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Thread: 📰 The PixelCount Post - Issue #23

  1. #1
    Matt's Avatar
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    June 24th, 2016

    📰 The PixelCount Post - Issue #23


    ISSUE #23                         THE VALE, QUILL                         9 MAR 2018                         ONE BRASS

    Great Expectations

    This last week has been quite business oriented. Inevitably I guess we're in a position where we need to take a hard look and ensure the plan we have in place makes sense. Early Access is in some ways the no turning back point where we will really be put in a pressure position of external forces pushing the game along and so we want to get that as right as possible. I think in some ways there's a lot of bottled up expectations right now because it's been quite a while since the Kickstarter prototype. We have made a lot of progress since then but I guess there's always a nagging feeling of not knowing quite how the expectation compares to the reality.

    In spite of that focus, work has continued along on the game and we're getting ever closer with music, art, and levels. The code has made reasonable strides too with more NPC behaviours in play and with it an increased sense of character. There's no doubt a ton left to do but the little step back into business has revealed how much potential it all has to deliver a great game.

    Will Return Soon

    Charlie went off on a quest,
    With nary a minute to rest.
    So Matt filled in,
    Scratched at his chin,
    And wrote this ditty in jest.

    Sounds Daunting

    A shopping list of sorts has been established for sound effects which, once acquired, will also help us with mixing everything together. Matt explained to me a bit about what his process will be for doing so. He'll take the masters of the soundtrack and play them with ambient sounds, HUD sounds, and other sound effects played over them to create a purely auditive representation of what playing the game will be like. He can then hear if the music, sound effects, and ambient sounds will be in the right volume and reverb when everything is put together.

    Meanwhile, I still have work to do though. I identified one track in the list of Early Access songs to be the weakest link and I am in the process of creating its replacement. The context within which I intended the original is different from where it ended up in the game and I feel ever more strongly that it is now a bad fit. So the cycle begins anew as I create drafts, ask for feedback, and hone in on what I hope will be a superior track.

    Additionally, discussions about sound effect choices are also still going, which I suspect will continue to happen over the course of the entire development. Effects that turn out not to work as well as we hoped will need to be reconsidered and replaced. It's an iterative process, dictated by my ever-changing knowledge of audio. A year ago I knew next to nothing about sound effects, but learning on the job is what turns a stale career into a dynamic one - even though it can be daunting. But if we never did daunting things, we wouldn't be here right now.

    Matt's Patented Box of Soaps

    "Business business business. Numbers."

    That's been me recently. My fine hat collection continues to do well this week as I find myself wearing some fetching business hats as well as a few audio hats. Things certainly continue to be a bit more hectic than usual here at Castle PixelCount, but the good kind of hectic. The kind that keeps you energized, enthusiastic, and prone to writing unnecessarily long articles.

    One area of focus that has recently demanded the attention of Charlie, Neal, and myself has been the business side of things. The 'running of the business' is one of those less glamorous parts of game development that you don't often get to hear about save for events like GDC or similar. As unexciting as it probably is to the average player, it's still a very crucial part of the game making process.

    Many are quick to forget that, at its very core, making an independent video game is the same as starting your own business. Imagine the monumental task of just that. It's incredibly challenging and, if we're being honest, incredibly risky. Add on top of that the fact that you've also got to develop the game itself and it's easy to see how small teams can find themselves utterly swamped. There's boat loads of tax considerations to worry with, legal bits and bobs to fuss over, contracts to write up, all manner of NDA's to sign with other partners, people to hire, copyrights to register, and the list goes on (and on).

    I wouldn't go so far as to call it a necessary evil, as I personally don't consider the business side of things to be inherently 'evil' so long as we make sure to run things without sacrificing any of our ideals in the process. Granted, I know that sounds a bit high and mighty. Perhaps it is. But thinking about the kind of company we want to see PixelCount become is almost always on our minds in some way. What sort of company would we, ourselves, want to work for? What sort of company would our community want to be a part of?

    In fact, something we've recently begun doing is attempting to define what our guiding principles as a company are and-

    Wait wait, stop the presses. It's time for a soap box:

    I feel like I'm getting dangerously close to using the sort of corporate jargon that gamers (and myself) loathe hearing. If I start bandying around the phrase 'our company's core values' somebody please give me a good slap. Nobody responds to that sort of jargon. Nobody actually buys any of it.

    Have you ever had an interaction with a company's support and they've said something like "I do apologize, but unfortunately..." or something like "We're very sorry to hear you're having trouble." Obviously, I know that these folks are being told to follow a script - in fact, one of my first jobs ever was working as phone support for a mobile phone company. So I get it. The problem isn't with the individuals so much as it's with company's ridiculous adherence to all this corporate phraseology. It's terribly hard to not want to flip a table when hearing these standard script replies.

    What is it with this strange divide between 'the company' and 'the customer'? It's like people forgot how to just be human to each other. Look, you're a person working a job where you've got to handle support for a company. I'm a person who is contacting a company needing support. Why can't we just...I dunno, talk like normal people?

    Yes yes, I know all the reasons for it. Some companies have literally thousands of support agents and there needs to be some sort of coherent set of instructions as to how they should conduct themselves as representatives of the company. Sure. Fine. But it's crazy to me how often I see even the smallest of teams follow in those footsteps. Maybe it's because there's this notion that that's 'how professional support is done' and surely we all want to be professional. But is a little humanity in the interaction too much to ask for? People don't respond to companies feeding them a corporate line and we all know a line when we hear one.

    Ahem. Yes. Soapbox over.

    All of that is a very roundabout disclaimer to say that I recognize that I'm flirting very close to corporate jargon in this article, but we do genuinely concern ourselves with making sure we're building something open and honest and lasting. As such, something we've begun to regularly think on is figuring out what our goals are not just as a game developer but as a company that real people work for and that real people dedicate themselves to (be it a team member or a community member). We'll probably mess about with the wording of this over time, but in general we've summarized our main goals to these three things:

    1. Make something we're proud of.
    2. Use experience to create a sustainable future.
    3. Give something back to the community.

    I suppose the first one is obvious - we want to be proud of the game we make. The second one is all about using our collective experiences and insights to help guide our decisions in creating something sustainable. Basically, we need to balance safe reasonable business decisions against the very real need that businesses must also take (calculated) risks on occasion. Relying on the experience of our team and listening to the experience of others is an integral part of that. The third one is using the phrase 'community' in the most broad sense, ranging from this community here to beyond. Understandably, that might sound like a trite platitude, but the general idea is that we don't want to make 'just entertainment'. We want there to be some sort of intrinsic value beyond that, in whatever humble way we can manage.

    Sure, some of this might sound a bit corporate-esque, but the important thing is not that we have these goals written out. The important thing is ensuring that any decisions we make supports those goals. Not just one or two of them, but all of them.

    Okay, that's enough of the business hat. I shall hang it up for the remainder of my article and, so as to not make this update too dreadfully boring, I will briefly wear my audio hat. As our music maestro mentioned above, I'm now approaching the task of mastering the entire game's audio. This includes figuring out how music, sound effects, and interface audio will all coexist. On the surface it might seem like this would only entail adjusting volumes until it sounds right. However, there's also reverb, sorting out seamless audio looping, contending with audio that dynamically changes volume based on distance to the player, and so on.

    Everyone's approach to working on all that is a bit different, but the approach that I'm personally fond of is taking a page from the filmmaking handbook. Basically, I'll play the latest build of the game with all audio off and screen capture the whole thing. In this video, I'll play in such a manner as to trigger most (but certainly not all) sounds in the game. From there, I'll take this video and import it into an Adobe Audition multitrack session and start layering all the various sounds where they need to go.

    For example, I'll plop down the region's music first. Then I'll add in whatever the ambient noise should be (birds chirping, wind rustling the leaves, etc.). After that, I'll start placing individual sound effects to coincide with the video; a door opening, a new item picked up, a level up in a skill, the popping of a pig, and so on. Eventually, I'll build up a tentative first draft of how all the audio will need to sound and I'll take notes accordingly. Using that as a template, I'll then go in and adjust the master audio files to match how I've set them in my multitrack session. To see an example of this in action, take a look at this video here from one of Adobe's livestreams (although the footage they're using is a bit campy in my opinion).

    Obviously, this method can't account for every single sound effect in the game as no single video I make could possibly include every incident of audio possible, but this approach still gives a very solid foundation to jump off of. The goal is to make something that is naturally cohesive with the gameplay. There's a quote from Jared Spool that comes to mind:

    "Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible.
    It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it."

    That quote's speaking in generalities of course, but you get the idea. In many ways, I feel the same way about audio design (especially sound effects). The ultimate goal is for the audio to feel so natural that it doesn't come across as 'audio design' but, instead, helps add a bit of indefinable magic to the whole experience.

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    Copyright 2018 by PixelCount Studios (Limited).ᅠᅠAll rights reserved.ᅠᅠEdited and assembled by Matt Allen.

    Last edited by Matt; March 18th, 2018 at 04:10am.

  2. #2
    Secretcode's Avatar

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    January 31st, 2018
    Wow I really like this post I feel like I'm learning so much from smaller studio development teams, with post like this or dev diary videos you really get to see the real side of things, expectation vs reality thing and seeing your baby "kynseed' going out in the world to be criticised or praised.

  3. #3
    BriarRose's Avatar

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    June 28th, 2017
    It's weird to think of video games as a business. I mean to know they are is one thing but to see it from the internal aspect is weird. Like anything I guess it is a business at the end of the day, but you could be a business like Wal-mart or a business like Aldi. And if you stick to your principles, it's obvious which way you are leaning to.

  4. #4
    ReaverVonRaie's Avatar
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    March 16th, 2018
    I ended up taking most of the day to catch up on these cute little news posts and I just; I love being able to read them and read about the game's development. It is honestly a magical experience. I am so hyped for this game and seeing it come together bit by bit is just so warming to my heart.
    Video games keep me sane.

  5. #5
    Matt's Avatar
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    June 24th, 2016
    More development update goodness has been posted for your perusal. Please enjoy.

  6. #6

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    February 20th, 2018
    United States
    Soapboxs are love, soapboxes are life. Lol.
    Hoo hoo

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