The profession of a sound engineer is a niche one, covering many different sub-fields, such as sound in film, television or radio, to name a few. Sound designers responsible for sound design in video games are even less popular. Ideal candidates for such a position have to be really creative, but must be able to navigate the technicalities without any problems. They often find themselves managing their own time, and often that of their co-workers.

The book is divided into chapters that sequentially refer to: sound design, music, implementation, etc.

The demand for videogame sound designers, despite steady increase due to the raising awareness of their huge role played in video games, is still very low. Even sound teams in professional companies are usually underpopulated in comparison to teams responsible for graphics. It’s not surprising then that the market for publishing targeted towards this professional group is also quite…small.

With such a niche subject, the most popular books and sources of knowledge are those that comprehensively describe the production process of game audio, be it sounds or music. Such information can be found in a book by an award-winning sound designer Gina Zdanowicz. “The Game Audio Strategy Guide: A Practical Course” is a comprehensive tour through everything audio, but does „comprehensive” mean that it will satisfy both newcomers and professionals?

The author herself is very experienced in her field. Outside of the Serial Sound Lab team that she founded, her portfolio includes Bioshock 2 (I consider this game to have one of the best audio systems in videogames), Just Cause 3 or Wolfenstein: Youngblood. There are also many other titles from smaller indie games to AAA games. Such a large output and massive experience makes “The Game Audio Strategy Guide: A Practical Course” a very serious read.

The Sound of Animal Crossing New Horizons

As far as the content goes the book is divided into chapters that sequentially deal with: sound design, music, implementation and – a big plus for it – networking. It’s worth mentioning that the chapter on sound design generally describes the production of voice-overs. However, I believe that this is such an important and extensive topic that it should get its own separate chapter.

But let’s take a closer look at the previously mentioned chapters. From the fragment devoted to sound design we will learn about (among many others): what is the so-called non-linear – in other way: interactive – sound. These are the fundamentals for understanding how gaming audio works, so it’s good that the author started out by explaining this topic thoroughly. Particularly noteworthy (and praised) is the subsection “Designing Sound”. I would go just go ahead and say that this is the heart of the whole book. It explains the creative process of creating sound – from the selection of sounds, through recording, to final editing. You definitely cannot skip this section when reading Gina Zdanowicz’s book.

Moving on, we will encounter musical theme composing. I would describe this chapter as a kind of a set of general info that introduces the concept, rather than being a “practice course”. I am not a musician, but I think that 50 pages is probably not enough to describe and explain composing, arranging or orchestrating well. It’s a bit like publishing a short guide titled “Painting pictures”. Way too general.

The implementation section is just great. It does contain only the basics of this important issue, however, these basics are very solid and will certainly be a good start for someone interested in this particular topic. It will surely provide an incentive to research the secrets of implementation further, even by expanding knowledge about middleware (programs used to implement audio into a game engine – editorial note).

We can also discover more advanced issues, such as the basics of dynamic mix or optimization tricks. There were also a few words about dialogue systems. It made me happy that Gina Zdanowicz, when describing the implementation methods, discusses them using the example two most popular middleware: FMOD and WWISE. This gives the reader an idea of what these different techniques of audio integration are.

The last, fourth part of “The Game Audio Strategy Guide: A Practical Course” is devoted to networking. It’s pretty neat that the author included some useful tips like how to promote the image of a sound designer or look for potential business partners. Moreover, there is a whole lot about valuation of your own work. I’d say it fits the American market more than our home backyard, however, there is some universal advice on how to tackle these difficulties on your own.

As you have certainly noticed, in my review, I often mentioned the complexity and general approach to the subject of audio design. This is not a disadvantage of this book, on the contrary, if the reader is a person who’s just starting to slowly get the hang of sound design, implementation and composing for games, then this book is definitely for them. However, looking at this book from the perspective of a professional with several years of experience, it will be difficult to find anything innovative in it. It’s not easy to exhaust so many complex topics in one book. If Gina Zdanowicz wanted to approach this book more precisely, practically every chapter would have to be a separate book.

It is not easy to exhaust so many topics in one book.

Some time ago, while I was still studying sound engineering, one of my supervisors said something during words mixing class that I remember until this very day: “How many producers, so many production methods”. Today, after several years of working as a sound designer, I live by these words. However, I would like to add to these words that although the evaluation of sound is a very subjective matter, the foundations on which you are standing should be of solid rock. And I definitely think that Gina Zdanowicz gives us much of that in her book.

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Krzysiek Kowal

Sound designer not only by profession, but also by passion, bound with gamedev since 2012. He records, edits and experiments with noises and melodies, and loves to share his insights about sound.