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AudioContributionsGame Audio ArtistryIndustryOnlineSpecials

Winning Innovations in Casino Games

November 5, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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featureAdam Levenson, COO of SomaTone Interactive, looks at the expansion of the game industry and talks to GTECH about their latest project in this latest Game Audio Artistry article.


As evidenced at the recent Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas, the fast-growing, highly lucrative global gaming industry continues to expand and evolve, with tremendous creativity on display at every turn.

As our VP of business development Ben Brown observed after his inspiring experience at this major industry expo, “The place was buzzing with so many creative developers! Gameplay, sound, and visuals are all being pushed to the limit and the casino experience is becoming more competitive and exciting with all these new games.” Ben enthusiastically reported that there were signs of “innovation everywhere”, reflecting trends such as binaural sound speakers, more sophisticated game mechanics and advances in game screens.

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“Gameplay, sound, and visuals are all being pushed to the limit and the casino experience is becoming more competitive and exciting with all these new games.”

Taking it a Step Further

One of the great highlights was connected to one of our longtime partners, GTECH, who introduced a re-imagined version of the mega-hit franchise Bejeweled as a 3D casino experience. Our creative team had worked on the sound design and music for the original mobile game, so we were particularly excited about this latest invention.

GTECH Senior Game Producer Peter Post comments that “so far, the game has been presented to focus groups and the industry, and the reaction has been very positive. Everyone for whom I’ve demoed it consistently comes up with the same word: ‘Wow.’ There are so many fans of the (Bejeweled) brand that it’s hard not to be attracted to it when it’s in real-time 3D that doesn’t need clunky glasses.”

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GTECH Senior Game Producer, Peter Post (left) with Ben Brown, Somatone VP of Business Development, shown together at G2E 2014 in Las Vegas recently.

When asked what it was like re-imagining this highly popular game with 3D graphics and sound, Peter says, “Our favorite brands are always the ones that have a natural gaming mechanic built in because it makes it so much easier to translate to the casino world, and Bejeweled fits the bill perfectly. The license has so much to work with when it comes to assets, yet there’s so much that’s yet to be explored. No one had ever gone inside the famous Bejeweled castle, for instance.  The resulting visuals and audio are completely new, yet fit well into the Bejeweled narrative. PopCap®, which owns the license to Bejeweled, was totally cool with us experimenting with things like that.”

Immersed in Sound

As part of the game’s special features, the speaker set-up in the machine is noteworthy. Peter explains, “the box has two smaller speakers in front facing the player at head-level, then two more behind the player embedded in the chair. We also have a larger woofer in the base of the machine, as well as a rumble pack in the chair. We mix everything in 7.1 surround, so we have control over what goes where. It really helps us enhance the 3D nature of the visuals. Unlike most 3D gaming, which players usually experience with handhelds, we can really complete the audiovisual experience by having sound come from behind you or move past you. The rumble helps us emphasize features, too, but like any new effect, we have to be careful not to overuse it.”

The Bejeweled™ 3D machine serves as a shining example of how advances in technology and creativity can bring multi-sensory effects to deliver a more engrossing gameplay experience.

The Bejeweled™ 3D machine is truly immersive from both a sound and a visual experience—serving as a shining example of how advances in technology and creativity can bring multi-sensory effects to deliver a more engrossing gameplay experience. And working with a beloved brand such as Bejeweled, it’s a BIG win.

Given the phenomenal growth of the overall gaming industry, and particularly the social casino games sector, we’re fascinated by the new opportunities to raise the bar on sound and music for the next generation of casino games. In a future column, we’ll look at the keys to making casino games sound great across multiple platforms, including mobile, online, and hardware-based slot machines.

Look forward to finding out more in the next Game Audio Artistry article!

 

AudioContributionsGame Audio ArtistryOnlineSpecials

5 Keys to Making Mobile Games Great Through Sound

September 29, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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Adam Levenson1‘s career has evolved from performing as a classically trained percussionist to overseeing the busy operations of SomaTone’s creative teams in Emeryville and Vancouver while focusing on leading the company’s growth and expansion into new arenas in his latest role as the COO of SomaTone Interactive. In this latest Game Audio Artistry article, Adam and other members of SomaTone talk about using sound to improve a game.


Great games have great audio. Developers who focus and execute on high quality and attention to detail know that audio adds high production value to the overall experience for a relatively low cost. With a plethora of choices flooding the digital marketplace, great game sound is that “secret sauce” that can make mobile games and apps stand out.

Well-conceived and expertly executed game audio contributes mightily toward delivering an immersive and engaging experience that can feel much bigger than the small mobile device nestled in a player’s hands. The name of the game for us as creative partners is to focus on effectively creating and incorporating original music, sound design, and VO into the mobile experience so that players keep coming back for more.

To this end, here’s what some members of SomaTone’s creative team have to say about using sound to make great games.

21.Understand the importance of game sound, and treat audio production NOT as something that comes last in the pipeline, but rather an important component of game design that should be thought out creatively and technically from the inception of your game.
Eric Van Amerongen, Senior Sound Designer

32. Establish a clear idea of what the creative style and aesthetic of the audio should be and define important delivery milestones.
Ollie Glatzer, Audio Producer

 

43. Pay attention to detail and keeping that in line with an overall, inspired vision.
Michael Bross, Chief Creative Officer
 
 
 
54. Creative and effective integration – You can have the greatest SFX on the planet, but if they’re not playing back correctly, or mixed just right, the audio experience won’t be good.
Ben Gabaldon, Sr. Sound Designer
 
 
65. Passion! Pre Production! Strive for a cohesive, focused audio experience. The audio should be engaging and captivate the players to want more.
Ben Brown, VP Business Development

Sound and music truly make visual entertainment come alive. Fun, memorable moments that we experience when playing our favorite games are often tied to a great character line, or a catchy melody, or a sound effect that thrills. Savvy game makers know this, and whether the project is a new slots game or a point-and-click survival horror game, smart developers use sound and music to deliver more entertainment value to the audience.
 
 

AudioContributionsGame Audio ArtistrySpecials

New Technologies Heighten the Immersive Experience

August 22, 2014 — by Industry Contributions

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1Adam Levenson‘s career has evolved from performing as a classically trained percussionist, then serving as a composer and sound designer in the burgeoning multimedia industry in the early 90’s—“before anyone knew what a video game sound designer even was,” as he put it—followed by sound and music director positions at Interplay, Electronic Arts, and Shiny Entertainment. During his tenure as Senior Director at Activision from 2006 – 2011, Adam established and managed both the Central Audio and Central Talent teams supporting work on major franchises. In 2011, he launched Levenson Artists Agency, providing representation to clients such as celebrity composers Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe. Now, Adam oversees the busy operations of SomaTone’s creative teams in Emeryville and Vancouver while focusing on leading the company’s growth and expansion into new arenas in his latest role as the COO of SomaTone Interactive.

In this latest Game Audio Artistry article, Adam examines how new sensorial technologies can take the immersive gameplay experience to heightened and even more engaging levels of player fascination and enjoyment.


Immersification noun \i-ˈmərs-ə-fə-ˈkā-shən\: the process of creating enhanced involvement in a particular activity

The Beginnings

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Low frequency sounds were pumped through big Cerwin-Vega subwoofers that sent vibrations through the seats during the film’s tremor scenes.

In 1974, the blockbuster disaster film Earthquake wowed movie theater audiences with Sensurround effects. Low frequency sounds were pumped through big Cerwin-Vega subwoofers that sent vibrations through the seats during the film’s tremor scenes. It physically involved theatergoers in the drama and, like an amusement park ride, the result was thrilling. In some theaters, Sensurround effects sent pieces of ceiling plaster falling into the audience and shook seats in neighboring theaters showing The Godfather Part II. Sensurround was audience immersion on an epic scale, a bold experiment in producing a multi-sensorial experience.

Now, 40 years later, consumers of mobile interactive entertainment are also seeking deeper engagement. Giant leaps in display technology have provided intensely vivid visual experiences, but humans have five senses, and with the advent of sophisticated digital devices with built-in functionality to stimulate those sensations, it’s now up to content creators to take full advantage and rock audiences in their virtual theater seats.

Devices

The Apple iPad Air features dual microphones, Amazon’s Fire Phone sports dynamic perspective, and Samsung Galaxy smartphones include tactile feedback. These are just a few of the offerings in the development of recent mobile technologies that provide sensory engagement. Although both smell and taste are primary and essential senses, there isn’t much being done with olfactory and gustatory digital transmissions (putting experiments such as Smell-O-Vision and Nokia’s Scentsory Phone aside). Maybe that’s OK. But entertainment technologies and content designed to stimulate hearing and touch are engaging consumers, and a resurgence of virtual reality points to a trend towards greater immersification.

Hearing

Realizing the potential means being creative with music and sound implementation.

Dolby has always been at the leading edge of sound technologies that improve sound quality and envelope the listener. Even on smartphones, Dolby Digital Plus delivers virtualized surround sound through headphones or even with built-in mobile device speakers. This opens the door for app and video game developers to provide a more engaging experience. Realizing the potential means being creative with music and sound implementation. That starts with developing rich audio environments, including layers of ambient sound, music, voice performances, and specific sound effects to make all the game mechanics come to life.

Despite recent advances, music in games generally plays in a linear manner, just like it did when Edison invented the phonograph cylinder in the 19th century. Amazingly, visionaries in music technology have been working on concepts in “real-time composition” since the 90’s. It has been called many names like computational music and algorithmic composition, and much of this research has been academic. With vastly increased processing power, new devices may soon present an opportunity to implement fully responsive music. Music adds an emotional dimension that makes us laugh out loud at funny scenes, jump out of our seats when surprised, or get choked up during sad dialog. How much more immersive would a Star Wars game experience be if the score could build and sting with each dramatic Jedi lightsaber hit?

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How much more immersive would a Star Wars game experience be if the score could build and sting with each dramatic Jedi lightsaber hit?

Touch

On one hand, the virtuality of new smartphone and tablet interfaces promotes a whole new physical language of gestures. We can push, swipe, sweep, and slide. But on the other hand, we lose the satisfaction of getting real world physical feedback when we perform the gesture. We type, press buttons, turn pages, move objects, throw switches, but for the most part, we don’t feel anything. In our mobile entertainment, explosions, cars racing by, or feats of strength that we experience visually lack any sense of physicality. Haptics technology changes all of that. Haptic effects are touch or tactile feedback events produced by actuators (a kind of motor) integrated into our devices. Video game console controllers have used haptic type feedback, or rumble effects, for years. But with newer technologies from companies like Immersion, users feel customized force or resistance as they perform virtual activities. Sensing the impact of a soccer ball kick, the recoil of a gun, or the mechanical click of a button push brings the experience to life, providing a deep level of immersification.

Ultimate Immersification

By combining high-resolution imagery with high fidelity sound and haptics feedback, VR has the potential to offer practically total immersion.

Although VR still calls to mind images of disoriented people at 90’s tech conferences stumbling around in bulky headsets, advances in virtual reality technology have reinvigorated consumer interest. Earlier this year, Facebook acquired innovators Oculus VR for $2 billion – imagine simulated social networking, and the motivation for the acquisition becomes clear. By combining high-resolution imagery with high fidelity sound and haptics feedback, VR has the potential to offer practically total immersion. The potential applications for VR range from therapeutic uses, to military training, to entertainment media, and beyond. Although VR doesn’t currently have the portability and accessibility of more mobile technologies, the renewed interest and innovation in the field do reflect growing consumer demand for immersification of our digital experiences.

Contemporary immersion relies on rich creative content like engaging stories, great music, impactful sound, and believable physics. Developers and publishers that incorporate those elements into their entertainment media have already taken the first step towards immersion. New technologies allow for the completed, multi-sensorial experience without the inconvenience of falling ceiling plaster.

The thrilling part is, it all just keeps getting more and more immersive.

 

AudioContributionsDevelopmentGame Audio ArtistryOnlineSpecials

Best Practices for Fine-Tuning and Polishing in Casual Game Audio Implementation

May 2, 2014 — by Mariia Lototska

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Matt Bruun is the Studio Director at SomaTone Interactive. He has worked on hundreds of games, including some of the most successful titles in social and mobile gaming. He shares his ideas on polishing casual game audio in this next installment of the Game Audio Artistry series.

Matt Bruun
Matt Bruun, Studio Director, SomaTone Interactive

The Circle of Development Trends

Casual and mobile game development tends to be cyclical, with a big hit game leading developers to create games with similar themes and gameplay. In the early and mid-2000’s, we worked on a lot of Match-3 style games that followed in the wake of the success of titles like Bejeweled and Zuma. Then came a period of games with a Time Management theme, riding a wave of popularity that likely had a lot to do with the success of the Diner Dash series from Playfirst. After that came a long run of Hidden Object games that were successful in both the downloadable market and in mobile. Now the Match-3 is back, with quite a few popular titles available in the App Store, and many more in development.

It’s just as important that the sounds and music are created from the ground up, with the goal of having these elements work seamlessly and smoothly together.

With any Match-3 game, it is not especially difficult to create serviceable audio that covers the basic events in the game. However, simply adequate sound design in this type of game is not enough to make a gameplay experience that stands out from the crowd of other similar titles. While the sound design and music composition must be the highest quality, of course, it’s just as important that the sounds and music are created from the ground up, with the goal of having these elements work seamlessly and smoothly together. Then, there needs to be excellent communication and coordination between the individual(s) who will be implementing the assets into the game and the audio lead who oversaw the creation of them.

Creating Great Music

On a title in the Match-3 genre with a major publisher last year, we were able to partner with a great composer whom we hadn’t had the chance to work with before, Grant Kirkhope. From the start, we designed our sound effects to work seamlessly with the score that he would be creating, and made sure there was a cohesive overall plan for how the pieces would fit together. I really like what Grant came up with, and it was a lot of fun to create sound design around that music. His score is simultaneously melodic and engaging, while not being distracting or fatiguing if heard on a loop while playing a longer level. This combination is what makes for great casual game music.

Creating Audio
From the start, we designed our sound effects to work seamlessly with the score that he would be creating, and made sure there was a cohesive overall plan for how the pieces would fit together. Pictured here is Dominic Vega, Sound Designer, who contributes to many games at SomaTone.

For this project, I was fortunate enough to be able to visit the development team in Seattle for a few days to assist in the implementation of the assets, once production on our end was complete. This is a luxury that time in a developer’s schedule does not always allow for, but we take the opportunity to conduct on-site work whenever possible, as the polish at that stage of implementation can make a huge difference in the final product.

Simple Steps Lead to Great Results

Until recently, most casual and mobile game developers would have considered audio middleware tools such as Wwise to be out of reach for the budget in a game of this type. Audio Kinetic, the makers of Wwise, have changed that. They now offer a pricing structure that accommodates developers who are producing games with modest budgets (more details on this can be found in this blog post from SomaTone Executive Director Michael Bross). With middleware in place, the audio team is then free to make all of the many small adjustments that are needed to get a polished result. Even without the use of a great tool like Wwise, good coordination between the audio team and the person doing the implementing can assure a good final product.

Good coordination between the audio team and the person doing the implementing can assure a good final product.

For example, at the end of a level in this particular game, there is a bonus sequence that takes over, making matches for you and adding to your score. The length of this sequence depends on the number of moves that you have left when you beat the level. At first, we had the gameplay music loop just continuing during the sequence, but for the player, it was a little confusing. The gameplay music was still playing, but the mouse would no longer respond to input, because the sequence was automated at that point. So we created a second loop just for this sequence, and then a music sting for the score count-up screen that appears as that sequence ends. Once these were implemented with smooth crossfades and sound effects to help cover the transitions between them, the problem of confusion about the automated sequence was solved. The “level complete” experience in general was much improved. These are simple changes to make – a crossfade here, a fade there, adding a sound effect to cover and smooth a transition, etc. – but they go a long way in making a polished game. It’s these many small, simple steps that add up to a quality result.

Balancing Sounds and Music for the Most Polished Effect

The overall mix between the different audio assets (the music, sound effects, and voice effects) is critical. We often need to have audio implemented into the games we work on without being able to go on-site with the developer. In these cases, providing the assets already mixed and ready to drop in the game is helpful. Getting a good balance between the sounds and the music before sending it out is the goal. Our usual process involves us making detailed video captures that demonstrate the way that the sounds and music are meant to work once properly implemented into the game, so that the person handling the integration can refer to them, sure of what was intended by the sound design team. Having the audio lead involved closely at this stage with the person doing the implementation is the difference between an average audio experience in a game, and something polished and compelling.

Audio Design
Having the audio lead involved closely at this stage with the person doing the implementation is the difference between an average audio experience in a game, and something polished and compelling.

Knowing how much there can be on the game development team’s plate, it’s understandable to us that there is a temptation to have some of these audio implementation details made lower in priority. This is especially true at the end of a production cycle leading up to a release, which is usually when the audio team is most critically involved in the project. Considering the huge improvement in the overall experience for the player, it’s well worth the effort!

Next month’s installment will explore the role of game audio and discuss the creative journey, so look forward to it!

 

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