Luca Fusi Sound Design | Implementation


GDC 2016 – Inside Ourselves

A Game That Listens — The Audio of INSIDE

Speakers: Martin Stig Andersen (Independent) []


"I now really enjoy dying."

Martin Stig Andersen is a human being who breathes air, eats food and drinks water, just like the rest of us--but unlike you and I, he was responsible for the audio of LIMBO.

Martin was in tow at this year's Game Developer's Conference to give an advance look at some of the sound design and systems behind Playdead's upcoming title, INSIDE, as well as spend some time at the Audiokinetic booth on the show floor showing off all the knobs and wires.

And look, I don't want to oversell his talents too much, because there's a nonzero chance that he'll read this at some point and it could be really weird when I run into him down the line. It already is, to an extent. For a lot of people. After a few years of realizing that everyone behind your favorite game experiences are just people, you cool it with the crazy sycophantic fandom stuff. Mostly. But Martin's got a really, really sharp mind for sound design and interactive audio, and I wouldn't be the first person to tell him so.

I kinda feel bad for him, actually; there was, even in the rushed fifteen-minutes-on-a-Friday time I hung around the booth, this revolving Who's Who cast of sound designers that'd never hire me, asking questions and pointing at the screen and talking coolly to Martin about their thoughts. Satisfied, they would end this exchange in this self-aware explosion of hurried fandom on how incredible his work is and how important LIMBO was to them and gosh, I dunno, you're just a genius, and thank you so much for doing everything you do, Martin, before shaking his hand and dashing off.

Maybe there's another article in me sometime about how damn weird it must be to be on that other side, or on the etiquette of admitting prior knowledge of a person and how much you love them when you're finally face to face on the conference floor. I do think about it a bunch, and usually just tell people to chill.

For now I should get to brass tacks on what Martin and Playdead are up to and how you might learn from it.

A Brief History

First off, get familiar: if you haven't played LIMBO, what the fuck are you doing here?

You can either play it now, or after this article makes it realize you should, but it'd probably inform the read a little bit.

Martin's work on LIMBO set a lot of firsts for game audio, or at least, went public with them in a way that let their influence really start to bear on this generation of sound designers. On the design front, LIMBO's soundscape is a perfect match for the stark, blurred-out out monochrome of the game's visuals. Sounds move from muffled, wire recorder-processed bits of texture to full-frequency moments of danger that leap to the fore. The similarly blurred line between what's sound / what's music is tread almost invisibly through the game thanks to Martin's nearly Musique Concrete approach of tuning everything to fit together. There's a talk on this from GDC 2011--watch it.

Beyond its aesthetic accomplishments, LIMBO was the poster child of How You Should Do Things In Wwise for many years. The game released in 2009; the program Martin used to stitch all this logic together, I bet most of us would barely recognize. But he sure as heck accomplished. Credit where it's due, Playdead seems to have given him a really wonderful suite of debug tools with which to draw bounds and place events for determining mix states throughout the game's stages. This mix what glues it all together is consistently auto-attenuating, resetting, evolving as the player adventures onwards. Watch the talks I link at the bottom. These were shown in Martin's 2012 lecture on implementation--again, watch the talks.

So yeah man, this game was a big deal.

Shortly after completing LIMBO, Playdead scooped up audio programmer Jakob Schmid in a really smart first-round draft. Playdead's lead gameplay designer, Jeppe Carlsen, set off to explore the Unity game engine and try his hand at a different sort of platformer, bringing along Schmid, as well as motion graphics designers Niels Fyrst Lausdahl and Andreas Arnild Peitersen. They'd create what eventually became 140, a visually mesmerizing platformer in which each level's elements (blocks, elevators, etc.) were choreographed by the game's soundtrack, knitting it all together in a really cohesive and trippy package. See for yourself!

Years later, with these audio engine-directed learnings in place, INSIDE's in full production, and we get to where we are now. Headline! Inside INSIDE: Playdead Comes Alive.



The Talk

Get It Right The Second Time

Nothing's ever perfect in the mind of its creator. Martin revealed that one of his biggest regrets with LIMBO was the way the death / respawn interrupted the flow of the game's soundscape. If you weren't particularly bothered by this, it's probably because this is the way we expect games to work. When we fade to black, things go quiet; when we fade up, all is new again. Games flush cache and reload variables across moments like this, and lots about what the audio engine knows or is doing goes along for the ride. It's bog standard.

Thing is, in LIMBO, you die a lot. And Martin had very specific goals for its sound experience--an ever-evolving, blend of literal and acousmatic sound effects, textures and pads--that clash with the way the audio engine's impersistence. Imagine the Boy's deaths and the player's experience of the world as one, unbroken timeline, and you can start to see Martin's perspective: you intend for some sound design, or a particular mix state to play just at the player's first encounter with an area, and these serve as passage into some new part of the overall composition. You'd rather not back out of it until the player's advanced, and every death before the next checkpoint is part of that same section of the piece. Retriggering these cues "because Memory Management" goes against artistic intent and makes things feel much more "game"y than they need to.

This time around, they set the sound engine to start at the beginning of the game, and never, ever unload until the game has finished. Everything the audio engine knows, and everything the game knows about that rolls all the way through, untouched until the game is shut off. This means voices don't need to cut off, playback position can be remembered, mix states and other game object-specific variables can be adjusted with the long view in mind.

We do something similar at PopCap with our music system, firing off one event at sound engine initialization and letting it roll until the session's done or interrupted. The game's music evolves through State changes over time. Mostly, we do this because guaranteeing the music's on lets us steer it mid-flight with Events we've created ourselves, instead of relying on developers to trigger those cues. Also, cycling things in and out of memory costs CPU, which is itself a precious commodity on mobile.

So this idea of keeping the audio engine alive forever is not new--nor are a lot of the bullet points that make up the technical considerations of INSIDE.

Yet, there's something magical in the way they're all brought together.

How This Sounded

To illustrate the shortcomings he saw in LIMBO, Martin presented a couple of gameplay clips of the boy dying and respawning with their original audio in place--and then a few clips of the same sequence with their audio replaced to allow the music to play through.

The Befores and Afters here are subtle. Music cues which fired off just as a player first encountered a challenge (hopping across the electrified HOTEL sign) happened just once, the first time, and the rest of the piece continued through every fade to black as the boy died a handful of times in trying to cross this section. It lent a really nice continuity to the segment that wasn't there when everything had to restart on each reload.

A practical example of this on INSIDE takes place in one of the game's many puzzles. Martin demonstrated a section in which the Boy's got to flip a breaker switch that turns out a few dangerous, rotating sentry lights that will kill him if crossed, but whose light he nonetheless needs to proceed.

Those lights sounded dangerous as all get-out; really great, full-spectrum stuff. Activating them drives a railroad spike through what's been a cautiously filtered mix up until this point. They seize and hold your attention, and they are meant to: Don't fuck with these lights.

[pullquote align="left"]Martin quipped that these were "such small changes that the player [was] unlikely to notice them," but that's a very knowing statement.[/pullquote]

But the focus shifts thereafter to the Boy and how you'll help him through this. So, in a persistent mix decision that leverages this always-on audio engine, the game begins to attenuate those lights on subsequent deaths and reloads. Even though the game objects associated with those sounds are trashed in the interim, those variables are kept alive in the sound engine, to which the game looks for its cues.

We saw this same phenomenon in LIMBO, with an incredibly layered attenuation system that slowly swung the volume of the boy's footsteps up and down within a 15dB window, irrespective of camera distance and entirely for this effect.

What happened there, and what'll happen with INSIDE, is that all of these subtle changes sum up to larger changes you feel, even if you can't quite put your finger on them. This is the mix as conversation with the player than some unweighted diegetic reality, broadcast out.

Again, there's no one showstopper here, it's the concert of everything working together. You start to see what five years' tuning will get you.

Listening to What?

That sounds all well and good, but the name of the talk--what exactly is the game listening to?

INSIDE's been structured so that many of its events and logic are fired and evaluated totally within the context of the audio engine, which has some really rad creative consequences I'll think out loud about in a bit. For starters, this top-down audio-driven vision required that "game time"--which is usually measured in frames, and can swing variably up and down depending on system performance--has instead been locked to Wwise's metronome.

A boy runs across a dangerous plank in a screenshot of Playdead's INSIDE.

None of this is gonna bob to the rhythm. No, you'll have to listen. [Credit:]

The BPM of INSIDE's soundtrack (and I use the term loosely, as none of it seems so obviously musical) is the actual beating heart of the game. You can easily envision how this would work in something like Rock Band, or 140, but INSIDE is very different from those games. It's bleak, desaturated and looks very much like it rose from the bones of LIMBO. That's another way of saying, it's not flashing note charts and neon elevators in your face--but the all-powerful thrum of its soundscape in just as much in control.

Robot Rock

Here's an example.

In one scene, the Boy is in a factory, sneaking between the rank and file of a bunch of deactivated automata. There's a conspicuous space between two of them, and as you step into it, a track-mounted security drone snaps to life from just above, latching you with a spotlight. The steady pulse of the factory swells into a rhythm; the line of machines begins to march. It's The Sorcerer's Apprentice meets Pink Floyd's "The Wall," and the player's got to keep lockstep with the beat to avoid being snicked by the drone.

[pullquote align="right"]There are no scrolling meters or anything to let you know that this is how this section needs to be played--by now, the game has taught you to listen.[/pullquote]

Four bars of a march, four bars of silence. The drones stop, you stop. The drones move, you move. Just like that.

There are no scrolling meters or anything to let you know that this is how this section needs to be played--by now, the game has taught you to listen.

(Actually, I'm wondering how the hearing-impaired are ever supposed to play this game. Or even those without some extended low-end going on in their living room, because GODDAMN this game is about the well-crafted sub.)

Here, as everywhere, the soundscape rolls straight through your horrifying understated death. If you were to start tapping your foot to the march of this level, you could keep it up until you finished. Probably beyond, actually. I think Martin mentioned that they wanted music to transition between areas as well. (Of course...)

"But, it takes a few seconds to pull the curtains back up and drop you into that robot conga line for another try. What if I respawn right in the middle of a marching part?"

Glad you asked, simulated reader!

At the point when you die, the game engine's checking the playback head over the march's Music Playlist container to evaluate how much time will have passed by the time the player's back in control after being revived.

///I don't actually code and this is why
if((Start of Don't Move Section < (Music.PlaybackLocation + RespawnTime) < End Of Don't Move Section))


That looked a lot cooler when it existed only in my brain. Basically though, if the game's going to respawn you during a march, it instead segues into a two bar transition of more Don't Move soundscape that buys you some time to react. Bear in mind again that the game can know these timings intimately, because game logic time has been slaved to music time; no matter how crummy your system, the game and Wwise are in constant deterministic communication. "Hey, garbage collection's done--ready to reload. Where are we?"

The Shockwave

Here's another cool one.

There's a part of the game in which a distant wave cannon is firing into the foreground, directly towards the screen. Like the way you'd throw guys in Turtles in Time.

As each pulse lands, things splinter and smash, sheet metal flies away, the screen shakes. You've got to run the Boy left to right, up and down, from cover to cover within the merciful intervals in which this weapon reloads.

No one called this thing a "wave cannon," but in starting to write this, it occurred to me that I don't know what sort of blast this thing's actually firing. And that's because there's no visual cue that shows you each of these pulses coming in, only the aftermath their impacts leave on the environment.

Here again, you're forced to listen to survive. All of the logic surrounding whether the Boy lives or dies is slaved to the metronome of the level.

The metronome, in this case, is quite literally the entire envelope of this terrifying weapon sound, whose variations are implemented as a Playlist within the Interactive Music Hierarchy.

Just like with the march, the playlist container of the wave cannon envelope's dotted with annotations that send information out to the engine: trigger blast effects, shake the screen, check to see if the Boy's behind cover or not. The last one's key, because the game is actually checking to see if you're behind cover or not at the peak of the sound but before all the visuals of the sound rippling through the foreground fire off.

I think this delay was baked in to allow a little grace window for the player to scramble, but it means that you could be behind cover at the moment of this check, duck out into the open right afterwards and be found safe, even as you stand amidst all the flying wreckage.

Disconnect // Net Effect

In a lot of games, that scenario'd seem like a bug. But, I find this moment of potential disconnect between sound and visuals super interesting, because it actually serves to strengthen the connection between sound and survival.

Surviving despite the visuals telling you you shouldn't have lets the player know: It's not the impact what kills you. It's the sound.

The sentry doesn't kill you--the march does.

I haven't played a minute of INSIDE, and I've only seen what Martin's been willing to show, but I would bet you that the game's full of tiny little asynchronicities that cement this relationship over the course of the game. Moments that cut out the middleman and teach the player that sound is the gentle jury and dispassionate executioner.

Sound doesn't point to the reward, the feeling that you're safe--it quite literally means those things.

A positive music transition didn't happen because you passed a checkpoint, it IS the checkpoint.

Maybe? Could be that I'm giving the guy too much credit, but I kinda stand with @mattesque:

Matt Marteinsson reacts to INSIDE.



The Expo Floor

Martin, Jakob and a few curious minds surround the INSIDE demo station at the Audiokinetic booth at GDC 2016.

The shepherds and their flock.

On the last day of GDC, I finally made time for the Expo Floor, and just enough to get to the Audiokinetic booth. It happened to be during one of Martin's demo slots. It was, as the rhapsodic quality of this article has likely made clear, one of the highlights of my conference--not because of what it contained, but because of how it made me feel about myself afterwards.

I don't have a great extended metaphor to wrap around what it's like to check out a new Wwise project from the creator of LIMBO; suffice to say, a cloned copy of LIMBO's Wwise project, dirty production laundry and hacks and all, is a checkbox you can elect to grab when you're installing a new build of Wwise. Like, the way you'd download a Hendrix guitar simulator or how you page through Richard Devine presets in every fucking sound design tool you use, that's where Martin is with Wwise. It takes a certain mind.

Anyways, I expected to see some super next-level shit and come away feeling like I needed to get a thankless job aboard some Alaskan fishing boat, so destroyed was my confidence.

But actually? I kinda understood everything that was going on. I think you will, too.

INSIDE's debug tools in a live-running session at the Audiokinetic booth at GDC 2016.

I don't even see the code.

Even having seen the wiring in the walls, the thing that struck me about INSIDE's implementation wasn't its complexity--it was its elegance.

You know when you build a standalone Wwise demo for a reel, and because you don't have all the live inputs a game would actually have, you have to rig up all sorts of little tricks to simulate the Soundcaster session feeling like the real thing might? (Shameless plug.) Well, the INSIDE Wwise project felt kinda like Martin did that, and then everyone else just made the game work around it.

Or like a track layout after you've gone in and pruned out all those garbage layers that weren't helping anything. Clean, purposeful, only what needed to be there.

Some cool stuff that's going on:

  • Physics Is It: Animations are not tagged. Besides footsteps, anyways. Player limb physics velocities and angles are measured and sent in as RTPCs, which flip switches on constantly-running events that trigger bits of movement coming through when thresholds are crossed. Bet you this matrixes with the material system in place to make sure the right sound plays every time. Several games are doing this and have done it already! Just a reminder that if you can, you should, too. Where is the line between "footsteps" and "foot-based physics system impacts" drawn, anyways?
  • Beat Your Feet: Player breath events are fired according to the player's run speed: the game measures the frequency of the Boy's footfalls and generates a rough BPM out of that, firing breath requests off at the intervals that naturally emerge. This keeps the breaths consistently in sync with the player's movement, as well as lets things settle into the same rhythm we do when we're running and breathing out in the wild.
  • It's the Little Things: Running consistently puts the player into various states of exhaustion, which switch breath audio into more exasperated-sounding sample sets, as well as probably adjust the trigger rate to some degree. There's a cooldown period thereafter as the player recovers. (It wouldn't shock me if they're driving the Boy's exhausted animations from these RTPCs, rather than the other way around. But I didn't ask.)
  • What They're Meant For: Blend Containers everywhere. I'll be honest, I haven't used one of these things for more than "play a bunch of stuff at once" holders for a long time, now, but it doesn't shock me that they're aplenty in place in INSIDE, and used exactly to effect. Take water movement: Martin had the Boy leap onto a rope above a pool of water, shimmying down it until he could swing back and forth across the water's surface. A bunch of light, lapping swishes play as you skim the shallows. Descend further, and those movements blend into a sample set of deeper water movements without skipping a beat.
  • Little Things, Vol. 2: The Boy's wetness is tracked after he leaves the water, contributing to a sweetener layer on footsteps and movements (material-specific, of course) until, after enough movement, that's gone down to zero. I bet you there are even blend containers there for various states of wet-dry balance.

One More Thing

If someone asks you about the audio of INSIDE and you wanna get 'em excited about it really quick, drop this bomb:

"[Its] sound design's in the Interactive Music Hierarchy, and its music lives in the Actor-Mixer Hierarchy."

Okay, not all of it is. Like basically all the movement sounds I just listed up there are probably not.

But as the natural counterpart to that wave cannon's spot in a Music Playlist, much of the game's ambient music is fired off within the Actor-Mixer Hierarchy. Annotatations on the looping playlists of the game's 'music' (read: its sounds) are sent out to the engine and back in as Play Events that trip random containers full of variably trigger-rated pads and bits of texture. INSIDE's music, basically, is set up like you and I would set up unseen ambience emitters. Neat trick!




I had a few questions for Martin that I wasn't able to ask during the talk, because there were lots of others who went before me. So, I had an extra day or two to work them over in my head before I got the chance to pose them. By Friday, I felt pretty confident about what his answers would be, especially so after having toured the Wwise project--which was laid out so sensibly, refined down to such a point that all the cool things it was doing felt pretty self-evident.

Just the same, I had to know a couple of things:

Q: What do you with five years' worth of time on a game? What takes the longest--the asset creation, establishment of the style, systems and implementation?

A: "Yes, [the implementation]."

This squares with my experience as well. Yes, sound design and palette establishment can take a while, ditto the core engine setup, but I've worked on a couple of Wwise projects, and you don't go straight from concept to getting them looking like that. Everything was so spartan and deliberate; you could tell that this was a project where they got to go back after all the messy experimentation and do exactly what they needed to from ground up.

It creates the appearance of unbroken genius from start to finish, but the only thing unbroken about it's the intent, really.

We may never have the time to fully refactor all of our experiments into project-wide elegance, but it's a reminder to upkeep as you go. As projects stretch onwards, hacks bite back.

And the big one.

Q: In a game where everything's looking to the audio to make its judgment calls, the sound designer wields a tremendous amount of power: you shorten one of those wave cannon loops or move an annotation, and suddenly, the level becomes impossible to pass.

This top-down causality makes you kind of a Game Designer on INSIDE.

How was that balancing act with the rest of the team? Were there a lot of interdisciplinary power struggles and overstepped boundaries? Or did you all just kind of work it out amicably for the sake of the game?

A: "Yes, [we just worked it out]."

I mean, there you have it.

It strikes me that on larger team or in more egoistic environments, this kind of thing wouldn't fly. People can get precious about their work, and this subversion of the trickle-down flow where audio's usually the last to know and the most affected--well, it'd take a certain somebody to ease that paradigm shift through. Martin strikes me as that kind of guy. If you've listened in to any of this year's Sightglass discussions, the hearsay on how audio managed to work out such a sweet deal on this game came down to a

"If Martin wants it, Martin gets it"

... sort of vibe within the team.

But, I don't think it needs to be that way.

Take this, from this year's talk on the Music and Sound Design of Ori and the Blind Forest--

That's to say, if you've got a team that's willing to have the hard discussions, battle it out, put the game before all else--all of these little struggles eventually become scraps of forgotten noise.

I don't doubt that Playdead works much like this. But who can say!



The Takeaways

I'm still not sure of what to say here. There's no one big secret weapon trick I've walked away from my time with INSIDE. If I had to stretch for some global ones:

  • If you weren't convinced that Proactive Audio were gonna be a thing yet, well. Even Playdead's doing it!
  • Animation tagging stuff sucks, it'd slipped my mind for a while that physics-based movement is a much better way to go


As a personal takeaway, though?

The entire experience of this talk, where Martin laid out the showstopper points of what he's doing--and the Wwise project, where you got to see all the less glamorous finishing touches that nonetheless adorn the game--left me feeling, well, strangely empowered. It's been five years since I last saw Martin speak, and I left that talk with my head in a million pieces. Maybe I've learned a few things since then, because I was able to keep it well together this time around. It's a credit to the way he thinks about sound, and to the accessible degree everything's been refined, that I listened to and looked at all this stuff and just felt like, "I get it."

Made me feel like maybe I could do something down the line that'd make someone else feel the same way.

As a parting shot, then, maybe this is a reminder to acknowledge the way you'll walk away from this article having understood a few things--and to give yourself credit for that.

None of us is Martin, but even Martin's got to brush his teeth in the morning.

We'll all make a thing like this someday if we just stick with it.



Get Yer Stig On

As a coda to all this, here's a solid collection of Stig-related resources for you to geek over.

And finally, a Designing Sound interview with the man himself:

“Limbo” – Exclusive Interview with Martin Stig Andersen


GDC 2015 – Sunset Overdrive and Maintaining a Vision

All Style, All Substance:

The Audio Journey of the Vanity and Traversal System for Sunset Overdrive


Kristen Quebe (Microsoft) [@gameaudiogirl] [] Bryan Higa (Obsidian) [@bryanhiga] ... and special guest Jeff Dombkowski (Microsoft) [@ThBigDombkowski]

If it were as easy as taking what you've built in Wwise and dropping it, a fully realized and performant vision, wholesale into a game, game audio would sound a lot better than it does already. It's never actually that easy. If I've learned anything in game audio so far, that's it.

When we play games, we form opinions. That's human nature. But you'd do well to tread lightly if you don't know the whole story of how that game took shape. Hear something you like? Presume that a lot of people fought really fucking hard to get it there.

And if you hear something you don't, or don't hear something you wanted to, don't presume to know anything at all.

Closing the gap between vision and execution in game development takes a lot of work from a lot of people.

On the sound side, you're going to need a creative mind to dream up the way the game should sound, conjure that initial target that the game'll strive for until it hits shelves. You'll want a technical sound designer type to take that vision and turn it into systems that will surface raw sound design in a way that hits that mark. There'll be some Producer / Sound Supervisor type to draw up all the asset lists, rolling and militarily maintained Excel sheets of required components and filenames that'll go into the grist mill and let the middleware project run. You're going to need designers to make all that stuff.

None of that matters if you aren't able to get a team behind you.

Programmer support, production time, budget, headcount--all of these are really unsexy-sounding concepts that nonetheless hold any game's features in sway. It takes people to get stuff working, and when time and money are inflexible, people are a really hot commodity. Pretty much all my takeaways from GDC last year were that the best-sounding games with the coolest tech were coming out of the most supportive studios. Gaining that support takes a champion or vision-holder who's willing to go tirelessly to bat for the stuff that counts.

It's clear from the way Sunset Overdrive's vanity and movement system turned out that they had a champion. Maybe a bunch of them! And a whole stable of talented designers; I saw something like 15 listed contributors from Microsoft alone, not to mention the entire audio team over at Insomniac. Just the same, what they pulled off sounds pretty incredible. I'm gonna quote myself here because I already gushed a ton about this last Wednesday, and it's my blog.

Anyways, let's get to the meat and potatoes of some of what they did.


Sunset Overdrive is big on clothes, and shoes. You can dress your avatar up in a half billion combinations of tops, bottoms, shoes and accessories. The visual results are often goofy, but super fun to tinker with and own. But who wants to let art have all the fun? Kristen, Bryan, Jeff and a whole whack of Microsofties went wide, recording thousands of rolls, tumbles, jumps, stretches, runs, walks and jingles for everything the art team could kick up, then manually put all those assets into Wwise structures that could operate independently and were switchable per-limb.

Again, important sub-theme here is that someone convinced someone to let them do this. Someone also ensured that all Foley assets for a given action (say, rolls) were always being trimmed to an exacting standard, ensuring that tumbling around in leather pants didn't lose any of the core energy right at the peak of the roll that doing so in blue jeans might. Seems like a thing you'd just do, but when you've got legitimately thousands of assets to cut, you'd be tempted to just trim silence and bounce that stuff out. Nope.

VIDEO: Sunset Overdrive Audio System: Vanity

Final result? Your character sounds like a wonderful blend of all the ridiculous stuff you're wearing, no matter what it is. No shortcuts taken.

Layers of Awesome

Another system in Sunset Overdrive is the so-called "Level of Awesome." Think of it kind of like keeping a multiplier going in Tony Hawk, where, as you hop from rail to rail and stitch overland tricks together in a manual, you've got a big combo bonus stacking up. Now imagine that combo bonus making everything your character did while under sound way cooler. This is what they did.

The team took a bunch of actions--falling, jumping, grinding, bouncing--and matrixed them against what they felt the core of each Level of Awesome should sound like. At Level 1, your basic movement actions might have a little extra zip to them; at Level 3, you're the hero at the core of a retro arcade game, with cartoon stingers and chiptune trails following his every move.

VIDEO: Sunset Overdrive Audio System: LOA

This is a system that needs to be seen (and heard) in-game to be really appreciated, so I can't wait for the Vault video to go up.

The long and the short of it is that they fucking nailed this. Consider building this system into your next game and you'll probably think you can do it. The way you'd set stuff up in Wwise seems clear, anyways--events that play both a basic layer of a sound plus a switch-driven sweetener layer, with that switch being driven by some Awesomeness RTPC that jumps values at set crossover points. But maintaining quality and timing standards across every one of these layers, ensuring that each action is not only legitimately improved and themed for each Level of Awesome (instead of just, "yeah, we made the whoosh heavier with an EQ") but that peak energy and timings stayed consistent? That's incredible.

That it all gels so well together in-game speaks volumes to the organization of the sound team and to having a really solid plan.

And again, to having someone who managed to buy them the time and space to execute.

There's lots more to the talk that I won't bother going in, but it's full of crazy accomplishments on the game audio front. This talk alone showed me the power an empowered, passionate Sound Supervisor can bring to a game, and I applaud the entire team for pulling off what they did. Honestly, the number of talks on Sunset Overdrive at this year's GDC (two on audio alone!) are a testament to the game's technical and artistic achievements far and beyond its already awesome reviews.


WUIS Worklog TUE 5/13

Been a few days! Between negotiating the return to work and beginning a very intense journey into Reading Things AgainTM, I haven't had much to talk about on the coding front. Today, I went back in for two lessons' worth of fun. One, I think, was almost entirely irrelevant to sound, but a fun aside to pursue.

Today I Learned:

  • A little bit about vector math--the dot product and cross product. Operations like these, performed on the ol' 3D Euclidean plane, are used to calculate all sorts of stuff like position, speed, physics checks and the like. Hitting this tutorial sent me on a random dive into vector algebra and math I haven't thought about in probably twenty years. It'd be interesting to take a fuller crash course through that stuff sometime down the line, but for now, I had to stop when I found myself observing a Java applet that exhibits one of the most popular proofs of the Pythagorean Theorem. Probably not something I need to be overly concerned with for now, but it's cool to see a) what vector math is b) why it's useful and that c) Unity has a bunch of built-in functions (or are they classes? constructors? Blah) for handling it.
  • About the fact that you can enable or disable components--you know, attachable functions like Lights, Physics, Scripts, etc. in the visual editing side of Unity--on the fly. While investigating that, I learned that you can create GameObjects on the fly, too, and started trying to enhance my learning experience on this tutorial by branching out. Predictably, this got me to a point where I started having issues with code compilation, and got stumped. Then, the net went down, and all progress halted.

Up Tomorrow:

    • I've sent off a volley to some of my C#-knowing buddies about the difficulties I was running into with my experiments into runtime GameObject creation in Unity. It's perplexing that shit's going wrong, especially since the code snippet flagged by the compiler as somehow bad (see below) was copy-pasted directly from the Unity documentation, but I'll get through it.

Assets/EnableComponents.cs(36,29): error CS1525: Unexpected symbol `:', expecting `)', `,', `;', `[', or `='

I would love to find a really, truly full and interactive guide to C# syntax somewhere on the net. Something where I could, say, plug in a line of code I've taken from somewhere and just have the various pieces identified. There are seemingly so many ways to write this stuff that it's tough to know what piece is doing what sometimes.


WUIS Worklog FRI 5/9

It's Friday! Slow day full of other stuff happening. I should really temporarily rename this endeavor to something that doesn't mention Wwise...

Today I Learned:

  • About the Awake and Start functions. One's called every time the project launches, whether its containing script is enabled (checkboxed) or not. The other's called afterwards and only if the parent script's enabled. Useful tools for initializing variables, values, game states, etc. I was pleased to be able to write the code provided by this tutorial without having to look at it beforehand--but then, it was pretty easy!
  • Learned the difference between the Update() and FixedUpdate() functions--former executes once per frame, but frames can take varying amounts of time! Latter is more consistent and gets its timing from the physics engine or something.
  • The differences between Input.GetKeyDown() (returns true if a key's down, but only for the first frame in which this function's executed) and Input.GetKey(), which can retrigger.

Tried my hand at some off-the-rails coding to figure out some pay rate conversion stuff. I was all excited to use structs, proper data types etc. and make 'em public--then be able to edit them from Unity's Inspector view and check the results out in realtime!--but it turns out that you can't get structs flagged / exposed to show up in the Inspector view, even if they're public. Drag.

Up Tomorrow:

  • More tutorials--unless it's nice out, then I'm going outside.

WUIS Worklog THU 5/8

Today I Learned:

  • About scope and access. This does a lot to explain some of the compiler errors I've been getting when trying to build. I'm used to straight-ahead, "functional" programming stuff like .BAT scripting, which doesn't involve either of these concepts and in which variables set anywhere can pretty much be accessed anywhere else (an exception being within code blocks like IF statements). Turns out that public variables will display in the Unity GUI within the inspector of the object they're attached to, which allows you to tweak them at runtime. Useful for debugging and tuning RTPC curve calculations and stuff like that, I guess!
  • Read more into classes after seeing the Unity tutorial guy whizz through a bunch of stuff on them without stopping. Basic CompSci stuff that I just don't know, and seems worth reviewing. The differences between classes, structs (though I haven't run into these yet), functions, constructors, and instances of the above are still pretty murky right now. I will have to take an actual class on this stuff at some point, if only for the sake of having a teacher to ping with questions...

Debating switching the default editor back to MonoDevelop because of some intelligent stuff it does. Since it knows what scripts are loaded into the project, what's public, what's private, etc. it can autocomplete function references that Sublime can't. So, using MonoDevelop would prevent me from fucking this stuff up. On the other hand, sticking with Sublime force me to improve my knowledge of scope and access, since I'd have to be more careful.

Up Tomorrow:

  • Continuing with the tutorials! I'm thinking I'll probably hit my Text Fighter v1.0 project after a few more. Some days, you just wanna stay on target.

WUIS Worklog WED 5/7

So at this point, this venture's got me straight-up learning about Object-Oriented Programming, assorted computer science fundamentals, C# and its syntax. This this stuff translates readily into understanding more about Unity, vis-a-vis C# being a development language for it (and these tutorials feeding me easy examples of attaching scripts to objects, etc.)--but it doesn't really have much to do with Wwise, sound, or what I set out to do. The whole of "learning to program" is a rabbit hole into which I could tumble endlessly, so I think I should take a moment to update my daily and overall goals.

The end goal, for now, is still to figure out how to cook a Wwise project up and then create a Unity project which can invoke sound calls, RTPC updates and the like from those bundled banks, turning them into really simple game functions like, "When I push space, this sound plays" or "When I move the mouse on this axis, this RTPC increases."

To hit that point, I'll finish these tutorials, and daily:

  • List the stuff I've "learned" how to do. ("Learned," as in, "have experienced in one or another tutorial"--but won't necessarily have under my skin until I've really ventured off the rails and experimented with).
  • Any particularly cool points or definitions I feel like I've covered, I'll go into more detail on. And maybe list a few examples of how I can see that working in a simple project I'll define as I go along.

By finishing these tutorials and daily drilling in these reminders of what I've learned about C#, I expect that I'll be able to crack open the Wwise-Unity Integration Demo classes and at least understand what's going on at a structural level. It'll still be Greek, but I'll be able to recognize it as such, instead of a big text file full of scary.

Today I Learned:

  • About inheritance, main classes and base classes. Specifying a base class lets a class inherit certain properties, like instance variables and functions. When you create a new Unity script, that first public class and open brackets it creates specifies "MonoBehaviour" as the base class. This is like some default framework that Unity has which contains a bunch of useful functions. Makes sense. Diving deeper, it seems like there are other ways to do this kind of inheritance stuff with "delegation" and "subtyping"--but I don't know what the deal with those paradigms are or why I'd elect to use them. Yet.
  • About different value types--int and float, for starters. I don't know why exactly one of my example scripts has to explicitly define a floating value as such twice. That is, in the statement, "float coffeeTemperature = 85.0f;", why do we have to say both 'float' and put the 'f' suffix after the initialization value? Anyways, I'm not expecting this type of stuff to start becoming a problem until I'm converting between data types. As an example of why an audio-related function might do that could be turning a super fine-tuned, precise value like mouse coordinates into an integer that falls somewhere specific on an RTPC graph.
  • About constructors, which are like functions that are used to create brand-new objects (like GUI boxes) at runtime. Decided to make some semi-interactive controls to accompany the coffee temperature test tutorial on IF statements, and ran into some compilation errors until I looked this up.
  • About loops--While, DoWhile, For and ForEach--and when you'd use each one. Messed around a bit with trying to combine some examples.

Up Tomorrow:

Thinking to go off the rails a little bit. As a simple but creative test of what I've been learning, I have this crazy idea that I want to make a button-navigable, text-based RPG fighter that does some really easy damage calculation. From what I've seen, tweaking the GUI may be the hardest part.

Much respect for UI programmers.


WUIS Worklog TUE 5/6

  • Started late, lost a big chunk of the day to exercise and housework.
  • But, hit up a few more scripting tutorials to get the brain back in gear.

Up Tomorrow:


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!


WUIS Worklog WED 4/30

No response to my Audiokinetic support post just yet re: being unable to preview audio within the Unity player due to an apparently missing .dll. So, forging ahead with exploring Unity as a standalone component, divorced of all audio. I'll loop back into trying to create a script that plays a sound on something as I gain a little experience. Frightened that I will probably have to start taking C# courses at some point.

  • Read through some basic Unity help stuff to familiarize myself with the various work areas / parts of the workspace.
  • Decided to check out one of Unity's recommended beginner projects--the 'Stealth' game--as a way to get me on rails. Realized from comments that a) the tutorial doesn't teach very well (apparently) and b) requires Unity Pro, which I'm not paying for yet. Started looking for another option.
  • Started in on an example Scripting tutorial from the Unity website:
  • Realized I hated MonoDevelop (the included and default .cs editor for Unity) already and endeavored to make Sublime Text 3 the new default. Turns out, there's a guide for that. Went ahead and followed all the instructions there, including configuring a .sublime-project file that filters out Sublime from seeing stuff it can't really edit (like images, materials, etc.) from the left-hand panel tree.
  • Worked through the scripting tutorials until a venture into uncharted territory led me into a wall.
  • After doing the Variables and Functions tutorial, I decided to try to branch out and figure shit out. I then hit a stumbling block while trying to make a function that could accept two parameters:

    Assets/Scripts/VariablesAndFuntions_Luca.cs(28,25): error CS0236: A field initializer cannot reference the nonstatic field, method, or property `VariablesAndFuntions_Luca.MultiplyVars(params int[])'

  • Looking that up took me to this Stack Exchange discussion, which actually didn't help me out of the jam. I'm thinking this is basic C# syntax stuff and I probably shouldn't be venturing into this territory just yet.

It felt good to actually make stuff. I've got a little cube that drops onto the floor!

I've realized it'd be neat to be able to embed the results of each day's work within a Unity Web Player applet on here, so I've got little bits of 'playable' progress I can look back on now and again.

Work will probably resume Friday, as I've got to help a friend move tomorrow.


WUIS Worklog TUE 4/29


Chumped out while waiting to see if anyone'd come knocking on my Audiokinetic support post.

Unrelated, but finished Gemini Rue. (Which was excellent, and I don't usually play adventure games.)