Audio Book Update

You may think I’ve been very quiet. Just the opposite! I’ve been very talkative in my studio, with my microphone and TOBI recording. Now that first big milestone is past: All of the text has been recorded! The raw audio files total 8 hours and 4 minutes so my prediction was good.

Last Page

Next will be the detailed editing passes as I go through all of that audio removing stumbles or misreads and ironing out the placement of marks. How long will that take? I’m not sure but I expect it will be easier to get the time for it since I only need my laptop and headphones instead of the home studio and a quiet day. I’ve set a goal for myself to have the book released in DAISY and EPUB formats by August 2nd, the one year anniversary of our Kickstarter success.

Speaking of anniversaries, if you have any friends who’ve been wanting to get their hands on Tears of a Machine but are waiting for a sale, July 3rd is the anniversary of the KS launch, so they’ll soon have their moment.

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Making the DAISY Format Book – Part 2

Picking up where I left off in the previous post, I’ll continue to guide you through the steps I’m taking to bring Tears of a Machine to you in an accessible format.

Step 4 – The Recording Application

TOBI is a free and open-source application programmed by DAISY Consortium members. It’s a flexible application that lets you work with your text and audio in a few different ways. You can record right through the application or if you want to use other software that’s more familiar to you, then you can import the audio files into TOBI later, matching up sections of the file with sections of the text. There are other applications on the market, some of them quite expensive, but TOBI’s basic features are enough for me.

Loading the new project is pretty easy. I just point TOBI at the .xml files that I got from the Save As DAISY operation in Word. After a quick conversion it opens up the file as a TOBI project.

The Tobi interface

Here’s TOBI!

Step 5 -Setting Up To Record

I was a music student before I was a game designer so I’ve got some advantage here, owning a collection of different microphones and a small mixing console. However, this gear is heaped up in my tiny office where I have to contend with the fan noise from my computer, the echo off my walls and the occasional dog barking outside.

One of the issues that makes most audio sound cheap is a distant sound. A hollow sound full of background reflections like what you get when you’re using the microphone in the screen frame of your laptop. To counter that effect, I use close mic’ing, with my mouth very close to the microphone pickup and a pop filter that keeps the wind noise of my breath from getting into the recorded sound. I also set up some blankets on portable garment racks around me to create a screen of soft, sound absorbing material so that I don’t have a ricochet echo from front wall to back wall and then back into the microphone. You can do a lot to build a temporary recording booth with blankets and pillows!

The space and the tools that you have available will decide what you need to do to make good recordings of your own. Set aside a few hours to test out microphone placement and to tinker with your settings. Keep a reference recording open on your computer that you can listen to for comparison; an audiobook or professional podcast you enjoy. Once you can put together a comparable sound, you’re ready to go.

Amazon.com’s ACX program offers some good, basic advice on what to listen for in your book audio, but a Google web search can also net you good results. (As an aside, check out the rest of the ACX program. There are some great ideas to work with others and get more audio books out there, though it is intended for commercial use.)

Step 6 – Recording and Marking

Now that my microphone is set up and my files loaded, it’s time to get the voice down and matched to the audio. I decided to record right in to the TOBI application and to mark and add navigation points as I go. The advantage of working this way is that I can read my book off the TOBI screen. One downside is that the TOBI audio engine isn’t the highest quality, translating the recording right into MP3 files. I might go back and record a better quality version of the book one day.

I set up the XML file to mark each paragraph in the book. That means that when someone is listening and reading along the screen will be highlighted paragraph by paragraph, advancing with the timing of my marks. As I read to the end of each paragraph I click the advance button and begin reading the next one. Sentence level highlighting is now preferred but it’s more time intensive. (Another reason to revisit the recording after this first version is done.)

At my desk with microphone and TOBI

Recording in my office. Note the anime wall scrolls that provide necessary sound absorption in the most geeky way possible.

Step 7 – Checking Recorded Work

When I’m on a roll I prefer not to stop and correct errors as they happen; making a mental note and sometimes clapping to put a spike on the audio display (like the slate they use in movies) lets me keep my momentum and then go back to find and correct the flaws later. Every five pages or so I’ll take breaks to listen to the work I’ve done and make those corrections and check that the rest of the work is good quality. It’s a good opportunity to rest my voice for a little while and to sip some water or tea. In addition to correcting any stumbles or mis-reads, I also listen for extraneous noise that slipped in through the background (like those neighborhood dogs.) It’s important to have over-ear headphones with good isolation when monitoring and reviewing your work so that you don’t hear distracting sounds in the present mixing in with the sounds of the past few minutes.

I’ve still got a lot of pages to read ahead of me but in a few more weeks I’ll be able to move on to finishing the book and creating the release version for DAISY and ePub 3.0. Look for another update on the recording process and maybe some sample files soon.

Some Thoughts On Output

In the past year ePub 3.0 has really taken off. Most of the DAISY community is looking to change it’s output format over to rich media ePub 3.0 files. The crossover between the formats is so strong now that there are plenty of tools that will let me convert the finished DAISY book into ePub 3.0 with minimal fuss. For future projects, I’ll aim for ePub 3.0 as my primary format.

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And They’re Gone! Books Have Shipped.

No more remainAll of the books, cards, and patches are on their way to being delivered; posters and scrolls are shipping direct from the printers. Enjoy!

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The Books are Here!

After several weather delays, the books are in my hands and will soon be on their way to Kickstarter backers around the world!

Books laid out

200 Copies of Tears of a Machine

Rewards lined up

Books, Patches, and Cards

It’s quite a relief to have them. Now it’s time for addresses and mailing supplies and several trips to the post office.

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What’s Your Story?

Have you read Tears of a Machine? Have you played it? What did it make you think? How did it make you feel? Tell me about it! Post your questions, comments, concerns, and links here and on the Google+ Community.

May the SAInts Preserve Us

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Making the DAISY Format Book – Part 1

In this series of posts I’ll be posting the step-by-step process of creating the DAISY Digital Talking Book version of Tears of a Machine. Once it’s done I’ll have DAISY compatible versions of the raw text for Text-To-Speech reader software, an ePub book, and a fully narrated audio-book for DAISY and ePub 3.0 rich media playback.

If you want to know more about the basics of DAISY formats and initiatives, visit the homepage of the DAISY Consortium: http://www.daisy.org.

For this first entry I’ll explain getting the book text from Word DOC to DAISY friendly XML.

Step 1 – Text Layout Matching

Because I’m publishing Tears in as a paper book and PDF as well I want to make sure that the page layout aligns with the audiobook version. If a reader wants to refer his friends to something in their PDF or paper copy of the book the page numbers should match up as close as possible.

This was an afternoon of tedium. I went through the .DOC file draft of the book alongside approved PDF draft and compared the page breaks between them. I inserted breaks as needed and also found that I had to resize the text to make some pages fit. That’s okay because the end product will be in a format with easy controls to alter the font and size of the text.

Step 2 – Other Navigation Points

Page numbers are not only way to get around in a book. The table of contents and index might let you know where an important subject can be found but you need to flip back and forth, find the number and then navigate by pages. It’s much better to be able to quickly move through the book by chapters or sections. The good news is that all we need for that is headings.

As I was editing Tears I had an eye toward this and made sure to use a series of headings and to nest them properly. I didn’t even need to set up any special headings, just the ones listed in the Word Styles menu. I limited the range of styles in use, using only three levels of headings, two paragraph styles for examples and rules summaries, and the basic body text.

Step 3 – DAISY Conversion

Now it’s time to move from .DOC files to DAISY compatible formats. DAISY uses XML to manage rich media and synchronize audio files with text. With some free tools from DAISY Consortium developers it only takes a few mouse clicks to make the conversion. An MS Word plugin called Save to DAISY will do all the heavy lifting. It’s available for Macintosh and Linux too but you’ll find the Windows version here: http://www.daisy.org/project/save-as-daisy-ms-word-add-in

After I’ve installed it, it adds a new control tab to the ribbon called Accessibility.

DAISY Accessibility for Word

Now it’s time to see if my document is DAISY compliant. A click of the Validate button will scan it and look for any formatting errors that would prevent a clean conversion. When I did this I got a notice that because I used the automatic table of contents features in Word, I had to make a quick change to the style of the next paragraph. Once that’s done and saved, I can convert the book to DAISY XML with the SaveAsDAISY button.

I have a few options under this button. I can just save the XML file so that I can take it to some other DAISY software or I could use the Text-To-Speech software on my computer to generate an audio narration and a complete DAISY Digital Talking Book! If I had some really high-end TTS software with lifelike voices and the ability to teach it to pronounce my strange words right (SAInt for example) then I could do this and call it done. But, I don’t have that expensive software and I’m aware that synthetic voices are still disliked by most audio learners. Instead, I’ll just save that XML file to use as the basis of my human voice recording.

Next time, I’ll be working with more free DAISY Consortium software to record the audio for the book.

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Turning the Corner to Production

Been a while since my last full update but that’s because we’ve been busy, busy, busy.

Cards and Badges

The “feelies” (physical rewards) are set! I got the box of CRC ID cards this past week and they look and feel as good as I had hoped. The Preservation Forces patch has been drafted and approved and is in production now. He’s a peek at the studio’s proof:

p53038

This image is slightly lower res, but I was surprised at the scale and detail that we were able to get for our budget; 4 1/2 inches tall by 3 inches wide. Everyone of our SAInt tier and higher backers will receive one of these with their physical copy of the book. Thank you, once more, to our Angel tier backer, Athrun Nailo.

Finishing the PDF

Apart from some minor tweaks, the layout is complete and as Jennifer finishes the artwork we’ll get it ready for the PDF of the book. Here’s one of her chapter title plates:

TearsofaMachine.DuelI always love seeing Jenn’s monsters. I think she’s done an excellent job of realizing the Magnas in all their demonic, robotic glory.

Beginning to Create the Accessible Version

Because the text is done I can begin work on creating the DAISY audio book version. I can’t offer a guaranteed ETA on it but I will have several days at the end of December to record. As I go through the steps of producing this audio version I’ll share the process through a series of updates.

May the SAInts Preserve Us.

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