Ideally there wouldn’t be any placeholder audio in the projects I work on, or at least it would be provided by myself. Unfortunately it isn’t always something I have a say in so I’d like to know how you all deal with it.
Case in point: I was brought to work on a small game that had been in development for a year or so. There were some sounds already in, mostly picked by the programmers from places like freesound or sounddogs, and they were all rubbish. For example, a whirlwind spell effect was a short bit of a wind recording that also included birds chirping and traffic in the background.
The biggest issue was convincing the developers that the placeholder sounds were bad. They had gotten so used to them that anything I would create would sound off for them. Their feedback was that “now all the sounds are different and annoying”. In the end I just recreated the placeholder sounds without extraneous bits, but the game sounds awful.
How would you approach this? Is there anything I can do to make the devs understand my point or do I just drop it and move on?
Can’t speak to games but I know your pain from the film world… Years ago I worked on a film where they fell in love with a distorted production FX door & there wasn’t anything we could do to replace it… Difficult when brought on to the project late – I’ve learned with film to always make early contact with the picture editor so they know we are happy to provide any temp FX for them… And I tend to budget a week or two of preproduction sound post, so we can actually record/build/design material they will need – this is always appreciated as it makes the edit work better, and some of those first versions sometimes make it right through to the final mix!
I havent been in this exact situation but if I was here is how I would go approach it. I would explain to the developer that I have the projects best interest at heart and that I as an audio professional, I am hearing a lack of quality with the placeholder assets. I would state that if the game ships at its current state with those assets, it will not be at a professional quality. When they give you feedback like “its different and annoying” I feel like they need to improve their communication. I would explain to them that sound design is an iterative process, and that with proper feedback detailing specifically what they like and dont like about the new assets I could make those adjustments to create a sound design that both the client, and the customer will be happy with.
Tim’s got an excellent point in that if you access and opportunity you should be feeding the team SFX as soon as you get the opportunity to do so. Temp-itis comes from massive repetition that occurs during the development process, so the degree to which you can get out ahead of it is the degree to which you have control of it.
Once you’re in that boat, however, there are a few things that you HAVE to do, and a few things you can TRY to do.
things you HAVE to do:
1 – distance yourself a bit from ownership of the project. yes, our creations are our little babies, but the whole of the project ultimately belongs to someone else. Your ability to create and retain that perspective will help you to negotiate what gets in the game and will influence your creative process.
2 – create sounds that are significantly better than the temps. Not automatic, and sometimes not easy.
3 – have a creative or a story reason for why things sound the way that they do. If there’s a story reason for a creative choice then you have a mechanism by which to sell the sound choice to the devs. “This sounds cooler than the temp” just may not be enough. If you bring them something different than what they’ve been listening to, they’ll need to buy into a reason to ACCEPT that difference.
things you can TRY:
1 – try feeding a steady stream of sounds to the devs as opposed to dumping big chunks of sounds on them. This may allow them to live with the new work longer and get eased into the developing aesthetic. It will also provide an early feedback mechanism that can influence the sounds that you’ll build later on.
2 – try building consensus sounds first. If both you and the devs have a set of sounds that you’re not going to argue over, do those first. This allows you to set aesthetic precedent for the more contentious sounds and it at least creates forward momentum.
3 – try asking for another trusted opinion. Sometimes two heads are better than one, and swallowing ego to bring in another voice can often yield perspectives and arguments that make the sounds better and less impeachable by the devs.
Like you said ideally there won’t be any placeholder so I just will skip that advice. So working with the example of a project is under way and there’s already stuff there I would approach it with a couple of ideas.
- Sit down with the devs and do a review. Find the things they don’t like and prioritize those to “fix” first. Like others have said it’s about getting by in that change needs to be made.
- Don’t do any changes to your changes for a week or two. As we know people just dislike change. So even if the sound is “better” they might not like it since it’s different. Give some time for the changes to settle in. That sort of resistance to change is probably going to be worse the longer it’s been in there.
- Make sure it’s being heard in a proper context. I know a bad mix has put the kill order out on sounds I’ve made before. Once the mix was right the complaints stopped. And related to that, better to quiet than to loud.
Sounds like you had yourself a pretty difficult developer to work with. Lots of good advice here already that I don’t want to simply repeat, but maybe the following also offers an angle.
If there were only some sounds that were placeholder, and they were adamant that those wouldn’t be replaced, then I’d focus my efforts simply on the areas of the game that were still entirely lacking in sound. By presumably doing a good job on that, a more trusting relationship would be built up over time. This would then hopefully lead to more ownership and freedom over making the rest of the game sound good. The randomly picked placeholder sounds will then also stand out even more as a sore thumb, being inconsistent in style with the rest.
Ultimately you have to (perhaps privately) question why someone would bring you in if they don’t want the placeholders to be replaced.
If however they did want all sound to be re-done but weren’t happy with any of your efforts on replacing the placeholders, then I think that it could also be a case of a lost battle. Ultimately it is their product and their ‘vision’, or lack of it. It’s frustrating as hell if it does get that far.
In the end of the day it unfortunately all boils down to the bean counters, including counting your own beans. Assuming you have been professional, open minded and forthcoming at all times, there is a point where perhaps you simply have to wish them them well and move on.
The one thing that’s then left to do is not taking it as a blow to your own confidence, and maybe requesting a pseudonym to go on the credits – but this would have to be handled delicately, as burning bridges is never a good approach.
Hate dealing with placeholder audio – difficult to explain to devs that you need to create all the sounds from scratch to fit your aesthetic.. I can think of one example where a developer really liked a specific placeholder sound, but it didn’t work alongside mine. I asked for the audio file, processed it so it was uniform, layered in a few other recordings and put it back in the game. A compromise, for sure, but it worked. obviously wiping the slate clean is the best situation with this kind of thing, or at least weening the developers onto the new sounds. tough one!