GDC 09 lecture overview

(The Moscone North Ballroom right before Iwata's keynote)

Here's a list of all the GDC lectures I went to, along with a 2 sentence commentary. What a great experience! More of my thoughts in later posts...

Discovering New Development Opportunities, Satoru Iwata
Tried to give 3rd party developers ideas and incentives to develop for Nintendo hardware. I wasn't aware that there are almost as many wii balance boards in homes as there are ps3's. I got a free DS game out of it, "Rhythm Heaven". Haven't played it yet.

From Bungie to Bootstrapping: Starting an Independent Developer Studio, Max Hoberman
Gave some tips on how to bootstrap using the work-for-hire model. Basically enumerated sound business practices... no surprises.

The Art of Braid, David Hellman
Put heavy emphasis on integrating the meaning of Braid into its art assets. Showed several iterations that the art went through to get to the final stage (apparently they worked on art for 2 whole years?!?). Artwork cut into various shapes and sizes was placed on top of collision tiles. They also made extensive use of particle effects.

Procedural Speech Generation, Paul Taylor
Excellent presentation on speech synthesis using voice morphing, text-to-speech, and everything inbetween. I really believe that procedurally generating speech allows for more dynamic and immersive gameplay.

Using Musical Styles to Enhance Storytelling, Lennie Moore and Garry Schyman
Advised that when asked to write music in a particular style, the best thing you can do is listen to as much of that style as possible.

Experiences and Rare Insights into the Video Game Music Industry, Hitoshi Sakimoto
Sakimoto reminises about what it was like to program game music back in the day, and encourages composers to write from the heart. Most people seemed to agree the talk was poorly translated.

10 Great Things Game Designers Exhibit, Gordon Walton

  1. clear communication
  2. positive mental attitude
  3. teamwork
  4. continuous learning
  5. player empathy
  6. KISS
  7. Flexibility
  8. Problem Solving/Analytical Skills
  9. Broad Knowledge
  10. A Passion for games
As one attendee at the talk noted, these are pretty much the basis for a great employee in any industry... and these traits are really just icing for the larger cake of raw skill.

iPhone Development: Exploring The New Frontier, Noel Llopis
Stressed that although the barrier of entry to make games on the iPhone is low, making a profit is difficult because there are just so many applications already on the platform.

What's Real About Virtual Reality Audio, Simon Carlile
A presentation on the basics of Head Related Transfer Functions and how to implement 3D audio in a virtual reality environment.

Using 5 Elements of Failure Design to Enhance Player Experiences, Jesper Juul
  1. failure count - # of times failed
  2. failure awareness - when the player realizes failure is possible, but may not actually fail
  3. failure communication - how designer communicates failure to the player
  4. failure setback - how much time a player wastes by failing
  5. failure repetition - how many times a player fails in exactly the same way
By Balancing these 5 ideas, failure can be used or communicated in nontraditional ways.

Talking to the Player with Barks, Patrick Redding
Talked about the dialogue engine for Far Cry 2, and how to make realistic AI dialogue for NPCs in the game. Thier process included evaluating game state, player state, threat level, and more to determine what an NPC says during the game.

Shaping Ones Musical Identity, Troels Foelmann
Foelmann's approach seems to be searching for unique, nonstandard instruments and morphing them with the appropriate software tools to emerge with a personal identity. He also suggested stacking many different sounds from different sound libraries on top of one another (and often beefing up the bass of an orchestral score with low frequency synths)

Recording and Mixing Music for Games, John Rodd
Surprising to at least me, there were no secret trade tips at this talk, only the mantra of good recording/mixing practices.


Portfolio for GDC

This week I'm attending the Game Developer's Conference. If you're going too, make sure to add me on myGDC. If you're not going, I'll be tweeting/blogging about it most of the week anyhow.

As part of my preparation for the conference, I started a tumblr which has my most recent projects on it. You can check it out at http://anaudioportfolio.tumblr.com


Tonality in Composition

I was expecting to learn how to write fugues and sonatas in my composition class, which is not at all what we're doing. Instead we're learning about the more abstract processes that make up a composition. Also, I don't think I mentioned this last time, but our professor is Steven Stucky, who won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Music.

My last project, Oscilloscopes, was a foray into algorithmic composition. Essentially, the repeating statement is made of scale degrees taken from the Fibonacci sequence.

For the second part of class, we focused on the juxtposition between tonality and atonality. We looked at a lot of composers, specifically a lot of Stravinski, and found that they often employ bitonality. The second assignment follows suit (I apologize in advance for the poor recording quality of the tracks below):

I also ended up playing a piece by my friend Vivian Li, who scored her piece for tuba and piano. My performance is less than stellar, but the piece itself is pretty cool:

We also had a quick in class discussion about tubas that I thought was cute, if you're interested:


BOOM workshop

(Chelsea teaching, Cooper standing awkwardly behind her :P )

You may remember last year for Cornell's annual Bits On Our Mind (BOOM) I had an ambisonic music environment project on display and also gave a presentation on procedural generation.

This year I helped teach a 4 hour workshop on game design as part of the CIS High School Outreach Program... reminiscent of the 10 week program I helped teach last semester. Of course it's pretty hard to make a full fledged game in 4 hours, so we fell back to paper prototyping.

More and more this year I am learning about the importance of the iterative prototype, and how incredibly cost effective they can be. Just for clarity, I did resolve to make 5 games or game prototypes this year, so I suppose some of those could very well be nontechnical prototypes. (If you're curious, I'm working on 2 games right now that I'm sure will be featured in upcoming posts)

At any rate, the workshop went surprisingly well, and the CS department will be using the workshop to ask for more funds from NYSTAR; so win. While teaching game design was a great part time job, I wouldn't want to make a career out of teaching: it gives me stress headaches.


How to apply for (and win) an IGDA GDC scholarship

I followed a couple basic strategies while I applied to the IGDA scholarship program:

  1. Demonstrate a passion for what you do. My passion is probably one of my most convincing traits, so I tried to show that in my application
  2. Show that you're active in the gaming community. That includes not only knowing names of big people in the industry, but also that you're constantly developing new games and learning. I personally don't have a lot of connections in the gaming industry, so I focused a lot more on all the projects I'm involved in.
  3. Prove that you're grounded. Anything to help you stand out (in a positive way) from the other applicants will help your cause. If I had to guess, most aspiring video game designers have pie in the sky aspirations, which is great, but often not feasible. I'm a modest person, so this strategy works well with my personality. (Also, bragging about my modesty makes me pretty uncomfy :P )
  4. Convey a personality. In this category I always take advantage of the fact that I play the tuba; it's unique and quirky. I also tried to take a relatively relaxed writing style, as if I were talking to the judge in person. Although I think some of my responses come out a little stilted in the end.
Here are my actual responses if you're curious what I wrote:

Q1 - What are your career objectives? How will this scholarship help you achieve your goals?:
Ultimately I’d love to work as a sound designer/composer for a small game company. Small teams that do the best are made up of experts in their field, so my immediate career objective is to become as expert as I possibly can. I plan on graduating and working for a consumer electronics company while making small video games and attending conferences in my spare time. When my school loans are manageable and the time is right, I hope to make independent games for a living.

Q2 - What do you expect to gain from GDC that is not available at your school?:
I want to meet bright and motivated game audio engineers, sound designers, and composers like me. I have lots of friends that design games, and lots of friends that compose music (electronic and otherwise). What I haven’t found at school is a community of people interested specifically in game audio. GDC gives me the opportunity not only to meet industry professionals, but also to interact and share ideas and insights with people that are as passionate about sound as I am.

Q3 - What is your all-time favorite game, and why? What kind of game would you like to make?:
I’m sure a lot of people respond with my favorite game—Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. I believe the Legend of Zelda series basically defined the Action-Adventure genre, and bringing Link into three dimensions proved to be a very successful endeavor for Nintendo. My particular love of OoT is its music, composed by Koji Kondo. Each song is brilliantly composed using the same 5 pitches on the player’s ocarina, and each is beautiful and memorable. If I could make a game with music as well crafted as Koji Kondo’s, that would be a great achievement for me.

Q4 - Describe a game-related project (personal or academic) in which you've participated. Why did you get involved, and what did you learn?:
Last semester the game design team I was on made 4 prototype games, developing each game within the span of a week. I need more experience designing and developing games, and this seemed like a great place to do it. I learned tons. I learned that defining what exactly a “prototype” is will save you a lot of trouble. I learned design by committee is hard and sometimes inefficient. And I learned that prototyping doesn't work as well in large groups (we were a group of 8).

Q5 - Is there anything else you'd like the judges to know about you?:
If you’re wondering why I’m a Computer Science major but interested in the audio/music of games, I’m also double minoring in Music and Computing in the Arts.
Some other quick facts to get to know me!
I play the tuba. This would be my first time going to GDC. I’m a total geek when it comes to procedural generation, especially procedural music. Last semester I helped teach a highschool game design program. I’ve taken three school game design courses to date. I love blogs, I love San Francisco, and I love games :)

So yep, that's what got me in. Not very jaw-dropping, but good enough to get a free ride to the expo. See you there!


Goldberg Cosmetica - Redux

I'm taking a film scoring class this semester, and our midsemester project is to compose audio for a video of our choosing. I basically trolled vimeo to find an excellent video by Lukas Vojir, who is graciously allowing me to repost his video with new audio. The original video can be found on vimeo, along with interesting information about the concept and its execution.

The idea behind the audio is an emulation of a Goldberg machine through sound. "Mechanisms" of the machine are assigned musical loops that are carried out through the remainder of the piece.

Most all of the sound effects were recorded by me personally; quite a few are buses and vans that pass by my apartment. Some effects are extended tuba technique. All the bells are glockenspiel notes that I recorded last semester. Most of the instruments are recorded in Reason and then imported into Cubase (not using Rewire, I've pretty much decided Rewire is the devil because I often inadvertently change the tempo in Cubase by opening both programs simultaneously). I feel like there's probably a little too much reverb through the whole thing.

The voice in the composition is mine: I recorded the loop twice as slow as song's tempo, then increased the sample's tempo so it was at the right tempo and the voice was twice as high. Then I pitch shifted it down an octave. The result is something that sounds a little more like a trumpet and a little less like an inexperienced vocalist :)

I'm not purposefully trying to include my voice in all my compositions, it's more that I want to work with complex waveforms, and don't have a vocalist handy when I need to record something. And of course midi voice is out of the question.

The audio was exported from Cubase and synced with the video via VirtualDub... this probably wasn't the best way to do it, since you lose quality in the conversion process. All in all, it didn't turn out that bad seeing as it was my first actual foray into film scoring.

I ended up finishing the project 2 weeks before it's due, mostly because it's the most interesting of all my homework projects. If only I were as ahead in my other classes too.