Hey, Tom. Please, tell us a little about yourself.
I have been with Bohemia for about 2 years now; before that I trained and worked in audio engineering and sound design for about 10 years. When I started studying I focused mainly on audio engineering and recording and mixing music. However, the program I was in was actually more about event-technology and mainly covered live-sound during concerts and events. I soon discovered that this was not really my thing so after graduating there I went on to get my Bachelor’s in Sound Design for Media and finally ended up specializing in game-audio.
The interactive aspect of game-audio is what's most exciting to me. In a way, most of the techniques used for storytelling are grounded in film-sound but are still very valid for game-audio too, trying to use these in a potentially always changing context is incredibly interesting to me.
Can you tell us a random fact about yourself...
I love pumpkins.
What was your first positive interaction with video games, that you can remember?
My dad got me a Commodore 64 when I was still very young. It came with more games than I can recall but some that I still remember are Boulder Dash, International Karate, The Great Giana Sisters, and Donald Duck's Playground. They were the weirdest games but kept me busy for quite some time. I remember that getting the thing to work was a feat in itself.
And your most memorable video game moment?
The game that impressed me most as a kid was Final Fantasy VII on the PS1. I still get the odd memory pop up in my mind every now and then. It might be game-play fragment, pieces of the music, or just abstract memories of how I felt while playing it. No other game since has made as much of an impression and stuck with me on an emotional level like that.
You need to convince a cynic of the general awesomeness of video games. Catch is, you only have one shot to change their mind. Which game do you make them play?
I'm sure anything down the line of Carmageddon or Duke Nukem 3D will do just fine.
What games do you like most?
From a professional interest, I like it when sound and music evolves together with the player's changing context and supports – or even evokes – these changes. This asks for a fluid collaboration between all the elements and developers involved, and some smart reactive systems usually come into play. I also really appreciate it when teams experiment with procedural sound.
However, nowadays, when I want to relax and play a game, I like it to spoil me with narrative and aesthetically pleasing content. I really like things that have that Triple A quality and wow me. There are quite a few that fit this description so way too many to name, but some that come to mind are The Last of Us, Uncharted 4, and Battlefield.
What's your favourite movie, TV show, and/or book?
Well, to start, I have been re-watching Friends since I was a kid, so that one definitely deserves a mention. Other shows I like are Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and recently I’ve been enjoying The Haunting of Hill House and Maniac. Stuff like American Dad and Family Guy never gets old either. One of my guilty pleasures is Kitchen Nightmares.
Regarding movies, I don't really have any favourite ones. I really enjoy Tarantino's work and any well-made horror or thriller will make me happy.
Book-wise it’s the same as with movies, I like thrillers and horrors, and I specifically enjoyed two books by Zoran Drvenkar: Sorry and You. I also like things like Karin Slaughter and most thrillers from Scandinavian origin will grab my attention.
So, as an Audio Designer, what exactly do you do?
Well, this will not be the same everywhere but for me at BI, lots of things come by. Basically, I work on everything in the game that has a "voice".
This means, among other things, the design and implementation of sound for weapons, vehicles, the environment, and dialogues, but also the user-interface and other non-diegetic elements.
Other things that require attention are trailers and any other audio/visual publications. There is also a close collaboration with composers to make sure the music supports our story and gameplay as much as possible.
Additionally, lots of time is spent on sculpting how the sound behaves in the game world. The systems that drive all in-game sounds need to often be tweaked or, if anything new is needed, I try to figure it out – usually with support from colleagues.
Which were the main challenges you/the team had to overcome in terms of audio design throughout Arma 3's development/support period? (Question by @SergioMariola)
I have only been with BI for 2 years so this question is a bit too big for me alone to answer.
However, for me personally I think one challenge would be working with an older engine. Arma's engine is in many ways limited and does not offer an environment as friendly towards audio implementation compared to, for instance, a modern engine paired up with Wwise. It is not always smooth sailing, but overcoming these technical limitations taught me a lot.
Which tools do you use for your audio workflow? (Question by Christoph Grubits)
In regard to sound design and post production work I use Nuendo, SoundForge, Izotope RX, and a good amount of plugins. We do not use any middleware for implementation.
How do you feel about the various sound mods like JSRS and Enhanced Soundscape? Do you think they build on your work or undermine it? (Question by Manish Yadav)
A major part of Arma's strength lies in its mods and it stands to reason that modders take on the challenge to also make Arma's soundscape into something of their own. I welcome it as it increases diversity on the platform.
How do you learn about the different firearm sounds? (Question by Ayrton Mead)
I think one way to learn about how firearms can sound and work in games is by playing many of them, registering the different perspectives and approaches, and do some research on implementation methods. Then get your hands on lots of audiovisual material to create a frame of reference. Talking to experts is a good way to go, as well as shooting an actual firearm or being near them when this happens.
By looking into the mechanics and trying to figure out where exactly certain parts of the sound signature are produced is a good thing to do too. I believe Andy Farnell breaks down a rifle discharge and synthesizes the sound in a pure data patch in his book "Designing Sound". The approach in that book is very captivating and educational. He does the same for things like thunder and rain and so on – it will not produce assets to use in your game, but it does really give a lot of insight.
Also, don't forget that modern firearm sound effect libraries are often very well curated and organized and can therefore also teach you a lot about the different weapons and calibers.
What do you enjoy about your job, and audio design in general?
The thing that keeps me hooked on sound design since forever is the sense of bringing life to something that would otherwise be without much of its expression. The moment I interact with an object in-game, or I watch it behave on screen in a film, while it's expressing itself with a voice I created, is very rewarding to me. Another thing is that when you add sound or music to an existing context you either enforce, create, or alter the meaning, and you can feel how things change immediately – this never gets old.
The work at Bohemia Interactive consists of an interesting mix between technical and creative challenges, and I find myself working on solutions at least as much as I am designing sound. I enjoy this amount of variation a lot and it keeps me sharp.
Is there anything else you're currently working on in your spare time?
Not really, I try to not do a lot of audio related things in my free time at the moment.
To finish, tell us one of Tom's Top Tips...
I don't have much ad-hoc tips, to be honest. But one thing I have learned is that in the creative industry – gaming especially – it is important to get off your island and work together with other people.
Our next Featured Bohemian is right around the corner, so keep an eye on our social media pages for the latest updates. But until then, feel free to learn more about working at Bohemia Interactive by checking out our Careers Page – we may just have the perfect job opening for you. Until next time...