Under the hood of a Commercial Video Game Production (New Video)

I wanted to give you guys front-row seats to some under-the-hood commercial video game production stuff. Though this is primarily a music production forum, there is enough interest here for video and music production of all kinds.

I will share my experiences as I go deeper into it over months and pick some brains in the process.

As I mentioned before, I have been given a behemoth of a task as a film/game sound producer for an upcoming video game. The job encompasses sound effects, voiceovers, ambiance, themes, and trailer music. Usually, a task like this is divided into multiple teams, so taking on the whole thing is quite daunting.

First, a bit of background on this:

The game is being developed by ex-gaming industry professionals from Electronic Arts and Microsoft (the makers of Need for Speed and Minecraft).

They chose to break from the general corporate world and decided to launch a new kind of modern game studio. As in, instead of going with Snoop Dogg as the spokesperson and John Williams as a composer, they chose to go the route of independent video and music makers (Lucky me!).

How and why I landed this project:

One of the producers of the game was a fan of my music! I did not know this until I was officially offered the project. What got the attention initially was my rendition of a Witcher track “Yennefer” and the Billie Eilish “Lovely” and “No time to die.” Shortly after, they acquired my orchestral albums to get the whole picture. It was a moment of a Serendipitous Payout after a decade of social media. Social Media is necessarily evil today for professionals looking to catch a break. Even though there are some very frustrating moments, it is worth putting your work out there on any platform you can.

The Deal and Negotiation

From my previous experiences of underselling myself, I gained some confidence in my work and chose to negotiate aggressively. I was almost certain they were going to drop me like a fly after I spoke up, but to my surprise, my requests were accommodated. I asked for a stake in the publishing royalties of the game, a position on the board as a consultant, and a significant flat fee for the work. The lesson learned here is to respect your work, and others will respect it. Needless to say, having a full production like this under the belt is a major stepping stone towards the final goal of being an established music director for films and media. I am grateful and honored to be part of this production.

We all sure can use some more hope. The music production engine runs on hope (and Misery). Though sometimes it is good to let the hope dominate.

Production Stage1: (Aug 2022)

Voiceover/Commentary Video:
Commentaries are extremely important part of game production. Usually they need to be “big and epic” sounding, the industry is slowly transitioning towards a more casual approach. Last few days I had been working on recording my voice for the commentary. Here is a first draft:

A rough draft.

The vision:

The producers wanted a “lowkey” voice, unlike the “In a world” style James Earl voice layered with cinematic orchestral hits.

The voice needed to sound as if the person talking was a typical day-to-day person playing and reviewing the game for its contents. The delivery needed to be clear and effective.

Do let me know if my voice sounds like that and fits the condition.

Next Steps:

I will be layering these with more sound effects and a non-intrusive music backtrack.

Stage 2: Sound effects and music
Trimmed some excess information out. Added music and sound effects.

This one is always tricky and messy. The vision was to keep music non invasive. As if it was part of the game track during the game(which it would be eventually). For the opening I chose a simple energetic diatonic arrangement of strings. Followed by sound effects of ocean waves, winds and wood creaks. I still need to add a drum roll kind of riser for the ship in a bottle scene. I am struggling with it a bit. Also the producers want me to keep my original Dun Dun Dun …uff told ya @Stan_Halen lol
Though I am going to decline on that for sake of sanity. Anyway…

Gave a bit of a no music gap then brought the orchestral arrangement back for some fighting scenes. A bit bigger this time. Added sword impacts, hits and shattering wood.

During the survival scenes, I chose an ambient guitar and xylo track.
To finish off with the tavern scene, I wanted to use one of my celtic tracks I had made a long time ago. Let me know if it fits. I am not too sure about that but it seems okish.

If you wonder what it looks like under the hood with video and audio clips.

Final Cut: EQ, Titles and Text

                                ________________

Next Steps:
Going to be working on more soundtracks

New Score, Maiden Voyage (Sep, 2022)
The vision:
The score “Maiden Voyage” captures the mixed feelings of the crew of a dreadnought class ship setting sail for the very first time. From preparation to foremast…to sail.
Vision is to capture the uncertainly of the crew to their romance with the first ocean spray.
Eventually drifting into the calm of the sea.
v1

v2
added Tremolo Violas based on feedback and a bit of eq

Finished work done so far:
Main theme music
Backstory Music
Extended Gameplay Trailer

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Truly interesting, and very nice storyline.
Your voice fits the bill, very clear.
I really like the Main theme music, very comforting, yet full of secretive doors to open.
The Backstory Music is much better imho.
This is great adventure.
Rene

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The graphics are amazing and the music works well I think. The voiceover is not working so well for me. Of course I’m not a gamer and not in the right age group so I don’t think my opinion means much here.

But I think you are providing way too much information too quickly without much expression; after a couple of minutes it becomes hard to focus. (Again, this is just me!) A “typical day-to-day person playing the game” is not going to be so organized and well spoken are they? Maybe more pauses and vocalizations, changes in pitch and tempo? You’re not sharing with your fellow gamers, you’re lecturing them with a sales pitch. Maybe that’s what the developers want?

I also think you need more vocal resonance, less edge to your tone. I’ll never make it in this business!

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no it is not just you. It is a rushed delivery of information, as there is a time constraint on the overall video length. There is a lot of information being front loaded. I am working with the producers to see how we can cut some short and scale back. That’s the process flow for these things. I did some experiments with pitch and tempo, but because of the sheer amount of information, I started sounding crazy lol.

I am experimenting with a few things, and hopefully when we scale the information down, add some music and effects, it could work better.
Thanks Ingo!

Thank you for taking a listen. I am a bit surprised that you caught the secretive door part. That song is layered with wooden ship creaks from the boat Shenandoah from the early 20th century. Recorded duriing the restoration process. I was curious how they would work in the song, and it was the same feeling I got as well.

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Absolutely!! I’d love to see anything you’re willing to share. Whether it’s music OR video. It seems to me that the two topics have become more closely related anyway :slight_smile:

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Wow… that’s a pretty huge job. Are you responsible for casting and auditioning actors as well? Or are you subcontracting this to a VO agency?

Are you handling the audio implementation in the game engine or just securing/creating/producing the audio assets?

I’m really glad to hear they brought you on board for this project! Congrats!

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Thanks Jonathan!

When I got the project, voices of characters and non player AI were already in (likely from a VO).
I am the chief music director for the production. All music inside and outside the game. Sound effects, ambiance effects, background sounds, and music in the game. I am also responsible trailer music, cinematic music and the voice for their press kit and media releases like this one. I am glad I don’t have to hire actors and hold auditions lol.

Though I am making mostly sound assets, as a music director I do have direct access to the engine (I asked for it). It is primarily to make sure that doppler and other sound physics are properly obeyed in the game engine. It would be easy for me to do it than some one else. I want to make sure that the end result translates in the engine exactly how I want to hear it, and not distorted by the engine. So I will be uploading them directly in the engine and tweaking them (software programming experience pays off here).

Hi Holster :slight_smile: glad to hear from you. At one time we thought you were abducted by aliens. :innocent:
Though it was right around time my then contract forbade me from interacting on music sharing sites so I had to go radio silent.

Which game engine are you working in? Using any middleware like wwise or fmod? Or working with the game engines vanilla mixing console?

Yeah… the audio implementation stuff was what gave me the hands on experience to jumpstart my developer/data science career. If I’d understood what I know know about databases, design patterns, servers etc… I’d probably have stayed in game audio, but the job market for enterprise web app devs is so rich with opportunity right now, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to try and go back.

It was through dabbling in video gaming audio asset implementation that I really fell in love machine learning and cloud computing models and mechanics. Learning that an AI could react to stimulus from an environment, ‘learn’, and make a ‘decision’ independent of explicit instruction was really mind blowing. And also covid pretty much decimated the studio. When the big film industry crashed and burned, it took a lot of the indie film work down with it for a while. At least in my region. Without the film work, I didn’t have enough video game work to sustain the company, and I had no interest in trying to survive just off music production.

I still do a little bit of the broadcast audio work as a side hustle, but it’s pretty much parked on cruise control.

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Unity Engine and yes fmod has a plugin for it. Though they arent using it yet, and I am going to integrate it within.

yeah that was the story of most productions. Thankfully I had work backlogged from before and it wasnt shelved during the meltdown. So I kept busy through it.

I havent heard of design patterns being used in game audio. Unless you are referring to it in a general sense. So you are a full time web app dev now? Game Audio is still a weak-ish industry to be in it solely. Unless you are in it deep, and have a long term project. That is the reason I actually asked for a position on the board instead of just making sound and calling it a day. I saw an opportunity that was a bit bigger than just game audio. It is a place where I might be able to utilize a lot of my music and tech experience combined.

Well you never know…thats what I told myself, yet I can never run away from music :sweat_smile: it has a strange self destructive way of calling me back. Hope one day you can hop back on the music train!

Very Cool! I’m not much of a video gamer at all, but this one looks quite fun and interesting.

I’m guessing you meant James Earl Jones, but the “In a World …” movie trailer guy was actually the late/great Don LaFontaine. :slightly_smiling_face: Maybe James Earl Jones did some things like that too, he did have the same kind of ‘gravitas’ voice.

I actually found that your voice and your ‘performance’ worked quite well for this Commentary. That video does look like a game intro commentary and/or a long version of the sales trailer/promo. Your voice comes across as “girl next door” (‘day-to-day’) which seems like that’s what they wanted. I thought it was clear and effective, possibly a little bit stiff and over-enunciated at times, but pulling off something like that very relaxed and natural can take a lot of work and a lot of practice. The style, and your cadence and pacing, was quite good though. My one raspberry was the “Duhn Duhn Duhn” with the echo at 0:29, that was pretty cheesy. :slightly_smiling_face: :drooling_face:

Yeah, it seems like a combination of narration and storytelling, so there’s no need for drama and jazzy over-the-top antics - which can come across as artificial and disconnected for the audience IMO. You used the term “Commentary”, though I might call it an “explainer video” style. Just explaining what the game is and how it works, in an engaging and relatable way. Almost like a more experienced player of the game would be talking about it to a novice. But with an eye for translating parts of it to the sales trailer ad which I assume will eventually be made (kill two birds with one stone!).

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James Earl Jones has some trailers like that but you are correct. The true in a world go to celebrity was indeed great Don LaFontaine. Good catch there, my bad.

Thanks :slight_smile: and yes, that is what they wanted. Sort of an experienced game review kind of vibe, but ofcourse, in the end it is intended for media and press…and it is indeed a hidden sales pitch without trying to sound sale-sy.

hahaha that was not even intended to be in there. It was supposed to be a placeholder for me to remember to put something cheesy musical. Though it is definitely intended to be cheesy there, but not with my voice. But you just watch the producers will force me to keep it there now…I realized that after I made the draft.

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Stage 2: Sound effects and music
Trimmed some excess information out. Added music and sound effects.

This one is always tricky and messy. The vision was to keep music non invasive. As if it were part of the game track during the game(which it would be eventually). For the opening I chose a simple energetic diatonic arrangement of strings. Followed by sound effects of ocean waves, winds and wood creaks. I still need to add a drum roll kind of riser for the ship in a bottle scene. I am struggling with it a bit. Also the producers want me to keep my original Dun Dun Dun …uff told ya @Stan_Halen lol
Though I am going to decline on that for sake of sanity. Anyway…

Gave a bit of a no music gap then brought the orchestral arrangement back for some fighting scenes. A bit bigger this time. Added sword impacts, hits and shattering wood.

During the survival scenes, I chose an ambient guitar and xylo track.
To finish off with the farming and tavern ‘ale makin’ scene, I wanted to use one of my celtic tracks I had made a long time ago. Let me know if it fits. I am not too sure about that but it seems okish.

If you wonder what it looks like under the hood with video and audio clips.

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Definitely better! I see you trimmed some but the sound track gives it all a kind of punctuation that really helps the flow and it holds my attention now.

I remember reading composers crying about producers falling in love with mediocre temp tracks and rejecting the quality work that followed. Ouch.

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It looks like you posted the “Stage 2” info in both the OP (original post) and Post #13, I was a little confused at first. :upside_down_face:

I think those both work well for those scenes, they are relatively calm and don’t distract from the particular scene and narration, and give a pleasant ambiance.

Which DAW is this? I don’t recognize it. But thanks for the peek inside! :nerd_face:

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thanks for the much valued feedback. That is Sony Vegas video editing software. It is an inbuilt daw as well and runs 64 bit plugins and VST. Allows me to mix the video sound as well. Though that is not my go to daw for sound mixing. I use FL studio.

Final Cut: (EQ,Ttitles and Text)

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That’s really cool, Michelle! Sounds like a super-involved process with a lot of moving parts. Fun though, I’ll bet! You did an excellent job - nice video!

I love doing this sort of thing - it’s not anywhere on the scale of what you’re doing, but around 10 years ago or so, I had a little taste of this sort of thing, and I really enjoyed it!

I did the soundtrack for an animation my nephew made for the final part of his College course (He works full time as an 3D animator now). What I loved about it was that I had free rein with the music composition (within the stylistic remit of the piece) and composed everything from scratch, as well as did al the sound design for it. The sound design was really a lot of fun… and composing and playing the music was tricky, (especially because there were a lot of last minute scene changes) but very satisfying! Here’s the video - it’s called “Le Tour”:

2 Likes

wow that is so good to hear! Does he have a career in game design? or does he work on contract?

Very cool and fun video and animations, and the music is very fitting and very detailed! Love the sax opening.

How did you come up with the vision for the sonic landscape? (I can use the tips)
Aside from the animations, the music work is sheer genius. Jazz overtones are usually really hard to fit in with visuals, but they are nailed down here. If I could give this video an award I would.

Heard it again in a proper setup and your video is stellar! The shift on scene changes is done very well. You should do more of these lol!

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He contracts for a company in Canada - does all sorts of little jobs - mainly in advertising, I think.

Thanks, as I said, I had so much fun doing this, it wasn’t really like work until the end, where he kept changing all the timing of sequences.

I guess the fact that I’ve watched a lot of motor-racing helped! I came up with “characters” for the cars. I think the little one was actually based on a motor cycle engine sound. I found some royalty-free sounds of different car noises and then just twisted and warped them to whatever needed to happen for the scene.

Panning is a big part of animating the sounds to the picture, as well as using eq and volume to create the impression of distance or closeness and size.

I think the key to recreating the impression of sonic spaces is to be kind of always unconsciously aware of the sound of different spaces, and what happens to sound as it moves… that’s something I’ve had a fascination with even as a little kid… I liken it to drawing or painting well. The difference between someone who can draw and someone who can’t (IMO) is really just developing heightened powers of observation. I suppose sound design is a bit like drawing with sound.

I knew it had to be evocative of the era, so I thought European-ish Jazz might be a good touchstone. I approached the music totally free-form - just watching the screen and improvising as I went until something cool came out. Don’t ask me what chords I played, or what key things are in - it was entirely intuitive!.. then it was just a matter getting the timing to match the action. I think I remember deciding on key transitional points (which were clear from the story), and then working up to them, and playing with the tempo in between those points until it worked right with the action.

I think it might have been in the running for some type of award, or perhaps it did win - I can’t remember. James is a clue-y young fella - He was only about 16 when he did this, too!

Yeah, I hoped it might lead to something in that respect, but it never really has… oh well. :man_shrugging:

Glad you liked it!

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Very cool video from you and your nephew @ColdRoomStudio , it’s a lot of fun to watch. Some great jazz licks there, got any more like that?

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