Hi Simon, to get things start can you tell us who you are, where you are from, and what you had for breakfast?
I’m from Montréal, Québec, and I’m one of the guys behind Wwise. I’m also the father of three great kids that occupies the most part of my ‘free’ time. They love cereals in the morning, but I’m more of a cheddar and toasts kind of guy; maybe some old English genes from a couple of centuries ago…
Do you have any hobbies outside of the audio discipline?
Audiokinetic and my wife and kids are getting most of the hours of my days. My free time is usually late at night where I enjoy reading graphic novels. Otherwise, I like woodworking in general, and one of my long term goals with this is to do fine lutherie eventually. Making guitars as I’m playing a bit of it, but also crafting violins seems like the ultimate refinement in woodworking. It’s no simple furniture you put your clothes in, although some are notable masterpieces, it’s something you can make music out of it, and that is magic!
Let’s talk about next-gen consoles. What do you think is the most important advancement in next-gen consoles in terms of audio?
If we keep doing games like the last generation with pre-recorded audio files, there are not a lot of differences with the exception that you can fit more assets of higher quality and insert more runtime DSP effects. Taking this route, there are no reasons not to deliver a good game experience apart from managerial ones (not enough resources, budget, time, etc.).
Teams that will take a procedural approach to sound are the one that will make advancements to next generation console audio. But, there’s a risk here and the R&D investment on that end is not a hundredth of what we see for graphics. I remain confident that some studios will come up with pretty convincing audio experiences in the next few years, but I’m not sure, even though I hope so, the game industry will see a major and generalized leap forward in audio. We need more investments in R&D for the next revolution in game audio to happen I believe.
What do you think is the “next big thing” in terms of audio?
For AAA games, I see a need for two “next big things”. First, we need more procedural audio just to cope with the sheer quantity of assets to be produced and integrated, and the interaction of all those objects between them and with the environment. Then, we need to improve on the mix and ‘audio focus’ side of things to make these worlds crisp, precise and non-annoying over time.
For indie games, the “next big thing” remains to provide more love and budget to audio. Most indie developers now realize that audio is important, that certainly improved during the last decade. But, still just a fraction of them are willing to invest the real amount of time and money that is required to produce a great game soundscape.
If you could change one thing about how the game industry handles audio, what would it be?
I’m certainly biased here, but realizing that middleware developers are as passionate as game developers about what they do is a change that would beneficiate everyone. If game developers were paying the right value for the products they license, they would get products that would be even more creative, optimized and productive than what they are now. It would definitively pay for itself and the end users would get better quality products. I truly believe in this virtuous circle.
What do you want to see game audio become? What types of experiences do you personally want to have?
As a ‘consumer’, I’m looking for coherent and seamless experience. I’m expecting transparent game state transitions and loading times. I don’t want to notice anything exposing the mechanisms of the game, or worst, of the technology used by the games I play. The game design and game engine are mostly responsible for those moments that underline with broad strokes to the player that they’re playing a piece of software and not necessary a meaningful story.
Here’s a bold statement: I believe audio people, at least the musicians, are among the few trained professionals in the videogame industry that spent all their scholarship and professional years refining the art of delivering transitions, modulations and nuances with the most appropriate contextual expression. Audio people should stand up and get more involved with the game mechanics to deliver more fluid experiences.
Many people know you from Audiokinetic, but you were a game sound designer back in the day. What was your favorite project that you worked on in a sound design role?
I liked the three Playmobil games I’ve done because they were our first games for everyone at Ubisoft Montreal back in 1997-1999. It’s been two years of crazy (and underpaid!) hours, but I’ve learned a lot during that time, on all aspects of life.
‘Jungle Book – Rhythm & Groove’, a dance game à la ‘Dance, Dance Revolution’, is also one of the most enjoyable project I’ve worked on. Creating this game almost from scratch in nine months where I was both a game and sound designer has been a particularly fun and vibrant challenge. I also ended up designing the game editor in which we were synchronizing everything together (music transitions, arrow sequences for all difficulty levels, power ups, dialogs, camera positions and movements, animations, etc.). That has been my first experience in designing a user interface solution that fits with the game needs while making sure the team was fully productive with it.
When you picture the audio designer of the future, let’s say five years from now, what do you think we will need to know how to do? How do you think our jobs will be different from what we do today?
A bit like we’ve seen the middle class shrinking in occident in the last decades, I think we’ll see more and more one-man bands – ultra generalists creating and integrating most of the audio content – and, on the other end, ultra specialized designers – people assigned to highly specific aspects of the sound design. There’s no right or wrong here, just the expression of the business and the games developed these days.
When I give lectures or courses to students, I always emphasise the importance of them to learn as much as they can on all aspects of audio from music theory, sound design and post-production to acoustics, physics and computer science. We use it all during our career and for many of us, on a daily basis.
Thank you for your time, Simon! Enjoy your toasts!
Simon Ashby is co-founder of Audiokinetic. Ashby is responsible for the product development of Wwise® now used by more than 500 games. Prior to Audiokinetic, Ashby worked as a Senior Sound and Game Designer on several games.
With his vast industry experience, Ashby is a frequent lecturer and panellist with, as main theme, the role of sound production and integration in the overall experience of video games. In 2011, Ashby was honoured with the inaugural Canadian Game Development Talent Award as the “Audio Professional of the Year”.