Listen to the majesty of that full-orchestra arrangement. Is it from the new Christopher Nolan movie or the latest Call of Duty? If we’re going by the music alone, you really can’t tell the difference between a big-budget popcorn flick and a big-budget first-person shooter. However, as the composer, your life in games could be a lot different. You have to handle different styles and tasks equally well and may need to adjust quickly from working on an epic game to a gamey app. You’re an orchestral composer, an EDM producer and a sound designer at the same time. You have to be ready to deliver 24-bit/96kHz audio mixed for 5.1 surround, as well as compressed audio made for smartphone speakers.
As this jack-of-all-trades, you need a well-rounded studio with a few key items for specific purposes. We assume you have either a nice Mac or Windows computer to get started—the nicer the better, because we’re about to throw some heavy hitters at it. All prices listed are common street prices.
If you’re a staff producer, chances are you’re using Pro Tools, and if you’re a hired gun, chances are you’ll want to use what the production houses use: Pro Tools! We pair up Avid Pro Tools 11 ($699, Mac/PC) with the beautiful and comprehensive Avid C|24 ($9,995.95) control surface/interface for handling all of your recording, editing, routing, mixing and monitoring needs.
To break up your workflow, let’s throw in an alternate DAW with plenty of instruments, effects and novel tools that pack a big punch without denting the budget. For Mac users, the recent Apple Logic Pro 10.1 ($199) update adds many new sounds, drum design, beat creation and other tools focused on EDM and hip-hop production, as well as an enhanced mixer. For Windows, Image-Line FL Studio 11 ($199) is loved for its versatility and all-in-one workflow.
For editing, batch processing, rendering and other handling of huge amounts of sound files, game audio pros love the workflow and results of Steinberg WaveLab 8.5 ($499, Mac/PC) multitrack editor and mastering program. It includes audio restoration and spectrum analysis features.
We’re choosing MIDI controllers based in part on their integration with Native Instruments Komplete 10 (included below). The NI Komplete Kontrol S61 ($699) keyboard feels essential for Komplete users, as it integrates browsing, hard-mapped controls, a great arpeggiator, key and scale keyboard modes and useful LED feedback for all the of the Komplete instruments. Besides being a MIDI pad controller for all your software, NI Maschine ($599) includes its beat-production software for composing either stand-alone or as a plug-in instance in your DAW, and it integrates well with all of the Komplete plug-ins.
You’re going to have to be able to switch back and forth between 5.1 surround-sound mixing for big-budget console games and stereo audio for other purposes. The professional monitor section on the C|24 control surface makes that easy. Console and computer games have become bastions for high-resolution audio in this MP3 world, so we can’t skimp on the monitors for game audio. For surround, the Genelec 8320.LSE Surround SAM - 5.1 Studio Monitor Kit ($4,750) packages five 8320A bi-amped nearfield monitors with a 7350A subwoofer. Its Smart Active Monitor technology lets the system optimize itself for levels, timing and equalizing of room response anomalies.
The union of Klein & Hummel studio monitors with Neumann’s leading transducers and supreme build quality has been a winning proposition. The Neumann KH 120 ($1,499.90/pair) 100W bi-amped studio monitors sound amazing and offer a wide sweet spot with its Mathmatically Modeled Dispersion.
Besides composing bass-heavy music, you’ll need to work through many hours of creating booming low-end explosions, impacts and other deep ambient effects that occur throughout big action games. You can reduce ear fatigue by monitoring with excellent headphones: the Subpac S2seatback tactile bass system ($379) helps you feel the bass response without burning out your ears. Combine it with some amazing headphones like the Audeze LCD-X ($1,699) planar magnetic headphones to be blown away while you’re making the sounds of people being blown away.
MICS & RECORDING
Game audio geeks take their field recordings seriously. You can get whole batches of deliverable sounds from a good field recording session, so when you’re out to do it big, look toward the Sound Devices 722 ($2,679) 24-bit/192kHz portable digital recorder with 160GB hard drive, two XLR inputs and excellent mic-pres. For impromptu recording, keep the pocket-size Zoom H5 Handy Recorder ($269) on you at all times. The 24/ 96 SD card recorder includes its own interchangeable mics.
A well-rounded trio of mics begins with the Sennheiser MKH 416 shotgun ($999.95) for field recording. It features excellent directivity and optimization for outdoor broadcasting and recording.
Next, you’ll want a good all-purpose condenser mic like the Neumann TLM 107 ($1,699.95) multipattern large-diaphragm condenser. Classic Neumann sound, five polar patterns and a three-position highpass filter helped this mic win a 2015 TEC Award.
When you’re a one-stop game audio shop, you should be prepared to record voiceovers, and the Electro-Voice RE27N/D ($499) specializes in voiceovers with the proper human balance between warmth and intelligibility. It’s also a multipurpose dynamic mic suitable for capturing amps, drums, singers, etc.
Put that Thunderbolt 2 port to excellent use with a massive hard drive like the 12TB LaCie 8big Rack Thunderbolt 2 ($1,599) rackmount drive for recording and storing/backing up samples. Besides generous storage, you’ll enjoy its transfer speeds of up to 20Gb/s, RAID 5/ 6 security and dual Thunderbolt 2 ports for daisy chaining up to six Thunderbolt devices.
We always like to divert at least a portion of the budget to great analog gear that can inject some character and sheen into sounds that you can’t otherwise achieve.
Analog synths have always created buzz, literally, but the latest buzz-board of the analog synth revival comes in the form of the Sequential Prophet-6 ($2,799), sequel to the immortal Prophet-5. The new 6-voice polyphonic synth has a fully analog signal path with added digital dual effects engines and analog distortion. A newly designed oscillator section, modern conveniences like MIDI and USB connections, and some other feature enhancements make it a true bridge to the past.
For warming up, glossing over or polishing any sound, track or full mix, you can run it through the Rupert Neve Designs Portico II Master Buss Processor ($3,995). This 2-channel compressor/limiter/stereo field processor includes the same Class-A signal processing as in the immaculate 5088 mixer.
SYNTHS, PROCESSORS AND SOUNDWARE
Including everything from industry-leading synths and samplers, creative effects, mastering processors and hundreds of gigabytes of sounds for orchestral instruments, acoustic and electronic drums, ethnic instruments and guitar/bass/keys, Native Instruments Komplete 10 Ultimate ($999, Mac/PC, AAX/AU/RTAS/VST/stand-alone) could get you through entire projects all on its own.
However, we’ll supplement Komplete with a few other unique instruments that bring their own flavors. The Xfer Serum synth ($189, Mac/PC, AAX/AU/VST) breaks the game open on wavetable synthesis; its stunning graphic wavetable editing and ability to easily import and create your own wavetables makes its possibilities endless. As an industry standard for all styles of electronic music, Lennar Digital Sylenth($160 approx., Mac/PC, AU/VST) virtual analog synth made its repuation on excellent sound and an extremely powerful, yet extremely usable interface that allows fast, creative patch-creation.
The days of game music being all 4- and 8-bit sounds are long over, but not forgotten. Plogue Chipsounds ($95, Mac/PC, AAX/AU/RTAS/VST) rules the roost as the best and most comprehensive vintage sound chip emulator, re-creating the bloops and squelches of old Amiga, Atari, ColecoVision, Intellivision, Commodore 64 and many other machines.
Dive into the iZotope Studio & Repair Advanced Edition Plug-In Bundle ($1,499) for a world of high-end mastering, mixing, audio repair and vocal processing, including Alloy 2, Nectar 2, Ozone 6 and RX 4 Advanced. You’ll find them great for sound design, as well as pristine production.
Loaded with compressors, EQs, guitar amps, stompboxes and many radically creative effects, Waves Sound Design Suite ($1,400 Mac/PC, AAX Native, RTAS, AudioSuite, VST, AU) bundles 36 monster plug-ins.
Of the eight plug-ins inside Soundtoys Native Effects Plug-in Bundle ($495, Mac/PC, AAX/RTAS/AudioSuite/VST/AU), game sound designers especially revere the Crystallizer granular echo processor and the Decapitator analog saturation tool.
Finally, we’ve saved room to go all out on the coveted Vienna Symphonic Library Vienna Instrument Super Package–Standard ($6,199, Mac/PC, AAX/AU/RTAS/VST/stand-alone) über collection of orchestral strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, keyboards, organs and other “Elements.” This gathering of 275,000 separate recordings has set the bar for orchestral virtual instruments and will help you put the professional stamp on your game compositions.
Grand total: $46,793.75