Thursday, 10 January 2013

Sound in video games

Sound in games is overlooked a lot these day by the ‘casual gamer’. When a new game comes out and we talk about it, it’s usually ‘Ah man the graphics are amazing’. I’ve never heard ‘The sound is amazing’ or the like. Which is a shame, as audio in games is just as important as the visuals, and in some cases it’s more important, as I find sound effects entice more intense emotion than anything visually. But they don’t get appreciated.

Sound in games has come a long way since its beginning in the 70s. As technology improves so does the sound. When you played games in the arcade the only sounds you got was to notify you that you fired your weapon or just died, and the difference between these sounds was a Bleep or a Bloop. Fast forward 40 years and we have a whole range of sounds, from ambient bird chirping and the crunching snow as you walk on it to bassy explosions and full orchestrated scores.

 Sound engineers back in the beginning of gaming had to actually program the sounds into the chip, which would play when triggered by an event. Now when and how to play the sound is all developed by the game engine.  Game engines can fade several different sounds in and out at the same time depending of what the player is doing, making a wide variety of sounds. Below is an interesting snippet about it with a sound engineer from Namco Bandai's Cook or Be Cooked:

"I tied [RTPC] in with the cooking times, so when a steak sizzles, it actually sounds more realistic than fading in a loop over time. This allowed me to actually change the state of the sound needed over time to give a more realistic representation of the food cooking as its visual state changed. It's totally subtle, and most people will never notice it, but there's actually a pretty complicated process going on behind that curtain.

"I (had) roughly four states per cookable object that went from beginning, all the way through burned. There were loops for each of those states that fed into each other. These were also modified with one-shots -- for example, flipping an object or moving it to the oven. We tried to provide as much variation as we could fit into the game, so almost every sound has a random container accompanied with it."

Sound has always been about to support and enhance the players experience. Unlike films, sound engineers/designers have to create music and sounds that are influenced by the player. So for example when a player fires a gun you can hear the startled birds by flying away, then after words there’s an eerie silence and you can only hear the natural environment around you, no wild life. Before the gun being let off you can hear the hustle and bustle of the jungle. This adds so much to the experience.

I’ve notice in some games players seem to lust for a certain sound, and they’ll keep playing to get that sound, that satisfaction. For instance, the COD series – Shooting and hitting an enemy online gives off a ‘tick’ sound, and something about it is so nice to hear, you want to keep playing to hear it again, making the game more addicting. So addicting I’ve read personal reviews of similar titles where people would complain saying there’s no hit sound. It’s also used to great effect in MMOs and RPGs when you level  up.

Top 5 Memorable sound is games.

There are many top name composers working in the game industry at the moment, some of my personal favourites are (in order):

  •           Harry Gregson Williams - Famous for composing the Metal Gear Solid series as well as many Hollywood hits  which is known for its superb cinematic feel, which the music and sound really help to sell. Many epic moments ive played in the MGS series I remember because of the music.
  •          Jeff van Dyck – Composed the Total War series. I Really love his work. Total War takes place across the roman empire, middle ages and feudal japan. All of these eras have very different sounds, and Dyck replicates them perfectly, and you truly feel immersed in the game.
  •          Nobuo Uematsu - Who composed pretty much all the Final Fantasy’s out there. Again just like the others, the orchestral score helps make the player have an emotional connection the story and characters.
  •        Koji Kondo - Composing most of Nintendo’s franchises over the years, such as the Zelda and Mario series. Both very emotional games.

Many games who have top notch composers (like the above) on board usually release a separate game soundtrack album as the music is so good it can hold its own as an album, and many people go out to buy it.

Good Times by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards has been one of the most influential tracks about,  despite the ‘Disco sucks’ trend 1979 it still reached number one in the charts. It also kicked off hip hop popularity in the 80’s, and because of that it’s become one of the most sample tracks in rap ad hip hop.

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