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The Pick of Destiny

When I was a kid, I was addicted to those Choose Your Own Adventure books you know, the stories in which the readers get to determine the outcome themselves,

When I was a kid, I was addicted to those Choose Your Own Adventure books — you know, the stories in which the readers get to determine the outcome themselves, through a series of choices: “You meander down a wooded path and you come to a cave. A pair of glowing eyes blinks back at you out of the dark. If you go inside, turn to page 25. If you run away, turn to page 72.” While everyone else was outside playing kickball, I’d be holed up in the basement with a pile of paperbacks, cheating my way through story lines by reading ahead and dog-earing key plot points.

They were books, and they were interactive; I controlled my fate.

The concept was not really different from today’s videogames (albeit without jet fighters and aliens in 5.1 surround). Both the book and the game call for the consumer to direct the action. I didn’t know it back then, but I was discovering the difference between the linear and nonlinear experience.

At Mix, we regularly explore the unique challenges of creating sound for the nonlinear world of videogames. Dialog management, for example, is an enormous undertaking: Halo 3 has 35,000 lines of dialog in 10 languages. Adaptable sonic environments help sustain the thrill for players who spend weeks working through the levels on a single title: For Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4, featured in this month’s special game audio section, the sound crew introduced 4-channel ambience streams from disc, with dynamic switching of battle ambiences based on the amount of action happening and real-time filtering based on the player’s line of sight.

The process of recording, editing and processing sounds for games is not that much different from any other post-production discipline; it’s the implementation that turns the linear story into the nonlinear experience. That implementation — that mindset — is what puts game development, or more broadly interactive entertainment at the forefront of the new means of production.

On the technology side, it’s clear that videogames serve as the model for future-based platforms. Take mobile, for example: It’s a technology still in its infancy, yet we’re already watching feature-length films on our PDAs and listening to stereo audio over Bluetooth from our cellphones. And what about interactive TV? It won’t be long before you’re able to test-drive a car from your couch, construct your own Survivor challenges or rearrange the furniture on Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.

There will always be storytellers, but how will those stories be told? Will it be in the form of a single narration, or will the viewer determine where they want the story to go? The possibilities are endless.

And those Choose Your Own Adventure titles? They’re now available as interactive animated DVD movies, featuring voice talent from the likes of William H. Macy and Frankie Muniz. I can’t wait for the virtual reality version.