Unreal Engine may be built for games, but under the hood, it’s got a powerful audio, music, and modular synthesis engine. Its lead audio programmer explained this afternoon in a livestream from HQ.
Now a little history: back when I first met Aaron McLeran, he was at EA and working with Brian Eno and company on Spore. Generative music in games and dreams of real interactive audio engines to drive it have some history. As it happens, those conversations indirectly led us to create libpd. But that’s another story.
Aaron has led an effort to build real synthesis capabilities into Unreal. That could open a new generation of music and sound for games, enabling scores that are more responsive to action and scale better to immersive environments (including VR and AR). And it could mean that Unreal itself becomes a tool for art, even without a game per se, by giving creators access to a set of tools that handle a range of 3D visual and sound capabilities, plus live, responsive sound and music structures, on the cheap. (Getting started with Unreal is free.)
I’ll write about this more soon, but here’s what they cover in the video:
Submix graph and source rendering (that’s how your audio bits get mixed together)
Realtime synthesis (which is itself a modular environment)
Aaron is joined by Community Managers Tim Slager and Amanda Bott.
I’m just going to put this out there —
— and let you ask CDM some questions. (Or let us know if you’re using Unreal in your own work, as an artist, or as a sound designer or composer for games!)
There isn’t one music production tool that fits everybody. What’s special about Steinberg’s Nuendo is that it is uniquely poised for high end production workflows. And maybe more than any other developer, Steinberg seems to be catering to the needs of A-list game scores.
That says something not only about Steinberg, but about the changing face of music production. Once, there was the studio world, and “pro” releases meant the Audio Engineering Society (AES) show. You know, for people producing records. Now, odds are, you’re going to laugh when you open the statement from your label showing how much you made on record sales or Spotify. But music for games easily rivals Hollywood scores for creativity and craft.
Nuendo 8’s Randomizer looks like a nice creative tool – and something very valuable to game scoring.
So, sure enough, Steinberg will show its latest flagship release, Nuendo 8, at the Game Developers Conference. I miss GDC – it’s long been a rich environment for cutting edge sound engineering and ideas about spatialization and interactivity, irrespective of how much you care about games. And it seems the perfect place for this release.
Nuendo has always been ahead of the curve with surround sound and a number of other workflows and functionalities critical to high-end game production.
But the specific hook here is to Audiokinetic, developer of Wwise, a leading audio “middleware” platform. That is, Wwise is a way of handling lots of assets and musical cues and delivering them interactively in a game. This contrasts with the more improvisatory way some indie games work, where a game composer might even be a programmer. Audiokinetic lets you add interactive music without disrupting the production workflows of a game developer, even in very large titles.
So, in the previous version of Nuendo, Steinberg provided the ability to export mixdowns directly to Wwise (plus handle version control with Perforce).
Nuendo 8 goes deeper. You can actually produce an entire interactive music composition directly inside Nuendo. So all your cycle and cue markers, all your individual audio and MIDI tracks, everything that makes up a song gets exported natively to Wwise. That makes Steinberg’s tool the de facto choice for interactive composition.
Okay, so you don’t use Wwise – is there anything else here for you? Yes.
Offline processing and rendering. Steinberg calls this “Direct Offline Processing with Live!Rendering.” Basically, it means you can take frequently used processes and apply them offline in a plug-in chain, all in real-time.
Batch rename events.
Auto Renamer Batch rename events.
Sound Randomizer plug-in creates instant variations of sounds’ pitch, timbre, impact and timing.
Sampler Track, MediaBay.
Sampler Track As seen in Cubase, this turns any sound in your MediaBay into a working sampler.
Retrologue 2 synth.
HALion Sonic SE 3.
More effects. 80 of them now, including a new eight-band fully parametric frequency EQ.
Mixer history. Again, an essential improvement to Cubase, now you have a history right in the mixer.
New video engine.
Improved plug-ins and performance, zones.
And of course all of that is relevant to game audio – and a lot of other production, too.
It looks lie a good release. If Ableton Live is dominant in the onstage and beat production realms, and Logic and Cubase duke it out as mainstream DAWs, Nuendo has steadily gained against Pro Tools as the high-end production platform and the “picture-to-audio” choice to beat. (Hey, someone had to say it.)
Believe it or not, this colorful 3D world represents “setting up the polyphonic pad pattern sequencer.” Synths, reimagined as 3D game. Image courtesy the developers.
Amidst its future-arcade, glowing 3D architecture, Fract is a game. In a broken-down “abstract world,” you are piecing together puzzles, reconstructing machinery. But Fract is also a synth studio, one that promises the ability to create your own synth instruments, design your own sounds, and eventually piece together your own music. If Tron let you imagine a fantasy inside the computer, Fract takes you inside your synth. It’s like getting sucked into Reason. (Damn, now I want to meet Thor and Redrum…)
I called it Myst meets music making when we saw it last year. Since then, the Montreal-based indie team producing it have been powering forward, improving both visual and sonic engines and finishing off the title as it nears a Windows/Mac release.
That means we get a new look (and listen) to the wonders of Fract. And we get the chance to vote for its development on the ubiquitous game service Steam. Vote it up, and you increase the chance of getting this on Steam. (Please. Yes.)
Most promising, there are lots of ideas about creative interfaces, which could extend beyond game worlds. A beautiful new trailer released earlier this month gives a glimpse at how all these notions fit together:
Take a listen to the sounds, and see some more:
The 3D game world uses abstract geometries, but also traditional controls as heads-up displays, arranged in the game space.
Real synths are feeding into the game. Yamaha CS-15.
A Yamaha CS-15 in the studio, as the virtual world of the game looms in the background.
The modular world beneath, powering the synths.
And they’re parenting at the same time. The family that synths together, stays together. See you on CDM soon, Zoe! (You’ll probably be reading us through Google Glasses or something.)