Sound Design Lessons for VR Video from VR Games

VR Video tools for video editors have progressed quickly in the last year, but there has been less discussion about the audio side of VR video. Although VR audio tools have yet to be integrated into NLEs, audio experts (and video editors who spend much of their time refining their soundtracks) should consider how audio design is different for VR.

Those designing audio for VR games are probably further along in coming up with what makes VR different.

At a mini conference on game audio earlier this year, developer Gordon McGladdery gave a presentation on audio for VR games.

His game Fantastic Contraption is one of those given away with each HTC Vive (a VR headset that detects where you are in a room for ‘room-scale’ VR), and he has worked on the sound for VR commercials.

He spoke with Matthew Marteinsson on episode 25 of the ‘Beards, Cats and Indie Game Audio’ podcast about VR audio. Here is a summary of some of what was said:

[7:07] Binaural audio is very important – without it, experiencing VR is ‘like watching a 3D movie without the glasses on.’

[7:33] Music score doesn’t work in VR games – it ‘muddies everything up’ [The music is] ‘coming from nowhere in the world and just seems to cloud the entire immersion.’

[10:17] Everything matters. The current video game sound design orthodoxy is that some sounds are more important than others;  time and budget determine a well known order of priorities when it comes to sound design. Everything shown in a game that can make sounds, must have game audio.

[14:21] Even if your target VR platforms don’t have advanced audio, incorporating advanced audio future-proofs your current productions.

[15:05] ‘A lot of what we do here is to design right up until the end.’ It is important to design your sound workflow so that if the design of the game changes near launch (the eqivalent of a new edit of a film), ‘we as audio can quickly move with it.’

[16:14] ‘Distance falloff is really finicky’ – pay close attention to sound volume based on position – ‘none of the defaults work.’ Different sound sources have different falloff curves, some objects need to be heard from further away. You need different curves for every objects. Based on character need, not realistic sound physics.

[23:33] ‘Dynamic range is back – we’re not crushing everything any more’ – adding heavy compression doesn’t work – it just makes evreything loud. ‘VR audio will be pretty uncompressed.’ Prepare for the fact that different audio soundtracks work for different playing environments. Most VR experiences will be in quiet environments, but some will be in noisy places – which will need compression to punch through.

Listen to the rest of the podcast to hear Gordon’s take on VR use outside the world of games, as he is getting more non-game work due to his VR audio skills.

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