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The State of Game Audio

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the can-you-hear-me-now? dept.

Music 99

The extent to which a game's sounds and music can affect a player's enjoyment is often overshadowed by other characteristics, such as graphics or gameplay. That said, I'm sure most players have had an experience where the audio really contributed to making the game great, whether it was an epic soundtrack, excellent narration, or just intuitive sound effects. Rock, Paper, Shotgun is running a feature discussing the state of game audio in today's market, discussing how far it has come, and where it's going. "Games present some unusual problems, like the mix having to adjust itself to suit a situation created by the player, rather than the static vision of a single director. Game designers have to have a flexible attitude towards factors such as the amount of time spent listening to the same piece of music and the potential for sonic overload if too many game sounds are played simultaneously. ... CryTek's Florian Füsslin explained that Crysis' lavish soundscape was defined primarily by what information the player needs to hear. 'We often went for the concept "less is more" or let's better say "important things first." We used a pretty solid priority system which cuts quiet or unimportant sounds in an audio busy situation like combat. Together with the right mix we were able to provide a dense soundscape in all situations players might run into.'"

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99 comments

Portal (5, Insightful)

KasperMeerts (1305097) | more than 5 years ago | (#24879909)

Portal still holds my vote for best videogame audio. It really helped build the game's atmosphere.

Some games on the the other hand, just slap a stupid rock-techo-pop beat on it, just for having something. (I'm looking at you C&C3)

Re:Portal (0, Redundant)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 5 years ago | (#24879965)

Portal was great for music because the situation was always the same, "solve the puzzle." For games where the character can get into varied situations and very quickly change them into one another, it works less well and the designer has to figure out how to do the transition without it being jarring.

Sometimes the need for decent transitions is swept under the rug, as in my post below, and the game suffers for it.

Re:Portal (2, Informative)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880107)

I remember popping Amped 3 in my 360 and booting it up. I start the game at the top of the mountain looking down. ELO's Blinded by the Light [youtube.com] starts playing and I start ripping down the mountain and pulling MAD tricks left right and center (it was HARD to fall). The music totally made the first several minutes seem almost surreal.

Then I got to the first cut scene and the music sucked from then on... I was really dissapointed, but it shows the influence that sound can have on a game.

Re:Portal (1)

ttigue (1305311) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880545)

ELO = good. Blinded by the Light good. And blinded by the light was not performed or written by ELO.

Re:Portal (1)

snowraver1 (1052510) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880733)

Written, no. Performed, well, watch the video... Perhaps your understanding of the word "performed" is wrong.

Re:Portal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24881137)

Uhh... That's not ELO. That's Mannfred Mann's Earth Band, which is NOT ELO(Electric Light Orchestra). He says "blinded by the light was not performed or written by ELO." These are both correct statements.

Re:Portal (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24881543)

Re:Portal (1)

malf-uk (456583) | more than 5 years ago | (#24887377)

Sweet's "Love Is Like Oxygen" is another one that's commonly mistakenly credited to ELO on P2P

Re:Portal (1)

The Ultimate Fartkno (756456) | more than 5 years ago | (#24883237)

ELO?

Oh, heavens. Have you never been wrapped up like a douche? You should know better...

Re:Portal (1)

philspear (1142299) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880655)

I disagree with the assesment of portal. The little sounds were great and haunting. I think that's what he was referring to more than the audio, and Glados' voice really took the cake (yeah, I went there). Plus...

***SPOILERS!!! DON'T READ IF YOU HAVEN'T ALREADY BEATEN IT!!!***

I remember the music not actually going with the puzzles. During the first part of the game, the only music I remember was the cheezy song playing over the radio, which was actually quite ominous after a while. The second actual music I remember was the tense music as you were being carried to your fiery doom, which really did get my heart pumping. The third was during the actual end battle which didn't help much, but Glados's voice(s) and dialogue really stole that act anyway. The fourth and best music was during the credits. I'm still amazed at that one. It helped end the game on a whimsical, not quite ominous note that also did a great job reflecting the glados character.

It did have sort of ambient sounds that sounded like instruments sorta. The one time I remember that really standing out was when you came across the first hidden alcove with crazy writings on the wall from test subjects who went insane.

Portal did have amazing audio and soundtrack both in the very subtle use of mood-setting music, which made it so effective, and the brilliance of the few songs which were in it. It's quite incorrect to say it was just "solve the puzzle" soundtrack.

Re:Portal (1)

brandorf (586083) | more than 5 years ago | (#24884139)

The music that plays when you fist encounter the "rat room" still makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up.

Re:Portal (1)

lowlymarine (1172723) | more than 5 years ago | (#24881495)

Some games on the the other hand, just slap a stupid rock-techo-pop beat on it, just for having something. (I'm looking at you C&C3)

Such is what happens without good ol' Frank Klepacki. Thankfully he's back for RA3. And Kane's Wrath replaces the stuff from Tiberium Wars with remixes of stuff from old C&C games - much better.

Re:Portal (1)

KasperMeerts (1305097) | more than 5 years ago | (#24881753)

That's great to hear thanks. If that's the case I'll consider buying Kane's Wrath.

I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (4, Interesting)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 5 years ago | (#24879935)

Where the battle music would follow you into towns and other safe areas for sometimes several minutes before abating. Or if you were still being chased after using fast travel, it would continue until you had saved and exited or cued a cinematic with its own music or entered a dungeon that would cause certain music to play.

That was probably one of the big turn-offs, I enjoyed the world, but even if it was just a crab that attacked me I felt like I should be participating in an epic battle. It was like the game was mocking itself.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (3, Funny)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880011)

I also like how the caves have more light in them during the daylight hours.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (1)

i_liek_turtles (1110703) | more than 5 years ago | (#24884243)

This is a feature; it protects against grues.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (2, Funny)

solraith (1203394) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880189)

I had to turn off the music in Age of Conan for similar reasons; it just kicked in at the most random times. I'd be walking around fighting stuff, listening to the sounds of nature and bloodshed, when all of a sudden WHOA SURPRISE EPIC SYMPHONIC BUTTSECKS.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880207)

Well were they Giant Enemy Crabs? Because then that would make sense.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (2, Funny)

Kell Bengal (711123) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880949)

It should play a special fanfare when you flip them onto their backs and attack their weakspots for MASSIVE DAMAGE.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (1)

Kagura (843695) | more than 5 years ago | (#24885607)

Are you guys overlooking the fact that it's based on real-life battles that happened in Japan?

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (1)

Hatta (162192) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880291)

Concerning situation appropriate music, I thought the battle music in Phantasy Star 3 was pretty neat. The first round starts you off with some pretty hardcore ominous music, the middle rounds have some fast rock as you slog through the battle, and the last round has some really up beat winning music.

The neat part is that if you're in a moderately easy battle, you just get the second 2 tunes, and a really easy battle just starts with the winning music. For an old school RPG which contains a lot of random battles and level grinding, this really helps add some variety and atmosphere.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (1)

loafula (1080631) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880443)

The music in Oblivion was downright beautiful, too. Overall, though, the audio wasn't perfect (at least on the PS3 version). I found some of the speech to be frustrating. The volume wasn't normalized properly- one line would be delivered audibly, only to be followed by another line, spoken by the same npc in the same conversation, that was too quiet to hear.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24882139)

They should have had it so that the music played after you saw an enemy, rather than playing it right after it spawned. It was impossible to ever be surprised in the wilderness, because you would hear the music and know right away to get your weapon out and look around.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (2, Informative)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#24885423)

I actually wrote the battle music system for a major PC title (not Oblivion). It seems like a fairly simple thing to do, but because of the fast-paced and dynamic nature of combat in that game, it actually ended up being a real challenge to tune. For example:

* It sound bad if you start some epic battle music as your high-level party goes and kills a few low-level critters. I measured the collective party strength versus nearby enemy creatures to determine if the battle would likely be difficult enough to warrant battle music.

* It sound bad if ambient music just starts up, only to be immediately interrupted by more combat. Therefore, I set the threshold for ending music much lower than for starting it up. Nearby enemies will cause the battle music to continue, because it's likely the players will run there next and start the next battle.

* It sounds bad if a second piece of battle music start (our music didn't loop - I just started another piece of battle music) only to be cut off after a few seconds. Therefore, before another piece of music starts, it tries to determine if combat is soon to be over anyhow. If so, the ambient music continues.

You can see, it ends up being a lot more complicated than you'd think. And, it's difficult to tune it so that it works properly at all player levels and in all areas of the game.

Re:I particularly enjoyed Oblivion... (1)

Anpheus (908711) | more than 5 years ago | (#24889649)

Oh, I understand the difficulty. But a project of Oblivion's size, and with Bethesda backing it as a sequel to Morrowind... it deserved a better music system.

Grim Fandango (3, Interesting)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880019)

Has an excellent sounds track, plus that put it online so you can download it for free. I highly recommend it.
Must music gets turned off after a while. It tends to get repetitive.

Re:Grim Fandango (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24885995)

Not only Grim Fandango had great music, but the whole Lucas Arts adventure game line (since MI2). They invented iMUSE, which would change the music depending on the situation you were in. It was a great, wonderful expierence.

Read about it on wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IMUSE

Re:Grim Fandango (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24886765)

I wonder if all the hours spent listening to the World of Warcraft soundtrack added together make it the one the most played pieces of music ever...

ff6. (4, Interesting)

PC and Sony Fanboy (1248258) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880081)

Hey, great sound makes a great game - like almost anything nobuo uematsu has added music to..

Re:ff6. (1)

IorDMUX (870522) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880791)

I agree wholeheartedly. FF XII, though an interesting version of a "single player MMO", was seriously lacking in the music department, Uematsu having gone over to Microsoft, I believe. The only music in the game that I really enjoy are those tracks borrowed from earlier Uematsu works (FF main theme, victory theme, etc.)

I mean, the game (as often occurs nowadays) has some decent background music, in places. The Pharos background music is appropriately creepy, the Rabanastre background music is appropriately happy and busy, etc. But that's all it is, anymore. Background music. I barely notice it any longer, as I play.

Compare this to earlier Final Fantasy games, or (for example) Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, where music shares the foreground with visuals and both work together to really tell you where you are.

Re:ff6. (1)

geminidomino (614729) | more than 5 years ago | (#24890937)

Uematsu having gone over to Microsoft, I believe.

Actually, he went freelance and started a company called Smile Please [wikipedia.org] and has been working mainly with Mistwalker Studios [wikipedia.org] .

I was particularly fond of the Blue Dragon soundtrack, though it seems to have received a mixed reception

7th Guest (1)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880109)

For me the best mix of sound and music was definitely the 7th Guest, the Fat Man's music especially. Ultima Online had some very annoying music, especially the town themes.

Jonah HEX

There are no great games without great sound (1)

Narbo (11006) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880177)

It always boggles me why designers often neglect sound. Can you think of a really AAA title that has poor quality sound and music? Sound is often the singular difference in between a good game and #$%#$% awesome game.

If you want an example of how great sound design can take a game to the next level look at Castlevatia: SOTN. There are lots of platform games that have a similar style and execution but a big reason that its the finest platform game of all time is that the music is BRILLIANT.

Re:There are no great games without great sound (3, Insightful)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880451)

Sure it can. On PC games I always turn music off- I'd rather hear Vent (in online games) or have an mp3 player on. I can't remember the last game I actually kept the music on for, other than guitar hero.

Re:There are no great games without great sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24881869)

You aren't a majority of people, thank God. So you like talking to your boyfriend on Ventrillo and listing to Ace of Base while you play counterstrike? Good for you. Are you special? Maybe. Are you important? Hell no. Congrats on trumping yourself up to be more important than you really are. Asshole.

Re:There are no great games without great sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24882697)

How dare he discuss game sound on a story about game sound!

Re:There are no great games without great sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24886821)

I usually turn all sound off (or at least music). I will say though, I'm playing half life 1 for the first time, and I am really enjoying the sound effects. Hearing that headcrab coming up behind you in the dark and not knowing where it is scares me.

Re:There are no great games without great sound (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#24887747)

The music was pretty awesome on Half-Life. It's usually fine for single player games, but when it comes to stuff like Counter-Strike I don't understand why people would play MP3s in the background. I tried it but if you can't hear where people are it makes you a worse player. Of course since Source you can't shoot people through walls anyway so it probably makes less of a difference. I have killed a few people in the past just by listening and shooting (and then getting called a hacker, hah..)

Re:There are no great games without great sound (1)

JCSoRocks (1142053) | more than 5 years ago | (#24888071)

Ambient music really sets the tone for what you're doing within a game. World In Conflict is a great example. The music in that game was really compelling. It reinforced what was happening both in your mission and in the overall story of the game.

As for people mentioning counter-strike... does counter-strike even come with music? I can't remember any... I think its just got sound effects...

Re:There are no great games without great sound (1)

plasmacutter (901737) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880679)

halo 3 and wow to name a few.

shame too because halo 3 had a great concept in the teasers, then they kind of pitched it out for that crappy techno.

Re:There are no great games without great sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24880807)

Do, dododo dododo dododo dododo, dodo do do, do, do.

Do, dodo, dododo, dodo, dododo dodo do do do do do.

Re:There are no great games without great sound (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880839)

Tetris! (Korobeiniki)

Re:There are no great games without great sound (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24884927)

No, that would be do, dododo, dododo, dododo, dododo, dododo do do do do.

Re:There are no great games without great sound (1)

TriezGamer (861238) | more than 5 years ago | (#24888509)

Not to nit pick, but ... sol, re mi fa, mi re do, do mi sol, fa mi re, mi fa, sol mi do do

I have spent WAAAAAAAY too much time in music theory courses lately...

Re:There are no great games without great sound (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 5 years ago | (#24888795)

do... ...a deer, a female deer...

Guilty Gear (1)

Shikaku (1129753) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880271)

has one of the best original soundtracks for any game I've ever heard. It's a fighting game, yes, but it also is only rock music, without vocals. The sound effects are also really good too. Funny thing, if you play (as) Sol and have the .1 sub woofer speakers too, they will be blasting a lot.

Sound really matters (2, Interesting)

RogueyWon (735973) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880279)

As the article points out, Crysis had some really great sound. However, badly deployed sound can be an absolute killer.

Embarrassing confession time: I just replayed Doom 3, the other week. Don't ask me why, I just had these strange urges to.

On replaying it, it struck me that while the graphics are still excellent and the atmosphere is good in many ways, the sound actually acts as a negative. Why? Because sound is too definitive a cue that there are enemies nearby. If you hear a demonic snuffling, it means you are about to be ambushed. By listening to the kind of snuffling, you can tell what's about to jump out. This defuses a lot of the tension. I remember that the excellent Aliens-TC WAD for the original Doom had a fantastic alternative for this. The designers locked enemies inside small, self-contained boxes "within" the walls of the levels. The player could never encounter these, without the use of IDSPISPOPD, but he could sure as hell hear them. Removing the absolute link between monster sounds and monsters actually appearing added a huge amount of tension to the game.

NPR's The Evolution of Video Game Music (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24880285)

NPR did a nice story on video game music earlier this year.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89565567

My fave part was when one commentator stated that if Beethoven was alive today, he'll be videogame music composer.

The Neverhood (1)

Tenebrousedge (1226584) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880455)

Terry Taylor. One of the best soundtracks [wikipedia.org] ever. The title track was reused by Megat Diam in a video called Death kitty and the fat man [weebls-stuff.com] , and gives you only the tiniest taste of how crazy, kooky, and downright catchy the music in that game was. The Neverhood is probably a good contender for the most underrated game of all time.

I would rave further about this game/soundtrack, but I had better stop before I get mace Q@*#**#@*($#*JS#*NO CARRIER

Silent Hill (1)

FauxReal (653820) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880605)

The lack of soundtrack and sparse sound effects along with that static, which you would normally turn off or tune out in real life day to day activities really messed with me. It was the first and one of a very short list of games that gave me anxiety and/or creeped me out.

Remember iMUSE? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24880609)

Lucas Arts had a music system for the X-Wing and Tie Fighter games that reacted to events happening around you. The music change seamlessly from flying around with no enemies, to flying around with enemies nearby, to being in the thick of battle. The arrival of new ships was accompanied by a little fanfare, with the exact phrase depending on whether the new units were Imperial or Rebel. Besides being bloody cool, it was useful for knowing when you had new enemies to deal with, without needing to constantly watch for notification text.

It was also used for a number of other Lucas Arts games in the '90s, but it was an integral part of what made X-Wing and TIE Fighter great games.

Re:Remember iMUSE? (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880909)

Yeah, that was brilliant. It was good in Dark Forces, too, but then they switched to CD music for the later games (X-Wing vs Tie Fighter, Jedi Knight and iMuse was relegated to picking the perfect moment to change track.

Old skool MIDI iMuse was just seamless and added so much.

Another game with good music: Little Big Adventure (AKA Twinsen's Odyssey). I could just close my eyes. It had warmth, it had feeling, it had scale and it always matched the environment perfectly. It took a forced perspective cartoon and made it cinematic, immersive even. Absolute classic game thanks to every single element being carefully crafted.

HAL.

Re:Remember iMUSE? (1)

StrahdVZ (1027852) | more than 5 years ago | (#24882315)

Yes!! iMUSE was a generation ahead of its time and took X-Wing from being an already outstanding game to being an all-time great.

audio only games (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24880663)

there are a few of these out there for the visually impared, including FPS type games (for surround systems).

got really interested and started working on an audio game engine - I wanted to create a game system so compelling that even sighted people (like me) would want to play it with the lights off.

Gave up in the end, due to a lack of decent 5.1/7.1 reverb enabled mixing engines (havent coded c/c++ for years). thing is what you need is multiple room reverb for that level of immersion. think of yourself being in a small room with a doorway to a hangar. the long reverb from the hangar needs to pan to a 3d point where the door is, then have some local room reflection added.

the only thing i found that could support that was EAX 3 or 4 or something, only supported by creative labs cards. thats too high a barrier,so I gave up.

I'm convinced a good audio only game would be a win for everybody, it could be so creepy.

Let's hear it for GTA! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24880753)

It's the only game whose soundtrack I listen to on my mp3 player (especially VCPR with Maurice Chavez). I even remember back when the first top-down GTA was out, I'd listen to the music tracks as a plain ol' music CD.

Also, Nintendo made plenty of catchy tunes that you'd catch yourself singing years after playing the actual game for the last time.

While I agree that sound is important... (1)

Ynsats (922697) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880779)

...it's not just musical scores and sound effects that make the game.

You also have sound quality and the type of encoding that is used.

Specifically, multi-channel sound. While most people are content with stereo, some of the new games shine with a 5.1 or greater sound system. To illustrate my point, Tetris sounds the same in mono as it does in surround sound. Music, while it is a major thing everybody remembers, is not vital to that game. The reason being is that the music quality was awful due to the limited space on the game cartridge. Game play was more important and too much audio would mean less room for game play. Hence the less than MIDI quality of the sine wave based beeps.

However, play Halo 3 on a regular old TV and use the TV speakers, whether they be mono or stereo. Then go find yourself a good stereo receiver or separates and play Halo 3. Night and day difference. Then play Halo 3 on a surround sound system and good Lord! The difference that makes! All of a sudden sniper fire from behind you sounds like it is coming from behind you. The wind on most of the boards moves across the screen. There are all kinds of visual and game play aspect fully enhanced by immersive sound.

I first noticed this difference in LucasArts games. Specifically Full Throttle and Dark Forces. Dark Forces and the moving blaster fire made it easier to pinpoint who was firing at you and from where when blaster fire was flying everywhere. It actually improved game play. Full Throttle became a game I wanted to play because the music was good, the dialogue sounded good, not washed out and things like tumbleweeds bouncing across the screen actually sounded like they were doing that. Otherwise, Full Throttle was a silly puzzle game like Where In The World Is Carmen San Diego coupled with a few bits of Road Rash.

The thing about those two LucasArts games is that they were not multi-channel audio. They were stereo but LucasArts made full use of that stereo stage to help enhance the immersion in the gaming environment by enhancing movement with sound. They also had high quality (for the time) sounds and effects. It made otherwise dull games exciting and fun. They still do it now with all the new Force games and even the Battlefront games where you can actually hear Luke Skywalker's light saber chopping off your head from behind.

Yeah, it's not just the emotional reaction a musical score evokes or the shock and awe of realistic sounding effects but how those two things are presented and how they enhance your interaction with the virtual environment that is the game.

Re:While I agree that sound is important... (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880999)

So you're suggesting that as technology (TVs, speaker systems, encoding methods, PCs/consoles/handhelds) has progressed, so has the sound quality?

SHOCKER.

"The reason being is that the music quality was awful due to the limited space on the game cartridge. Game play was more important and too much audio would mean less room for game play. Hence the less than MIDI quality of the sine wave based beeps."

And here I though that Tetris was mono because the GB/NES/etc at the time only had one speaker/line out for audio. And I thought the damned quality was so awful because of the hardware used to generate the sounds.

The NES and even GB had some GREAT music. Cartridge capacity wasn't a huge restriction. The main restriction was the sound hardware and the number (and type) of channels (I don't mean mono vs stereo vs 5.1, I mean in mixing the signal) it could handle. Even so, some of the tunes are extremely memorable and well put together. Later hardware enabled more complex sounds and more channels, but this is a double-edged sword because it also allows developers to be more sloppy with the sound.

Sure, modern consoles are great, but recorded tracks piped through a processor just can't produce the sound that you could get out of some of the older consoles. (Particularly the SNES with that awesome sound chip. Chrono Trigger rules.)

Re:While I agree that sound is important... (1)

sexconker (1179573) | more than 5 years ago | (#24881051)

I forgot to put "awful" in quotes.

("And I thought the damned quality was so awful because of the hardware used to generate the sounds.")

I don't think the sound quality was awful at all. It was damned good. The capabilities were limited, sure, but the quality those things put out were pretty damned good.

I assume by "awful" you meant "limited" or "8-bit" or similar.

Re:While I agree that sound is important... (1)

LordVader717 (888547) | more than 5 years ago | (#24882017)

Your comments about older games are so shockingly far-off. The classic Music-A in Tetris is what made that game, even if it was sublimible for most people. And even despite the limitations of NES hardware with a pulse wave and a triangle wave, we still got Final Fantasy, Zelda and Castlevania.

Multi-chanel sound sure is nice. But it doesn't make good audio great, if you know what I mean. Good 48 kHz sampled stereo is more than enough for me personally. And only a very small percentage of the gaming population bother to go beyond that anyway as they have the sound coming from TV loudspekers.

It is more interesting to me if the composer has done something new like implemented gameplay-dependant variations to the score or tried something other than the usual fade-in and -outs when changing areas.
And the care to variation even when sequencing a synthesized track is much more important in my opinion than whether or not a developer has payed for the latest dolby codec with all the bells and whistles that come with it.

Re:While I agree that sound is important... (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 5 years ago | (#24886919)

...it's not just musical scores and sound effects that make the game.

You also have sound quality and the type of encoding that is used.

Specifically, multi-channel sound.

Why specifically multi-channel sound? That's only one element of a good sound stage.

Take the C64 -- it had the most sophisticated consumer-grade sound chip prior to the introduction of SoundBlaster Live! with the (previously pro-only) EMU soundchip. Everything between relied on FM synthesis (think 80s/90s Casio keyboard -- yuck!) or the brute-force handling of massive amounts of sample data.

As a result, the C64 had it's own voice, rather than bleeping or croaking. You play me a C64 soundtrack and my brain's back in the game -- the sound was part of the experience.

OK, so multi-channel is useful for an immersive 3D game experience, but that's not what you said. Furthermore (as you yourself point out) most of what can be achieved by brute force (true multichannel) has been acheived perfectly well simply by programming a stereo engine properly (although you didn't make explicit the assumption that the player is wearing headphones).

Company of Heroes (1)

NuclearError (1256172) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880877)

I absolutely love the sound effects in Company of Heroes. You can hear fighting in the background, tell what kind of weapons are being used, what kind of artillery is being fired, etc. If you zoom in on the fog of war, you can hear vehicle engines even if the vehicle is not revealed, and, if you're experienced, can tell what kind of vehicle it is. Also, the assorted solider chit chat is excellent.

Repetition, not so much fun. (1)

Azruelli (1196669) | more than 5 years ago | (#24880981)

I'm a huge sound freak, invested in a two hundred dollar sound card and a three hundred dollar speaker set for my PC alone. I do hook up my systems to this, so I hear everything running through the same speakers, and one thing that always drives me nuts is repetition. It's not bad hearing a sound track every once in a while or even a few times in a row, but when that game has maybe three-four sound tracks that play during game play even if it's just a semi-short 12-15 hour game, it gets old, really, really, fast. Good music is one of the things that invigorate game play, invigorating game play, good design, and good narration/story telling go together as things that make all excellent games such as they are.

If the same amount of DSP was devoted to audio as (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24881153)

there is devoted to graphics acceleration, matters might improve.

It's possible to synthesize sound by creating a virtual model of an object. This has advantages like not needing to create hundreds of samples to avoid repetition, and being able to excite the model depending on how it is struck.

Current games mostly change the pitch if the same three gunfire samples up and down a bit. The audio is filtered and processed for direction and environmental reverb to some degree, but it still sounds mechanical and unconnected with the players actions.

Of course, the models would be drastically simplified to allow even a fast DSP a chance of doing it all in real time.

Modeling the sound of water or gas is out of the question. What might be possible are things like the sound of objects striking metal sheets, shell cases, explosions by walls or in confined spaces, shrapnel, tire noise at changing speed, breaking glass etc.

Re:If the same amount of DSP was devoted to audio (2, Insightful)

Dutch Gun (899105) | more than 5 years ago | (#24885239)

Actually, sound processing is moving *away* from specialized DSPs and moving toward software mixing and processing. The difference is that multi-core CPUs are standard, both on PCs and consoles. So, developers are simply allocating a core (or part of a core) to audio processing. I wouldn't look to DSPs. Just wait for general-purpose CPUs to advance in speed enough to be able to do all sorts of interesting things.

I wrote the new sound engine and tools for an upcoming title - we're completely ditching hardware acceleration in favor of the flexibility that software mixing gives us. The Creative X-Fi, while a great card, holds around 1% market penetration, according to our customer hardware survey. For most other cards, and for ALL onboard audio, there's no real advantage to dedicated hardware.

We're still nowhere near doing real-time synthesis for most types of sounds. Physical modeling sounds nice, but it would likely require a complicated and time-consuming process of programming and tuning these models. Even though true physical modeling isn't practical at this time, we're looking at ways of synthesizing combinations of sounds (such as impacts - footsteps is a prime example) as a way of reducing the combinatorial explosion of (terrain_type x avatar_type x movement_type x number_of_variations).

I see a future more of blended synthesis than pure physical modeling - that is, advanced filters applied to pre-recorded samples in order to create more dynamic and believable variations, and more advanced ways of mixing and blending raw samples to create new sound sets. This seems to be a much more straight-forward problem to solve, and would be far easier for sound designers to tune.

Incidentally, why do you say water and gas are out of the question? Oddly enough, while these are horribly complex to model using true fluid dynamics, these are typically the easiest sounds to recreate using fairly simple algorithms. A waterfall is pretty close to being pure noise (just requires a bit of frequency filtering to color it), for example. And things such as water drops, steam hissing - I've heard good modeling of all these things in instruments such as NI's Reaktor, in addition to their excellent SteamPipe physical modeling instrument.

UT3? (3, Interesting)

DRAGONWEEZEL (125809) | more than 5 years ago | (#24881159)

While I don't play w/ Game Music, I am partial to the in game sounds, and the way that full EAX brings about a feeling of how the rocket just hit a wall behind you and to the right, while footsteps are coming from the left telling me that someone is baiting, and hoping to catch me from behind.

I got accustomed to it (I wrap myself in 5.1)

W/o sound, I felt like my performance wasn't there. In TF2, it's just not the same 8'(

Unfortunately no one plays UT3 anymore

Re:UT3? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24883821)

I really liked UT2004 until the griefers finally started to be the majority in online play a couple months after UT3 came out. To me UT2004 had more appealing graphics than UT3 -- it's easier to tell friend from foe for example, and I like the more cartoonized rendering. And to add insult to injury UT3 won't run more than about 15-20 fps on my Geforce 8600 GT at about half my LCD's native resolution (while UT2004 runs at 80-120 FPS at full resolution).

Why can't someone just make a new game that runs fast on reasonable middle-of-the-line hardware? And for the love of all that's holy can they please stop doing the muted colors thing? I want my targets to be visible.

Re:UT3? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24892703)

Interesting that you say this. According to my Eye doc. My eyes are just starting to be a touch far sighted. I have very good color differentiation and I too sometimes had issues. Thinking a red guy was more "purple" than red.

Then I figured out that it was a dick w/ a skin he made to be that color. I protested and he got kicked. He could just walk into a blue base like a TF2 Spy and start shooting people from behind. It was funny, but definitely an unfair advantage.

One advantage I have though, is a SGI monitor so it may be that I can see colors better simply because the monitor has AMAZING contrast.

As for UT3 performance, the graphics card is only 1/2 the solution. UT3 is a multi-threaded app, and will slurp down as many cores as you can feed it. I have an older x2 4400 and a 8600gts w/ 4g ram and striped barracudas. It's not fast by any means but playable for sure.

The thing about UT3 though is that it was never really meant to be a "game" as much as a Game engine. You can turn graphics up to "HOLLY SHIT" and it crawls on some of the more open levels not unlike crysis (but not nearly as bad).

But you can't forget UED. If you haven't played w/ it yet, I highly sugest you give it a shot. There are tons of tutorials available online. Just google it!

UED is one of the BEST 3D apps I have ever used! (of course though, my experience is limited to that, bryce, and Autocad 2000) Where else can you get a very functional 3D sound, lighting, modeling, and landscaping package for ~50 bucks?

I have heard of people using that engine to remodel houses, plan landscaping, etc..

What, no Aureal A3D discussion yet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24885959)

Any true enthusiast of positional audio MUST research the history of Creative vs. Aureal, particularly regarding EAX vs. A3D and the predatory legal attacks that have allowed Creative to stifle real innovation in this field (and many others) for all these years.

An oldie but goodie. (2, Insightful)

Lord Kano (13027) | more than 5 years ago | (#24882203)

I remember being blown away by Marathon's audio. It's crazy to think that it's been well over 10 years, but that game was groundbreaking.

LK

Screw Music (1)

morari (1080535) | more than 5 years ago | (#24882247)

I want ambiance!

Katamari (1)

WDot (1286728) | more than 5 years ago | (#24882309)

It's amazing what putting effort into making a distinguished soundtrack can do. Katamari Damacy was well worth listening to over and over. Long after the thrill of rolling over objects with a giant ball left me, it was still awesome just to hear the unique tracks that ranged from jazz to pop to electronica.

Also, I don't know if this was engineered, but I just really like hearing the chaos in TF2. It feels more lifelike to hear guns shooting and people yelling and gadgets beeping all at once. It certainly feels better than a bunch of lifeless avatars silently shooting at each other (like in most other shooters). I believe Call of Duty attempts this too with random gunshots in the background, but not as successfully.

OoT (1)

Metasquares (555685) | more than 5 years ago | (#24883303)

I thought the music in Ocarina of Time did a great job at enhancing the quality of the game because the music for each area really fit the mood the rest of the game created; e.g. Hyrule Field's theme made it seem like a "wide open" place to explore.

None of the other Zelda games have really managed to do that. TP came sort of close at times.

Game Music.... (1)

Keill (920526) | more than 5 years ago | (#24883343)

I'm a musician and composer - (though I don't really have the resources - (software/hardware etc.) - to write the music the way I'd like) - and there's been quite a lot of talk about how to make in-game music work/fit with the action in the game etc..

I had this talk with someone a while ago, about being able to create a modular soundtrack using phrases and/or tunes - (I write tunes, so you'd think it wouldn't be too hard). Basically, you'll want a really long medley of music, say lots of parts of 4 or 8 bars long, in various keys and styles that can segue in and out of each other, related to the in-game activity.

It's definitely something I've thought of doing, but I don't have the instruments to really make it sound that great, and since my computer died I've yet to reinstall all my music software - (new motherboard/chip=no working backups :( ).

(My homepage has some of my music on, but the site's not that great - (really old and a crap picture) - need a better pic and stuff, then I'll see about getting a myspace page up or something).

Re:Game Music.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24883719)

Basically, you'll want a really long medley of music, say lots of parts of 4 or 8 bars long, in various keys and styles that can segue in and out of each other, related to the in-game activity.

George Sanger and Origin Systems were doing this in Wing Commander a long time ago. I guess they never expounded upon this because, well, most people view music as ancillary.

(I'd like to see a month on this planet with no music at all. We'll see just how ancillary it is.)

(though I don't really have the resources - (software/hardware etc.) - to write the music the way I'd like

It's definitely something I've thought of doing, but I don't have the instruments to really make it sound that great,

(My homepage has some of my music on, but the site's not that great - (really old and a crap picture) - need a better pic and stuff, then I'll see about a myspace page up or something).

No offense, really, but your post is so typical of musicians it sounds like a parody. An entire if/then life. I used to rationalize not being artistic that way, too.

Search the book, "The Artist's Way", read it and get to work.

Just go do it. Sell plasma if you have to.

My two favorite games... (1)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 5 years ago | (#24883379)

...both had fantastic sound: Grim Fandango and System Shock.

Grim had such a brilliant soundtrack that I tried to buy a copy of it from Lucasarts. They said "the soundtrack promotion is over--that item is no longer available" so I downloaded it. I put it on in the car quite often, and even as standalone music, it's STILL great!

The original System Shock is well known for being a legendarily scary, immersive, atmospheric thriller. One of the things that made it so good was the sound: The sound of monsters around the corners, Shodan insanely taunting you (check out the sound bite on wikipedia [wikimedia.org] ), the startlingly friendly 'new email' notice, and then the hilariously banal elevator music as you go between levels.

THAT was sound, my friends.

Re:My two favorite games... (1)

GrumblyStuff (870046) | more than 5 years ago | (#24885955)

Don't forget the sequel or the Thief games (first two anyway, I dunno how Deadly Shadows stacks up in the sound department).

For ambiance, System Shock 2 is simply fantastic.

The only thing missing (3, Insightful)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#24883571)

As I see it, the only thing missing is a decent 5.1 channel headset to hear it all on. Sure we can all afford 5.1 or 7.1 channel speakers, but most of us can't blast them while playing.

I've listened to more than a few 5.1 channel headphones. None of them meet my expectations. Game audio was meant to take advantage of multi-channel digital sound. Since 90% of the gamers I know use headphones or headsets, isn't this the next logical step? Most of the 5.1 headphones are only 5.1 virtual channels. Those few that are real 5.1, are so disappointing. The Razer barracuda HP1 set was just a complete waste of money. I'm waiting for the first company to come alone and make a true 5.1 channel digital headset with a removable boom mic. Then my games will come alive finally.

necessary features include these:

dolby digital certification.
very low impedance drivers.
comfortable closed circumaural design.
digital coax plug for phones.
discrete voice drivers and standard phone jack for them and mic.
robust and discrete woofer driver. Sony's 50mm HD driver used in its upper end MDR 7xx/9xx series should do the trick.
discrete synchronized positioned drivers for center channel.
positioned drivers for FL/FR.
discrete positioned drivers for RL/RR.
onboard DD decoding and DTS decoding.
high quality amplification components.

one of the real problems that most of the 5.1 phones face is their common ground conductor. This leads to joint stereo and muddies up the positioning.

If I had the time and the cash, I'd build a pair for myself, but they'd most likely be analog.

Re:The only thing missing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24884675)

It's physically impossible to get more than stereo audio through a pair of headphones. You only have two ears, and a pair of headphones can only locate speakers directly over each ear.

The ONLY way to get true more-than-stereo audio is to place multiple speakers around you in a room.

Re:The only thing missing (1)

Spit (23158) | more than 5 years ago | (#24884881)

Lol.

Re:The only thing missing (2, Informative)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 5 years ago | (#24885055)

There are good reasons why 5.1 headphones are hard to get right. One is that 5.1 sounds are meant to be played from speakers well away from your ears. Both of your ears are receiving sounds from all speakers, and it's the differences in phase and timing (not so much volume) that tells your brain where the sound appears to come from.

Playing the same signals next to your ear, with right and left sides isolated, leads to very different results. In any case, you only have two input channels for sound, and you should be able to get good results with in-ear monitors and a decent transfer function.

one of the real problems that most of the 5.1 phones face is their common ground conductor. This leads to joint stereo and muddies up the positioning.

Seriously? Every audio system I know of uses a common ground. If you're interested in a lecture in electronics, I can probably explain more ;)

And what the heck does "joint stereo" mean in this context?

Re:The only thing missing (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#24888371)

99% of systems that use speakers have 2-conductor speaker wires per speaker.
99% of headphones have 3-conductor wires for the whole system.

joint stereo is such that when you turn the balance all the way to one side, you can still hear it in the other.

speaker systems usually don't do this.

Re:The only thing missing (2, Informative)

TeknoHog (164938) | more than 5 years ago | (#24899589)

99% of systems that use speakers have 2-conductor speaker wires per speaker. 99% of headphones have 3-conductor wires for the whole system.

joint stereo is such that when you turn the balance all the way to one side, you can still hear it in the other.

speaker systems usually don't do this.

Speaker systems also use a common ground. Only the cables between the amplifier and the speakers have separate ground wires, for obvious practical reasons. You might need to learn a bit more about electronics to understand what the ground actually does, and why a shared ground doesn't share the actual signals.

The problem with most headphones is that the signal wires are usually not shielded from each other. Instead, they are paired inside a common shield. There is inductive transfer between the two, which is why you can't silence one channel completely. It may also be that balance pots aren't perfect, as they are not usually designed for complete channel muting.

This is not a problem in practice, though. As I mentioned in the grandparent post, when you listen to speakers, both of your ears will pick up sounds from all speakers. Only relatively small differences are required to convey the stereo image. It's been estimated that a channel separation of about 20 dB is enough for headphones.

Re:The only thing missing (1)

SpazmodeusG (1334705) | more than 5 years ago | (#24885129)

5.1 channel headphones are ideal when the source is a fixed audio file of 5.1 channels, such as on some DVDs.

However, since games can create the sound dynamically you shouldn't be limited to 5.1 channels. Instead buy a pair of stereo headphones, set the headphone option in your game of choice (so it knows where the speakers are relative to you) and enjoy having something that can simulate sound from any direction.

Re:The only thing missing (1)

GleeBot (1301227) | more than 5 years ago | (#24887733)

However, since games can create the sound dynamically you shouldn't be limited to 5.1 channels. Instead buy a pair of stereo headphones, set the headphone option in your game of choice (so it knows where the speakers are relative to you) and enjoy having something that can simulate sound from any direction.

Meh, the problem with that theory is that HRTFs aren't perfect. If the HRTF used doesn't match your own head's to a good degree, the directionality can be much poorer.

Ideally, you would have an infinite number of speakers arranged uniformly in a sphere around your head. This is almost completely impractical, but more sound sources still works a lot better than just two. 5.1 sound systems are designed to provide positional sound, too, they just use more sound sources to do it, widening the "sweet spot."

Then there's the fact that most headphones aren't designed to deliver the subwoofer channel. I have some 5.1 channel headphones that work OK (I'm not very picky), but they cut out the subwoofer. Really annoying.

As an aside, the way "real" 5.1 headphones work is that they have multiple resonance chambers, designed to direct the sound to your ear as if they were coming from spatially separated speakers. Theoretically, you could design the chambers in such a way that they'd simulate a real 5.1 sound system.

The real solution, though, is to build a soundproof room and crank the volume up on a good set of speakers. :)

Re:The only thing missing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24885727)

What do you think of the Turtle Beach Earforce X4 headset?

Re:The only thing missing (1)

DragonTHC (208439) | more than 5 years ago | (#24888123)

I think they're 2 channel. And that's apparent on the turtle beach web page.

Re:The only thing missing (1)

phision (836909) | more than 5 years ago | (#24887647)

It does not make sense to make a surround headphones.

You do not have five ears (I guess). The distinction between the front and rear sounds is done entirely in the brain, considering that the outer ear modifies the sounds that come from the front and from the rear differently (and also there is echo, diffraction and so on). All these effects can be simulated well enough with software when using the standard HiFi stereo headphones.

This is also possible to do with loudspeakers, but much harder to achieve, because their sound is way more distorted and affected by external factors.

Re:The only thing missing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24887653)

I'm waiting for the first company to come alone and make a true 5.1 channel digital headset with a removable boom mic.

Don't forget modular cabling. I can't tell you how many headsets I've gone through (specifically plantronics audio 90's) because the left ear stopped working. And there was nothing wrong with the speaker inside of it. :-(

Re:The only thing missing (1)

jwdb (526327) | more than 5 years ago | (#24888367)

Isn't the basic problem with 5.1 headphones that when you turn your head, the headphones also turn?

Considering that we have only two ears, if we hold our head steady we can only determine direction in one plane (left/right, up/down) and with some ambiguity at that. If you turn and tilt your head, however, you get a different set of measurements and should be able to resolve any ambiguity. I'd assume that this is how you get greater-than-stereo resolution, and to pull it off with headphones you'd need a pair that senses their own position and dynamically adjusts the phase of the sound coming from each virtual sound source *separately* in order to create the illusion of multiple speakers.

Don't see that happening anytime soon.

Re:The only thing missing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24890857)

Honestly, why would you want 5.1 headphones? You only have two ears!

WoW music (1)

ockegheim (808089) | more than 5 years ago | (#24883953)

I've been playing WoW for nearly 4 years and I still like the ingame music. Ashenvale is beautiful for example. I personally wouldn't want to play my own MP3s as I'm a musician and they'd distract me (or the game would be an unsuitable setting for the kind of music I like).

Recently a friend lent me the Burning Crusade soundtrack CD and I listened to it all properly. The music stands up very well on its own, and I heard lots of nice details on my iPod that don't come through on my crappy computer speakers or are covered by in-game sounds. Kudos to the composer(s).

Pussy Nazi Sez (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24884125)

No pussy for YOU!

EARTHBOUND soundtrack is kinda cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24885407)

Remember Earthbound on snes? That was fucked up. I also remember Carmageddon 1-2, so much fun.

Imagine earthbound with generic rpg music. or carmageddon without power/trash metal

Re:EARTHBOUND soundtrack is kinda cool (1)

supertjx (910400) | more than 5 years ago | (#24887199)

yeh earthbound was special. the music fills you with nostalgia, a bit of poignancy and a longing for someplace or time that's no longer there.

Old games... (1)

blahplusplus (757119) | more than 5 years ago | (#24885563)

IMHO Freespace 2 probably had some of the best engineered sound in how it played out in the missions and reacted to the player.

Best interactive music (1)

M-RES (653754) | more than 5 years ago | (#24886863)

I think the greatest music/game experience I've had in terms of their interactivity has to be Rez on the PS2.

The FX are part of the music and the music reacts to your timing when your fire/move. The more accurate and on-beat your timing (including proper latino kind of push rhythms for more complexity) the more intense the music gets. It's fantastic - the more you get into it, the more you get back out of it... properly buzzin :)

Check out this vid if you never played it [youtube.com]

For mood, I still think the music/camera angles of the original Silent Hill had to be some of the spookiest ever. That first intro part before your inevitable attack/passing out is scary as f**k the first time you play it with the music/audio building and building like a horror film. I think that had to be a landmark game.

For general madness, Llamatron was fantastic - just a complete cerebral assault!

And for the ultimate techno-racing soundtrack Wipeout rocked.

Metal Gear Solid (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24887293)

I'm not sure about the latest one but all from the first PS incarnation at least have had such incredibly cinematic soundtracks. They really add emotion and depth to the game.

Outlaws (1)

iPhr0stByt3 (1278060) | more than 5 years ago | (#24889531)

Immediately comes to mind the old western shooter OUTLAWS (even featured on /. once as one of the best, but least appreciated games of all time). LucasArts no doubt has some of the BEST soundtracks out there. Enjoy the Outlaws soundtrack at http://gamemusichall.net/music/Outlaws/outlaws.php [gamemusichall.net]

Eve-Online (1)

ACMENEWSLLC (940904) | more than 5 years ago | (#24890025)

Eve-Online has my vote. There is nothing better than hearing nothing but the sound of my mining lasers drone on for hours and hours as I jet can mine.

Of course, there is the occasional interruption of a belt rat, which my drones make quick work of. Then it's back to that constant Bzzzzzz Bzzzzzzzzz. I even purchased wireless headphones so I can AFK listen :)

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