Nuendo is a DAW I’m yet to use in anything like its current form, I did use use it regularly over ten years ago but that would have been version 1. Things have changed a lot since then and I’ve wondered for a while how Nuendo is getting on. The first DAW I ever used was Cubase and I’ve always had a soft spot for Steinberg products.
I’ve often thought that we spend too much of our time obsessing over things which only audio people care about and that real innovation comes from features which solve real problems which people have in their work rather than progressively more luxurious plug-ins - not that I don’t like luxurious plug-ins, it's just that the person listening to my work is definitely less interested in which compressor I used on the snare than I am! I was interested to see that Nuendo 7 offers workflow enhancements for game sound designers, including integration with Wwise. This is a smart move as game sound has been a growth area and I’ve yet to hear anyone say learning about game sound is anything other that a good move. In the documentation I’ve seen it looks like a very pragmatic adaptation of the facilities already offered in Nuendo along with some additional networking capabilities and the ability to round trip to and from Nuendo and Wwise. Highlights include:
- Editing and processing - using Nuendo as an external audio editor for Wwise
- Nonlinear use of the timeline using the X (timeline position) and Y (Track number) to represent variables in related assets
- Batch processing and naming of assets with flexible options for auto numbering based on specific naming conventions
- Automatic transmission from Nuendo to Wwise either on a single computer or over a network.
- Automatic Retrieval of Nuendo Projects from Wwise - linking the source Nuendo project with the Wwise project
So what does this have to do with Pro Tools?
Pro Tools has its weaknesses but it excels as an audio editor and if Avid wanted to develop an existing and growing market with some tools which solve some real workflow issues then how about building in some integration with FMOD? It’s widely taught and for non-commercial work both FMOD and the Unity game engine it uses are available for free. Some pragmatic new features which made Pro Tools the first choice for game designers using FMOD could engage a new generation of audio professionals and possibly speed up the implementation of folders or media bins in the clips list.
With this in mind I thought I’d consult someone with experience of Pro Tools and FMOD: Mastering engineer, former director of short courses at Alchemea, Pro Tools and FMOD trainer and friend of the blog Neil Pickles. In quite a long Skype conversation we mulled over what the new integration features brought to Nuendo and considered what features would benefit a Pro Tools user when using Pro Tools in a game audio workflow. Surprisingly we concluded that Pro Tools doesn’t really need flashy new features, it just needs to do some of the basics a little differently…
What Do We Think?
For a bit of background for those who don’t know much about game audio, game audio has a different set of priorities compared to music or post. You aren’t creating on a linear timeline, you are preparing assets which the game engine will play back, in combination with other sounds, with processing applied at the playback stage, usually dynamically in response to the gameplay. Memory is limited so assets have to be kept small. In many ways it's like sampling was 25 years ago, with programmers using lots of ingenious tricks to get the most out of short samples. Very different to today’s multi-gigabyte Pro Tools sessions using huge sample libraries streamed direct from disk.
One of the first points which emerged from our discussion was that in spite of Pro Tools being such an excellent audio editor, there is an awful lot of faff which has to be gone through if you just want to do a quick edit on a single file - Boot Pro Tools, scan plug-ins, create new session, (have to rename it because “untitled” already exists on the desktop! - or is that just me?…), have to change playback engine because last time you were using your interface and this time you are on headphones using the built in output but it’s defaulted to Airplay... I could go on. I’ve been known to use Audacity to sum a file to mono just because I can be in and out in no time.
In game audio edits are often basic with processing often applied in real-time during gameplay but unlike the majority of editing operations in a modern DAW, for game audio edits have to be “hard” (i.e. rendered to a new file). For a trim to be destructive and to result in a shorter file on disk rather than instructing Pro Tools to play only a part of a longer parent file, a trimmed clip has to be consolidated to a new file. For fine work this is appropriate but as so many edits in this kind of work are basic top-and-tail type operations and the clips are being edited individually, maybe a convenient alternative would be to offer basic, destructive editing in the Workspace Browser?
A painless round trip from FMOD to Pro Tools to FMOD would speed things up significantly. RX Connect offers a relatively painless round trip facility from Pro Tools to RX and back to Pro Tools. The editor is weak in FMOD, to update an asset you have to hard delete the FMOD asset, reopen the Pro Tools session, edit and re-import to FMOD. Some way to automate this process would help enormously. It would be nice to be able to drag and drop from Pro Tools to FMOD too.
Batch processing is discussed later but batch naming and batch fade processing are already possible in Pro Tools. As a new feature, batch fades has received plenty of publicity but batch naming of flies in the clips list has been possible for a long time using the Auto Rename - Rename Selected Clips option from the clips list menu.
We’ve often said on the blog, and Neil strongly agreed, that Audiosuite is a neglected corner of Pro Tools and the rendered-to-disk nature of Audiosuite processing is exactly what is desirable for game audio. Recently it has become possible to have more than one Audiosuite window open at the same time but these remain separate processes and while they can be viewed at the same time, rendering remains a multi-stage process. The preview button in each Audiosuite window will preview only its own effect and there is no facility to build saveable plug-in chains enabling one button batch processing. Think Blue Cat PatchWorx for Audiosuite. This would be amazing for game sound!
Bounce In Place
While editing in Pro Tools is fast, and batch fades are available, consolidating multiple clips after applying batch fades can be laborious. Simply selecting across a range of clips and consolidating will result in one long file and the option of consolidating clip by clip would speed up processing. Clips can be exported as files from the clips list but this will not include fades and obviously no real time processing. A bounce in place option would make the work of rendering the assets ready for FMOD quick and relatively painless.
So while it was the new integration features announced in Nuendo 7 which prompted this conversation, it led to a different conclusion to the one I expected. After looking at how the work done in game audio fits with Pro Tools we concluded that because the priorities for game audio differ so much from modern music and post production, the features which keep flexibility all the way through the production process actually get in the way. As Neil said: “Real time effects in game engines are so good these days that you can do more with less, but the basics of destructively editing multiple files are less accessible in Pro Tools than they are in very basic software. Audiosuite is still relevant to game design in the same way as it was to music production years ago because similar restrictions apply in game consoles as did in DAWs years ago”. Thanks Neil.