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TalkBack: Game Sound

Worked in post/sound design and scoring for films in Australia from around 2000 to 2007. Made the switch last year to games, working as sound designer for American Startup here in Perth, Western Australia, Interzone Games, on its Massively Multiplayer Online Soccer title, Interzone Futebol.

Mentally, I made the switch in early 2006, and even attended the GDC in Austin in ’06 (a long way from Perth) to try and rustle up work, but obviously had to come back to Australia. Not long after getting back, I heard the rumors about Interzone starting here, and eventually got a contract with them doing post for a promo video. Not long after that (after quite a bit of nipping at their heels), they hired me as their sound designer. Basically, I made the switch because sound design for linear formats was becoming restrictive for me, but also primarily for financial reasons. The film industry where I am is quite a closed workshop, and being a freelancer I wasn’t really earning enough to cover costs, and advertising/corporate work, while rewarding financially, was really not what I wanted to be doing for the rest of my life.

Been at IZ for almost a year now, and despite all its foibles I love the people in the games industry, and I love designing sound/sound systems for games. With film post, it was pretty much the same process each time; with game sound design, even though the engineering process is more or less the same, you more often than not have to invent an entirely new process for implementation. For example, in a linear format, it’s quite easy to design for a sound of a crowd of 100,000 mad soccer fans. In a 3-D/interactive format, not only do you have to account for the listener’s perspective, but you have to be able to create a system that can change the sound dynamically in real time based on in-game conditions. It’s not enough just to loop it. Providing the audio assets for that system is (amazingly) only half the job!
—Alex Ringis
Sound designer, Interzone Games

I started out playing keyboards in various local bands (some of which opened for national acts). Then I did a few online Flash projects. My first official game title was Taxi 3: eXtreme Rush developed by Team 6 games. I’ve since created the music and/or sound effects for titles such as ,I>Looney Tunes: Duck Amuck (Warner Bros Interactive/Wayforward), Space Chimps (Vanguard Animation/Wayforward/Brash Entertainment), Hello Kitty: Hello San Rio City (SanRio/Wayforward), Dodgeball (Skyworks Technologies), March of the Penquins (Skyworks Technologies), DogFights (The History Channel/Kuma Reality Games) and KillPoint (Spike Tv/Kuma Reality Games).
—Adam DiTroia

My background is from the music industry as a sound engineer/producer and to some extent still is. In the past, I worked at Britannia Row studios with artists such as Pulp, Suede, Chemical Brothers, Catherine Wheel, Pink Floyd, among many others, and then at Great Linford Manor Studios and freelance with Jamiroquai, Skunk Anansie, Supergrass, Shed Seven, etc.

I am a consultant A&R/music supervisor here at Platinum Sound Publishing, which provides music for the multimedia industries and have provided music for games such as MOTOGP 03/06/07 (Xbox/Xbox 360), Juiced Eliminator (PSP), PGR4, Trackmania Sunrise and Crazy Frog, and are currently working on a couple of
new IPs for the DS, PS2 and an MMOG for the PC. We have also provided music for a variety of sport DVDs, ads, trailers and films. We specialize in providing new indie/dance and rock, but as we now represent the catalog of three large indie music publishers, one of which is in the U.S.

I have also contributed to many of these as a producer/engineer (where needed) through my own company, Dilute Recordings, as well as some sound design and audio research for the gaming industry.

Attention game sound developers: We’re guessing you didn’t always work in videogames; we know a lot of you have roots in music and post. Tell us why you made the switch to the game world, and the name of the first title you worked on…

I have worked on independent film, commercials and sound for games and interactive media for over a decade starting with my first job with Brenda Laurel’s brainchild, Purple Moon. We were fortunate to be funded by Paul Allen in the glory days of the startup frenzy, but as Internet investments became drained, dreams were folded. Since that time, I have worked for Konami, Electronic Arts, Disney, Leap Frog, Fisher-Price and on many Internet sites and interactive projects. Currently, I am at Google working as a sound drector and teaching Sound for the Moving Image at CCA in Oakland.

What draws me to seek out game audio work is the creativity involved in interactive design. Since the audio isn’t typically based on realistic production locations, the goal of the audio is to complement imagined, often fantastical worlds with a wide variety of constructed soundscapes. The dialog snippets and hard effects are a blast to bang out; they are conceived of in relationship to the environments and overall game strategy, offering an exciting opportunity to develop an integrated sonic palette. To top off this palette, there is the UI design that seals the deal, which is an art form unto itself that simultaneously calls for an understanding of information architecture and the symbolic role of sound.

Conceptually, game audio is appealing due to the layered, dimensional way in which games are produced. The elements of sound design are broken off into various bits, stored as data to be dynamically resurrected through interactive exploration at random. To see these elements come together after hours of design, implementation and programming reveals a unique level of creativity that doesn’t compare to designing in other genres.
—Kadet Kuhne

I started playing professionally in 1970 and had a succession of “close-but-no-cigar” original and touring bands and my share of working cover bands. Things seemed to peak for me in the mid-’80s and I could sense work opportunities and my audience were starting to dwindle as time went on. Then in 1991, in the San Diego area, a friend hooked me up with a tiny start-up game-development company called Knight Technologies. Along with some coding help from a programmer, I fashioned the music and SFX for the Atari Lynx version of Qix. This was my first of a dozen titles I helped to create and ship for Nintendo, Sega, Sony and PC during the 9’0s.

I got out of that industry in 1995 and got back to it in 2001. I was sure that scraping up gigs for a living was in the past, however after my whole team at Acclaim got “downsized” in 2002 I have been unable to get back into the game industry. Perhaps it has something to do with my age or that my last shipped game was for the Sega Genesis CD back in ’95, I don’t really know. I liked doing that work and I miss it. Gigging for a living at this point in my life, especially in Austin where there are fine musicians on every corner, isn’t what it used to be.
—Jeffrye Glenn Tveraas
Cheshire Moon Studios

My name is Panagiotis Kouvelis and I’m a sound designer and music composer for games. I started game development by myself on my first PC, a 8086 old PC with DOSC, making my first little games in Basic, Quick Basic, Turbo Pascal and Turbo Assembly. In fact, I started by making my first game design document at the age of 12 by writing down features of the game and designing levels and big bosses.

I was into music by playing guitar from a much younger age and my first expensive gift was a little Yamaha PSR or something like that; then I got to study classical guitar in a music school, but my studies where interrupted by the military, which not going is not an option in my country.

Then I started with music bands—rock, metal, thrash, stuff like that—and I decided I wanted to learn more on music production, so I went to a school of audio engineering. Almost since the beginning of the audio engineering school, I was into indie-label music productions of my favorite genres and started working on the sound design of a game with the title Racing Devils by CodeDark, which got a publishing deal by a small indie Dutch company.

From then I got to make two more games in that team and I’m currently working in various indie projects and a few major releases, one of those is DarkFall Online,
Panagiotis Kouvelis

I grew up engineering in the collaborative recording environments of the

’80s and ’90s: studio multiplexes that fostered groups of creative people

working on multiple projects simultaneously, water cooler talks and a

healthy, competitive industry. With the advent of desktop recording, the

process of making music became more isolated for the creators. With less

collaboration came less innovation.

I became interested in the videogame industry because I saw the
collaborative environment that motivated me to get into music recording in the first place. Huge teams of energetic people pushing innovation and
technology to their limits. It’s those elements that I believe are the
making of great change and artistic creation.

Marc Senasac
senior music engineer, Sony Computer Entertainment America – Music Group

My name is Mike Johnson, and I am the manager of audio post-production at Sony Computer Entertainment America (SCEA) in San Diego, Calif. I used to work at Danetracks as a sound designer and worked on

The Animatrix


Matrix Reloaded


Matrix Revolutions





while there.

I then went to work at Disney for the Wes Craven film Cursed and then over to Warner Bros. for The Perfect Man (while not a heavy sound design movie, one has to pay the bills…).

While at Danetracks, when we were slow some of us film guys worked on Prince of Persia II (The Sands of Time) and DOOM3 videogames. Once things slowed down at Danetracks, I moved over to Technicolor Sound Services and worked on Jak3 and God of War 1 for SCEA. It was during that project that my talents were noticed and SCEA made me an offer to come work for them full time, heading up there audio post-production department down in San Diego.

I guess then my first truly “full-time” SCEA videogame project would be God of War 1 (we wrapped it up after I joined SCEA), and then I moved to SOCOM III US Navy Seals.
Mike Johnson

I always wanted to work in games, but I made a pit stop in post on the

way. I worked for GTN in Detroit for a while, then Filmworkers Club in

Dallas. I finally made the jump on

Tony Hawk’s Project 8

, and have since worked on



The Club


Boom Boom Rocket






Brothers In
Arms: Hell’s Highway


Mark Kilborn, sound designer

While I am taking a break from life for the present time due to failing body parts, I’ve spent nearly every minute from the time I was 14 until a year ago doing music. I started playing and doing sound in the clubs of New York City when I was 16, including the famous Max’s Kansas City, Trax, Gildersleeves and Copperfields. I moved on to doing tour productions and did sound for Air Supply, Princess Pang, Trixter and Joe Lynn Turner, to name a few. In the late ’80s, I started concentrating on studio work, which brought me into game audio at the very beginning of the whole thing.

When I started doing sound design and music for games, we were still figuring out what file types were smallest, how to get audio to play on a CD on underpowered Macs and PC’, and all of our file compression applications were hand-written in house by former Apple employees because there wasn’t anything out yet! It was exciting, interesting and frustrating at the same time.

My first major title was a multi-award-winner called Awesome Animated Monster Maker. I went on to do numerous kid games, including CD remakes of board classics Operation, Chutes and Ladders, and a couple of Tonka Trucks titles, as well as Arthur, Barney and other stuff.

The game world has grown way beyond what any of us ever imagined. We were lucky we were given mono at that time, Stereo was out of the question, and at 8-bit audio the fizzies on every sample became the biggest challenge, using radical EQs (Thank You Waves!!) and audio compression to squeeze every ounce of quality from the hours of hard work that was simply ruined when it was put into those early game engines! Talk about pure frustration. All the audio guys back then were screaming for better audio programming, but video was the only real worry many producers had. Samples were put on the wrong video completely or thrown out to save space for video playback.

Now, game audio people are pulling in big bucks, getting royalties and staging huge concert events. I am blown away by titles like Call of Duty 4, which is amazing as far as audio and music are concerned. I only wish it had been as creatively satisfying for us back then, but the challenge was incredible—as it is now, too, to create incredible sounds. Where it goes from here will be interesting.
Gene Porfido

My first game title was Winter Olympic Challenge for PC and Sega Genesis in 1988 (followed soon after by Test Drive II). I was trying to break into film and TV scoring at the time, but having a tough time because of all the established players already in the field. It was clear that the game world had a lot of growth potential and the machines would be continuously improving. Plus, a background in both computers and music was a big plus. Now, I think games are definitely the place to be because we’re still writing the rules, still advancing the art of it as the capabilities of the machines improve each generation.
Alistair Hirst
OMNI Interactive Audio

1980: I took a job at the new videogame division of one of the major pinball companies, Gottlieb. I had been a full-time musician from ’72 to ’77, but with disco and DJs it was becoming too hard so I became a computer programmer at an insurance company. I really wanted to work on micros and get off mainframes, so when the headhunter called about a job at a game company I jumped at it.

When it came time to finish the first video game, management asked, “Who will do the sound?” My hand shot up.

Well, the rest is history. The first two products (Reactor, Guardian) were duds, but the third one was Q*Bert, which was a big hit for Gottlieb (owned at that time by Columbia Pictures).

So I have been an interactive audio guy every since. Of course, things have changed a bit: The Q*Bert sound system was 6502, 128 bytes (that’s right, bytes) of memory, an 8-bit unsigned DAC and 2,048 bytes of ROM. Every sound was a program, complete soft-synthesis. Very flexible but limited.

Most recently, I have done the sound packages for Stern Pinball for their last four machines (Pirates of the Carribean, Family Guy, Spider-Man, Wheel of Fortune). The rules are a but different: five mono independent channels; 24kHz, 16-bit ADPCM compress from a store of 28 MBytes. Start, stop, looping and virtual sliders based on XML scripts are how it is done now, with all the sounds created in my studio with as many resources as I can bring to bear. Less interactive but glorious sound.
David Thiel

I made the switch to game audio because the music industry is dying as we know it. It is nearly impossible to exist as a commercial studio owner and producer when everyone expects music to be free online. Most bands can now record themselves in the basement “good enough for Myspace,” and I think we’ve all but given up on commercial radio! Game audio is probably the most stable place to be considering the current state of the music industry.

My first commercially released game was the Winx Club for the PSP. I recently did Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the Nintendo DS. I have also completed and am awaiting the release of Star Wars: Force Unleashed for the DS.
Karl Demer
Atomic K Inc.

I started working in game audio in 1994 at Broderbund Software in

Novato, Calif. Prior to that, I was a performing musician as well as doing

soundtracks for whatever I could get my hands on: documentary, TV

news music packages, you name it. I was drumming up new business and

saw an article in


magazine about this new CD-ROM craze, which listed the top 50 companies developing CD-ROMs. Broderbund had



, which at that time was the biggest selling game of all time. I called them up, got some temp work on

The Playroom

CD-ROM and later got hired full time.

Our audio department soon grew to 12 people under the guidance of Tom Rettig, a respected pillar in the audio community. While I was there, I worked on the Carmen Sandiego Series, Math Workshop, Prince of Persia 3D, Warbreeds, Nickelodeon’s Nick Click Camera, KidPix, Riven: The Sequel to Myst and others. Since then, I’ve done music and sound for 80-plus games including Guitar Hero, Splinter Cell Double Agent and a whole lotta casual games.

I made the switch in the early ’90s, when the industry was still in its infancy. I had done lots of touring and session work in the ’80s and early ’90s, recording as a keyboardist with Alice Cooper, Queensryche and touring with Gino Vanelli. In parallel, I was developing quite an interest in computers and started to teach myself programming in C, trying to write an editor/librarian for my Yamaha DX7 and many other synths. At that time, I really wanted to buy a house, but my bank manager did not look kindly on lending money to a dreadlocked, leather-jacketed geek with no “regular” job. Lamenting that no-one was willing to hire a synthesizer freak who could write a little code, a friend of mine who had been in the road crew for Gino Vanelli, said, “There’s this new place that you should apply to in town. They make videogames, and you’d fit right in.”

That was Electronic Arts in Burnaby, BC. I worked there for a decade, and the first title I worked on was FIFA Soccer 95. I was the lead audio guy for that title (and many others) for quite a few years, and I developed a bunch of processes for doing interactive play-by-play speech for them. I had a great time there for quite a while. It was like getting paid to go to school. I loved working with a bunch of rocket scientists in a place with a 5.1 studio designed by John Storyk! I’ve since built my 5.1 studio, The Treehouse Studio, and I still do some consulting for game developers.
Robert Bailey

First title: The Playroom-Broderbund

Made the switch from full-time musician composer in the San Francisco Bay Area freelance music scene to games because of the position that opened up at Broderbund. Found out about it as CD-ROMS were getting popular. Been doing sound work in games about 80 percent since then, the rest TV, film and some live.
Tim Larkin

I am one of those crossover film and game sound sound designers. I work as a freelancer and have worked on the following games:

Call of Duty 3, Call of Duty Big Red One, Ultimate Spiderman, BLACK, Medal of Honor Airbourne, Need for Speed Underground, Need for Speed Carbon, Biohazard 5, Project Black, SOCOM (2008)


I do both and see the game market as an expansion of the marketplace for my skills.
Charles Maynes

I’m Stuart, bass and keyboards from the Canadian rock band the Tea

Party. We sold a few million records in the ’90s. I got invited to compose a soundtrack in 2002 from an audio engineer/producer, Simon Pressey, who had worked an EP for us and was now managing an audio department at a major game studio. Since then I have done three AAA titles and several handheld releases.

It’s very competitive, but the backstabbing and sabotage that existed
in the major-label recording business isn’t present. I have kept a
foot in the music business and in the game industry. I am currently
working on an unnamed AAA titled for Christmas and several other
recording projects.

Is the industry perfect? No. Problems include
some composers being worried about the outsourcing of game
development to China and several other up-and-coming economies. I
have an optimistic outlook that these economies will
grow and have a thirst for authentic Western culture and games. If
there is a PS3 or Xbox360 in every other house in China or India,
then I’m sure there will be room for everybody.

My name is Sandro Mancino and I am a TV composer of 10 years. I’ve mainly worked on TV spots, jingles and a network series. I’ve recently begun my transition to gaming about a year ago, and have just begun to break in. The reason for my decision was the gaming industry’s fast growth and the strong corporate structure behind these companies.

After 100 or so projects, I was starting to get a little bored with writing 15-second and 30-second spots, and I started to remember the passion I once had for music. That brought me back to my University days. In 1996, I graduated from York University with a Music degree specializing in electronic composition. I was lucky enough to work on Arp 2600s, Roland Sys 100s, Synthis and a Technos Axcel Resynthesizer. This true hands-on approach and the technical savvy I acquired was what kept my ideas fresh and evolving.

Throughout the years, I always liked to dabble in mild programming, Filemaker DB creation and hardware design. I also loved going out to record field audio and, of course, true SFX creation using synthesis. Well, in the advertising world, I barely had time to throw down a loop, let alone create a patch. I found I was focusing on speed and not on originality. When I started looking into gaming, not only did I find that there were good-paying full-time positions available, but that this industry mixed both the musical, artsy side and the technical “computer geek” side of my personality. .

I’m currently in Berklee’s brand-new game audio course, and I can’t get enough of it. My goal is to start contributing to the advancement of the technology and to learn as much as I can. The prospect of interactive music is going to be huge and the hardware will become more and more capable, and I want to be right in the middle of it.
Sandro Mancino

I’m a DJ/producer/MC getting into the game industry. My first game audio gig was doing sound for the THQ title

Saints Row

with Volition Inc. I chopped up a lot of voice, designed the ambience implementation and made some placeholder radio station ID/speech recordings. I’m an old-school gamer and have a degree in computer science, so the transition was pretty natural for me. I actually got in the loop with the developers through my work organizing hip-hop events in their area. Then a friend of mine who I DJ’d with got a job there and recommended me for another spot. My electronic music/networking skills were integral in me being the right person at right place and right time. Before that, I didn’t have much intention in going into game audio, but it turned out to be a great career path for me. I plan to get further into sound design with Foley/synthesis, audio programming, then eventually branch into game design. I believe the medium of the future is interactive multimedia and we’re just starting to see the beginning of next-level gaming.

Victor Carreon

As with many of the sound guys in the early ’90s in the videogame business, I think most of us came from musical backgrounds. Back then, there wasn’t much of a management hierarchy on the audio portion of production, especially with smaller developers. So the term audio director, lead sound designer, music composer and voice-over “whatever you wanna call it” all pretty much fell in the hands of “The Sound Guy.”

I got my start in late 1993 to early 1994. I was playing in bands for about seven years by then and was in my last year of college. I had a friend in a health class who was an occasional set-design artist and worked on a couple movies like Batman and Jurassic Park. He got a job through a friend at New World Computing as a 2-D animator for the company. I was working at Sam Goody’s Record Store at the time and he came in to see if I would be interested in interviewing for the “Sound Guy” position at New World Computing. The only computer I owned at the time was an Atari 1040ST running Master Tracks Pro! So I said sure I will interview.

Two days prior to the interview, I purchased a ton of magazines current to the gaming industry and read like a madman so I knew a little about the current game biz. Aside from that was just my Atari 2600 memories as a kid, but the thought of getting paid to be creative was just a wonderful thing to me and I was determined to try it out. Needless to say, I got the job and here I am roughly 15 years later with more than 100 game credits and my own sound company and recording studio. I have actually used my game experience to get into post-production and have done a feature film, as well as TV spots for the movies 300, Pathfinder, We Are Marshall and most recently I Am Legend. I am thankful everyday for the chance I got and remain close friends with Jon Van Caneghem and Mark Caldwell from the New World Computing days. The first titles I worked on came out about the same time. They were Hammer of the Gods and Inherit the Earth, both for the PC. I think the specs were 486MHz DX2 with 64MB of RAM for those games and our audio budgets were about 1/100th of what they are now.
Rob King
executive audio director, Green Street Studios