The Future of Game Audio

As the audio director for Cyan as well as servicing several outside contracts, Tim Larkin has had experience in creating soundtracks and audio design for a variety of projects. Myst and other Cyan projects pepper his resume, though he's also handled audio design work for Pariah from Digital Extremes, the forthcoming Half-Life 2: Lost Coast expansion for Valve and an as-yet-unannounced project for Blizzard.

Licensed Music's Impact

"Sure [the rise of licensed music] changes the nature of creating soundtracks, but I don't think it affects it [negatively]," says Larkin. "It changes in the fact that the licensing adds a lot. It adds more music to it and the licensing mostly takes place in sports games and other games where it makes more sense. In a Myst game for example, there's so many places where it has to be unique and original because it's scored to the game similar to how you would do a film, and licensing doesn't make sense.

"However, it's the same with the movie. There's underscore in a movie and there's licensed source music in a movie. It's becoming the same kind of thing. I think we're getting closer to the film industry in the way we approach music. I think you'll see more source type stuff in terms of licensed music. It attracts fans of that music to the game, so it's a great thing."

The Next Generation Drives Interactivity

"There's a lot of horsepower coming down the pipe with next generation consoles and that's going to continue to drive change. With that power, there's more tracks available and hopefully more interactivity available," Larkin explains.

"Right now I think interactivity with the music in the game good, but sometimes level-based and only transition music, instead of truly interactive music. While this won't happen immediately, what will eventually open up for music is more of the music itself will be generated more on the fly, it will be more interactive and there might even have to be some sort of AI associated with the score so that it can read more of what the player is doing and involve the music more in the action. Today, music is more reactive than it will be in the future."

Implications of Interactivity

"Some of that complexity [that more interactive audio design brings] is linking up to an AI system, which will involve some scripting and programming. I think the computer at some point is going to take some of those tasks over, but it will change the way music is written. It will have to be broken down even further. Elements will have to be created in such a way that they can interact with themselves even better than they do now. There are some games that do that to a certain degree today. I think that the possibilities for the future will expand this quite a bit," preaches Larkin.

Physics Impacting Sound

No longer simple bleeps and bloops, the actual nature of sound design is getting increasingly complex. But Larkin is enthusiastic about new technology.

"The stuff that excites me most in terms of sound design, is how physics have been implemented over the past year or so. The way that the sound reacts with the physics stuff is what gives me the biggest sense of immersion. We were using Havok in Uru and there were spots where the puzzle play was kicking around rocks and stones. Getting the sound to react to totally dynamic movement is an extreme challenge. It's something that's getting more and more refined but really adds immersion to a game like nothing else."

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