Aug 102011

Episode #10

Reference & Mix Level Standards


An insightful discussion of reference level standards across the worlds of music, film, and broadcast and how they relate to the emerging state of game audio.




-Shaun Farley – Dynamic Interference

-Tom Hays – Technicolor Interactive

-Bob Katz – Digital Domain


-Related Links:

K-Meter , EBU Loudness , Dynamic Range Day, Excellent Paper


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  5 Responses to “Game Audio Podcast #10 – Reference Levels”

  1. That was certainly an interesting topic, and one that I feel hasn’t been discussed much if at all in the industry. I very much appreciate the compliments given to the audio of Red Dead Redemption. As an audio programmer on that title, it means a lot to me. I would like to add, however, that I feel that with regard to the reference levels in an interactive game, you really can’t effectively use anything but dialog. As a consumer, what tends to annoy me is when I switch from my television to a video game, then to another video game, I have to adjust my audio receiver level so that the dialog sounds like it’s at about the correct level. If you’re working on a video game that has no dialog, then good for you, you’re in the minority, and you’re probably allowed a bit more freedom than the majority, but it would make sense to use the sound that the game tends to revolve around most, meaning that if there is something the player does repetitively as a gameplay mechanism, you should probably mix your game around that element as if it were dialog.

    I also think it’s great that the commentators applaud a dynamically mixed game, but if another game has a very low dynamic range, I wouldn’t necessarily say that’s a bad thing. I say this as someone who worked on Midnight Club: LA (a racing game) which has very little dynamic range compared to Red Dead Redemption. But that’s just the nature of reality. The former is about driving a hot rod through the streets of LA against other racers that are all trying to taunt you over a cell phone as your licensed music is blaring, while the latter is about anything from exploring the wilderness to epic gun battles complete with a dramatic score.

    I’d also like to address a huge problem with games, however, and that is the issue of surround to stereo fold-down. The game developer has no real way of knowing what kind of system the consumer is listening to. On an Xbox 360, there is an option to specify whether surround or stereo is spat out over its digital output, but its analog outputs will always remain stereo. We just don’t know which output the consumer is using on that platform, so we can’t necessarily cater to them, and providing the consumer with an option in the game menu to select 5.1, DPL2, or stereo runs the risk of confusion, and short changing them if they accidentally set it to stereo when they are using a 5.1 system. Consequently I always assume they’re going to be using 5.1, and if not, I let the native fold down do its job. This is nice because, then we get DPL2 for free and we don’t have to mix for that on the fly, but the specification has some issues. The front left and right speakers get passed into the fold-down mix at unity gain. This means that if you are spitting a sound out the front speakers at close to full scale, which can easily happen in a game like Midnight Club many times a minute, and you have anything else happening in the center or rears, you’ve already clipped your fold-down mix and you never knew about it. This fold-down method is standard on the Xbox 360, and that’s bad enough, but a consumer could even set his 360 to 5.1, monitor through the digital out to a receiver or TV, and have the receiver or TV do a stereo fold-down without even really intending. They’re all going to fold down slightly differently, but what seems to be alarmingly consistent is that they do not bring the input mix down -10dB or so to make sure it doesn’t clip.

    By the way, Bob, I very much enjoyed your perspective as a bit of a game industry outsider. I’d just like you to know that since I’ve had very brief opportunities a few years back to be somewhat of an apprentice to you during mastering sessions, your influence has been carried over into video games. I hope you remember me circa 2000-2002 πŸ™‚

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