Building an Interactive Portfolio

Posted January 19, 2010

As a student at the 127th AES Convention attending the game audio track lectures, I found the best advice was given by Richard Stevens from Leeds Metropolitan University.

“If you don’t have some sort of game or interactive project in your portfolio, you’re just not trying hard enough.”

This makes perfect sense, and I don’t see why more people don’t do this. It’s all fine and dandy to have your Flash mp3 playlist of your demo reel on your site—potential game developers looking for an audio guy want to know if your music and sound design work is any good with a quick listen. But, how do they know you really know how to make this stuff sound good in an interactive setting?

A Next-Generation Portfolio for Composers and Sound Designers

Now that you’ve got a possible game developer hooked with your reel, the next step is an in-browser application that the end user can play with and hear right then and there. Flash is the best course of action for this—so start learning some ActionScript! That can also be a bullet point on your resume, considering that there are a lot of Flash game developers out there. The goal of this would be to construct logical scenarios for interactivity in which your sound and music can trigger and be altered based upon input from the user.

So Mr. Developer is in a good mood after playing with your interactive Flash demo, and now they want to see something more meaty in action. So now you’ve reached the point where a game developer is liking your work enough to be willing to download an executable, it’s time to make it sound (and look) amazing.

Get your hands on a game engine or game creation tool and crank out a game—on your own if you’re familiar with programming—or in collaboration with say a programmer or artist who’s trying to build their portfolio as well. Later this week I’ll make a post detailing where you can find these engines and tools. Just remember to keep the filesize down—if it takes longer than 15 minutes, I sure as hell am not downloading it.

The Modern Composer/Audio Specialist is a Renaissance (Wo)Man

Another recurring theme at AES was that in order to successfully work in game audio, you must LOVE games. I’d like to add to that saying that you must also know how to MAKE games. Having these interactive demos as part of your portfolio is likely the best way to demonstrate that you understand the processes and frustrations that go along with game development. Knowing about asset pipelines, programming (a curly-brace language is probably ideal, ie: Java, C#, C++), and elements of game design is essential to creating successful interactive audio. Hans Zimmer may be scoring Modern Warfare 2, but look who got the Spike TV award for original score, Marty O’Donnell! I know for a fact that he took computer science courses for his electives while studying composition at USC. You should follow his lead.

If you’re uncertain how to think about approaching interactive audio and music, a great place to start would be Richard Stevens’ own Games Audio Tutorial. If you don’t own it already, buy Unreal Tournament 3 off of Steam, and play through the tutorial for some examples of interactive sound implementation in the omnipresent Unreal engine.

Originally posted on The NYU Music Video Games Research Project