Understanding Audio in VR – A Game Music Composer’s Resource Guide

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips working in her game composers production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

When I’m not at work in my studio making music for games, I like to keep up with new developments in the field of interactive entertainment, and I’ll often share what I learn here in these articles.  Virtual reality is an awesome subject for study for a video game composer, and several of my recent projects have been in the world of VR.  Since I’m sure that most of us are curious about what’s coming next in virtual reality, I’ve decided to devote this article to a collection of educational resources.  I’ve made a point of keeping our focus general here, with the intent of understanding the role of audio in VR and the best resources available to audio folks.  As a component of the VR soundscape, our music must fit into the entire matrix of aural elements, so we’ll spend this article learning about what goes into making expert sound for a virtual reality experience. Let’s start with a few articles that discuss methods and techniques for VR audio practitioners.

Methods and techniques

3D Audio formats for VRAn illustration of popular methods and techniques for game composers - section from the article by Winifred Phillips, video game music composer.

3D Sound Labs takes us through the three most popular sound formats for spatial audio in VR: Multi-channel, Object-based, and Ambisonic.

How 3D Spatialized Audio Bottlenecks Virtual Reality Video

VR audio can consume enormous computational resources, resulting in a resource war between audio and video content.  This article discusses how audio demands in VR consume memory bus bandwidth, and proposes a short-cut that manipulates the frequency response of the audio content to enhance spatialization while consuming fewer resources.

Adapting Your DAW for VR Audio

A VR sound editor discusses his methods and workflow for virtual reality in this article.  Topics include capturing audio in the ambisonic format, and customizing the Pro Tools environment for spatialized audio projects.

Simple spatial audio for beginners

This article summarizes the available entry-level techniques and equipment that can help a newcomer jump into the world of spatial audio for virtual reality.

An audio post production house shares techniques for VR Audio

In this article, we learn about some of the top equipment and methods used by the VR-focused division of an experienced audio post production facility.

Technology and tools

Now that we’ve garnered some insight about what goes into creating VR audio, let’s take a look at some great technology and tools designed specifically for creating virtual reality sound.

The “Works” 3D Audio plugin for Pro ToolsAn illustration of famous technology and tools for game composers - section of the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

This article explores the 3D rendering technology of the G’Audio Works plugin, which supports multi-channel, object-based and ambisonic spatialization within the Pro Tools application.

The Steam Audio Software Development Kit

This article focuses on the spatialized audio solution for VR developed by the famous Steam software distribution platform.  Available as a free download without any royalty requirements, Steam Audio is designed to assist both Unity and Unreal developers in creating and implementing spatialized audio in their projects.

Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation

The Two Big Ears audio company is known for its 3Dception software enabling audio folks to author spatialized audio for VR applications.  Now that Facebook has purchased the company, the software has been rebranded as the Facebook 360 Spatial Workstation with added compatibility for 360 videos hosted on the Facebook platform. The software is free for everyone to use in their projects. However, the previous plugin compatibility with Unity, Wwise and FMOD is no longer offered for new users.

Google’s Omnitone, the open source project for spatialized sound in VR

This article describes the Omnitone application, developed by Google to combine ambisonic decoding with binaural rendering.  Omnitone was designed to deliver spatialized audio for browser-based experiences and apps designed for Android and iOS.

NVIDIA VRWorks Audio

For Windows games and applications, NVIDIA now offers the VRWorks Audio Software Development Kit for implementing spatialized audio in VR for 64 bit Windows apps.  For developers working in Unreal Engine 4, the VRWorks Audio game engine plugin can be added directly to the UE4 engine, while future plugins are promised for other game and audio platforms.

The Google VR Audio Software Development Kit

This article runs through the capabilities of the Google VR Audio SDK, which was designed for use in developing applications for Google Daydream and Cardboard.  The article includes helpful suggestions for using the audio system to simulate indoor and outdoor environments, advice for creating spatialized sounds that users can easily pinpoint, and tips for ensuring that aural and visual content reinforce each other within the VR space.

Communities & Organizations

An illustration of popular communities and organizations for game composers - section of the article by Winifred Phillips (video game music composer).
Working in virtual reality can be a complicated and intimidating process.  Thankfully, there are plenty of online communities and organizations to help us.  I’ve assembled some of these below:

Conferences

An illustration for the famous conferences available for game composers - section of the article by video game music composer Winifred Phillips.

Finally, here’s a list of the virtual reality conferences, summits and conventions that have featured audio discussions and demonstrations in their past program schedules:

Conclusion

I hope you find the above resources interesting and helpful!  If you have any suggestions for additions to this list, please let me know in the comments section below!

 

Photo of video game composer Winifred Phillips in her game composers production studio.Winifred Phillips is an award-winning video game music composer whose most recent project is the triple-A first person shooter Homefront: The Revolution. Her credits include games in five of the most famous and popular franchises in gaming: Assassin’s Creed, LittleBigPlanet, Total War, God of War, and The Sims. She is the author of the award-winning bestseller A COMPOSER’S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC, published by the MIT Press. As a VR game music expert, she writes frequently on the future of music in virtual reality games. Follow her on Twitter @winphillips.

Resources For Video Game Music Composers

Video game music composer Winifred Phillips, at work in her music production studio.

By Winifred Phillips | Contact | Follow

I’m pleased to announce that my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, is now available its new paperback edition! I’m excited that my book has done well enough to merit a paperback release, and I’m looking forward to getting to know a lot of new readers!  The paperback is much lighter and more portable than the hardcover.  Here’s a view of the front and back covers of the new paperback edition of my book (click the image for a bigger version if you’d like to read the back cover):

award-winning video game music composer Winifred Phillips' book, A Composer's Guide to Game Music, is now available in paperback.

From the article by Winifred Phillips (composer of video game music) - depiction of the book cover of A COMPOSER'S GUIDE TO GAME MUSIC.As you might expect, many aspiring game composers read my book, and I’m honored that my book is a part of their hunt for the best resources to help them succeed in this very competitive business.  When I’m not working in my music studio, I like to keep up with all the great new developments in the game audio field, and I share a lot of what I learn in these articles. Keeping in mind how many of my readers are aspiring composers, I’ve made a point of devoting an article once a year to gathering the top online guidance currently available for newcomers to the game music profession.  In previous years I’ve focused solely on recommendations gleaned from the writings of game audio pros, but this time I’d like to expand that focus to include other types of resources that could be helpful.  Along the way, we’ll be taking a look at some nuggets of wisdom that have appeared on these sites.  So, let’s get started!

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MIDI for the Game Music Composer: Wwise 2014.1

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MIDI seems to be making a comeback.

At least, that was my impression a couple of months ago when I attended the audio track of the Game Developers Conference.  Setting a new record for attendance, GDC hosted over 24,000 game industry pros who flocked to San Francisco’s Moscone Center in March for a full week of presentations, tutorials, panels, awards shows, press conferences and a vibrant exposition floor filled with new tech and new ideas. As one of those 24,000 attendees, I enjoyed meeting up with lots of my fellow game audio folks, and I paid special attention to the presentations focusing on game audio. Amongst the tech talks and post-mortems, I noticed a lot of buzz about a subject that used to be labeled as very old-school: MIDI.

This was particularly emphasized by all the excitement surrounding the new MIDI capabilities in the Wwise middleware. In October of 2014, Wwise released its most recent version (2014.1) which introduced a number of enhanced features, including “MIDI support for interactive music and virtual instruments (Sampler and Synth).” Wwise now allows the incorporation of MIDI that triggers either a built-in sound library in Wwise or a user-created one. Since I talk about the future of MIDI game music in my book, A Composer’s Guide to Game Music, and since this has become a subject of such avid interest in our community, I thought I’d do some research on this newest version of Wwise and post a few resources that could come in handy for any of us interested in embarking in a MIDI game music project using Wwise 2014.1.

The first is a video produced by Damian Kastbauer, technical audio lead at PopCap games and the producer and host of the now-famous Game Audio Podcast series.  This video was released in April of 2014, and included a preview of the then-forthcoming MIDI and synthesizer features of the new Wwise middleware tool.  In this video, Damian takes us through the newest version of the “Project Adventure” tutorial prepared by Audiokinetic, makers of Wwise.  In the process, he gives us a great, user-friendly introduction to the MIDI capabilities of Wwise.

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The next videos were produced by Berrak Nil Boya, a composer and contributing editor to the Designing Sound website.  In these videos, Berrak has taken us through some of the more advanced applications of the MIDI capabilities of Wwise, starting with the procedure for routing MIDI data directly into Wwise from more traditional MIDI sequencer software such as that found in a Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) application.  This process would allow a composer to work within more traditional music software and then directly route the MIDI output into Wwise.  Berrak takes us through the process in this two-part video tutorial:

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Finally, Berrak Nil Boya has created a video tutorial on the integration of Wwise into Unity 5, using MIDI.  Her explanation of the preparation of a soundbank and the association of MIDI note events with game events is very interesting, and provides a nicely practical application of the MIDI capability of Wwise.