Eddie Veale, acoustician, talks about designing studios for games

Eddie Veale, acoustician, has been designing studios for over 40 years and talks to us about designing studios for games. Veale has designed studios for music, broadcast and games including Dean Street, Trevor Horns SARM studios, British Forces Broadcasting services, Capital Radio, Decca, Kerrang!, Strongroom Studios, EA Games and Frontier Games to name but a few.

With more game audio spaces being multipurpose there can be some design challenges. “One challenge can be creating a benign acoustic that works for most sound sets. The acoustic balance to create a variable environment is quite fine, especially when designing for different types of games; the dynamic game where the player needs to maintain a high level of focus on the forward activity while being very aware of what is happening in the wings benefits from a front/sides/rear speaker configuration - a different setup where there is a speaker mid front, one each side and one behind - this is much better than trying to work in the standard stereo format and adds higher definition to the mix that pays dividends in the final master.”

The studio needs to be comfortable space conducive to collaboration and fully supports the creativity but there are some differences when designing audio mixing studios for video games and music production. “The fundamentals of studios are the same, the significant difference is configuration for use - thus a studio for music is different to one for post or games. Music is about grabbing the listener and bringing them into the wall of sound to maximise the experience, the trick here is to create the mixing environment such that the engineer is in the same listening space as the listener will be so he/she can mix for the thrill, passion and excitement. Similar for post except the outlet is cinema or television and here there is a chasm of difference - the cinema is a big landscape with the audience scattered in all parts and so experiences will vary and effects are often used as a focus, television widely relates to the home lounge and where background music is played a careful balance is essential to avoid dialogue being drowned out - in fact a more intimate acoustic can help to clarify the effects. Games can be considered as the most challenging - ideally differing configurations are required to match the game format - games with a lot of surround ambience benefit from an ethereal distant background to avoid detraction from the focus and lead effects with an excellent definition for the foreground sounds, essential when transposing to headphones.”

Headphone technology continues to grow in popularity with the advent of VR, AR and HRTF tech. “Mixing on headphones is part and parcel of the mix process, as is mixing in stereo, 5.1 and 7.1, but many games studios are predominantly using headphones to mix due to in-house limitations, resulting in companies being reliant on external facilities to record for them, driving up cost and reducing in-house flexibility. Having internal recording and mix facilities mean that companies are no longer dependent on outsourcing and acquire the ability to respond rapidly to fast changing game requirements. Good quality facilities afford the opportunity to produce more in-house, plus every games studio is looking for the best talent and good facilities are key to attracting them.”

Although those making do with converted, untreated rooms are producing pretty amazing results given the circumstances, one of the biggest challenges faced is how to sound proof, dampen, treat small to medium sized rooms in a way that works for multiuse. “Many engineers have their own studio where they are doing their best to continue with their work and frequently wish for the ambience and sound quality of their day job but a small room will, by virtue of its size and limitations, always develop a character that will produce better results for some types of work than others. Most home studios will not have the space, isolation and acoustics of the professional studio and, unless the owner is prepared to make a sizeable investment it will never work as well. Beware, home studios often begin quite modestly and grow with a good work flow, then problems begin to arise - investigations frequently resolve that these result from early decisions or constructions that can be very difficult to remedy without a complete redesign and reconstruction, so it is important to have a clear focus from the outset.”

“Having a pro mix space allows you to mix with true accuracy in surround and stereo, and be confident that what you are hearing is a true picture of what is there. Being able to mix in a properly calibrated reference room as you go brings the ability to respond rapidly to vary fast changing game requirements and makes mixing in the last couple of weeks before release much easier.”

The studio is not just about the sound but also the aesthetic as its what creates the first impression and what is heard then has to excel. “Provided the front end space design planning is well prepared it is not too difficult, but let this get out of balance and the challenges quickly grow. I begin with concept, the final appearance. Once the mood boards are signed off the real acoustic work can begin - looking at geometry, selecting materials and engineering the acoustic environment.”

“There are critical issues that need to be agreed such as how much sound isolation is required, will the sound level of the audio being created in the studio impact on neighbours and what could the repercussions be, and how will environmental noise impact on the studio and recordings. It’s very important to determine the exact sizes for the room or rooms and bigger does not always mean better. And, of course, these decisions are generally dependent on budget. Once these things are understood the room(s) can then be designed around them. It’s invaluable to talk with sound designers, mixers, Foley artists and sound supervisors about what they like and don’t like to refine things and make the space work for them.”

Dedicated audio facilities enable to audio team to be more efficient as they are in one location, respond quicker as they are in one location that encourages team interaction. A key studio can also double up as an amazing acoustically treated presentation space that not only looks awesome but sounds out of this world – a real bonus to show off your studios capabilities and wow clients.”