I’m sitting here in a computer chair, in my virtual tent next to a virtual aircraft, listening to the sounds of a virtual world. It’s a peaceful moment after an exhilarating release day. But this isn’t some random add-on; this is ours. Today we released our first aircraft into Microsoft Flight Simulator (MSFS). It’s been an incredible journey, most of which has been learning.
Reviews have been overly positive, Visuals 10/10, Flight Model 10/10, Sounds 9/10. Ughhhh, so close! One reviewer said it felt “rushed” due to the legacy style sounds of the aircraft. It’s not about the sounds themselves tho, Trent himself commented, “It sounds EXACTLY like FreedomFox; you couldn’t get any better with the best equipment, even the knocking around is accurate!” The issue is with the implementation of sound, sound design. You see, flight sim development has been around for a very long time, and for a large chunk of that long time, there have been 0 advancements in the realm of “sound.”
In comes MSFS, a simulator capable of leveraging WWISE, an advanced, feature-rich interactive audio solution for games. They forgot the word IMMERSIVE; when an aircraft is built with WWISE, it’s a very immersive experience, and that’s something we’re known for. So why didn’t we go with custom WWISE audio? The reality for us was, it just wasn’t a requirement for release. Let’s explore our options and decision-making a little deeper.
Why didn’t you just record the real thing?
For starters…COVID19. The risks of coming from a city and exposing someone in a remote area are too high. I wasn’t about to be “that guy.” Out of the question for now. But, if we were able to get access, recording an aircraft is not just holding up a microphone to it. We wouldn’t even know where to begin.
Why not just hire someone?
We openly tried to work with professionals that produce flight sim sounds for a living. I attempted to find the talent required to navigate this new sound landscape for months. At one point, I reached out to a sound design firm that could be considered a veteran in the flight-sim industry and received a quote of about $14K and 6mo R&D time. That wasn’t a viable option as a gamble on our first aircraft.
Another sound studio was too busy to help for the next year, and when I offered to pay for a consultation or even a spreadsheet of things to record, they declined. A third studio said they weren’t making MSFS sound sets and were sticking to the old methods. I started to gather that with the introduction of this new sim, the pool of available talent in the soundscape dried up…was WWISE that much of a PITA to learn or work with? In short, yes, but don’t take my word for it; here is an article by Skysong Soundworks, a veteran with over 24 years of producing sound, explaining just how much of a PITA it is.
But you are smart right, couldn’t your team just learn to be sound designers?
We turned to our fellow developers, asked all the right questions, added up the gear cost, and calculated ramp-up time. The reality was that you wouldn’t have FreedomFox in the year that it would take our team of 3 to learn this new skill set while continuing to advance our portfolio of products.
OK, so what next?
Well, as with anything new, we need more time. It took us about a year to develop a gorgeous aircraft, having never done one before…with some help from our friends. Now, it’s apparent that WWISE is the next hurdle. We’ll continue to learn about audio engineering with WWISE while having an open door for anyone who can help. We’re going to earn that last point because we want that 10/10!
Know someone that wants to help FreedomFox with WWISE sounds? Please send them our way! firstname.lastname@example.org
OK, It’s getting dark, goodnight for now!
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