Game Audio Design Templates

This week I’m going to try something a little different. Instead of recording I’m going to talk a bit about session templates as they relate to game audio sound design. First we’ll talk about why templates are good and how they help your workflow and then I’ll take you through one of my standard templates.

When I was first starting out, a designer much wiser than I told me, “Keep your sessions neat. If you die tonight, someone should be open it up and start working tomorrow.” It didn’t really dawn on me how true that was until I was handed a session that could only have been created by a complete and utter moron (or someone who just didn’t care/know any better). Mono and stereo tracks mixed together, insert effects all over the place, sends on a few random tracks to an effect track buried in the middle of other tracks, summing buses fed by tracks seemingly selected at random. I found myself thinking, “It would be easier for me to start from scratch than to figure out the organization.”

In the daily hubub of the game world, there’s no time to sit down and figure out what the heck someone else was doing. Even worse is coming back to a session you made 6 or 12 or 18 months later to make revisions only to find out that it was you, you moron, who left yourself a gigantic mess that makes no sense. Having a standard template, or set of similar templates gives you a number of advantages, all of them time-savers. First, there’s the setup, or lack of setup.
Game Audio Sound Design Template Signal Flow
Also, you can move things between sessions by quickly importing tracks (that will obviously work in your new, templated session). Finally, and most important, is the ability to come back to a session years after the fact and be able to pick up (mostly) right where you left off.

The diagram to the left is what I have come up with over many, many revisions during my last 12,000+ hours of game audio fun.

So how does it work? Rectangles are Audio Tracks and rounded rectangles are Buses. There are four components: FX Tracks, AUX Tracks, Effect Sends, and a Record Track. The signal flow goes from FX Track->AUX Track->Aux ALL->Output. Each FX Track also has a (or many) send(s), and that chain goes FX Track->Send->Aux ALL->Output. Finally, there is a send from the Aux ALL->Record Track. (Aux ALL->Output is not shown in the diagram.)

The FX Tracks hold the actual sounds and are divided into small sub-groups. You can see the A and B groups in the diagram. I have groups set up through E in my template and will import as many as I think I’ll need (usually through D). This grouping allows for easy organization, where similar elements can be placed in nearby tracks. It’s also convenient because insert effects can be applied to small groups of tracks at the same time by sticking them on the Aux tracks. Want to apply an EQ to a group of your sounds? Place them all in FXA tracks and put the effect on the AUX A bus.

At the same time an effect can be inserted on a single track while the Aux ALL bus allows effect inserts to be thrown over the entire session.

Effect sends allow more flexibility than the AUX Inserts. I often use these for an encompassing reverb, where I want each element to have a different level sent to the verb for each sound. Each FX Track comes with sends already set up but disabled (ctrl-command click). This keeps everything ready to go but does not eat into the CPU resources until necessary.

Finally there is the Record Track. This comes in handy in many situations. Once I have finished an effect, I will stick the final version, muted, up on the record track. This just makes things easier from an organizational standpoint. When I come back to the session later, I know exactly which setup belongs to which asset.

The record track also works as a scratch palette. If I’m experimenting with a chain of effects or combination of material, I can quickly arm the track and record the output. This has netted me a lot of interesting sounds and textures that would have otherwise been lost to the void.

The record track can also be used to mix down the final sound. While the debate about whether this method or Bounce to Disk sounds better, I’m not going to touch it. You can do what you feel is best. (And honestly, I can’t tell the difference. If you can, more power to you.)

This basic setup works for mono, stereo, quad, mono to stereo, mono to surround, stereo to surround, mono + stereo to stereo, mono + stereo to surround, almost any configuration you can think of. I use a close variation of it for cut-to-picture projects (more tracks in a group, groups labeled by element such as BG, Hard FX, etc.). I’ve found that this setup, along with a well labeled I/O setup (that matches my track/bus/send labeling) keeps me designing sounds instead of organizing and reorganizing my session. And that’s why we do this job in the first place, to be creative.

I’ve included my basic mono template for you to download and play with. Enjoy!