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Game elements are very small and obviously used on computers, so I always deliver them on CD-R. With the advent of broadband connections, I occasionally transfer files over the Internet directly to the people who need them. Usually, though, it’s less hassle to simply burn a disc and meet in person to go over the material. In any event, delivering the material in the format and sample rate required by the programmer is of paramount importance. I have found 16-bit/22 kHz, AIFF format to be a safe bet for PC-based games, but the situation depends on the platform and RAM resources for sound. For example, the Sony PlayStation 2 console runs at 16/48. At the project’s end, I deliver all the materials in high-resolution format; if the game gets ported to another platform, the audio elements can be converted from the masters.

Audio for the Web is still in a state of flux, with many different competing formats. RealAudio, MP3, QuickTime, Windows Media, and LiquidAudio are the dominant formats for Web playback, but by the time you read this, there could be more. If you are delivering audio to a developer, you might not need to worry about this. For example, if the audio is part of a Flash or Shockwave presentation, you can deliver stereo WAV files at full resolution, and the application will compress the data for you. However, listen to the results before the audio gets posted. Alternatively, you can get the appropriate software tool to convert your high-res files into a compressed format. Don’t be afraid to tweak settings and compression rates until you get the smallest file that still sounds good.

When all the hard work of the sound designers, dialog editors, and composers is done, one task remains. This is the moment that strikes fear into the hearts of all involved, a process that can turn perfectly nice, sane audio professionals into bloodthirsty maniacs. This is The Mix. Actually, the mix can be the greatest source of satisfaction on a project. In the mix, you can hear, under the best listening circumstances, all the elements—music and sound, foreground and background—coalesce into a beautiful partner to the picture.

The mix can also be a session fraught with frustration, difficulty, and disappointment. Problems can crop up in a mix when there is too much to do within the time allotted, when sound elements are inadequate, and when people disagree about the decisions being made. Nearly all this can be chalked up to miscommunication or lack of preparation. How can you make sure that you have done everything possible to contribute to a smooth mixing process?

You never know ahead of time exactly how a mix will sound. But you can rely on experience and guesswork to imagine which elements will be where and use this information to create your tracks accordingly. Scanning the scene for likely dialog and music moments helps you to leave more space in your work for a cooperative mix.

For example, say you’re working on a close-up of two soldiers conversing on the front lines while grenades and bombs are going off in the background. Without hearing the dialog, you know it will be the most important sound in the scene, and mixing explosions behind the conversation will greatly impair the intelligibility of the words. That type of foresight lets you select explosion sounds that fit the context; you want low-end sounds without frequencies in the range of speech that are somewhat dull and that are generally low-key.

Marco D’Ambrosio, a film composer in the San Francisco Bay Area, makes sure never to reach a high point in his music during an explosion. Instead, he leaves room for the sound designer to put in a big boom, and he puts the musical climax afterward. Planning and imagination make the difference between sound components that complement, rather than compete with, one another.

Reprinted with permission from Magazine, March, 2001
2001, Intertec Publishing, A Primedia Company All Rights Reserved.