Here’s the full interview with Richard Ludlow B.M. ’14, game audio designer and cofounder of Hexany Audio, conducted and transcribed by Tim Hare B.M. ’11:
What was your Berklee experience like?
I had a blast at Berklee, and I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without having attended the school. The game audio program at Berklee is quite robust, and teachers like Michael Sweet and others were instrumental in helping me figure out exactly what I wanted to do and how to achieve that goal.
Was there a lesson or bit of advice stuck out the most in school?
Day one when you arrive they tell you this industry is all about your relationships with your peers, and that’s absolutely the truth. People make games, people make music, people are what drives the industry. The first few semesters I locked myself in my room practicing and studying and didn’t socialize a whole lot. Luckily I soon realized that while of course honing your craft is absolutely essential, it’s how you collaborate and work with others that will ultimately determine whether or not you can make a career out of what you love doing.
Take us through your basic workflow of working on a video game?
Every project is a bit different—we can be on a project anywhere from a day to many years. We have projects we’ve been working on 3+ years, so generally development cycles are longer than linear media, but again every project is unique. Unlike a film where audio post won’t come in until post-production, we’re often involved from pre-production or early production and then continuously throughout production as new content is produced. Audio is an ongoing process usually crafted in parallel with the rest of design for larger scale projects as animations and scenes are completed. And in particular at our studio, we handle a lot of middleware and in-engine integration, so we’re very involved with development usually from close to the outset of a project.
A typical day involves a discussion about how we want the music or sound we’re going to produce to be triggered and played back in-game. Once we set up those guidelines, we’ll handle the music composition or sound design in a DAW (for us, usually Pro Tools), and then export those assets for implementation into middleware and finally integration into a game engine like Unreal or Unity. Game audio is a very iterative process though. You can design sound to picture all day, but once you put it in game and see how it responds and reacts, it may require heavy revisions to make it sound more impactful or compelling. This practice is one of the things that makes designing for games so different—the fact that you can design a sound put up to picture that sounds great, put it in-game and have it sound just plain bad. But it’s also what makes the process more interesting than linear media in my opinion.
Is there a piece of gear or software you love?
I’d have to say the audio middleware Wwise. We use it on numerous projects, and it’s what enables us to craft dynamic audio experiences in a game engine. It acts as a layer between our content and the game engine, making things like musical layering, branching, and transitions, much simpler.
Is there a particular skill set one should work on to be successful in game audio?
Interactivity is really what sets apart game music from linear film and other media, so learning about interactive music and dynamic sound systems and the middleware that drives them is definitely useful. Software like Wwise, FMOD, Fabric, etc. along with the game engines themselves like Unreal and Unity are essentials. Having those skillsets will absolutely give you a leg up. Also, you need to love games!
What musical or audio pitfalls did you experience when creating game audio? How did you work your way out?
Assembling a great sounding game is always a puzzle. You don’t know exactly how the player is going to play the game, so you have to piece together a very granular experience that can adapt and respond to the player’s actions. And on top of that, you’re often dealing with technical limitations – be that memory, CPU, or the ability to code/script an interactive system to behave how you want – you’re almost always working within some set of limitations. So it’s all about figuring out how you can produce something compelling within those. We thankfully have a programmer on our team who is invaluable in these situations.
What brings you the most joy in your work?
Working with great people, by far. I’ve always said that I’d rather be working on a game that isn’t as “cool” or high profile and be working with nice people who are creative and fun to collaborate with. And in games I feel like the general work ethic is much more sane than some other industries. People understand you might have a life or a family, and the work-twenty-hours-a-day-seven-days-a-week regimen is much less of an issue in this industry.
What advice would you give to graduates who want to break into game audio?
Though of course in-house positions in game audio do exist, a large percentage of the game audio community is made up of freelancers. This means that meeting people in the community and developing relationships is the first step to becoming a part of it. You never know who you’ll be collaborating with in the future!