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Making the Game: Audio/Sound FX Production

dSonic's Vincent Stefanelli, Kemal Amarasingham, Simon Amarasingham By Don Lee

dSonic Remember the good ol days when a games audio was nothing more than a series of beeps and blips? Yeah, that was a simpler time for much simpler games. With growing expectations from consumers and computer hardware manufacturers squeezing out a few more polygons, the time has come for game audio production to match the high quality visual production. Video games are now requiring experienced audio professionals to produce the high quality sound effects and music backgrounds for todays more sophisticated games. Its become serious enough that some video game soundtracks are now promoted as popular music.

Developers looking for an experienced hand look to dSonic for their audio production needs. Their unique business structure and audio production has garnered many awards and accolades over the years. Recently, we had an opportunity to ask dSonic about their latest project, their services and audio production process for video games.
DMN: Please describe your personal backgrounds and your companys (dSonic mission and services?

Vincent Stefanelli: dSonic is an audio design company dedicated to the game industry... we see games offering the leading edge for both music composition and sound design and our mission is to elevate the level of a players game experience through sound and music. 

Kemal Amarasingham - Creative Director
Kemal has worked as a Composer/Sound Designer in the game industry since 1994.  He got his start in the industry creating sfx and music for Looking Glass Studios where he worked on such titles as the Flight Unlimited series, Thief 1 & 2, and, System Shock 2.  In that time, Kemal has won many awards for his work including the best audio award from the annual "best of" awards from PC Gamer and Computer Gaming Magazines, as well as 2 IDSA and 2 Game Developers nominations.

As a professional violinist whos played in various Boston orchestras, Kemal brings an extensive classical training to the table in creating unique music and innovative sound effects.  A founder of dSonic, Kemal has been an integral part of the creative direction of the company, ensuring each client realizes the full potential of what audio can add to their game.
Zoo Tycoon 2
Simon Amarasingham Composer/Sound Designer
Simon was classically trained on the piano from age 5.  He performed and toured in rock bands from the age of 15 traveling from New Zealand to Australia before coming to the States in 1995. He began composing professionally in 1990, writing music for commercials, corporate videos and documentaries and was drawn to working with games because of the ?exciting challenges that game audio presents.  As a founder of dSonic, Simon brings an exceptional understanding of both music and technology that allows him to compose and design for everything from films to console games to cellular phones.  His game credits include Ataris Neverwinter Nights: The Shadows of Undrentide Acclaims Gladiator, Sword of Vengeance and Microsofts Zoo Tycoon 2.  Simon says: ?I find composing for games to be extremely satisfying as they are the leading edge in both a technological and a compositional point of view.

Vincent Stefanelli CEO
Vincent brings a mixture of creative talents and business expertise to dSonic.  He began playing music professionally at the age of 15.  Since that time, he has also had the opportunity to play in the film, TV and game industries as well. He has written and produced educational programs, TV commercials and has been responsible for product placements for several major motion pictures.  In the record industry, he produced special events and media presentations, advertising campaigns and record promotions.  Now as a founder of dSonic, Vincent is responsible for composing and conducting the business development, marketing and product development efforts of dSonic.  In his spare time youll find him challenging his daughters to the latest video games.

DMN: What audio software and hardware do you use for your projects?
Vincent: We have an arsenal of hardware and software tools, but our favorites are Gigastudio, Logic Audio and Kyma, the latter being an especially great sound design tool.

DMN: How did all of you get turned on to video game music and sound effects? What were some of your previous projects?
Kemal: I started out about 10 years ago doing audio production at Looking Glass Studios.  While there, I worked on titles such as Thief 1 & 2, and System Shock 2, which won audio awards for Looking Glass. So, I come from the game industry and I learned all of my skills in the industry.  I think this gives dSonic a distinct advantage because this is our medium, we know game development from the inside out.

Simon: I had been composing professionally for documentaries, commercials, film as well as game and multimedia titles for about 12 years. When Kemal left Looking Glass, we started talking about working together. I had known Vincent from the marketing work he had been doing for my wife, (a professional singer in SF) and I decided to introduced Vincent and Kemal to explore the idea of establishing a music company.  Thats how the group got together. It then took a year of discussions about music, technology, business and the game industry before we really got started as a company. We decided to focus on the Game Industry because we felt that there was a need for musicians & sound designers who understood the specific issues and complexities of creating audio for games.

Vincent: Before entering the game world, my work had been producing film and music projects. When I began to explore the Game Industry, I realized how similar both the business and the process of making games were to the film and music industries.  I have to say that the game world is more fun.  It was an easy transition for me and I see my background coming into play for the future as the game, film and music industries seem to be merging.  
Zoo Tycoon 2DMN: How did you approach the production of the sound effects and music for Zoo Tycoon 2? Did you have to keep a close working relationship with the games developer Blue Fang Games to ensure the audio production was in line with the game play?
Did Microsofts Game Studios play any part in your creation process or were you given the freedom to create as you desired?

Kemal: In some cases we do go through the publisher, but for Zoo 2 we worked directly with the developer, Blue Fang. We always maintain a close relationship with the people we are working with, and make sure that we communicate with as many members of the team as possible. To do the best audio for a game you need to understand the production cycles and tasks of the artists, programmers, and designers. You also need to keep on top of the producers timeline for the project.

At the beginning of Zoo 2 we sat down with Senior Designer, Steve Serafino and Lead Programmer John Wheeler (one of the founders of Blue Fang) and listened to their expectation for Zoo 2s audio.  We then created a document with our recommendations and ideas for the games audio.

Steve then produced a master document of the initial required audio assets, which became the central document and road map for us to follow. As it got further into the project, we made trips into Blue Fangs offices to work with the implementation of our audio assets in the game.

In terms of the production itself, we wanted to keep the audio for Zoo 2 very organic and natural sounding. The trick was to create new sounds while maintaining an unprocessed sound approach. After talking with the Blue Fang team, we began researching each of the animals that we needed to created sounds for... we found a lot of information online and of course we visited real Zoos.

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Related Keywords:dSonic, Zoo Tycoon 2, Microsoft Game Studio, Vincent Stefanelli, Kemal Amarasingham, Simon Amarasingham, System Shock, video game music, thief game, video game soundtrack


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