Project 2 Reflection – The Plan, The Process, The Problems

What I Did

For my second big project this Trimester I worked on a small puzzle driving game called Scooch where the player takes on the role of a robotic car that has to prove its parking skills to the world by traversing a few tricky parking lot challenges. I was in charge of all audio, from the two music tracks that needed to be created to the small list of intricate sound effects.
We agreed on an asset list and a reference track for the main music theme. Discussing the menu track we decided an edited version of the main theme would be appropriate. After this one productive meeting we almost cut communication entirely, which was a huge mistake but I’ll get into that in just a moment.

Here’s the asset list I was given:

  • Engine Noise (loop)
  • Tire screech (loop)
  • Pickup time bonus(-bloop-)
  • Traffic cone hit (cartoonish whack sound)
  • Solid object hit (the sound a cartoon car makes when it crashes into things)
  • Menu button (-blip-)
  • Restart/menu exit (-tshh-)
  • Level completed chime (-dut-dada-)
  • Main Game Music
  • Menu Music

The immediate challenge was the fundamental sound effects, the engine noise and the tire screeches needed to be carefully produced, also because most of these sounds needed to play alongside the main game track I also needed to think about all these elements together right from the start.
I needed to test these things as I developed them so what I needed to prioritise was getting a copy of the build from the developers so I could test my sounds. Then I needed to focus on the engine and tire screech loops. I didn’t do this and it hurt the overall quality of the sounds and by the time I did ask and receive a copy of the build it was more than too late.

Communication

Communication was the problem here, there was a definite lack of communication, much like in my first project. I’m confident the solution I put forward in my first project reflection will still work if I just put it into practice. The solution is to push for constant meetings, weekly meetings would be ideal on small agile productions like these. Even if the meetings don’t always get held the pressure to communicate that a meeting will be cancelled is a better encouragement of dialogue than doing absolutely nothing.

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The above is something I don’t want to see in my budding career ever again, I’m going everything I can next Trimester to use a better forum for messaging team members than Facebook chat. Also having the ability to contact the entire team instead of just a single member might have gotten me the build I was after faster, although in contrast with last project it was a huge help to only be receiving creative direction from one person it made creative decisions a lot easier.
To sum up on communication, my goals for next Trimester are:

  • Organise weekly meetings
  • Use Discord or Slack for team discussion
  • Allow for 1 on 1 discussion so that creative direction can be easily discussed

Looking at some of my assets I can see lots of room for improvement, on both the technical side and the sound design side. Unfortunately a lot of the sound design issues could have been solved with better time management I’ll still go through a couple of elements and why I think they could be better.

Music Theory in Sound Design

Something I put into practice for this project was using music theory to tie all my sound effects and music together. The main theme and menu themes are both in the key of F major so I used that notes in and around that key to create different tensions and resolutions. For example the menu blip to confirm is played as an F, while the cancel tone is played on the C a perfect 4th below, this means that in the context of the music and the blips themselves the cancel tone is tense and the confirm tone is stable which I felt was pretty appropriate. Another example is the time bonus pick up which plays a F and a Bb, creating the outline of a suspended chord which gives the sound effect a lifting feel and makes you want to go faster after it’s collected. You can listen to both sounds here.

I want to do more of this kind of planning in sound design for the future, I feel it was a very effective strategy and made a lot of the sounds really come together.

Planning

Another thing that held this project back was the plan. The plan was created late and it lacked a lot of necessary details. After improving my plan due to input from lecturers I had a light bulb moment. It’s really hard to put into words but I just suddenly saw the value of having a detailed plan. Shortly after my plan was created I had an incredibly productive week in project work and in academia because I knew exactly what I was going to do, step by step. The key to this productivity was the plan, more importantly the objectives, goals and milestones that I set out for myself. By making a list of everything I needed to do and prioritising that list I never needed to think about what to do next, I just had to check the plan.

Here’s a sample of my project plan, the one I made for my studies looked very similar however it was written in notepad:

5 Edit and Produce the following sound effects for review: Engine Noise Loop, Tire Screech Loop, Wall Collision, Cone Collision and Time Bonus Pick-up Wednesday 9th Nov 3
6 Edit and Produce the following sound effects for review: Menu Confirmation Blip, Retry/Restart Blip and Level Complete Fan-Fare Thursday 10th Nov 4
7 Gather Feedback and perform any reforms necessary on any sound effects. Friday 11th Nov 3, 4
8 Use MuseScore to compose and arrange the Main Game loop then export all midi files ready for further arrangement in Pro Tools. Monday 14th Nov 5, 6
9 Substitute midi lines for higher quality instrumentation in pro tools, re-sample all midi into raw audio. Mix and master the tracks adding in any necessary compression, eq, effects, topping and tailing. Make sure the track loops seamlessly. Tuesday 15th Nov 5, 6
10 Submit main game track for review and make any necessary changes. Wednesday 16th Nov 5, 6
11 Remove all elements from main game track except for bass line add piano counter melody to create main menu track as a derived form of main game track. Thursday 17th Nov 6
12 Submit menu loop track for review and make any necessary changes. Friday 18th Nov 6
13 Take all feedback and review from assets and compile into a report and perform any necessary changes. Monday 21st Nov 8

I would say learning how to plan correctly was the single most important thing I learnt this Trimester at SAE, I can see myself taking this skill and developing it further. I now understand how effective it can be at increasing productivity for me. In future I want to take advantage of Project management tools like, Trello and more importantly Hack and Plan for Game Development.

Music

The reference track:

The genre was Ska, not Ska punk but traditional Ska which I discovered after researching into the genre. I discovered the key to it was the instrumentation mostly, jazz big band instruments mostly with horns on the lead, guitar being used as a rhythm instrument and jump or walking bass lines.
I used this knowledge to compose a short loop of about 1:30, which I thought matched the reference track as well as my skill would allow and fit well with the game play. I used Kontakt 5 to put the piece together, so its made completely out of sampled instruments, I decided to go with a clavinet instead of a guitar because I thought it filled the role but also put a unique twist on the genre. It’s written in F major and pulses at about 100 bpm, I tried to match the bpm of the reference track closely as more often than not a game developer will choose a track based on the tempo and how it matches with the game play.

Here is a link to my track.

I’m quite proud of how it turned out, the composition is a little basic and although I didn’t need to do a lot of mixing and mastering I feel the slight touches I added really polish off a nice mix. Not my most complex piece but I feel like it has just enough variation to not get boring on at least the first 3 loops.

Conclusion

As a final word, I’m ashamed to say this project went much worse than I wanted it to and it could have all been avoided by changing some of the ways I approached the project. Better communication and better planning would have made this project really shine. What I needed to do was get on top of my project plan early so I knew exactly what I needed to do and promote better communication with the game developers by using better forums and having more meetings. In the future, Trello, Hack n Plan, Discord and Slack are going to be my best friends.

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Project 2 Reflection – The Plan, The Process, The Problems

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