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Sam’s PhD Blog #4 – Global GameJam 2016

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Sam Hughes recounts his personal experience of his first game jam, in this case the Global Game Jam. As this is a personal blog section all opinions are of Sam Hughes and Sam Hughes only, not of The Sound Architect. 

Prologue

It’s been a while since I wrote for this blog, so sorry for that if anyone’s been reading. It’s been CRAZY busy! Which I will hopefully be able to fill you in on in another blog at a later date. Meanwhile, Global GameJam 2016…

I was quite intrigued to have a couple of requests to write a blog of my experience this weekend. It seems there is a call for understanding what it’s like as a sound designer or “Audio Guy” at a GameJam. I can only speak from my experience and that will be very unique to anyone else’s at these things. So any other audio guys out there I’d love to hear what yours was like!

Now although I was away from my natural habitat in York, as it was part of the IGGI PhD requirement that we attend the Goldmsiths venue in London, I did the best I could with a very modest setup as see above ^, but I enjoyed he challenge!

It didn’t help that my own laptop died recently so I also had to borrow a laptop (very kindly lent to me by Goldsmiths Computer Science Department) meaning I only had some of my software to hand that I am used to.

So then…

Boring Stuff

My setup in case you’re interested therefore was:

Windows Laptop (Win 10), with Reaper, Pro Tools 11, MetaDigger, Audacity, my Focusrite Scarlett 2i2, my AKG C1000S mic, my DT100 headphones, my Tascam DR-40 protable recorder, and a trusty 5TB hard drive of sound libraries!

atlantaGameJam

Pre-Thoughts

Having never been to a GameJam, I was obviously unsure what to expect both in terms of workload as well as the experience itself in a hall with everyone. Would I have to implement a lot? How much time would I get to revisit stuff? Will anyone remember audio in the first place? Many questions. So then. My experience….

 

Friday

Friday was fairly straight forward for me, I arrived in London with all my kit (even a Ukulele, which sadly I didn’t get to use) and got set up ready to roll. About 60 of us were in the hall mingling and prepping, while we waited for the theme to be announced.

After the two keynote talks the theme was announced at 5pm to be “Ritual“, which is a very interesting word that summons all sorts of connotations. Obviously, with my love for horror my instance response is “sacrifice” but I’ll leave that for others to ponder my psyche…

AsI was borrowing a laptop, most of my time Friday was spent downloading and installing software that I needed, which gave me time to chat to people and discuss ideas, while they were downloading or installing.

Then after that was group forming. Now in terms of my experience, I had no set group. I ended up agreeing to do audio for around 4 groups up front, which apparently can generally the case. Especially as there was only one other audio guy there I was aware of. I know sometimes depending on the projects, a sound designer can stick with one group as a main group, then do extras as they are requested. However, this method worked for me as the types of project lent to an interesting but smooth workflow.

So after groups were formed, everyone sat in there groups at tables to work on their projects. I spent time with each group as they were discussing they’re ideas and thoughts. I was sort of isolated as I sat on a table by myself. I did keep going back to the groups but in terms of my workflow I get much more done just sat with the cans on plugging away.

I of course, visited the groups often as well as reiterated to everyone to think about their audio needs as soon as possible and not to consider it at the end, as is often the case ;).

After Friday it was settled I was sound designing for a card game of a Summoner Vs an Exorcist, A VR Horror game based on Macbeth, a game of mini-games based on OCD and a psychedelic 2D platformer.

I was excited, I felt the buzz, I wanted to get stuck in and get involved. I was definitely looking forward to it. I had downloaded/joined everyone’s git/trello etc. and was ready to get stuck in!

For those of you don’t know check out Git, it’s a version control software usually used with SourceTree.

Trello is just a board of posts to keep track of workflow.

So it was food and bed, prepping for the weekend :).

 

Saturday

Saturday was fairly slow and I began by again, asking groups to give me a rough idea of their thoughts on audio assets as well as thinking of some myself whilst looking at their concepts/work in progress. Up until lunch I was working with my sound design concepts, recording some ideas and generally playing with sounds.

I knew most of them wouldn’t be at any stage for audio in the morning, but more likely be making more requests later in the day. Saturday afternoon onwards, as I predicted, was when it became busy. I was scouring my sample libraries, which takes a long time, especially with my setup. Then I was collecting source material, playing with plugins, recording VO and having all sorts of sound fun :).

I’m not one of those crazy people who will pull an all-nighter (especially when I have a hotel 15mins up the road) so I finished working around 8:30pm and went back for some much need food and rest.

 

Sunday

Nice early start, pretty much came in first thing with a nice massive coffee. I couldn’t help but notice how quiet it was, knowing that a lot of people must have stayed pretty late through the night. This thought was assisted by fellow jammers in sleeping bags on the way in.

Deadline by 5pm. Not toooo bad, but it was still a very busy day, sifting through more library sounds, creating unique sound design (as best I could) and making sure I had some time to polish the sounds themselves and be as happy as I could be with them.

Most of the day was spent finishing off asset lists that were requested by the developers. This was all done by about 3:30pm, so from then I was going between groups just make sure if they needed anything else, or if I could revisit anything.

Presentations of games began around 4:30pm and although there were some great ideas and the games were good, I couldn’t help but feel a little pang of sadness.

As most of you know I feel very strongly about game audio and it was saddening to see the lack of consideration for it. In general, not just my work.

Most of the games I worked on didn’t use much of the audio I had created. This is generally the case I now understand, as with jams a lot of things do not get finished. Now to the games that didn’t end up finishing a playable version a lot of us missed out, including artists, coders etc.  So I do see it as a learning curve and it will definitely affect my expectations and process next time.

On the plus side, three of the four groups would like to continue with their games and finish them so I’ll hopefully get more time on them to polish the sounds and create an even better and more comprehensive soundtrack.

 

Summary (Plus a Bit of a Soap Box Whinge I Warn You)

Thinking about it, next time I think I’ll focus on one group if possible to get some better time for polish as well as be more included in decisions and ideas process. As an “Audio Mercenary”, it was a fun experience working across multiple games and I did enjoy the actual process of working on them, but I feel it may be a better way to work.

I didn’t have to do any implementation, which I was only mildly disappointed about, as everyone I worked with wanted sound assets to implement themselves. I was also a bit relieved as I still feel I need to brush up on my FMOD/Wwise skills to include it in my workflow for a 48hr time limit!

I consider it a success in terms of experience. There are 4 games that I worked on and it was fantastic to make such a variety of sounds on a short deadline, even if I am a bit saddened as not many of the SFX were implemented.

Now for the soapbox part, I apologise in advance, little sleep + poor diet may have given me a grumpy perspective.

I do feel that it was kind of heartbreaking to make so many sounds (100+) only to hear 1 SFX and 1 ambient loop. The rest didn’t make it (and mostly didn’t even get listened to). Though its not that they didn’t get used that bothers me.

My advice for developers is to definitely speak to your audio people as much as you can and include them in your process! Although it was great practise it was also a lot of work, that worked out unnecessary. Be honest with them about how much/little you’re going to need.

I feel in some instances that I may have shot myself in the foot by pushing the game audio perspective so hard, and that they may have given me more assets than required because they felt bad about not having many, I don’t know. Either way, just keep audio folk up to date on your progress, situations, anything.

Now I know some of you may see this as a self-indulgent complaint “My stuff, my stuff, my stuff!” but it’s not. To be honest, I wouldn’t have cared if no sounds were used at all, as long as consideration was at least shown for it’s place and work gone into creating them.

I’ve worked on many projects before, so I’m very used to trashing a lot of audio (you can’t be too precious about your material) but you can still respect the craft in the first place, which is my key point.

Many of you may speak out and argue against this point so I’d be glad to hear it. My point is that there’s definitely a better way to work than that.

It was also the vibe I felt overall from the presentations and ultimately feel that audio was, as usual, the lowest priority. Most games either did not have sound, or the sound was turned off during presentations even if it did.

This is a constant battle for audio folk and I hope it wasn’t that way for people across the world doing the jam. I may sound a bit melancholy but I remain optimistic. I will not let this be the case next year and will do everything I can to improve my experience next time (Maybe stick to one game, but we’ll see).

I’m also aware of the constraints on everyone to do this in 48hrs, but I do notice a pattern with audio, it’s definitely not an equally considered field, and maybe I’m naive in my belief that it should be. Or at least considered way more than it is.

If any developers are reading and you disagree with what I’ve said also feel free to get in touch and put your point across. This is only personal perspective and it would be great to hear from the other side if I may be misunderstanding something.

Though judge for yourself on the overall outcomes, here are the links for the games:

http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/curse-macbeth

http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/ace-exorcist

http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/one-more-time

http://globalgamejam.org/2016/games/someone-someones-revenge

If anyone is interested in hearing what we wanted to implement into the games I’m happy to share and chat about that too 🙂

Send me some of your stuff too, I’d love to hear how everyone else did!

 

Further Thoughts (Good Ones, I’m Not Completely Grumpy!)

Next year, the GameJam for us IGGI lot, is based in YORK! So I am already looking forward to it as I will be very close by and able to use my powerful desktop PC with all my stuff straight off the bat, plus I will have proper music capabilities.

I can see now why people suggest GameJams as a great way for getting to work on games. I even got to do some fun VO while I was working. Plus as an audio guy, you will be in HIGH DEMAND, in most places by the sound of it (pardon the pun) so get down there.

Don’t take my whinging to summarise the experience, there are a lot of good points too.

It’s fun to work with the different people and hear different ideas. Everyone can take part no matter what experience you have it’s probably not the case everywhere and there were still a lot of interesting ideas that will inspire you in future. Definitely worth going to one.

I’m even tempted to make my own game how after seeing how far different people get in 48 hrs!

I even suggest it for voice actors and composers, you will also be needed for various projects and you can get stuck in as much or as little as you can manage.

Thanks for listening to my tired ramblings of my first gamejam, who knows if they make sense at this point. I hope they were useful to those who requested them and if you have any more questions, as always feel free to contact me on Twitter or e-mail etc. :)!

All the best

Sam Hughes

Twitter: @SamHughes88

e-mail: sam (at) thesoundarchitect (dot) co (dot) uk

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Sam Hughes
An experienced sound designer and voice actor who has worked on various media titles over the years. Always believing in audio, I try to share the wealth of knowledge from my colleagues and veterans of the industry to help audiophiles grow and evolve as a community.
https://www.thesoundarchitect.co.uk

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