Audio Middleware for Game Audio: An Overview
In the video game music world, we often utilize software in addition to music creation software (DAWs, sample libraries, etc.) to bring our creative vision for the soundtracks to life. Many times, composers will send their loops/audio files over to the programmer to implement the audio into the game, but when a composer has larger or more complex interactive elements occurring within their music system, it can be beneficial to utilize a different approach. It will save the programmer a lot of time and allow the composer the opportunity to do far more advanced interactive music systems in a shorter amount of time.
Audio Middleware is software that operates as a layer between the game engine and the audio hardware, and offers a set of premade tools to facilitate the creation of these more complex music systems (they can also be used for sound design/SFX purposes as well!). The composer can build their music from their audio files within these applications, and then the programmers can connect it to the game engine, offering higher levels of interactivity in the game. This is typically facilitated by the middleware’s API (application programming interface). This is a collection of software that comes with the middleware that allows a game engine (such as unity) to interact with it.
The two most popular middleware engines are Wwise and FMOD. I plan to get much deeper into these in future posts, but for this overview just be aware that they exist.
These two applications make use of prerendered audio tracks to generate the sounds for the game. There is another type of application composers can use known as “Tracker software” that allows to game itself to “play” the samples. Trackers were traditionally used in older gaming hardware as a method to keep CPU and memory overhead low for the audio files. They are essentially midi sequencers and trigger mod (module) files containing the collection of samples for the entire game. This allowed composers to be able to generate tons of music on the incredibly low storage gaming cartridges.
Today, tracker software is still utilized for a variety of reasons in the game audio world. Two popular tracker software applications are Renoise and OpenMPT. Unlike trackers of old, modern trackers may house their own sample software, or even having basic synths built in! Either way, trackers are used for purposes such as transposing music on the fly, manipulating the musical tempo in response to game parameters, re-orchestrate the music and more! Trackers (or sometimes called “mod trackers” when it contains both the mod files and tracker files) allow a much more granular approach to music composition and gives the game engine direct access to the midi data and samples in which it needs to trigger.
Whatever software you end up using, it is important to know the tools available to you so you can be aware of the musical (and interactive!) potential.