Julian Kwasneski: Inside Game Audio
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RA: What were some of your earliest music technology experiences like?

JK: Well, MIDI was introduced and then the early MIDI synths came out; that's when I had my first taste of working with a sequencer. I had an old Alesis MMT-8 [8-track hardware sequencer] and can even remember the first time I encountered an error message with it; that experience made me realize that there are actual human beings behind all this music technology. You know which one I'm talking about? That classic Alesis "Bummer, dude, memory full" error message.

It was a late session at two in the morning, and that was the exact moment for me when things really started to snowball with music technology. I realized that the person who had programmed that error code was a fellow musician just like me who even talked like me. Later on, I got deep into game audio and sound design once I escaped my earlier career as a Wall Street stockbroker.

RA: What is your digital audio workstation of choice?

JK: It's a Digidesign Pro Tools|HD Accel 2 system that's, of course, on a Mac. I'm totally an Apple fan and just bought a bunch more of their stock shares. I love the company and would actually love to use Logic Pro, too, but I've been using Pro Tools since it was Sound Designer [Digidesign's original 2-track digital audio program] and, even though they add new features to it all the time, for me it really hasn't changed at its core. I always "feel" like I'm in Pro Tools when I open every new version for the first time, whereas in some other DAW apps I feel like I've just entered a new ride at Disneyland with all the colored buttons and knobs and all.

Pro Tools User with Gun

Don't even try to separate Kwasneski from his Pro Tools.

RA: Do you run a Windows PC as well?

JK: Yep, it's right here—powered down. I might open it up this week to look at a build of America's Army, but that will be a rare use of a PC for me. I used them for years and am totally proficient on a PC, but I'm just such a huge Mac fan. Anyone who's using a PC for audio and music work, I just don't see how they can work that way. Obviously they do because there's a lot of really good games developed using only PC audio and music tools. But I'm such a Mac purist that I even go so far as to use Virtual PC to put all the new revs on my Xbox dev kit! I pride myself on rarely firing up my PC.

RA: What Pro Tools features are you liking lately?

JK: There's this thing I've been playing with called Workspace that I'm about to start using. It's basically like the Mac Finder, where you can go in and set up catalogs and have Workspace index all the sounds on your drives. It's a window that comes up when you go to the Windows>Workspace menu in Pro Tools.

The bummer is that it searches the file names and the comments on a file, so unfortunately I didn't set up my database that way. For instance, if you have an AIFF sound file called "Explosion.aif" and your file comment for it says, "This explosion has a fantastic attack with a rumbling low end," Workspace searches for and finds that info and file, too. When you open it up you see all of your drives with triangles next to each volume. Just turn each triangle down and you'll see what's in each drive, just like the Finder.

What's cool about Workspace is that when you click on an audio file name it displays a mini waveform next to it. You just click on the waveform and boom—you audition a file. [Kwasneski triggers a light-saber sound effect.] Now, if you want to spot that sound into your Pro Tools session, Workspace will take that sound right from its directory and put it directly onto a track that can be spotted to different timecode locations.

Star Wars Screenshot

Star Wars: Episode III on the Xbox—featuring audio by Bay Area Sound.

RA: I understand you're very active in giving feedback to audio software developers.

JK: Yes, but only if they're listening [laughs]. For example, I know that Digidesign wants to be more involved in game audio, which they already are just by default of most everyone using Pro Tools. Many people are using host-based alternatives along with Pro Tools for peripheral tasks, too, but if Digi could implement a few features—namely having to do with using huge numbers of files and processing a lot of files and being able to import scripts to do VO [voice-over] recording—that would be amazing. If they implemented just a few of these ideas, it would be invaluable to game developers and no one would need to use any host-based applications for those kinds of tasks.

I do have Apple's ear right now about game audio development, so maybe Logic might not be a bad idea further down the road for me. More and more game audio people are using Logic now, and I'm mainly biased towards Pro Tools because I've used it for so long. Apple's Logic project manager drove up here to talk with us, which speaks volumes.

RA: Speaking of BIAS, you've also been a longtime Peak user.

JK: Pro Tools is not the only place I spend time. I've been a Peak user since I helped beta-test version 2 for them way back in the '90s. BIAS is another great company that could really benefit from working closely with game people. I tell you, if someone were to take Peak away from what I'm doing every day with it for creating game audio, I would be F'd! That is about as succinct as I can make it.

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