I enjoyed this combination of step by step exercises and in-depth discussion much more than I expected to, based on the title and blurb. I thought it might be some high-level, tweak-the-templates walkthrough but the book covers game audio in depth, from processing ambient and abstract sounds, to dialog as well as integrating actual music. There's even a section on music-based games, where audio drives the gameplay, rather than its more typical role of enhancing and adding realism to graphic action.
The authors use the open source Unreal Development Kit (UDK) to present a sample game level that you enhance by following the tutorials. In many cases, they've left markers for you or created game `actors' that you provide sound for. The tutorial steps are set up and elaborated upon with detailed discussion, rather than simply, 'Do this, then do that'. The goal is for you to understand concepts and apply the techniques in your own creations rather than just work through the book.
I really underestimated the content and capabilities of integrated game development environments such as UDK, which I hadn't used before. As a musician familiar with DAWs and graphics programs it's interesting to see how UDK incorporates elements of both, along with a kind of table-driven code generator. You get fine-grained access to details but you're working at the abstraction layer of the game, rather than in the low-level code. As someone who keyed in C and assembler game listings years ago for hours on end, praying they would compile, no less actually run, this is a revelation.
The opening tutorials demonstrate ambient room sound, the problem of walls and simulating natural attenuation to create realistic presence. This really set the stage and hammered home to me just how far game audio has come from the monophonic, predictably repetitive little tunes that graced the games I first played and experimented with coding.
There are tutorials demonstrating how to reuse audio samples by manipulating them with filters and even pitch shifting. Others show how to apply reverb and set up ambient zones that map to physical scenes. Some of these features may not be a parameter-rich as in a DAW that's dedicated to music production, but they're more than adequate for games where, let's face it, most of the time audio plays second fiddle to visual action. And you can always use your favorite DAW to generate material to import into UDK.
The first three chapters deal with ambient and abstract sound and the corresponding UDK tools. The book really hit its stride for me in chapter 4 with music and the techniques and tools for integrating it. Some of the track synchronization demonstrations will feel familiar to anyone who's coordinated video and sound inside a DAW.
What most interested me were the techniques of layering, randomizing and recombining musical and sound elements to keep the audio as dynamic and interesting as the graphical elements. A recurring theme is the authors' view that, in the non-linear narrative world of interactive games, there's a delicate balance between familiar and unfamiliar elements. It can really intrude on a player's sense of exploration to hear audio that repeats too predictably, especially when the visual context has clearly changed.
There are practicalities in the book as well: UDK targets game audio development for a variety of platforms, including phones and dedicated consoles with more restricted memory and storage. So there's a detailed discussion of file compression and the tradeoffs between streaming audio from disk as oppose to loading everything into RAM. As a reference, I'm running a desktop PC with 6GB of RAM and a 2.93 GHz i3 processor and the response is playable and the audio is clean.
The accompanying website and instructions for downloading and setting up your UDK environment are straightforward. There's a more recent UDK Beta available but I chose to stick with the version the authors used, based on my experiences with other books. If you're unfamiliar with UDK, as I was, the editor interface is pretty busy and it took a while for me to get my bearings. Way back in Appendix C the authors recommend checking out the UDK docs and online info for the basics. I would have appreciated being told that in the book's intro; it would have saved some frustration.
I'd recommend the book not just to composers and game developers but to anyone interested in sound design for music and media. Obviously it's tailored towards interactive games but many of the concepts and techniques can be applied elsewhere in, for example, film and TV scoring, experimental composition or multimedia art.
The `Game Audio Tutorial' is intelligent, well-written, and takes its subject seriously (It's also a lot of fun to work through, so don't be put off if fun is your main motivation).