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INTERVIEW: Rodney Gates - Audio Director at Sony Online Entertainment

Posted: February 4th, 2014, 7:09 am
by MikeQuell
I had the privilege of working with Rodney at the beginning of my career. We worked with one another at High Moon Studios, developing the games "The Bourne Conspiracy" and "Transformers: War for Cybertron". He's one of the most humble, passionate, and enthusiastic persons I've had the opportunity to work with. At the end of "Transformers: War for Cybertron" Rodney decided to break my heart and took a position at Sony Online Entertainment, where he can now be found directing their entire audio experience. Since being there he has shipped and supported multiple titles. He also recently launched a Kickstarter campaign for his new virtual instrument company SoundCues. The Kickstarter is still live so be sure to support it!

SoundCues "GuitarMonics" Kickstarter:
Rodney's can also be found on Twitter here:

Thanks for being a part of the site, Rodney!


Hi, Rodney. I miss you. When will I see you again?

It's good to be missed. If you're going to GDC, you'll see me then. :-)

Let’s talk about your Kickstarter you recently launched. What inspired you to do this?

The kids' school tuition! Ha ha. Actually it was mostly the cost of setting up the virtual instruments to use a premium watermarking and delivery system to help combat piracy right out of the gate. I feel this is essential to have in place for the very first product, but it's expensive. Otherwise, you see new sample libraries get released and they are almost immediately up on the torrent sites, which hurts business.

Do you think virtual instruments will ever replace the process of traditionally recording live musicians?

They will probably never match the nuance and detail coming from a real player, but to a certain degree, virtual instrumentation is already being used in place of live musicians every day. Many projects simply do not have the time or budget allocated for anything else, unfortunately, which is the route most composers would rather go.

Over the past few years you've been supporting the popular massive multiplayer online game, EverQuest II. It’s a game that gives the player the ability to perform a lot of “magical” spells and attacks. For me, there are traditional ways to make things sound magical but every now and then I’ll hear something that inspires me to think outside the box. Harry Potter did that a lot for me. What inspired you to push the envelope on this game and have you had any happy accidents while experimenting during the creation process?

Usually for me it's simply trying a new approach to something I've always done another way. Recently, I've been quite happy with a pairing of Waves's SoundShifter Pitch and LoAir plug-ins to create "Smaug"-like dragon voices. Voice design is something I've really been getting into lately, and I'm looking forward to more of it.

For swirling, evolving magic sounds, utilizing a plug-in vector matrix session is fantastic (posted by veteran sound designer Charles Maynes on Designing Sound); it's like synthesis for sound design, without opening a single soft-synth.

The latest cool thing we've been playing with is the new WaveWarper software from SoundMorph, which offers unprecedented control of whoosh-like audio manipulation which we have had many great "happy accidents" with. Work that could have taken hours to arrive at in more traditional ways can be quickly realized in 10-20 minutes of playing around. Powerful and fun.

Where do you think this next generation of video game consoles will take us in regards to the overall audio presentation?

I think a lot of the power of the new console generation is going to come along with the increasing maturity of the many leading third-party and proprietary audio engines and having better hardware to work with. Having worked on PCs exclusively now for a number of years, we've been able to enjoy the power of these newer processors as well as the extended RAM and voice counts (typical restrictions in the console world). Since these new consoles are essentially scaled-down PCs, new console games will hopefully get to tap into that power as well. What we've found is that with less restriction comes the need for greater control. We find ourselves going through our dynamic mixers and other methods to find ways to reduce the amount of voices playing at any given time, since it can quickly become focus-less noise in our massive-multiplayer worlds.

Being the Audio Director for SOE, what do you look for in a demo reel? Would music mixed on top of a submission for a sound design position turn you off?

I still have yet to see a demo with a UDK, CryEngine or Unity build showcasing some experience of a sound designer's work in-game, so that would be something nice to see in the near future, especially from students. With all of the tools available these days in this area (most for free), it would be a nice addition to a game trailer sound replacement demo that's pretty common. I usually expect a sound design demo to be without music because what I usually see on demos with music is a lack of thorough coverage of all of the sound elements, which you find happens quickly once the music is stripped away.

You had an open forum for feedback from fans on some of the sound design for PlanetSide 2, another MMO you worked on with SOE. What was that like?

Most of SOE's games are driven by their communities in varying degrees. It's a good resource for feedback, certainly, though of course some of that feedback can be polar opposite views. We try to sift through all of it and find what's working and what's not. An example of a community-driven change would be an entire empire's infantry weaponry audio being changed out (a huge undertaking) because there was a majority of players that wanted it. In the end, the game was better for it. However, it can also be a slippery slope once changes like that are made for one group as other players want the same kind of treatment for their side, so you have to be careful. Obviously, you will never make everyone happy and there are only so much in the way of resources and time to go around, so we do what we can.

I know you’re an avid Pro Tools and Nuendo user. Come on, what’s better? Pro Tools right?

I like both, for different reasons. While I am used to Pro Tools from years of using it, I am not happy with Avid's clunky entry into the 64-bit world, demanding that everyone change out their hardware for compatibility. They opened up their system to other audio interfaces a few versions back, only to pull 5.1 and 7.1 surround support for them by killing the complete production toolkit add-on. Avid also created a new plug-in format that didn't need to exist (and many plug-in manufacturers aren't supporting very quickly), which adds to the confusion and availability problems.

The more I use Nuendo, the more I love it. It feels so much more open, limited only by the computer you're running it on. I can edit faster in Nuendo, plus it has far-superior MIDI capabilities with it's Cubase pedigree. The built-in Media Bay does away with need for an external sound library database like Soundminer or Basehead, which is a nice feature to have for sound designers. It is surround-capable out of the box and opened up to a far superior list of plug-ins with VST format, including many great, free little gems. Paired with a quality audio interface (of your choosing), there aren't any limits with what you can do on a native system, and few restrictions. Nuendo gets better as computers get better - simple as that. In short - if I were starting a new audio department at a new studio, I would go with Nuendo instead of Pro Tools in a heartbeat, along with RME audio interface hardware.

Re: Rodney Gates - Audio Director at Sony Online Entertainme

Posted: February 4th, 2015, 6:35 pm
by MikeQuell
Congrats on the new gig at Guerrilla Games, Rodney!