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  • Let’s Do the Time Warp Again – Jesse Harlin (January 2011)
    consider the soundtrack to their childhoods The original NES console had the ability to generate four types of simultaneous audio two pulse waves one triangle wave and a white noise generator The pulse waves were capable of pitch bend 16 different volume settings and a frequency range of essentially A1 to F7 The triangle wave was a fixed volume and had a range essentially from A0 to well beyond the C8 range of a MIDI keyboard The white noise generator had 16 different volume settings and was the source for all percussion Complicating matters further each of these four voices was monophonic More than 25 years on from the NES s debut there are a vast number of ways to achieve the same sound palette synonymous with classic gaming These options basically break down into two categories software and hardware Perhaps the most common software solution for chiptune music is Propellerhead s Reason Whether working within Reason s own sequencer or via Rewire into your DAW of choice Reason s Subtractor Polyphonic Synthesizer is an excellent solution for the pulse wave triangle wave and white noise source sounds and is one of the most popular go to programs among chiptune enthusiasts Working with Reason or a similar software based monophonic synth within a DAW environment means that the technical limitation of only four available voices is removed Composers and sound designers will need to decide how authentic they want to be and whether they want to stick to the four voice limit imposed by the old hardware Aside from the soft synths common to pro audio production there are also a number of VST plugins dedicated entirely to chiptune audio production Tweakbench s peach is a sample based NES chiptune tool and one of the most highly regarded for its authentic sound Additionally Tweakbench also offers triforce a soft synth based tool and toad which is an NES inspired drum kit All are free downloads Once you have the palette you ll need to understand some of the compositional tricks of the trade Thankfully the Internet is full of chiptune tutorials and there are some great instructional videos on YouTube In particular check out the Fake N Bake chiptune series by Judson Tettix Cowan www youtube com user cicadacom or Michael Skitch Schiciano s Famicom Friday series www youtube com user skitchmusic For those looking for a hardcore level of authenticity there are also hardware solutions for NES chiptune music The MidiNES is one of those ubiquitous gray NES cartridges with a MIDI cable connected directly to the circuit board By inserting the cartridge into an original NES console it allows for direct MIDI control of the NES hardware Nanoloop is a German homebrew creation that turns the classic Game Boy into a step sequencer via a specific Nanoloop cartridge iPhone iPad and iPod touch users may be interested in checking out Nanoloop for the iOS Extravagan C64 The NES isn t the only game in town though and chiptune

    Original URL path: http://www.audiogang.org/lets-do-the-time-warp-again-jesse-harlin-january-2011/ (2016-04-27)
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  • Tools of the Trade – Jesse Harlin (August 2010)
    Memos a Dictaphone replacement that comes standard on the iPhone Across the industry audio professionals are using Voice Memos to capture melodies thoughts and sketches With the ability to edit and email recordings some are even using Voice Memos as a basic field recorder For those looking for a more substantial field recorder a number of full featured recording apps are available such as Audiofile Engineering s FiRe and iProRecorder from BIAS The combination of touchscreen and microphone has led to the convergence of what used to be many separate tools into collected app suites Agile Partners Guitar Toolkit is a great example Guitar Toolkit offers users a guitar tuner a metronome and a smart library of guitar chords and scales plus the ability to add custom tunings IK Multimedia s Amplitube as another example is an all in one collection of 11 guitar stomp boxes 5 amps 5 cabinets and 2 microphones But guitars aren t the limit of audio apps From SPL meters like Faber Acoustical s SoundMeter to SEB s RT reverberation timer the diversity of the once hardware only tools now represented by software apps continues to grow by the month THE SOFT SELL By far the majority of audio apps available are software utilities specifically designed to assist in production and content creation There are hundreds of these apps that make sounds collect and arrange sounds or simply help make your audio job easier When it comes to making sounds the iPhone and iPad have a rich palette of soft synths emulators and noise generators There are acoustic instrument emulators like Peterb s Virtuoso Piano There are vintage synth emulators like Yonac s megaSynth which allow you to sculpt synth textures and extract the sounds as WAV files There are even oddball apps like Normalware s cartoon driven Bebot which is part tone generator part ribbon controller and adds an unpredictable yet undeniably fun approach to sound design While the app store is dominated by smaller developers and hobbyist programmers even the big boys of software emulation are diving in In June Propellerhead Software rereleased its seminal classic Rebirth synth application for the iPhone and iPad Rebirth returns with its full functionality from the original application including access to all the user generated mods which were such a vibrant part of the original Propellerhead community Beyond simply being a sound emulator apps can also transform the iPhone and iPad into audio workstations For a paltry 10 a number of digital audio workstations DAWs are offered Harmonicdog s MultiTrack DAW presents users with a suite of multitrack mixing and editing tools though it lacks the MIDI functionality that one would expect Additionally INTUA offers BeatMaker which has a suite of sampling and sequencing tools though INTUA describes it as ideally suited for live performances While neither of these options will replace your Pro Tools HD rig they may offer DAW options for audio pros on the go Speaking of Pro Tools the iPad and iPhone can

    Original URL path: http://www.audiogang.org/tools-of-the-trade-jesse-harlin-august-2010/ (2016-04-27)
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  • THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOOTH – Jesse Harlin (June/July 2009)
    realms of facial and full body motion capture the goal across the board becomes increased attention to realism Additionally these changes in technology are driving a secondary change away from solely using voice over actors and instead bringing more on camera actors into the world of game voice production To help achieve a more true to life performance out of the actors one step the voice director can take is to move away from the standard practice of recording actors in isolation Actors are used to not only acting but also reacting to the performances of other cast members This is particularly true of on camera actors Directors can choose to record actors performing together in groups or to have the other actors present at the session off camera This process is called a cast record Another option is for the talent director to sit in the same room with the performing actor and read the lines of the other characters This approach to direction can yield a much more realistic performance because the actors are no longer working in a vacuum but rather reacting to the performance and delivery of another human being The vocal performances are often more dramatic more dynamic and more convincing However if you re working with seasoned voice over actors this approach to direction will most likely frustrate them more than it will help the process along Know your actor s skill set and what will get the best performance out of them before forcing experimentation upon them A SEAT AT THE TABLE Another approach that can be helpful for improving the quality of the voice assets in your game is simply the use of rehearsal Most voice actors read their lines cold meaning they re handed the script when they walk into the session and the first time they re performing it is as it goes into Pro Tools However in some instances a great opportunity toward having your cast understand the scope of their characters and how they fit within the larger game is to conduct a table read A table read is a rehearsal where the core character actors literally get together around a table and read through the script alongside of the voice director and usually a few key team members such as the creative lead of the project the scriptwriter and a producer or two A table read is a great tool to use when the game has a group of no more than seven core characters and a fairly involved cinematics script There s no point in sitting around and rehearsing AI grunts and barks such as He s over there but if your game is centered around a rich story a table read will help to create a cohesive performance that allows the actors to know the full context of their performances Again as with a cast record a table read works best for on camera actors as voice over actors are much more used to cold

    Original URL path: http://www.audiogang.org/thinking-outside-the-booth-jesse-harlin-junejuly-2009/ (2016-04-27)
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  • RETRO FITTING IN – Jesse Harlin (August 2009)
    every audio file in the original whether it needs to be updated where it occurs in game and what kind of update it will get Note how many sound effects seem to be capable of playing back simultaneously Note whether the music in the original loops or plays simply as one shots and whether changes to this would be a benefit If the game has successful sequels find out if they used recurring actors as part of their voice cast More likely than not any game being remade is going to have some form of existing fan community Tap into fan game FAQs websites and playthrough videos on YouTube Make sure that you know the complete scope of the game and have documented everything including branching gameplay alternate endings and easter eggs which may affect audio TINKER AND TWEAK After you know the scope of the project befriend the game s engineering team A remake involves a massive amount of reverse engineering and the engineering crew will be crucial to any successful audio retrofit If the game is being rebuilt atop the game s original engine audio may very well find itself limited to only as many triggers and implementation hooks as initially shipped with the title Adding new scripts and audio triggers into old code can be like trying to add a wing onto a house of cards It s not impossible but expect some push back from the engineering team and be prepared to compromise If a new or hybrid engine is being developed level designers and engineering staff will be critical to any new implementation support Additionally you may need engineering to help with everything from extracting any text scripts intended for dialogue recording to extracting and translating old proprietary music file formats into usable MIDI data Audio gets updated in retro games because it sounds bad and it sounds bad because of technical limitations from an older era of gaming With those limitations now no longer relevant there are basically two ways to look at the challenge of updating the game s original audio content The first is to recreate new higher quality versions based upon the sound of the original audio The second is to create new higher quality versions based upon the intent of the original audio The difference between when to base your changes off of original sound or original intent will only come from hearing the audio in context For decades games weren t able to use digital audio files and relied on tone generators and MIDI sound cards for their playback In many of these instances an exact translation of sounds would be completely inappropriate for today s audiences Just because a game from twenty years ago uses a MIDI snare drum every time a door is opened or closed doesn t mean that a beautiful 24 bit 96kHz bank of randomized snare samples is the right choice for the new game s suite of door sounds In this case you

    Original URL path: http://www.audiogang.org/retro-fitting-in-jesse-harlin-august-2009/ (2016-04-27)
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  • LESS IS MORE – Jesse Harlin (October 2009)
    The results were always fascinating cues that bucked convention shied away from cliche s and mixed dramatic storytelling with a signature sound As 2009 wanes our industry is feeling the constrictions of the global recession Studios are closing layoffs abound and everyone is being asked to do more with less Add to that the explosion of the casual and independent game markets either via Flash games or the iPhone s App store and it s clear that budgets are shrinking rather than growing But shrinking budgets can be the perfect catalyst to shake off some tired game music cliche s and start exploring the possibilities allowed by limiting your palette GOOD COMPANY Placing boundaries on a composer s instrumental palette is nothing new Bernard Herrmann s score for Psycho is one of the most famous film scores of all time and consists solely of an orchestral string section The score for Jim Jarmusch s western Dead Man is comprised almost exclusively of nothing more than solo guitar improvisations performed by Neil Young Thomas Newman s score to AMERICAN BEAUTY sparked a marimba fad in film TV and commercial scoring when it was released in 1999 Games unfortunately have been slow to follow suit with limited palettes Too often composers simply take a limited budget to mean a turn toward vast arrays of samples rather than vast ensembles of live players Hideki Sakamoto s captivating string quartet score to ECHOCHROME is a standout exception as is the recent score for Sucker Punch s INFAMOUS With INFAMOUS Sony s music crew centered the score on the creation of junkyard instruments everything from bungee cord plucks to windshield percussion that were sampled and then handed to electronica artist Amon Tobin who translated the unique textures into in game compositions The result is a signature score that is heavy with industrial grit and exotic without being ethnic A CASE IN POINT This past May I had the opportunity to write the score for LucasArts LUCIDITY Since it s set in a 10 year old girl s imaginary dream world I decided the score should change from track to track with the disjointed shifts that often accompany sleep Snippets of jazz old foreign folk lullabies and a hodge podge of classical influences served as my building blocks However in order to reign in my budget and my time so as to fall in line with the scope of the project I set a basic guideline at the very outset of composition each track would contain only twelve instruments For each track I changed my twelve instruments of choice Sometimes I defined an instrument as its real life counterpart while other times I defined instrument as a particular sample patch As such sometimes one instrument on my list might contain five different sample patches of different articulations while other times a drum kit simply counted as one instrument The idea was to set boundaries that were malleable to a given track s needs rather than inflexibly

    Original URL path: http://www.audiogang.org/less-is-more-jesse-harlin/ (2016-04-27)
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  • THE MAGIC OF MISDIRECTION – Jesse Harlin (November 2009)
    can go a long way toward saving memory budgets and making life easier on audio implementers However implementers can t count on these luxury features being available in every game they tackle The casual game market has exploded via Flash based web sites and the Nintendo DS and for both audio file sizes can remain a crippling limitation Apple s iPhone has indisputably become a major gaming device but unfortunately has specific restraints other consoles don t such as the allowance for only a single hardware decoded stream Meanwhile some higher end games are still being driven with legacy audio engine limitations that are leftovers from the last console cycle These are just some of the limited frameworks within which audio implementers are forced to work But indeed part of the job of audio imple mentation is trying to make these limitations seemingly disappear into thin air while still providing a rich audio experience under tight restric tions This is where misdirec tion becomes most crucial Whether on the Wii the iPhone or the PlayStation 2 many games can find themselves at the mercy of only a single available stream for audio Though saddled with limited tech design teams still expect rich audio worlds and dynamic sound experiences Mixing ambiences and music together into a single streaming file is a start However problems enter when it comes time to change from one file to the next Without a second stream there s no ability to crossfade As such the existing stream needs to fade down to infinity zero gain before the new stream can start creating an audible gap of silence between the two streams While the implementer has no control over the existence of the gap they can have control over when the gap is created Changes in stream playback can be made during pre scripted events that call the players attention to other elements of the game Look to hide stream changes behind reliably scripted instances of explosions elaborate animations or dialogue driven camera cuts Pull attention away from the stream change by masking it under interesting or louder one shot instances such as opening and closing doors elaborate machinery sounds or item and power up pick up sounds The key is to be positive that your misdirection sounds will always play at the moment that you need them so make sure to dig into available gameplay scripts that the level designers have created and look for suitable candidates for reliable misdirection SMOKE AND MIRRORS In engine cinematics present their own set of challenges Frequently they make use of special suites of specific animations characters and story critical dialogue Rather than loading a slew of files into resident memory for only those moments pre scored streaming files can be an effective way to fake detailed audio implementation Unfortunately these sequences are notorious for having their frame rates fluctuate thereby causing the animations to easily drift out of sync from the pre rendered audio The ideal solution is to

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  • RALLYING RIGHTS – Jesse Harlin (December 2009)
    or ASCAP as it is more commonly known After decades of disinterest in the music of interactive entertainment ASCAP is now actively making a play for the inclusion of game composers into its ranks ASCAP GIVETH At its core ASCAP is a performing rights organization that collects money in the form of royalties for the non dramatic live performance of copyrighted music registered with it by its members In practice ASCAP defines live performance rather broadly and includes everything from television to radio airplay to music played within malls restaurants airplanes and telephone on hold applications When registered music is performed ASCAP collects and distributes writer and publisher shares of the royalties to its members If music isn t registered with ASCAP ASCAP Licensees such as TV networks and radio stations still pay royalties for its performance ASCAP then divides any unclaimed royalties up between its registered members This year ASCAP woke up to the spreading influence of games and the notion that game scores no longer sound like those of 30 year old arcade cabinets In May ASCAP reached out to game composers and sound designers Their intent was to educate music creators about rights and royalties that have long been regarded as either off limits or too difficult to obtain within the game industry With almost all game audio contracts falling into the work for hire vein content creators are used to signing over all rights and claims for a full buy out payment ASCAP s point is that film and TV composers are also frequently forced to sign work for hire contracts but that they negotiate for the ability to collect performance royalties At the heart of the argument is the notion that while a corporation can claim the publisher share of royalties corporations cannot claim the writer share As such money is being left on the table unnecessarily that could be claimed by the content creator without being at the expense of game developers or publishers Secondarily were game development companies and publishers to register themselves with performing rights organizations as the music publisher for a given title they would open themselves up to a new stream of revenue in the form of the publisher share of royalties In order to be able to claim the writer share of royalties composers would need to first negotiate into their contracts with the game s developer or publisher the ability to register their material with a performing rights organization ASCAP has suggested the following sample legal text as a basis for these negotiations Composer shall be entitled to collect the writers share of public performance royalties as that term is commonly used in the music industry directly from a public performance society that makes a separate distribution of said royalties to composers and publishers ASCAP TAKETH AWAY While ASCAP is now actively trying to welcome game composers into its ranks it is also trying to expand the definition of live performance so as to include a slew of

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  • BEYOND THE BUTTON PRESS – Jesse Harlin (February 2008)
    created audio input is something that the DS does extremely well which anyone who has taught their Nintendog to roll over or sit can attest to At the heart of the gameplay mechanic is the DS s internal microphone Yet despite being available for use in every DS game by the very nature of its hardware very few titles incorporate the microphone as a means of interactivity Similarly first person shooters and networked gameplay over PCs and Xbox Live have made headset microphones a must have for online multiplayer However utilizing these nearly omnipresent audio input devices as part of the single player experience is extremely rare A handful of previous games have flirted with voice recognition and speech interaction such as Konami s LIFELINE and various tactical shooters like SWAT GLOBAL STRIKE TEAM but few AAA games have managed to make player voice interaction a compelling part of their game s soundtrack The gameplay potential for this kind of audio interaction is huge however Voice print identification and encryption can find its way into espionage games Imagine calling plays by physically calling plays within sports games Consider the gameplay potential in using the range of human speech from whispering to yelling in order to frighten or coerce enemies within platform games like JAK DAXTER or LOCO ROCO As audio designers we can be doing more to encourage user generated audio input as part of our design WHAT S IN STORE Over a decade of CD and DVD based console development has largely created an environment in which audio designers see their work as relegated to the inflexible confines of a locked disc However hard drives and memory devices are now either standard issue or readily available for every gaming platform though some are more practical than others Every PC and PS3 game has access to a built in hard drive While PC gamers are used to patches and publishers that push new content into their games the concept is relatively new to console games Each major gaming console has its own online store with a variety of demos games and additional content such as added levels and extra songs for music games The potential for broadening the sound experience of a game after it s been purchased is broader than updated playlists or a handful of new voice lines Imagine an adventure game in which the most powerful weapons or treasure were hidden in game and the only clues to their whereabouts were garbled pirate radio transmissions that could only be purchased and implemented via downloadable content Imagine edutainment games for children with continually expandable vocabulary packs or a music game like MTV MUSIC GENERATOR that allowed for uploadable and downloadable user created collaboration The shipped disc isn t the end of the game anymore and audio designers should be considering the gameplay potential of hard drives storage devices and online delivery channels LISTEN TO THIS Speaking of music with the Xbox 360 Microsoft now mandates that any music

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