Interview with Stephan Schutze

so you’ve earned a reputation as “the FMOD guy”, could you tell us how this happened, what you do with fmod and how you became interested in fmod?   My relationship with the FMOD team is one of those “it just happened” kind of stories. Years back when I first started working in the industry the company I was working for was providing some desk space for a guy starting his own company. In return he provided them with the new sound engine he was developing. That guy was Brett Patterson and over the years I was exposed to FMOD as it was the audio middleware my company used.   Brett would occasionally ask my opinion about user tool ideas, I would refer any bugs I found directly to him, but it was simply that we were both in the same place at the same time. Over the years as Brett’s company grew and FMOD expanded I would make jokes about how FMOD worked and often joked about their user manual as I found it very dry to read. One day I made this same joke in front of their marketing guy and he looked straight at me and said “Fine, if you think it can be better, then go ahead and fix it” So I did.   I guess it was a natural progression from there that when they wanted some tutorial videos produced they asked if I would help out, I said I was happy to do the four videos they wanted. Four videos grew to twelve. When they announced FMOD Studio again it became a natural progression for me to produce the manual and tutorial videos and that then expanded into creating the official FMOD Studio curriculum for students and institutions.   FMOD is a tool, and like any tool there are opinions about if it is better than the other tools available. A tool is only as good as the person using it and it is about what it allows you to achieve creatively. I get excited when I discover things I didn’t know yesterday.   I enjoy using FMOD a lot, but frankly I think that it is more important that someone use a good audio solution for their project than any particular product. The fact that there are several good audio middleware programs benefits us all as the competition between them pushes the developers harder to produce excellent tools and the availability of great tools pushes us harder to create excellent audio.   how did you end up in game audio, where you in bands before? or programming? what path led you to this point?   Mechwarrior 2! OK, it’s slightly more complex than that, so I’ll add Space Invaders as well.   When I was young a friend took me across 3 suburbs on our bikes to a pizza place, there he showed me this box with a screen. It was the first Space invaders game in our area and I was hooked within seconds. My schooling focused on music as it had always been important to me, but my spare time focused on video games as the escape into impossible worlds appealed so much.   High school led to college where I studied orchestral music on French Horn, then I spent five years in the Army Band as a Horn player. After that I spent time living and working in UK and Europe and I was introduced to Mechwarrior 2 by a friend. Jeehun Hwang’s score more than any other factor contributed to me entering the game industry. The music was so evocative, and so well written that I realized we had reached a point where game audio would have so much potential that I had to try and become a part of it.   I did a second degree in audio tech and 3 years later got my first break doing the sound and music for a PC game, the 2000 release of Starship Troopers Terran Ascendency.   you’ve explained it to me, but I think it’s interesting, could you repeat the ‘fmod pitch’ you give to your clients, a quick pitch that others might also be able to use when talking audio with a developer.    Like I said before, audio middleware is a tool, and is only useful if it serves a purpose in your project. I was asked to work on an expanded mobile game across iOS, Andoid and PC, during negotiations I mentioned that I would prefer greatly to work with FMOD on the project and that it would improve the entire process. The head of the project had no experience with audio middleware so he asked, “Why do you want to go with FMOD?” I thought for a second and then gave him this answer. • Your audio will sound better • It will use less resources • And it will utilize less programmer time (i.e. less money) He replied “I’m sold, go with it”   Again, a tool is designed to improve your efficiency, and middleware often does this very well. For me I can honestly say FMOD will improve all three aspects of productions, so I say to students and people new to game production that if you are asked “Why should we use a sound engine?” explain those three points. If they are still not convinced, find someone else to work for because if those three points aren’t important enough to your project team then I’d be very worried about how the project was going to progress.   could you describe a bit about the sound recording workshop that you recently put on at the big sound stage? what concepts you discussed? what demonstrations you did? mic techniques discusses etc?   I receive regular emails from people asking if I can take on interns or work experience students or if I run mentorships. Our company is very small and we simply don’t have the resources to support such things, but I have always supported the industry and especially the next generation. That is one of the main reasons I created the Sound Librarian resource. So we planned a one day workshop. I called up the director of the local studios even though I didn’t think we could afford them. He asked me if I planned to charge for the event and I said, no, it would be free for people to attend, so he said in that case we’d be happy to support you. This gave us access to the biggest film sound stage in the state.     We recorded burning torches and spraying flammable liquid past microphones, we spent over an hour experimenting with how dry ice effects metal and captured some incredible sounds. Throughout the day we constantly discussed equipment setup, micing techniques and various experiences with location recordings. An event such as this was all about discovery, and I probably learnt as much as the 60 odd people we had in the audience. I would love to try and make a workshop like this a regular annual event.   We had multiple devices and over a dozen different type of mics. Recording arrows firing requires a very different setup to micing a motor car or capturing the sound of a wind up clock. It was these differences and the challenges they raised that was a big focus of the day.     with game industry trends, being as they are (mobile, online games etc), obviously middleware isn’t just for consoles anymore. could you talk about where you see middleware fitting into future game platforms (especially the practicality of CPU demands and build size   As I have already mentioned, I see middleware as being a tool and I personally find it a very useful tool. I think the analogy carries through all levels of game production. Smaller projects with smaller teams and more limited budgets will still benefit greatly from improvements in efficiency; in fact I would argue that a limited team has more to benefit from tool support. Anything that maximises resource use and production time in a small project should be seriously considered, but there is also the creative aspect.   Currently we have more game projects being produced than ever before in the history of the industry. We all feel passionate about the projects we create and work on, but that is not enough. Our audience has huge expectations of quality and enjoyment of the experience. They don’t care if you only have a small team and a limited budget, they expect your product to be at the same level as anything else, and considering you want them to spend money on your product this is not an unreasonable expectation.   The companies creating middleware solutions are also competing; for your money. They understand that their product needs to maximise your time, your resources and your creativity. I think middleware must address these needs. Middleware needs to seamlessly integrate with the key engine creation tools and both sides of the equation need to come together on this. They also need to support ALL the available platforms, from browser based, through mobile to online and major consoles. We are already seeing successful games being ported across a wide range of platforms and middleware has to facilitate this process.   for someone who wants to get into a project, working on implementing sounds, is there a good sample game project that you could recommend playing around with to try this out?   Off the top of my head, no there isn’t and this worries me. It worries me that either no such product exists, or that I am unaware of it. It is something we are seriously looking into creating. There are lots of Mods and I think the Mod community is still a great place for people to get their feet wet in the industry. There are also some very good engine and designer tools for game creation that are excellent to learn, but there is no single, obvious, accessible game project that I can think of that suits this need.   what’s your favorite part of working in game audio?   Discovery! Almost every day I learn something new. I find a new sound, I discover a new technique, and realize there is something I don’t know that I really should know. As creative people we are also students and we never stop being students. The day you stop learning new things is the day you stop being creative. The two are inseparable, that’s what being creative is all about.   I love learning how sound works, listening to amazing audio that others have created, being inspired by it, being motivated to push myself to discover more. I am incredibly lucky, and I know it. I love my work, I really love what I do and it is an incredible privilege to work with some of the people I am fortunate enough to know.   I am also aware of how little people in general focus on audio in this world, and I am always trying to advance peoples understanding of how important sound is. This is a huge challenge, but I think it’s very important.   any recent favorite sounding games you’ve been enjoying lately?   Yes, lots, there are so many incredible games out at the moment, it is a struggle to keep up with them all. As part of the material we are creating for education I am producing analysis videos of games for their audio. The hardest thing about this is creating the list of games to analyse, there are so many that are so good. So I guess I will just spin off a few.   Portal 2: Best music written for a video game ever in my opinion. We listen to it in the car and around the house. Glorious!   Borderlands 1: Super fun game, but it has some of the best character dialogue in games, it’s so funny and the characters really make that game!   Halo 4: Really impressed with the work done on bringing this IP back to where it started. The new music is absolutely beautiful and the dialogue and sound effects are great, I rate this as good as Halo 1 and Halo 2.   Minecraft: I am doing the analysis on this one right now and it is called “Why the audio in Minecraft is better than yours” But I am not going to explain why here, for that you will just have to wait for the video!   Stephan Schütze has been a composer and Sound Designer in the games industry for over 12 years. He is the Director of Sound Librarian a sound effects, audio production and training company. Stephan is happiest when behind a microphone or preeching the importance and value of sound. @stephanschutze (Sound Librarian)