FMOD Interview: Innovating With Sound

Firelight Technologies CEO talks about the current features of FMOD Studio and the challenges of sound design.

Posted By | On 05th, Dec. 2017 Under Article, Interviews


One of the most underrated elements of video game design is sound. There’s plenty of appreciation necessary not only for those who compose the amazing soundtracks in games but to those who help engineer the technology for sound effects. Firelight Technologies is one such entity having created the popular FMOD, which has been used in games like Unravel, Torchlight, Tomb Raider, Torchlight, SOMA, and StarCraft 2: Wings of Liberty and so on. GamingBolt had a chance to speak to Brett Patterson, CEO of Firelight Technologies, to get his take on the company’s current progress with FMOD and what the latest consoles can ofer it.

FMOD

"FMOD Studio has always come with mastering style plugins that let you produce a professional mix, like McDSP’s master limiter for example, and Dolby surround sound mixing…"

It’s been over two years since we last interviewed you and a lot has changed in the games development sector. Can you tell us how Firelight has moved ahead in the last several months?

FMOD Studio has been in development for several years now, but in the last months we’ve been working diligently on new features that really bring FMOD Studio to the forefront of audio development.

Can you tell us about the most recent advancements for FMOD including version 1.10?

The big 3 changes for the new FMOD Studio 1.10 release are:

  • Smart Presets: ‘Smart presets’ solve the challenge of maintaining large projects, making it easy to manage audio parameters, effects and automations. They allow these things to be created separately from an audio event, and modularly re-used in many events at once. It’s a huge improvement in workflow for sound designers.
  • Enhanced Live update/editing: Tools including FMOD Studio have let you view and edit some properties over a network connection, while the game is running, but FMOD Studio 1.10 takes it a step further. FMOD Studio 1.10 now allows you to add and delete events, as well as whole sound files live, and have them appear immediately in the game without recompiling.
  • Enhanced per-platform settings: FMOD Studio 1.10 now enhances the ability to scale from a mobile phone all the way up to a high powered PC. Tracks, DSP sound effects, encoding settings and more can be switched on and off on a per platform basis.

There’s also a bunch of new stuff to help surround sound and VR development.

What are some of the latest plugins for FMOD that you feel AAA developers could take advantage of, especially given how so many players put a lot on emphasis on OST/Music these days?

FMOD Studio has always come with mastering style plugins that let you produce a professional mix, like McDSP’s master limiter for example, and Dolby surround sound mixing, but the biggest change in plugins lately has been revolving around VR. Oculus/Facebook and Google now produce FMOD compatible plugins that allow advanced 3D over headset positioning which allows for greater immersion in games than before.

Unreal Engine 4

"We can now see huge projects with tens of thousands of sounds and behaviours. Being able to manage such huge asset bases is a big priority now."

The way developers approach sound has changed a lot in the last couple of years. What are some of the more unique challenges that developers face with regards to sound effects and how FMOD helps solve these, especially during the last 2-3 years?

Sound effects in games are not simple wave files any more. They are complex, multi-layered beasts which react in real-time to what is happening in the game.

To make this easier FMOD Studio allows for a whole range of unique, user interface friendly methods to branch and layer audio. As games get bigger, workflow is the biggest issue, and new features in FMOD Studio allow for more efficient workflow. This includes reusing assets, which smart presets are good for, scaling from mobile to AAA which per platform settings are great for, and build time turnaround, which live editing is great for.

How has the workflow of game audio evolved over the past two years? Do you see it as being closer to film and TV production houses than before?

We can now see huge projects with tens of thousands of sounds and behaviours. Being able to manage such huge asset bases is a big priority now. Big audio teams now have multiple people all working on the same project at once. That’s why things like audio tool source control integration is important.

In the past, mixing and mastering was not such a big priority with game development, but it is a big focus now and the tools and plugins are available to achieve this. Supporting end-point technologies like Dolby Atmos is now possible in games, which originally was for film, is available now for games, and it’s a great step towards movie like experiences.

With Unreal Engine 4 and Unity having made such a big impact for indie development, what are some of the changing demands from FMOD (aside from plugins for FMOD Studio and it being free for indies)?

We have definitely had to focus more on supporting Unity and Unreal in the last few years, rather than treating them as a distraction to our main purpose. Lately Unity and Unreal have taken more focus for us so we have specialized people just on the integrations. They are the largest user base now so we spend a lot of time on them, you can see from the front page of our new website we focus on how easy it is to get FMOD into engine middleware like UE4 and Unity.

Fallout 4 VR

"Compressed audio decoding is done by the Xbox dedicated hardware, and not the CPU, but these days compressed audio is becoming less of an overhead…"

We’ve seen spatialization plugins for VR platforms but where do you FMOD in the future when it comes to virtual reality hardware?

FMOD Studio is always ready to support the latest technologies when it comes to VR.

In our last interview, you revealed that FMOD’s process is CPU based. How hard has it been to optimize FMOD on the Jaguar based processors of the PS4 and Xbox One, especially given the high demands of developers these days?

The processors in the PS4 and Xbox are quite easy to develop with, as they are compatible with each other and the PC platforms now. Our main focuses for optimization on consoles is to support their native hardware codecs for highly compressed audio, which they both have, and support any special effects or features they might offer.

FMOD Studio offers GPU accelerated convolution reverb on PC and Xbox One, this can improve performance a lot for such a demanding effect.

I am sure you must have heard about the Xbox One X and its hardware specifications. As we all know, it boasts 12GB of GDDR5 memory. What are the possibilities of FMOD for those who handle lots of compressed sound on the Xbox One X?

The changes allow the developer to store more sounds and make them higher quality if they want, but the changes for the new consoles don’t affect audio as much as graphics.

The Xbox One X features a slightly better CPU than the Xbox One. Do you think the bump will make a meaningful impact on the Xbox One X since FMOD is based on the CPU? Any chance, it can hold back FMOD from truly shining?

Compressed audio decoding is done by the Xbox dedicated hardware, and not the CPU, but these days compressed audio is becoming less of an overhead, compared to the heavy demand of a big project, and the complex mixing structures and special effects they use. Unless the game is Xbox One X specific, which as far as I know is not allowed, the games still have to limit themselves to the power of the original Xbox One.

Xbox One X

"The new machines are mostly designed to enhance graphic capability and console hardware changes generally do not affect audio features."

On the other hand, we have the PS4 Pro, which has slightly less CPU power but noticeably less memory bandwidth and amount. Do you think it’s possible for developers to achieve the same level of FMOD performance on the Pro compared to the Xbox One X?

The machines are not different enough in terms of audio to comment on.

Do you think FMOD tech is being held back due to Sony and Microsoft’s compatibility requirement across PS4/PS4 Pro and Xbox One X/Xbox One?

The new machines are mostly designed to enhance graphic capability and console hardware changes generally do not affect audio features. Both consoles are already very powerful, so these days it is more up to the creativity of the sound designers rather than technical limitations.

How is development going on to support the Nintendo Switch?

FMOD has supported Nintendo Switch for a while now and is being used by developers.

Is there anything else you want to tell our readers before we let you go?

If users haven’t looked at FMOD Studio for a while I would highly recommend looking at the new releases which have come leaps and bounds in terms of features, since their initial iterations. More information can be found at our new website.


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