Time again for the epic battle of the ages: Team Audio vs. The Milestone! It sounds much more glamorous than it is, but it is yet an epic battle, and it is probably safe to say “of the ages,” because it has happened approximately one billion times already and will surely happen again at any moment now.

A background of the opponents.

Team Audio is the audio team working on a game. Probably obvious, but one never knows. Team Audio could be a team of a dozen, or Team Audio could be a lone wolf, or any range in between. Team Audio needs to hit deadlines just like all the other disciplines. But where do those deadlines come from? That leads me nicely into The Milestone.

The Milestone is a chunk of time, basically. A chunk of time in which, hopefully, work gets done. At the end of The Milestone, progress is measured, so everyone endeavors to accomplish the things that they set out to accomplish before The Milestone ends. Towards the end of The Milestone, I tend to ask myself all sorts of questions. Did I meet all of my goals? And did I squash all of my bugs? And did I remember to brush my teeth? Because that’s also very important.

The Milestone can vary from developer to Developer, and even from project to project, which I’ll talk about later because it has happened at Volition. So, your experience of The Milestone might be different than my experience, but that doesn’t really matter to the point that I will eventually be making. You’re probably thinking, get to the epic battle (i.e. the point) already! Alright, alright! One last thing, though.

To understand the battle, you should probably first understand where audio fits into the schedule in game development. It’s easy. Most of the time, audio comes last. There’s no sense in designing a glorious explosion sound effect when we haven’t yet seen the explosion. I mean, we’ll make something awesome, but when we find out that the explosion has green flames and a bunch of silverware shooting out from it, we might┬áneed to redesign the asset. That is unless we always put silverware clattering in our explosions. (we do)

Anyway, what you need to know is that audio tends to happen last, after the visuals have been completed. Or after the lines have been written. Or after the fire rate on the gun is dialed in pretty close. Or any other number of variables that would make us change how the thing, whatever it is, could sound. Otherwise, we run the risk of wasting time.

The battle begins!

The Milestone has begun and all of the disciplines start grinding away at their work. And it looks like a couple disciplines are going to barely make it! Team Animation and Team Mission Design only have a couple of days to wrap up their work… it’s getting so close, now… and BOOM! Team Animation and Team Mission Design finish their work in the nick of time on the final day of The Milestone! Team Audio can now design and implement the sound effects for those animations and missions. Will Team Audio make it? Nope! I’ve just said that it’s the last day of The Milestone.

Team Audio might do something miraculous and valiant and actually finish their work by the end of the day or over the weekend. It happens all the time, in fact. But even if others can’t tell, Team Audio knows that those sounds are nowhere near the quality that they could have been if they’d had more time. Actually, little secret here, Team Audio will redo those assets later, probably at a much more inconvenient time, like towards the end of the project. It’s not unheard of for Team Audio to not tell anyone that they’re redesigning those sounds, just so that they can┬áredesign those sounds.

Before we get to the potential and possibly obvious solutions, I feel like I should be clear about a couple of things. First of all, Team Audio failing to complete their work by the end of The Milestone is not the fault of Team Animation or Team Mission Design in the above example. In fact, Team Audio will be happy that the other teams got their work done on time. Nor is it the fault of Team Audio, and I hope that fact doesn’t need explaining. Secondly, The Milestone isn’t a bad guy. The Milestone can be very valuable and important, though applied incorrectly in this case, I think.

Is there a better way?

Team Audio might push for other disciplines to complete certain things earlier than others. That’s not a bad solution, really, but it’s not very reliable, either. Team Audio could ask an animator to make the animation of the guy getting punched in the face before making the one of the guy lifting his arm to light his cigarette, because the first one will likely need sound effects while the second one could get by without. Unless of course the guy is whipping that cigarette up to his face super fast. Then you’d want a wicked kung-fu whoosh like a ninja is trying to punch Bruce Lee in the nads. Anyway, this could work, but then Team Audio might be messing up Team Animation’s flow, or Team Animation might forget. But it could work, and I think it’s better than doing nothing.

In my opinion, the better solution is to give The Milestone a little compadre called Audio Milestone. Audio Milestone wraps up a week or two after The Milestone is over. This way, all of the other disciplines can proceed as normal, and then Audio Milestone kicks in, and Team Audio has the chance to give the project the love and quality that it deserves and needs. Added benefit: Team Audio can cut $45 from their monthly Pepcid AC budget!

This is what Volition has done for one (and probably both) of our upcoming projects. On Red Faction: Armageddon and Saints Row: The Third, it was Team Audio vs. The Milestone, and Team Audio became adept at phrasing their goals in such a way that they wouldn’t fail if they couldn’t get their work done due to a late-arriving deliverable. Next projects, though, instead of Team Audio vs. The Milestone, it will be Team Audio <3 Audio Milestone.

And what about the future?

But there is a great nothing on the horizon, a deep and endless murky black, drifting slowly across the lands. It’s inky tendrils, while far away, creep towards Team Audio and leave an eerie hush in their wake. And that vast darkness is named The End of the Project. What happens at The End of the Project? Because, if you think about it, Audio Milestone can’t go on forever, can it? Will Team Audio be given time at The End of the Project to complete their work after everything else has been locked down and truly will not change?

We’ll see. Maybe I’ll be writing about a new and different epic battle sometime in the future. But at least it won’t be “of the ages.”