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Computer Game Designers Electronic Arts (part 4)


A Games Audio Studio

Electronic Arts have recently completed their new games audio studio, which
is rather like a cross between a music recording studio and a post production
facility, since they need to be able to handle all of the elements of sound
in their productions. The studio is linked to a number of rooms populated by
the in-house team of sound designers and composers who work on their own elements
of a game's sound track before taking their work to be combined with material
recorded in the studio itself. One of the key pieces of equipment used in both
music and effects is the Kurzweil K2000 synth/sampler, one of which is provided
in all the rooms. The K2000 has the useful ability of being able to be linked
via a PC to a network, so when a sound element is completed, it can be piped
directly into the studio to be incorporated into the sound track using Pro Tools.
In addition to the K2000, Electronic Arts also rely heavily on their portable
DAT machines and take a creative approach to sound design, collecting explosions,
laser blasts and plasma weapons from natural sources, rather than from standard
effects libraries. Software tools such as the growing range of TDM plug ins
for Digidesign systems are also exploited fully for their creative potential
in changing and adapting these natural sounds into suitable material for accompanying

In designing the studio, Electronic Arts took the view that the most important
element would be the infrastructure, and that the acoustic and general pleasantness
of the space were more important in the early stages than cramming the racks
chock full of equipment from the word go. Designed by Recording Architecture,
the studio has a small recording area, similar in size to what you might find
in a post production facility, and a large comfortable control room. Recordings
are normally made of voice or single instruments directly into Pro Tools, so
a huge live room was not considered necessary, but the control room is acoustically
very precise for monitoring and mixing. Since the audio is eventually going
to be heard on small computer-style speakers, enormous main monitors are not
going to be used all that often, although Electronic Arts do have a pair of
ATCs for when one feels the need for a rather greater adrenalin rush during
the track laying process. Mixing is usually done on the traditional Yamaha NS10Ms.
It may be an insult to Yamaha to say that their sound is compatible with computer
speakers, but it remains true that if you can get a mix to sound good on the
Yamahas, it will sound good almost anywhere else. To supplement the currently
fairly modest equipment collection which already features the Lexicon and Eventide
brand names prominently, Electronic Arts hope to build up their collection of
quality equipment with, for instance, SSL EQ and compression modules, API equalisers
etc. Favourite mic at the moment is the Neumann TLM 193 which usually goes directly
through a Focusrite mic amp to Pro Tools, missing out the Mackie 8-bus console.

The State of Play

If you are not a games enthusiast, then that's probably not your fault. Shoot
'em up style games may continue to have a boyish appeal, but there is still
a lot of scope for creativity in the field of problem solving or exploratory
games, to devise ways to make them appeal to a broader based audience. What
has been limited so far is the range of interaction with the subject matter
– the normal response usually being to blow it away! Also, the characters of
the games have been very superficial in terms of their story telling capabilities.
Usually they are there as targets. Electronic Arts envisage a wider range of
interactions and solutions. Games such as The Darkening and Wing Commander use
real actors to characterise the parts, giving them more life than a computer
graphic could. The extra dimension of motion captured actors can take a game
beyond the normal range of computer limitations. If you are a games enthusiast
then you will know all about this, but if you still regard games as being a
rather lower status art form than music, film or television entertainment, then
you shouldn't ignore what is happening. I reckon that if you could draw a parallel
between the development of the games industry and the development of the film
industry, we have just started the talking picture era. The games equivalent
of the golden age of Hollywood is yet to come. Do you want to be a player?

David Mellor

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David Mellor