The Inception of Strata
SFX library creators have produced and distributed their content in roughly the same fashion for the last four or five decades: they record, assemble, mix, and render sounds they design, and then sell them in theme-based packages to their audience. If we exclude a few exceptions, such as how BOOM Library offers construction kits of their designed sounds, there have been almost no changes in this methodology since SFX libraries were first introduced.
When Audiokinetic looked at how we could develop an SFX library that was better adapted to the needs of interactive audio, it was clear that we wanted to take an innovative approach based on the same core values we established with Wwise: a product that would enhance the user’s productivity and creativity by offering unprecedented control and flexibility. The best way to achieve this soon became obvious to us: we had to deliver the SFX collections in multitrack format, with all the clip edits, automation curves, and live effects, etc. The birth of Strata!
The high-level idea for Strata is relatively simple: for each designed SFX, sound designers get the rendered version along with the REAPER project and source sounds used to create the rendered sounds. With Strata, it’s easy to audition the collection by playing back the rendered files, and when needed, the multitrack project is available for customization so you have absolute control over the final result.
In multitrack format, any sound can be adjusted to perfectly match your goal by remixing, adjusting, deleting, or adding tracks and stems. How many times have you wanted to remove a component from a rendered sound that didn’t fit well with the visual? With Strata, it’s as simple as muting the layer and re-rendering the sound.
Audiokinetic is first and foremost a software developer and service provider. Instead of developing a sound design department and building Strata from the ground up, it was clear from the start that we needed to work with established content provider partners. Our idea was to develop and release Strata by working with one content provider first before onboarding new partners. We presented our project to BOOM Library, and they immediately decided to join us. They are a really great partner for us because BOOM not only has a great reputation for the quality of their content, but their main field of expertise is in the video game industry.
Strata Early Access Users’ Testimonials
A few months ago, after almost three years in production, we approached several Indie and AAA video game developers based in North America and Europe, as well as some audio content creators, to get their feedback on Strata. We were confident that we had something special in our hands, but receiving direct and unfiltered feedback from professional sound designers remained critical for us so we could adapt and deliver a product that really suited their needs.
We were quite excited by their enthusiasm (and constructive criticism!) when we met for a debrief some time after they started using Strata. The following is a summary of the main points they shared with us.
The Good Stuff
Strata is “exactly what we need”
When comparing Strata to other libraries, the early access users generally agreed that sounds in other libraries are often quite “dense”, “ busy”, or “overly produced”, which makes them difficult to use “as is”. They often have to be toned down, which is time-consuming, if not impossible. Because Strata’s content is delivered in multitrack REAPER projects, it’s a breeze to surgically address the smallest components of the final rendered sounds.
Strata is gigantic
Most people mentioned the huge amount of content Strata contains. On this subject, an audio director said: “The sheer amount of content is impressive, but seeing it on such a large scale is really spectacular”. Many junior sound designers said they would have subscribed to Strata before purchasing any other libraries if it had been available when they started their career.
There was also praise for the monumental amount of work our teams did to put together all the REAPER projects required to create Strata. One person stated that we had scored a touchdown when he discovered that Strata sounds are repeated with minor variations that are visible in the sub-layers. He realized that he could leverage these variations to quickly create almost limitless versions of a single sound.
Strata teaches you tricks of the trade
We received this comment unanimously from every person who worked with Strata. For them, juniors or seniors, seeing how other designers build their sounds was a great source of inspiration. Some even mentioned that they intended to apply a few tricks they discovered to their own sounds in the future. Reflecting the views of many participants, one respondent said that “the how-to and knowledge transfer [that Strata provides] is fantastic”.
We also had an instructor from a leading academic institution tell us that he had finally found a tool to help him teach sound design in his classes! A sound designer from a different company corroborated this by saying that the school he graduated from a couple of years ago had tons of guitars, amplifiers, keyboards, and computers, but nothing like Strata, and that was definitely lacking.
Strata includes VST plug-ins
Some found that having the Wwise Effect plug-ins ported to VST and included with Strata was a fantastic idea. The VST plug-ins were seen as quite useful, as they allowed designers to see during the design stage if it was best to pre-render the effects or to keep them live for runtime processing by attaching RTPC or States to effect settings for further dynamism.
The new ENRAGE plug-in from BOOM, included with Strata, also received great praise. Someone pointed out that ENRAGE, the multi-modular FX processing tool, is instrumental to Strata users as it ensures that you have all the plug-ins necessary to re-render the SFX as they were produced by the authors. Of course, you can also use your own plug-ins, but from the start, you have everything you need to be creative.
Strata is especially useful for system sounds
This comment comes from a AAA studio where the sound designers saw the collections as fitting into one of two categories: the “designed sounds” and the “systemic sounds” (sounds that are part of a game system).
- Designed sounds refer to collections such as “creatures” and “robotic”, which the designers could use for prototyping, but not necessarily for the final sounds used in the game; they wanted to use their own creature sounds unique to their franchises. They said that maybe some of the layers would be useful, but not necessarily the sound as rendered.
- That said, they saw a lot of value in the collections that help build system sounds such as physics, footsteps, doors, ambience, movement, close combat, interactive objects, etc. These sounds might be less iconic and recognizable, but they are the type of sounds that need the most flexibility for the runtime execution. Having many layers per sound and many variations for each layer provides this flexibility.
Strata is also great in many other aspects
- Effects: Being able to access and tweak all the plug-ins used to build the library is a godsend.
- Ambience Collections: Having the ambience pre-configured in multiple channel formats (e.g., stereo, quad, octo, 5.1, 7.1.4, ambisonics, etc.) is a great time saver.
- Efficiency: The time they will save in the future as they expand their usage of Strata is well worth the learning curve.
- ReaWwise: ReaWwise is a REAPER extension by Audiokinetic that simplifies the rendering, naming and transferring of sounds from REAPER to Wwise. While ReaWwise is available independently from Strata, the people that tried it during the evaluation appreciated the ease of use and the productivity gain it provides.
Where There’s Room for Improvement
While our user feedback was generally super positive, we did receive some constructive criticism. That’s also great feedback, as it provides opportunities to make Strata better.
One person wished we could provide single-click access to get from the rendered sound, that they would playback from Soundminer or a REAPER database, for example, and open its associated REAPER project with the play cursor at the right location. It’s obvious this would tremendously help sound designers to “stay in the creative zone” while being more productive, so we’ve added this feature request to the top of the list for future iterations.
While most evaluators agreed that it’s great that every source and rendered file conforms to the UCS metadata (and they appreciated the enormous zeal and effort that went into it!), they thought it would be better if ReaWwise provided some assistance to make sure that the exported audio files respect the UCS syntax. Again, something that we can envision adding to ReaWwise in a future update.
A content provider also told us that for each project they work on, they have to adapt to the studio’s naming conventions so the UCS naming convention is not necessarily a must for them, but more of a little bonus.
REAPER project settings
To fully leverage Strata and optimize certain workflows, the user documentation suggests a series of REAPER project settings to enable. There were a few cases where some of these settings conflicted with a user’s own way of using REAPER. Knowing that some people heavily customize their REAPER installation, it’s something that we will probably need to find and provide solutions for in the relatively near future.
Fear of breaking the REAPER projects
This came up a few times when some people wanted to start experimenting with a project from a collection, but were afraid of breaking something. Our recommendation is to simply create a copy of the project and save it in the same folder so all the references to the audio sources are preserved. We will need to further refine this approach, as it doesn't necessarily seem obvious or the best approach to some.
Our first users have spoken. Now the real litmus test begins. Will you see the same value in Strata as our early access users? I believe you will (well, I hope!). But the best way to know for yourself is to subscribe to the free Sample Strata collection. This package contains a tiny portion of the first 14 collections to be released. It should give you a pretty good idea of its power!
Finally, if you’re tempted by Strata but are not sure if now is the best time to subscribe, consider these two points:
- We are releasing Strata with a pool of 14 collections and we are committed to systematically adding one to three new collections each month over the next two years. You can look at the release calendar to get an idea of the collections to come.
- The introductory price is an incredible value. By subscribing now, you guarantee this low price for the next three years. A sound decision! ;-)
Please, tell us what you think and leave your comments below. You can also interact with other Strata users through the Q&A section.