Opinion Pieces

Opinion Pieces

Getting Audio Seen and Heard - Communication between disciplines.

Having worked 12 years in the games industry, Grace Docksey can say with all honesty that one of the most difficult parts of the job is communication.  It is a core skill that needs to be continually honed, as you come to rely on it throughout your career.


Whether it’s talking to a programmer about designing a system to replicate car engines, getting stuck into a brainstorming session for a brand-new character or even deciding where to go for location recordings, communication is key to the process.  This is about more than just instant messaging and emails, as these methods can only convey so much information at one time and a person’s tone or intent can very easily be misunderstood. 


Visibility is a term that we have really come to champion in the Jagex audio team.  Being visible sounds really obvious when it comes to communication, but it’s hard to get right.  Audio work generally requires isolated space so that, when sound designing, writing music, or working on dialogue, you can ramp up the volumes and have all the space for kit without encroaching on the development team’s areas.  This can also come with its own issue in that you might not be on the main developer floor and you could be “out of sight, out of mind”. 


You want to be able to express your own creative ideas, see how others are working together and be seen within that creative process.  You need to continually drive to be a person teams can talk to, a creative resource, and a voice in your own way. A strong method for levelling up visibility is inviting people from other departments for a chat.  This is a very basic action, but it has the most immediate results in starting to create ties to other teams.  Whether you are working in-house or freelance, talking with people in person (or mostly zoom these days), gives you a chance to read their reactions, body language and tone.   


One thing we like to do at Jagex is make sure that any new starters get the opportunity to meet and chat with the audio team.  It can be a spontaneous drop in chat just to ask about how we work within the company, or it can be popping into one of our team meetings.  At which point, you’ll find out a lot about us very fast, and it normally involves bad puns, unique instruments or finding out about our eclectic tastes in music. 


During these chats, we’ve been able to learn great insights about our new starters.  This is how we’ve found instrumentalists, singers for a short notice choir, and voice artists willing to add their creativity to audio in our games.  The main focus of these introductions is to help people feel comfortable and at ease with us, while giving them usable information about the team.  More importantly, it’s about letting them know how we can help them in their work.  It’s putting a face to the role and letting teams know that they can drop by if they have questions, or they just want to see what you’re up to. 


What continues to surprise me most about game development is how much teams don’t know about what kind of work is involved in other disciplines.  To try to combat this we openly encourage developers to be involved in audio activities such as voice recording sessions if its dialogue that they’ve been writing, or helping out with foley sessions where we’ve been talking about material types for combat sounds. 


The excitement and enthusiasm that is generated by these interactions is what fuels consideration for audio going forwards.  This is where raising the visibility of audio within other disciplines can really make a difference.   


Audio by its nature is a very creative beast.  One of the trickiest aspects of communicating audio intent, be it systems, style, or middleware, is conveying that in a form of universal language that teams from all kinds of disciplines can understand.


How we give information is very important and can easily be overlooked.  When explaining a concept using basic audio terminology, there can sometimes be a point where your audience doesn’t fully understand it, what (if anything) is expected of them or even that they don’t know what you mean.  Talking about audio features is great, but when talking about them with non-audio designers or programmers, it’s better to let them hear it in practice.


Creative mediums are key for demonstrating the intention of an audio feature.  If you can demonstrate your intention in a detailed, but easily understandable way, that’s already half the battle.  Concepted audio with game art is fantastic for this purpose.  A previsualisation video allows you as an audio designer to explore a single audio concept while using stunning graphical concepts and animations from the art team.  This allows the viewer to not only hear your intended audio idea but see how it relates to the in-game assets and the art direction.


Using a previs is one way of opening up cross collaboration at brainstorming stages.  Having all teams and disciplines involved (Art, Audio, Production, QA, Design, Programmers and Localisation) creates a much broader range of ideas and conversations which can in turn develop into fuller, more detailed game feature designs.


However, assumptions can sometimes happen during pre-production discussions.  This can be due to losing track of the discussion itself or just rushing and jumping to conclusions.  One way to combat this is by using reference material as a starting point when talking about a style of music, or a direction for sound design.


Being able to give someone reference material for your idea and approach allows others to put forward their feedback to you in a relatable way.  They might agree and like it, or they might feel like a different direction could be more appropriate.  Either way, you’ve been able to engage with them on a level playing field.  Allowing open discussion and feedback encourages alignment between you and the team on the idea and the end goals.


Designs can evolve within the development process, including audio systems and game feature designs.  This is where its key in keeping documentation up to date and making it available for all.  Daily stand-ups, regular catchups and collaborative feedback sessions are great ways of making sure that all disciplines are aligned with individual features.  Having regular retrospectives is also a great way to bring up positive and negative events that might have recently occurred.  Being honest with other teams allows you to build up trust with them and strengthens their trust in you.


One thing to remember is that passion breeds excitement and joy, so be involved when the ideas are starting to ensure that you create an awesome audio experience.  The result is totally worth it and getting all teams excited about audio is part of the process. 


Audio gets to be part of such an amazing creative journey in games development, so be visible, be proactive with team collaboration, learn to adapt when communicating with other disciplines and turn your audio communication game up to 11.  



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