You Don’t Know Jack

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Some say good sound in video games goes unnoticed.

Well, that may be the case for some, but for us GREAT sound makes you want to fire a rocket-launcher, soak in the sound of a reload and do it all over again. Sound designers often become the unsung heroes of the development process, that’s why I sat down with our Sound Designer, Jack Menhorn, to talk about what he does at Boss Key and why proper sound design should not be ignored.

ROHAN: So Jack, did you always know you wanted to work in video games? Why the interest in this entertainment medium?

JACK: I wanted to originally be a composer for games and over time that evolved into sound for games which further evolved into focusing on sound design in games. Playing and listening to the great soundtracks of Halo and Morrowind in 2001-2002 while still in high school helped move my interest from being in metal bands to being a composer for games. While not a video game; “Cowboy Bebop” also helped unlocked an interest in working in multiple genres of music and games seemed a good place to do that.

R: Is there a product, song – anything that serves as your inspiration to do what you do?

J: As I mentioned; Halo and Morrowind were big influences on getting into game audio. Nowadays I would give a cheese answer and say “everything is an inspiration”. Games, TV, movies, life, memories, etc are all inspirations for sound design. Sometimes it can be less about “I want this gun to sound like X” and can be more about “when this gun makes a sound, I want the listener to feel like X”. A slightly less cheese answer would be that I am inspired by all of my friends in game audio also making great stuff. Game audio has a great community (we even have a busy #gameaudio hashtag on Twitter) and we all keep each other on our toes while still being super helpful.

R: Why Boss Key?

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R: Okay – no B.S. Fair enough. So, as a Sound Designer at Boss Key, what does that job entail?

J: Designing sounds is only a fraction of what I do at Boss Key. More of my time is spent on Technical Sound Design which is taking sounds myself or more likely someone else has created and putting them into the game engine and making them play when they’re supposed to and not play when they’re not supposed to. Implementation is hugely important to making a game sound good. You can take a great SFX and make it sound like poops with bad implementation. Additionally I do some of the not very glamorous but essential stuff like edit sfx /dialogue and route out and hopefully fix bugs in the audio system.

R: Do you and Marc Mailand (our Audio Director) record your own sound effects or mainly modify existing sounds to achieve what you’re looking for?

J: On a recent Boss Room Marc mentioned about 80% of our sfx are library. It comes down to time when deciding if you can record unique (and good) sfx or not. Not only do you have to set time aside to record the sounds, you also have to set aside a whole lot more time aside to edit and process the recordings! ¬†Once you have spent all that time you may not even end up with material useful for what you need. My best recordings I have made myself were usually things I went out and recorded “just because” or some other sort of happy accident.

Whenever I am designing something for BlueStreak I try to incorporate some of my own previous sfx recordings where appropriate to make sure the sound has a unique voice to it. That is not always the case, as my favorite sound I have designed for BlueStreak has been all library sounds creatively edited and processed into something new. However, we are planning to record some cool things in the future so stay tuned for that!

R: What’s the most difficult part of designing sound?

J: Sound design is mostly sample based. So you go out and record (sample) a thing making a sound. You then take that sound back home and edit it and twist it into something new. Its really weird. Imagine that in a visual medium. If all visual images had to be made up of edited stock photos that were cut/pasted/stretched it would be a pain!

Getting whats in your head out and form it into a sound can be difficult because sometimes you are limited to what samples you have and your ability to manipulate them into what you want.

R: The most fun?

J: Getting whats in your head out and form it into a sound. Also: I feel like the technical part of sound design is hugely rewarding. With a bit of implementation into a game’s audio engine and maybe a few blueprint nodes you can turn a sterile level into a breathing audio soundscape. It may take artists and designers months to build up a level or character to look and feel stunning. A technical sound designer can then come in one day and add sounds to make it feel alive.

R: For those looking to get into the video game industry as a sound designer, what advice would you give them?

J: Don’t give up. Always be recording. Ask questions after you have already looked for the answer. Audio is a cramped and competitive field so always be improving and learning. Audio is also one of the most inclusive fields in game development so don’t look at other sound designers as competitors but as friends and allies.

Thanks Jack, I can’t wait to hear what’s next…and I’m sure I will, considering everyone in the studio can hear what you’re working on at all times. Follow Jack on Twitter @jackmenhorn and to learn more about the audio blog he rungs, check out designingsound.org.

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