. Then GDC. Then, a few weeks later, the annual VALVE Hawaii trip, which I'd been invited along to as a guest. I'm really blessed to have been able to live out this downtime as I have.

But amidst all the vacationing, the overactive brain wanders. You gotta feed it or it dies.

I've thought for a while that a real safe heading for game audio is the career path of the audio programmer. In my last year's experience on Spark, I can tell you that their time is an incredibly precious commodity. If you, the intrepid Sound Designer and Implementer, are the dreamer of big things, they are the ones that turn those dreams into executable reality. I don't care how good you are with Wwise or Unity or whatever, on any game of sufficient scope, and if you're trying to do anything that'd stand out against the forward-rushing edge of game audio, you will need a programmer's help. Sometimes, though, you won't get it.

What do you do then?

As preparation for a hopeful and glorious return to pay-stubbed game audio--and because I have a little game I'd like to make someday--I'll endeavor to decode some of this low-level magic that these guys do. And, jointly because I want to keep myself on rails and give you all something to read about, I'll be documenting what I find, showing my work, demystifying everything I can.

The simplest of sandboxes seems like a ready-made project where I can poke into some Wwise-Unity integration and figure out exactly what's going on. I know Wwise well enough and there's documentation on that particular spot where the middleware hits the engine.

Here's a mission statement of sorts:

I want to hook a Wwise project directly to a game engine, preferably Unity. This means taking a Wwise project with in-built RTPCs, Switches etc. and creating brand new hooks to them within the game code, compiling and experiencing the audio moving about.

Starter questions:

  • Can I do this via an already built Unity game simply integrating a Wwise project into it?
  • What languages would I need to learn to do it?

I really don't know anything about programming beyond some basic batch scripting stuff and a well-rusted primer on Python, courtesty of my time at VFS. So, expect a lot of frustration, doing things without really understanding how they're working and, hopefully, lightbulbs coming on.

Step 1's checking out the Wwise-Unity integration package and seeing what the deal with it is.

21Jan/124

VFS Sound Design Program Review

I was approached a few weeks ago by one of the team from ArtSchoolReviews.ca, who asked me if I'd write up a review of VFS' Sound Design for Visual Media program for their site -- which is about to undergo some dramatic design changes.

As of a couple of days ago, that review is online, and you can read it here:

The Hardest Year - Sound Design for Visual Media at Vancouver Film School

I was originally planning to host a review on this site as well, but as their formatting is just so much nicer, I don't think there's a need for right now.

Many of you have written to me with questions about VFS over the past year or so and I've been happy to help. And while I hope this review serves as a good starting point for a few new generations of prospective VFS SD students, you can still e-mail me directly if there's anything you'd like to know.

31Dec/112

A New Year

New Year's Eve is always a time for reflection. I certainly have my share of sound resolutions for 2012 -- tools and techniques I'd like to learn types of projects I'd like to work on, ways I'd like my professional life to shape up -- but more than anything else, I'd like to give myself permission to enjoy the ride a little bit. I'm traditionally very critical of himself and my own work, but as I stand here at the start of the rest of my professional life, I'm really hopeful about the way this new year's going to turn out. Here's what's new.

Linear Audio Reel

I've cut together a Linear Audio Reel of some of my work from the past 12 months, put together with a day's worth of learning in Adobe Premiere. Hacking it all together has already given me a lot more respect for (and interest in) the work of the picture editor, and Adobe's dynamic link technology -- which allows you to import and work with entire video timelines between applications, edit them live and see the updates reflected across the board without any re-rendering -- is really amazing stuff.

This represents pretty much the full spectrum of post disciplines I was exposed to this past year, and I think it plays pretty well. But I'd love to hear your feedback.

What's New

  • Finished post-production on Red Rabbit a month or so ago, earning my first IMDB Credit. I provided dialogue editing/mixing, ADR and Walla recording/editing/mixing, music editing/mixing, Foley recording/editing, and co-designed the sound effects for the film's animated fight sequence. Red Rabbit has been sent off to the Tribeca Film Festival, among others. Very pleased with the end result and have my fingers crossed..
  • Finished post-production on Portrait, a short horror slash paranormal film for VFS. Provided dialogue editing/mixing, ADR recording/editing/mixing and Foley recording/editing.
  • Have begun work on an unannounced independent platformer for XBLA. Really excited to be able to show some stuff from this one eventually..

This site will be getting a bit of a makeover in 2012 as well, as I rebrand and reform for easier independent contracting.

I'll be relocating to Seattle in the early part of the New Year to pound pavement and continue to collaborate on independent game sound and short films, watch this space for news as always.

And have a great New Year!

Filed under: Industry, Personal 2 Comments
2Nov/110

November

So what's next?

Red Rabbit Logo

After finishing up Deus Ex: Human Revolution - one of the carrots that got me through the last two months - it's back onto some great, detailed Foley and SFX work for Red Rabbit, a student film we're polishing up for festival submission at the end of the month. Red Rabbit is a Tarantino-esque slice of cinema that tracks badass bounty hunter Babs Eaden through a small New Mexican town on her run to the border. I'm pretty psyched to get back into cutting blades and guns despite just coming out of the trailer redesign; there's always more to learn. I've been handling the dialogue and music edits/mixes so far and it's going well. The final cut should be done by the end of the month.

I'll be doing some production sound work on the side and chasing leads wherever I can. Most importantly, I'm laying out a couple independent sound projects/Thing-A-Week type deals to keep the skills sharp - some thoughts:

  • Ambiences - I love backgrounds, but after a DX:HR playthrough I am newly re-sold on their power to captivate and immerse. The EIDOS Montreal sound team killed it with the ambient beds in the Detroit and Hengsha hubs, and the way everything's mixed, it's difficult to know where the beat of the city ends and the game's own music begins.
  • Whooshes/Trailer Impacts - These two things are part of the bedrock of Hollywood sound design, and I feel like they're very minute-to-learn, lifetime-to-master. Fresh off that DX:HR trailer redesign, and I'm really eager to push past what I was able to do there and generate some new, personalized stuff and find my own favorite methods for these.
  • Synthesis/Zebra - I had such a great time with Zebra and Massive for creating all of the music and some of the inorganic sounds of my final, but have really barely scratched the surfaces of these two powerful synths. The nice thing with synthesis is that so much of it is based on the same fundamentals, so diving crazy deep into a particular synth is still pretty transferrable onto the next big thing, the Absynth or Reaktor of the 2010s. Lots to explore here.

Abstract sound design is another idea. I've got an animation lined up that's much less literal than my most recent trailer and it'd be nice to just cut loose, generate a ton of crazy source and explore some avenues I haven't yet. There's creatures, hard effects, neat vocal processing techniques, tons out there - I'm still many thousand hours away from my personal 10,000.

I'll be back around New York City for the coming holidays and am looking forward to spending some time with my family, most of whom I haven't seen for the whole year. The plan after that is to head back out West, put a few roots in Seattle and its great game development scene. Of course, a great work offer would change everything - so you never know.

Filed under: Industry, Personal No Comments
28Oct/111

Final Project and Update

Last week, I graduated from VFS' Sound Design for Visual Media program, to an audience of colleagues, parents, instructors and friends. What a ride it's been.

A year ago, that night before I left New York, it felt like I was throwing everything away on a total gamble. I was moving away from friends I'd had for years, my family, my contacts and what have no doubt been some incredible times with Wanderfly to move a coast I'd never known and drown myself in student debt. All to chase the dream, to shut up that little voice that kept telling me I needed to make a change. It's now a year later, and I'm really glad I did. Not in some blanket, everything-has-been-amazing way, but in a very flawed, wonderfully imperfect kinda way. I've changed. I've learned things about myself I would never have known without taking that leap. My eyes and ears have been opened thanks to the wisdom of some incredible teachers. And that far-flung bunch of sound junkies called SD49 have been there the whole time, going from classmates to confidants to lifelong friends.

This was the jist (I think) of my graduation speech as class rep, and while I was worried it all waxed a little too emotional at times, it went over well and it's how I truly feel. It's been an amazing ride, but I can't wait for what comes next.

I owe this place a proper write-up about my time at VFS and things I'd do differently - ex-producer can't help but post-mortem - but for now, a quick look at my final project:

Deus Ex - Human Revolution "Revenge" Trailer Redesign

Everything you're hearing in there, I had a hand in, and as a major Deus Ex fan, it was a total labor of love. I really have to thank Square-Enix and EIDOS Montreal for their permission.

I'll talk a little more about the sounds that went into that trailer when I get some spare time. In the meantime, a bunch of samples of my work have moved to this Work Examples page.

November is film work, job applications and all the sound experimentation I can find time for.