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Anonymous Confessions of a Game Sound Designer: An Open Letter To FMOD

Article by U.C.

In this second installment of the series "Anonymous Confessions of a Game Sound Designer", U.C. (pen name) lends some constructive criticism about one of the most widely used sound design tools: Firelight's FMOD audio implementation software.

"Dear Firelight, It's been three days since I last opened FMOD Designer, which is exactly the amount of time it took me to open my 250,000 lines of dialog in a new Wwise project - but I digress. I'm in the throes of some hardcore implementation and I'm trying to remember the reason I double-clicked on this shortcut in the first place. Could it be that I had finally given in to Audiokinetic's purported "tight integration" and "robust sound engine"? It's a possibility, but that simple answer would be selling my years slinging projects around with FMOD short.

I remember the early years fondly, entranced by your Sound Designer friendly interface and dark techno color scheme, where I spent my days endlessly tabbing between Events, Editor, and Sound Definitions in an attempt to realize the potential of the sound content. It was a special time, walking hand in hand; parameters, randomized values, dynamic ambiances, WYSIWYG layering of sound elements, bank management - all right there to discover and explore.

But even now, looking back, I could see the signs of our relationship starting to fail. First it was the complete lack of 'Undo', then your inability to sort Soundbanks alphabetically. Minor annoyances at first - like the buzzing of mosquito's in the summer - and then your intermittent and unexplainable hang-ups started to show up more often. Let's be fair, your kindness and support during my duress was nurturing, your point releases helped smooth out rough spots, and the developer branch eventually became my lifeline to critical features: you were changing!

I was willing to overlook some of your quirks because there was magic between us, and through you I was breathing the sound of life into every game that we worked on together. I should've seen it coming a mile away - the eventual end of the relationship. Once the project shipped, the loneliness began. Waiting for the next world to be built, I grew restless with your backward processes and unintuitive workflows. I was fed up with your seemingly well integrated and all encompassing project structure after I found myself relegated to deleting Sound Definitions in order to remove sounds from banks, or continually navigating the same collapsed hierarchy in order to add sounds to an Event layer. Your "powerful software-mixed architecture" was finally realized when you added the ability to mix based on Event categories, but by then it was too late.

It turns out that over the years, as you continued to heap feature after feature onto the trembling low level engine, that the underlying skeleton was now starting to show signs of being unable to support the layers of plastic surgery disaster's that had conspired in an attempt to make things better. What we've ended up with is an incoherent, unintuitive labyrinth of hidden features and broken workflow that must be powered through with brute force in order to get through. The last straw was watching your reaction to - then new comer - Audiokinetic, when you hastily added a cumbersome interactive music system and Profiler in what was a clear attempt at keeping up with the Joneses.


Despite all of this I'm still deeply enamored with your functionality and feature sets and I continue to recommend you for projects of a certain size and scope. You're miles beyond what Miles and CRI have to offer console developers needing tools to integrate sound into their games. It's clear judging by the number of developers that continue to use FMOD that by no means have your shortcomings exceeded your strengths. Maybe I'm disillusioned by the presence of choice in the audio middleware market, or maybe I'm frustrated sitting here waiting for my waveform list to build.

I want so much more from our relationship; graceful error reporting, clean interface untethered by resizing limitations, integrated features that work intuitively TOGETHER - and so much more! Every day I stare back at your blue-steel exterior and know that somewhere in you is a heart beating at 120 BPM just waiting for an extreme makeover. I long for the day that we can once again dance in bit locked sync to the pulse of your powerful audio engine."


U.C. is a game industry veteran and sound focused professional. Direct comments can be sent here.

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