Welcome to another edition of The Compressed Interview! A great and interesting interview with Craig Deskins, Lead Sound Designer – R&D at Riot Games. Craig has a Bachelors Degree in Interactive Arts and Media, and a diploma of Sound Design for Visual Media from the Vancouver Film School. With a strong background in Sound Design for Film and Video Games, he has worked in advertising, software development, and multimedia as an audio expert. He also worked at Telltale Games for a couple years and his work includes titles such as Game of Thrones, Tales from the Borderlands, Batman, Minecraft, and The Walking Dead.
Threshold: Getting Started
J: What skills (either technical or personal) do you think that anyone starting in this industry needs?
C: As an Audio Hiring Manager at Riot Games, I have hired many audio positions, both entry level and senior. Some of the most important skills I looked for were:
- Ability to create high quality audio assets. This is arguably the most important skill to have. It doesn’t matter what DAW or VST someone uses. What matters is that the end result is at a high quality, and finished in a timely manner. At Riot Games, the bulk of the work for entry level positions is content creation, so it’s something we really look for when hiring for those positions.
- Familiarity with Audio Middleware. You don’t need to be an expert, but knowing your way around either Wwise or Fmod is pretty critical in game audio. Translating your ideas from DAW to Middleware to In-Game is something that requires practice and repetition to get right.
- Familiarity with Game Engines. Many companies will have proprietary engines that they use to create their games, so you can’t always fully prepare yourself with how audio inevitably is implemented. However, you can prepare yourself by learning Unreal Engine and Unity as there are lots of ideas that translate across game engines. I wouldn’t recommend diving into code right away, as you already have a full workload with Audio Assets and Middleware!
- Proactive Communication and Collaboration. Whether you’re working solo, on a small team, or large team. It is very important to be comfortable with asking questions, asking for help, or offering help. Not all devs understand where audio fits in, so you need to be prepared to be an advocate for audio features and design, and be honest with what you can accomplish, and what you will need help with. Be open to being wrong, and view feedback as an opportunity to improve, not as a failure.
Attack: Things to discuss
J: What’s the biggest challenge you have encountered, professionally speaking, and how did you get around it?
C: This past year has probably been my biggest professional challenge. I left the League of Legends team that I was very comfortable in, to join the R&D team at Riot Games. I’ve needed to build an audio team from scratch. The team needs to be able to support all of our R&D projects. My background has been mostly in creative audio, yet this new team has a much more technical focus so there is quite a bit of challenge adapting.
The way I’ve been getting around this is by building an audio team that is complimentary. Rather than having only one strength, we each have different strengths that when combined can solve any audio problem a team may come across. It goes back to the first question when I spoke about going from DAW to Middleware to In-Game. For example, I am very strong in DAW to Middleware, so I needed to hire people that were very strong in Middleware to In-Game.
Release: Talking about the good stuff
J: What’s the most memorable moment in your career so far?
C: There are many moments that compete for this spot, but I think it’s probably when we were nominated for a Golden Reel Award for our work on Welcome Aboard: Odyssey Animated Trailer. I was the sound designer for this piece, responsible for all SFX. We attended the awards ceremony which was a first for me. We ultimately did not win the award that year, but I am still proud that we were nominated in the first place.
J: Can you let us know a little about your creative process? Anything about the technical process?
C: My creative process has been covered before in our video series Frequencies, but a few additional notes.
- I collect references to things similar to what I need to create. It is not always auditory references, it can be visual as well. Just needs to evoke the right feeling.
- I list out all of the components that when combined together will create the sound I want. For example, for Mordekaisers mace I would need Mace Whooshes, Mace impacts, Power Source/Magic, Material impacts.
- I create lots of new source material for each of those components. Usually some combination of VST effects, layering, and then doing that a few more times.
- I then create composites of those effects by throwing each of them in their own S-Layer, where I then do further effects processing and layering.
For technical processes I use lots of documentation and collaboration. I like to organize brainstorms where the team can all collaborate on ideas to solve problems. I research other games that have implemented similar features and note what works and what could be better. I’ll then create a draft document of my proposed implementation which also highlights the goals, the risks, what is required to complete it, etc, asset needs, and then that is reviewed by collaborators. Once risks have been mitigated I begin implementation, using temp audio assets, and begin writing the final design document as I implement and discover more about the feature.
J: What are the biggest life lessons learned in your personal and professional career?
C: My biggest life lesson has just been accepting who I am and being content, and even happy with that. I struggled a lot both personally and professionally trying to be someone that I wasn’t. It helped a lot that I had managers that helped me identify my strengths and weaknesses. It can sometimes be hard to get honest feedback that comes from a good place.
I hope you enjoyed this great interview! It has a lot of useful information for people who are just starting in audio, and even for those who have been in this field for a while now!
We’ll read each other again in a couple of weeks!