Blog Post

Audio Developer Diary – Episode 3 – What’s the name of the game?

OK, so here it is the post about naming things. So why does this matter? Well…an example might help:

I released a product a while back called Atmoisia 2. It was a BIG upgrade from Atmosia – moving from Kontakt-only to VST/AU plugin, adding in every sound from the 3-products in the “…ia” series, and a whole slew of functionality, and (crucially to this story) moving from two sounds at the same time to 4-sounds at the same time. These “sounds” were called “Voices”. So the release materials said “…is a 4-Voice ROMpler system…”. That’s just 5 words right there – but it confused a few people: First a small number thought that meant it was 4-note polyphonic, it wasn’t it was 256 note polyphonic, and at least one person decided that “ROMpler” meant the developer had stolen all the sounds in it from other sources and was passing it off as their own. He went on a fairly popular facebook group and said so – several times, until I and several other people corrected him.

This last bit was just plain ignorance – which is fine: I’m ignorant about a lot of things – but he did include it with broadcasting this view to several thousand of my potential customers, in any case I cant do anything about that, but the other confusion about it being only 4-note polyphonic? How many people had decided this was the case and (as I would) decided it wasn’t powerful enough for real work and passed?

The problem stems from those hardware manufacturers I mentioned before ( I named a few but they are all pretty much as bad as each other). They can agree on a lovely and not simple standard like MIDI 1.0 but they can’t decide what to call the actual noises (or the component there of) coming out of their boxes? So we get “Voices” , “sounds”, “layers” and a swag more too. But I’m getting hung up on this example – it’s really here just to demonstrate anything I name can be (mis)construed as something else, so careful naming is required.

Quattro makes the “Voices” problem much worse, because of the depth of each (cough) “voice”. So to do an end-around a bit(and shorten this post by several hundred words) I decided to call these “Noise making groupings” Layers. There are 4 layers in Quattro (hence the name) – but each of these layers has a sampler and a synth in it. The sampler is playing back multi-sampled sounds, and the synth is (at the moment) playing back classic subtractive oscillator noises. When (as I’m sure I will) I get to using wavetables the line between even these two well understood concepts start to technically blur.

Now when you look at Quattro’s “Main” interface it doesn’t even mention layers or voices, so why does it matter – well as I said marketing materials and the manual that’s why.

But it gets worse – “Main interface”? Whats that? Well its the page of stuff above, but is “Main” the correct title for it? This title appears in the buttons along the top (so users can select different pages/ or tabs – see? even this full of alternatives?). The next button is called “Editor” and you get this sort of thing there:

You can edit and change the details of each layer – so “Editor”? or “Details”?(it was actually called Details for a while). Next along is “Effects” – phew an easy one…then (in the first of the screen shots here) is “Arps”, and in the second is “Player” – yep it was just a pretty nice Arpeggiator, but I’m currently planning to give it a per-note-sequencer (that I have no idea how to name), a step-sequencer(xoxoxo style) and a chord-player, so “Arps” wasn’t going to work.

Actually you can look at almost any piece of text in the screen shot above and theres a 50/50 chance its open to interpretation, look at the SAMPLER section:

  • “Voice” – on no not that again? – it means the noise that gets loaded – often, but not always, a sampled instrument
  • “Reverse” – this I’m hoping is pretty obvious – it plays the voice backwards
  • “Off Set” – a thing or an action? What’s it even mean? It actually means move down the sample from the start a ways…
  • DONT get me started on those Granular names…

Look at the Preset browser on the “Main” page, even the headings: “Expansion” or “Categories”? “Filters”(which can get confused with audio-filters) or “Tags”? Which is actually what they are. “Search” – which isn’t even a heading it’s a text entry area so you can narrow the results that appear below it.

So the point here is that every time a developer writes some text, any text, in an interface, they should, and do, think “is this to right word?” “Does this convey enough meaning?” Because if you get this naming right then the user gets to have fun and NOT have to learn a whole new naming convention for each product they try and use, and in the end that’s what we all want.

So it may seem trivial, silly even, to spend hours(And I do – often at night in bed) angsting over the name of some bit of the interface – but get this wrong and it can really ruin the user experience. There’s been nothing unique or different about this process this time – I’m worrying at the problem of naming things, including the product name, even as I type…..

Related Posts