Mastering and audio loudness concerning is not a new thing when we talk about music, films, TV shows, commercials, etc etc etc. But it seems that, when we think about game audio, it is still far from a common understanding.
There’s a need of pattern and standards for the industry, so we can avoid the loudness war; and also many things sound better depending os the platform the game is made for (we must understand better the differences between mastering a game for a tablet, for console or PC, for a smartphone, etc).
The good thing is: there’s people talking, thinking and writing good stuff about the theme. So I share here two of this articles that are really good.
The fist one, called Audio loudness for gaming: The battle against ‘ear fatigue, written by Simon Pressey (from Crytek). It’s a great, great article where he talks about many aspects of mastering audio for games: how loud it must be (or not), how to mix/master a dialogue-centric game, tools the studio uses for the job, how they benchmark the game loudness to TV and film (to get a better result), etc etc etc. It’s a must read article for mixers and masters.
Some interest insights of it:
On average, consumers prefer electronic audio content to be no louder than 69 dB, which is not much louder than normal conversation. They want to be able to smoothly switch from TV to video game without having to constantly adjust the volume.
Since it’s hard to gauge the playing habits of our average customer, nailing down loudness measurements can be a challenge.
One technique is to use anchor sounds as a benchmark around which the other audio can be measured. For example, at Crytek we have developed a tentative set of rules around how loud we will play dialogue for all games that are dialogue-centric. The loudness value for dialogue establishes an anchor point that guides the rest of the mix.
Another concern for game production is the peak-level audio artefacts that are introduced by various compression codecs. The user might not notice distortion introduced by a single codec for a single sound, but multiply that by 250 sounds being played at once that have all been compressed by that codec, and you’ve added a large number of artefacts. These might not be perceptively audible but they compound “ear fatigue” – a subliminal “playing this game is hard work” feeling. Subconsciously, the brain is trying to make sense of the sounds, which can be mentally and physically taxing.
The other link I would like to share is and interview with Garry Taylor, Audio Director at Creative Services Group, Sony Worldwide Studios and Marina Villanueva-Barreiro who is a senior engineer at SCEE Research and Development, made by Varun Nair (for the Designing Sound blog): Sulpha: The New PS4 Mastering Suite
It’s centred on Sulpha, a new Mastering Suite by Sony (included in their PS4 SDK update – 2.500), but they also talk about the mastering process, delivering sound for different mediums, how they are working on making the mastering a separate process from the mixing, etc. It’s a short, but very informing article.
Also, I would like to share some good thoughts present in it:
Garry: We wanted to introduce the concept of mastering as a separate process to the mix; the final process in the chain. Often, the teams creating content, who may have been working on a title for years, sometimes find themselves too close to a project to make an objective assessment of their work. That, at least, is my experience of game audio development over the 20 or so years I’ve been making games. In my opinion, mastering should be about bringing fresh ears to a project.
DS: Were the tools developed with any existing user listening metrics in mind?
Garry: The research we’ve done over the years indicates that around 50% of users listen to PlayStation titles through their TV speakers. However, most newer TVs can’t really be called ‘an optimal listening experience’ in terms of frequency response, due to the small size of speakers in modern TVs. We felt that mixing for TV speakers unfairly penalises those who have chosen to invest in a decent sound system. Therefore, we needed to allow developers to mix for the top end, in terms of playback systems, but also, through mastering, provide options for players with less than ideal systems, or situations where players needed limited dynamic range. We believe the PS4 mastering suite solves a problem all audio developers have experienced at some point. Being asked to modify a mix based on feedback from a team member listening on a low-end system can be hugely frustrating for those of us concerned with audio fidelity, although we fully understand that there will be many people listening to our titles on that kind of system. The suite allows us to cater for those smaller systems, whilst still retaining the dynamic range and fidelity we would expect as audio professionals.
If someone has some interesting thoughts about this theme, I would love to hear it!
Mauricio Ruiz – www.mauricioruiz.me