Secrets behind the perfect video game

Secrets behind the perfect video game

Secrets behind the perfect video game

Sound designer John Broomhall  describes his work, which embraces everything from field recording to complex maths

What is your role in audio?

I’ve worked in many different roles creating music and sound for games: composer, sound designer – including plenty of field recording – right through to in-house head of audio. I also co-founded the Game Music Connect series at the Southbank with composer James Hannigan and have chaired numerous game audio awards juries for Bafta.

What is field recording?
It’s gathering audio source material by making bespoke recordings in the real world. It could be simple like recording the ambience in a building or a dog barking, or something much more complex: a multi-track recording of guns being fired, using 20 microphones to capture sound from all perspectives and angles for a first-person adventure game.

Why don’t library sound effects suffice for games?
Games soundtracks require specific, authentic, malleable source material which isn’t always available in libraries. We work to exactly the same kind of quality standards as film, except that often games require many more variants and sound perspectives. Plus you don’t want your game to sound like your competitors’ because you used the same sounds.

Where has game fieldrecording taken you?
One of the most interesting, challenging and exciting was behind the scenes with a Formula One team making “onboard” car recordings during test sessions. It was tough to find the right equipment combination to withstand the rigours of F1, so there were many hours of frustrating experimentation. However, it was a privilege to be embedded with such extraordinary professionals and the sound was mind-blowing – recording car passes from the pit wall was slightly terrifying, actually.

And does Foley recording [thereproduction of everyday sound effects] have a part to play in game audio?
Certainly. On lower budget productions this might involve home-brew recordings of movement sounds; at the high end, game sound designers go to major movie foley experts; for example, the Bafta-award winning Alien: Isolation at Shepperton, and the acclaimed new Star Wars: Battlefront game at Skywalker Sound.

What about synthesising sound effects?
Many people hope for growth in so-called procedural audio – where a sound is generated using a computational mathematical model, meaning equations and algorithms that simulate the sound from scratch, based on its physical properties. One imagines the greater the computing power in future, the more viable that will become. As long as the graphics people don’t grab all that power. Sound may go under a player’s radar because when it’s done well you don’t notice it – but in reality, it’s a hugely important part of the video game experience and, with immersive VR technologies coming forward, even more so.