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Proactive Audio

What is Proactive Audio?

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What is Proactive Audio?

Simply put, Proactive Audio is audio that affects gameplay.  It's any audio or audio system that can change the visuals, systems, or interactions within a game.  At this point you're probably thinking to yourself "this isn't a new concept!  I can list a ton of games that do this kind of thing!"  Yup!  It's not a new concept but it is a new term.

We're all used to terms like Adaptive Audio, Interactive Audio, Dynamic Audio, Procedural Audio, and their "music" variants.  These systems specialize in triggering changes in a game's audio mix when certain game events occur.

  • "The player pressed 'A': play the Jump sound."
  • "The player entered the arena: transition to intense music."

In both of these simple examples, an audio mix that would otherwise remain unchanged reacts to a change in the state of the game.  These are examples of Reactive Audio.

This flow of events is reversed with Proactive Audio.

  • "The Jump sound was played: shake the controller."
  • "Transitioning to intense music: darken the scene."

In these examples, the audio system proactively informs the game about a change in the state of the audio mix.  These are examples of Proactive Audio.


The power of Proactive Audio lies in its ability to enhance the impact of a game scene by improving the synchronization of audio and visuals.  One need look no further than cinema to be convinced of the value of this added impact, emotional or otherwise.  Film composers and sound designers spend a great deal of time matching their audio to the visuals in film, reinforcing the emotional content and realism of the final product.

Game composers and sound designers have a similar goal but the challenge is far greater.  Due to the interactive nature of games, a change in the aural landscape won't necessarily coincide with a particular game action.  Adaptive audio techniques have increased the responsiveness of game audio mixes (particularly with Procedural Audio approaches), but the final effect doesn't reach the anticipatory level of synchronization afforded by the filmmaking process.

This is where Proactive Audio comes in.  Using Proactive Audio, the sound or music can provide other game systems with information necessary to perform the desired synchronization!  Fancy beat drop in that music?  No problem!  Your audio system can tell the game when it happens and the visuals can be updated to reflect its impact.

Just the Beginning

This post is the first of a Proactive Audio series that we have planned for the coming weeks and months.  In those articles we'll cover specific techniques, dissect Proactive Audio examples found in the wild, and suggest a few best practices.  Hopefully they will help you turn Proactive Audio concepts into a tool that you can add to your game development tool belt!

Stay tuned!

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Sonic Bloom at GDC 2016 With Two Talks on Proactive Audio

Sonic Bloom's Co-founder and audio technology guru, Eric Robinson, has landed in San Francisco for this year's Game Developers Conference. He has prepared two fantastic talks concerning the use of Proactive Audio in game development, and how to leverage it to really increase the impact of your game. 

The first talks is scheduled for the Indie Summit, where Eric will focus on using game audio and sound effects to increase the overall experience of your game. The talk will cover specific inexpensive ways to use audio. Its best summarized as:

With a simple rundown of underlying audio concepts and specific gameplay examples, attendees will see how to improve the "juiciness" of their game with proactive use of their game's sound effects and music. They will learn everything they need to really make their games DANCE!

The talk is titled "Pumping up the Juice with Proactive Audio" and it will be held on Monday, March 14th, at 3:00PM in Room 2009 in the West Hall. More information can be found here.

The second talk is scheduled for March 15, at 11:20 AM in room 3002 in the West Hall during GDC's Audio Bootcamp. In this talk, Eric outlines what the future of interactive audio is, and what steps the industry can take today to change the impact of audio in games. 

It is best summarized as:

At GDC 2014, Mick Gordon ended his "Next Generation Audio in Killer Instinct" talk by saying that the next generation of audio in games will be defined by audio's ability to affect gameplay. In other words, next gen audio is Proactive Audio. This talk will explain why Proactive Audio is so impactful, provide examples of current uses in the wild, and show how developers can leverage Proactive Audio to make more cinematic, compelling gameplay experiences for their players today.

You can find more information here.

We hope you enjoy the talks we have in store for this year's GDC. We hope to see you there!