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News, Studio, Team Zed

Bits And Pieces

I started my audio career when I was 10. Well, sort of. My father owns an AV repair shop in San Francisco where he fixes all sorts of electronic goodies, from CD players to tube amplifiers and turntables. As a kid, my job was to take pieces that weren’t worth fixing, open them up, and with a 600-degree soldering iron, strip out anything of value. I guess you could call me an audio scavenger, but I loved it. My time at the shop taught me how to be comfortable with the internals of audio gear—motherboards, ICs, and transformers—and that being electrocuted sucks.

I was a sponge for knowledge, even if it hurt.

By 16, I was a repair technician at the shop, in charge of fixing old turntables, speakers, amplifiers, and even cassette decks. But fixing gear wasn’t the only thing I loved about music. I had also saved up enough to purchase a copy of eMagic, a music recording program that would later become Apple’s Logic. When I wasn’t working, I was recording songs I wrote for guitar and a couple of synths I owned. I quickly realized that I wasn’t very good at playing music, but I really enjoyed recording it.

I took the “responsible” route out of high school, going to college instead of attending a recording school. But that didn’t change my dreams. In my free time I was DJing at local parties and clubs at night and continuing to play my own music. I also got involved in creating sound effects and music for small video projects and theatrical plays on campus.

Even though I’d wanted to get into the audio industry, the only job I could find out of school was delivering water for Arrowhead. Not exactly my dream job, but it paid the bills. Then came the motorcycle accident. I cracked my right arm in a couple of places and realized that I couldn’t lift 20,000 pounds of water a day anymore.

So, with no job and my savings running out, I decided to look into the same recording school I had my eye on years earlier. Maybe spending thousands of dollars on school when you’re broke isn’t logical, but it was now or never. I decided to take a chance. I took a tour of the campus on a random Wednesday, my entrance exams on Thursday, secured my student loans Friday, and started classes that next Monday.

Everyone in my life thought I was nuts, but to me it made sense.

Eighteen months later I’m pulling another Houdini. I complete my last class on a random Friday in April, pack everything I own on a Saturday, move from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a Sunday, and start two internships on Monday. One of those internships turned into my first assistant position — learning quality control and voice-over session setup for Bang Zoom Entertainment. Over the next couple of months I moved into a variety of other roles: dialogue editor, voice-over engineer, and sound designer. I was on my way.

From there I went to PCB Productions, who provided third-party audio support for developers. Each week a new game came in and my role on each title was extremely varied. Sometimes I was a voice-over director and engineer. Other times I got to create sound effects and manage portions of gaming projects. I could be working on up to four different game titles simultaneously. I was learning every part of creating audio from games in a very regimented fashion and found myself wanting to be part of a development team more and more. As much as I enjoyed the fast pace and quick turn around of just doing sound effects, or just doing voice-over directing, I didn’t feel invested in the final product.

That changed at Petroglyph Games, where I worked on Universe at War and their following titles. Being in-house every day, sitting with the rest of the team made all the difference. Instead of being limited to providing audio based on a list of SFX or a script, I could really be hands-on, guiding audio technology, planning and designing audio for projects. I really liked it. My next move was to Surreal Software (ironically moving from Vegas to a game called This is Vegas), and then to Monolith to work with their team on projects like Lord of the Rings: War in the North and F.E.A.R. 3. That’s when Brant started talking to me about this new zombie project he was working on.

Immediately, I loved the idea of getting to create everything from the ground up and to work on a new IP with an experienced team. I’ve been getting deeper and deeper into the post-apocalyptic world o’ zombies ever since I came on board.

And my life keeps getting busier and more interesting. My first album is coming out in the middle of May under the San Francisco-based label, n5md. Finishing that project has given me the musical knowledge and the inspiration for Class3. While the two will be completely different styles, I think of music as presenting different levels of energy and emotional states to the listener. My goal is to have the music support the emotional tone of the gameplay as closely as possible. Whether you’re clearing a building or in the middle of a teeth-gnashing, flesh-ripping zombie horde, the music will respond.

For years I’ve been questioning my decision to learn every part of audio for games since it would have been simpler to pick a specialty and stick with it. But that’s not who I am. It’s in my nature to need to know every aspect of things I’m passionate about. In my career that’s come in bits and pieces — learning about dialogue editing one week, integrating systems to create environment sounds the next. Maybe jumping around from city to city and role to role seems sporadic, but to me, it’s the same thing I’ve been doing since I was a kid — digging into everything and scavenging knowledge one concept at a time. Until now I haven’t had the chance to use that knowledge to its entirety.

Here at the Lab I finally have that chance.


PS: If you just can’t get enough Kevin and want to know more about him, be sure to check out Jeff’s introduction.

  1. Researcher: Jordan Cain
    Date Recorded: April 22, 2011 at 6:35 pm

    I gotta say audio can make or break a game if you ask me, and having played supreme commander and fear 3, I am really excited, I just hope Kevin can really find that dramatic effect that just pulls you mind and soul into the game. Good Luck guys and keep up the amazing work eh ;]

    • Researcher: Derek

      What he said! You’ll do a wonderful job on this if you were an audio guy for FEAR.

  2. Researcher: MrZombieMan
    Date Recorded: April 22, 2011 at 6:39 pm

    Welcome Kevin an audio man u are and you sound (ahh see what i did there) like a great person to work with :D have fun

  3. Researcher: C410V1370
    Date Recorded: April 22, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    The responsible for the –feel– of this game.

    I have 2 tiny requests…

    1. Relaxing elevator music (never gets old).
    2. Make me jump from my chair.

    • Researcher: Kevin
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 9:58 am

      Thanks for the requests…
      I’m not sure about straight up muzak for the game but I am looking at having a series of musical drones of varying emotion to keep you company while you wander around. As for jumping from your chair, I’ll definitely do my best without coming to your house and jumping out of your closet while you’re playing :)

    • Researcher: Melychath
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 3:54 pm

      I am entirely disappointed in you, Kevin, and I wonder whether UL made the right choice. I mean, if you are unwilling to take that extra step, and jump out of my closet to ensure I experience fear, I am not so sure you are the right sound guy for the job. Tsk, tsk.
      Your intro was a great read. It’s always nice to read about someone who has the guts to pursue their dream.

    • Researcher: C410V1370
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 4:04 pm

      I thought that you may already be tired of so much adulation to your work …

      so I skip all that and went straight to the point.

      Thanks for reading my post.

    • Researcher: Kevin
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 5:52 pm

      Ok Mely, how about this…
      I’ll make the SOUNDS of me jumping at you and put an old-school cassette boombox in your closet and press play to scare you. How about that? I mean, getting an actual person to jump out is more of a designer’s job, don’t you think? ;)
      Glad you enjoyed the post.

    • Researcher: C410V1370
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 7:37 pm

      I am sure that you will create intense and scary sound effects for this game.

      Sorry if I said something awkward, english is not my first language.

    • Researcher: Melychath
      Date Recorded: April 24, 2011 at 8:18 am

      It may be a customer relations job. I mean, that’s some pretty intense interaction with the customer.
      Considering your ability to problem solve, I have a difficult sound suggestion for you that I am now convinced (due to your brilliant boombox idea) you can handle with ease. I think the most frightful sound ever heard may be the tiny screams coming from Brant’s beard when it sees a hair trimmer. Do you have any follicle sized microphones to record that sound with?

    • Researcher: Kevin

      Brilliant! I think you may have found the source for the screams I’ve been searching for. I think instead of a tiny microphone I’ll go the route of a contact mic instead. I can tape a small pressure-sensitive mic to his forehead and gather the sound that way! Thanks for the recommendation.

    • Researcher: Melychath
      Date Recorded: April 24, 2011 at 2:06 pm

      The sound of real fear and torment is going to be important for this game. I’m glad I could help.

    • Researcher: Brant
      Date Recorded: April 25, 2011 at 9:00 am

      nobody wants “Uncle Kevin” jumping out of their closet.

    • Researcher: Kevin
      Date Recorded: April 25, 2011 at 9:21 am

      Yeah, he’s right. I jumped out at Brant once and he’s never been the same since, hahaha.

  4. Researcher: ChinoXl
    Date Recorded: April 22, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    Funny i was just reading about, Dice, helping Bioware in the audio department for, Mass Effect 3, and we all know DICE is incredible when it comes to that.

    I really hope we get some really creepy sounds/music..the heart pounding moments when all we can do is run and the situation just never gets better if that can be captured it will be amazing.

  5. Researcher: Gunner
    Date Recorded: April 22, 2011 at 8:59 pm

    Good sound can make a game shine, look at battlefield bad company 2, already an outstanding shooter, but if you crank up the volume and listen to how real, and amazing everything sounds in the confusion of battle, it makes the experience 10 times better, good luck Kevin! :)

  6. Researcher: geist null
    Date Recorded: April 22, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    welcome to the lab Kevin, look forward to hearing your work

  7. Researcher: Tip

    That is pretty dam amazing work history you got there. Good luck, and we all are rooting for you to make this a great game.

    • Researcher: Josh_Rhombusbox

      even if it’s just a prototype, the ambient sounds of “friday at the Lab ” video were phenomenal.

    • Researcher: Kevin

      Thanks Josh, I really appreciate the feedback. I hope to write quite a bit of music for the game and that was my first attempt. In fact, as Jeff posted in his intro for me, he snuck it in there while I was out of town and the piece isn’t even finished yet. Trying to wrap it up this weekend so I can move on to the next one.

  8. Researcher: Jack

    Oh man, Kevin you sound like the perfect dude for this position. Glad to see someone like you working on this project.

    • Researcher: Kevin

      Really appreciate the sentiment Jack. So far it’s been a lot of fun creating prototype sounds for combat and for the zombies. There’s a ton left to do of course but I’m really trying to create the sound for our world from the ground up.

  9. Researcher: Keith Tallon

    Unique, realistic sound is a subtle thing, but it can really make the difference between a good game and a great one. It’s a pleasure to know that someone so dedicated to his craft is on board. Looking forward to hearing your work. ^^

    • Researcher: Kilvara
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 6:08 am

      I think sound can really create and define any moment.I started to listen to the zombie podcast, I find it amazing just by sound and sound effects how they can create a entire world.

    • Researcher: Kevin

      I definitely agree with both of you on this one. It was George Lucas who quoted, “Sound is 50 percent of the moviegoing experience, and I’ve always believed audiences are moved and excited by what they hear in my movies at least as much as by what they see.” While I don’t agree with everything Lucas says of does I have thought about that statement over the years and I think the same concept applies to games. I hope to bring my 50% to the table and immerse you in a living world of the undead.

    • Researcher: Keith Tallon
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      Looking forward to it! I think sound is especially important in games skewed towards horror. Also, this is kind of random and not especially relevant to the game, but have you ever seen Pontypoole? It’s an interesting take on the zombie paradigm that’s probably right up your alley.

    • Researcher: Keith Tallon
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 6:28 pm

      Also, in my unsolicited advice for the evening, I somehow suspect that getting a chunk bitten out of you would sound disturbingly like eating beef ribs.

  10. Researcher: Vampevil
    Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    Love your background, it makes me wish my dad was in to electronics. All the cool turntables I would of built. Maybe you guys can put one in the game and i can use it as a distraction for my homies. I really would like to mess with turntables during a zombie apocalypse and probably would get bit messin around with them, but hey…Everyone needs music and that includes zombies.

    • Researcher: Kevin
      Date Recorded: April 23, 2011 at 5:54 pm

      I always loved the idea of audio used as a gameplay mechanic and have already thought about similar ideas. Didn’t think of a turntable though. Maybe it could be one of those old gramophones that you need to crank to make work. Nice idea!