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GDC 2015!

GDC 2015!

Okay hi! It’s been a long time since I wrote a post, and I just got back from my first GDC a few weeks ago. What an awesome experience. If you are at all interested in game development, it is well worth your while to go. So here are some highlights from an action packed week. GDC? What? GDC stands for the Game Developer’s Conference, a weeklong event that takes places early March every year in San Francisco. Essentially, a bunch of nerds get together and get a week long vacation from game design. Industry leaders give talks, there’s a huge expo floor, a career center, etc. It’s the best opportunity to meet future collaborators, your inspirations, and make new friends. This year, I was fortunate enough to be part of the Conference Associate (CA) program – a group spanning all areas of game design who are committed to helping put on the conference, often seen in bright neon colored shirts (this year was school bus yellow, but apparently purple is what everyone wants.) The CAs are our only little family within the GDC community, and are a huge part of why I had such a great experience. CA Community! Something that struck me throughout the week was how welcoming everyone was. From the first CA gathering on Saturday night all the way to our closing party, people were excited for me to be there. Our home base for the conference, the CA lounge, was probably my favorite part. Having a place to retreat to after a shift or just hang out and make friends was the best. It allowed...
What Is Mastering?

What Is Mastering?

Last week I finished mastering Red Lights for Warning Skies, Chris Burgess’s first EP and final project at Berklee College of Music. Putting together any type of album is an extremely difficult process with many different steps, but today I’m going to focus on mastering, and its role in the production. Mastering Vs. Mixing So what is mastering? Maybe you’ve heard of it, or maybe not! Mastering is the final step in the music production phase, and often confused with mixing. So how do they differ? Simply put, a mixing engineer works with over hundreds of tracks, while the mastering engineer works with just one. The mixer will balance all the elements from “lead vocals”, all the way to “cymbal swell 3” and blends them together to form a cohesive track. Once the mixing engineer is finished, he or she renders a stereo audio file of the entire track, and the job is finished. The mastering engineer takes that single stereo audio file, and makes the final tweaks, adjusting the volume and frequency levels, and occasionally adding in reverb or slight distortion. However, since there is only one track, mastering engineers are unable to make tweaks to the cymbals without affecting the vocals and guitars as well. This makes mastering a game of compromises, where fixing one element sometimes damages another. As a result, the tweaks made are often very slight, and not noticeable on their own. With mastering, the whole is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.   Polishing Apollo So let’s talk about on Chris’s track Apollo. For the entire album, Chris and I agreed...
5 Things I’ve Learned Pursuing A Creative Career

5 Things I’ve Learned Pursuing A Creative Career

On July 8th, I packed up the majority of my life, shoved it into a car, and began the cross-country trip to Los Angeles. I had no job lined up or opportunity awaiting me. My Dad and I spent a week driving through the US, stopping at Niagara Falls, Pikes Peak, the Grand Canyon, and a couple others along the way. If you’re moving somewhere, I highly recommend making it into a sightseeing adventure. Five months later, I have a job; I’ve worked on some extremely cool projects, and met an amazing group of people who have been welcoming and supportive. Starting a new life and career is challenging anywhere, so here are some things I’ve learned that made it easier.   Lists I’ve found that making lists is the best thing ever. If you already do this, congratulations – I wish I had figured it out sooner. There is something so fulfilling about creating a list, and then crossing off each item as it’s completed. Having a list gives you the feeling that you accomplished something that day, even when work is slow. I like to add simple tasks to it as well, such as “get groceries”, or “take a walk”. Anything that I know I need to do that day, but might not do without some prompting, goes on the list. And at the end of the day, I feel productive and satisfied.   Routine Having lists helps create routine, and routine is something difficult to come by when you’re working freelance or assisting someone with odd work hours. All of us are creatures of habit, and...
The Basics of Game Music Interactivity

The Basics of Game Music Interactivity

Game music has evolved exponentially over the years, moving from beeps and bloops of Space Invaders to the lush orchestra of games like Uncharted and Halo. But even though there are 30 plus years separating these games, there is one unifying musical element that links them together; music interactivity.   Reactive Music! Now what is this music interactivity you speak of? Music interactivity refers to how the soundtrack adapts to player input and varying game states. Why this is this important? At their core, games are just another storytelling medium, much like film and TV. However, the unique feature of video games is that the story is nonlinear. When you watch a film, every event happens exactly the same way every time. This is not the case in games. Every person’s play-through of a game is slightly different. Maybe the player doesn’t go into that cave, or encounter that character, or engage in a battle. Since these choices are in the player’s hands, it makes it difficult for the music team to predict the player’s actions, and as a result, nearly impossible to write a linear score. So composers and sound designers developed systems within the game engine for music to adapt to player choice, and music interactivity was born. Over time, game designers have developed three main ways to create scores that respond to player input, hence the name interactive. These three methods are known as branching, layering, and crossfading, and are still used today. However, some audio teams choose to blend the techniques to create a more intricate and musical score.   Branching First let’s talk about...
Music Interactivity In Hearthstone! – Part 2

Music Interactivity In Hearthstone! – Part 2

So last week I talked about how Hearthstone’s music changes while the player navigates between the different menus of the game. (It’s actually really interesting, and you can read about that here!) Now I’m going to geek out about how the music changes during actual gameplay!   A Worthy Opponent But first, you must choose your deck. As I mentioned last week, no music plays in the pre-game lobby. All you hear are various crowd ambiences creating the illusion of the bar you’re playing in. However, once we choose a deck and click “Play”, the music kicks back in. We hear Blizzard’s version of slot machine music complemented by an extremely fast spinning wheel indicating that you are searching for a worthy opponent. The game randomly chooses one of four different pieces each time you search, helping to make each match feel different and to keep you from becoming annoyed every time you start a match. However, the coolest part about this is that the tracks Blizzard uses are excerpts from the music of Warcraft 2: Tides of Darkness! These excerpts are then looped, and heavily filtered and processed to sound like they’re coming out of a slot machine. Additionally, this is the only time that the music loops in Hearthstone (although I tend to find opponents so fast I never reach the end loop). Otherwise, every piece plays from start to finish. Listen to Hearthstone’s version, and one of the originals from Warcraft 2! Once our opponent has been found, the sound effects and screen change covers the fade out of the “searching for opponent” music and the fade in...