Events, Game Music

ECGC 2016 Wrapup

May 5, 2016 | | 1 Comment Share thison Facebook ECGC 2016 Wrapupon Twitter

BattleSloths - ECGC

Late last month, Raleigh NC was host to one of the biggest gatherings of game developers on the east coast. The aptly-named East Coast Games Conference (ECGC) wrapped up its seventh installment in April, but this was only the second year with events that actually catered to the game audio community. Lucky us!

Like every other games conference this year, virtual reality took the spotlight at ECGC 16. There was a VR Village set up in the middle of the Expo floor that showcased VR experiences from local universities and developers. And though many of the exhibitions were soundless (probably so the exhibitors could communicate with the con-goers), one of the most interesting talks I attended this year was all about the unique challenges and innovations that come with creating audio experiences for VR games.

The VR Audio panel lineup included Chris Groegler of Red Storm Entertainment, Zak Belica of Epic Games, David Yingling of Insomniac Games, and award-winning freelance sound designer Jack Menhorn.

Much of their talk stressed just how much we don’t know about VR Audio.

“You can kinda do whatever you want right now, as long as it works,” one of the panelists remarked. “There’s no rules, so there’s nothing to break. VR is the Wild West, and we’re making it up as we go along.”

VRAudioTalk - ECGC

Because there’s so much uncertainty surrounding VR audio, the composers and sound designers taking the VR plunge are in a unique position to shape the future of our craft for potentially years to come.

While that heavy burden might be daunting to some, it isn’t enough to stop gutsy young composers from vying for jobs on the VR vanguard. Steven Melin is a rising composer based in Atlanta, GA, who hopes to have the opportunity to innovate in the world of game audio—with VR and anything else he can get his hands on.

Melin’s ECGC talk was about creating looped music, and how to get the most out of limited source material. His talk paired nicely with a talk from Alyssa Menes on creating audio for games you might only play for a few minutes at a time.

StevenMelinTalk - ECGC

I feel like ECGC knows its audience well. You’ve got to start somewhere, and the game audio community here is small but burgeoning. Generally, the attendees don’t need in-depth masterclasses on advanced audio synthesis techniques—they need a solid foundation to build their careers.

The art of music is, of course, very important to a game composer’s success. But we don’t often hear about the art of business, which is crucial in a field built on the backs of freelancers.

Xiao’an Li, of the Boston-based East Coast Scoring studio, dropped in to share his wisdom on growing a successful business identity.

“Business is war,” Li said. “We can’t change that single-handedly. So we’re going to have to play by a few rules.”

Luckily, Xiao’an made it clear you don’t have to play dirty to enjoy the modest success of a good composer or sound designer. His “rules” included tips like presenting a unique but genuine representation of yourself, both online and in-person with clients.

I mean, look at the guy’s website. He’s the poster-child for unique personality. As for whether or not it’s genuine, your guess is as good as mine! Seriously though, Xiao’an is an interesting guy. Out of all the people I met at the conference, he sticks out the most in my mind.

My favorite part of Li’s talk was an interactive bit where he put the audience on the spot. In the middle of discussing how to present your best, unique self to a client, Li said with a smile:

“Now it’s your turn. Tell me: why should I hire you?”

Somehow in a room full of great talent, the answers only ranged from eh to mehhh. A lot of fumbling, stumbling, clichés and buzzwords (Oh, you’re a composer who’s passionate about music? How new and exciting!). Li’s point was well received. I’m sure half the people in the room stopped to take a good hard look at their own websites before the talk was through. I know I did.

ECGC’s audio track ended with a talk from Jason Graves—fitting, since he’s half the reason ECGC has an audio track at all. Last year he coordinated with the ECGC event planners to bring the noise, and I’m grateful for it!

Graves is a game audio veteran, and a great human being in general. He’s amassed a long list of big-budget composer credits, but still manages to exude a friendly, humble personality. His personality is not just a thin conference veneer, either: he regularly invites aspiring composers to his local studio just to enjoy pleasant conversation.

At his talk, Graves recapped his experiences with his most recent titles: Tomb Raider, Evolve, The Order: 1886, Until Dawn, and Far Cry: Primal.

It served as a real inspiration to me and others in the room. Graves didn’t dole out any mind-blowing tips for becoming an industry leader. But just hearing the man talk about all the cool experiences he’s had in his career only reaffirms that I’m in the right place.

Expo2 - ECGC

One thing I loved about this past ECGC (and audio gatherings in general!) is that it feels like a gathering of extended family, and family I’ve yet to meet. I encourage anyone who loves video game music and sound to go out to a games conference—and if you can make it out to Raleigh next spring, come say hi at ECGC 2017!

Mr. Hassan DuRant is a composer out of North Carolina and a guest writer for OSV. All information and opinions are his own.

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