Audio: The True Hero In All Video Games?

The effect of video, images and all kinds of visual landscapes on our minds, are very vivid, and we commonly highlight the concept that a picture tells 1000 words – Indeed! But, why don’t we add the dimensional layer of Audio, that not only allows you to vividly visualise something with your eyes, but also being effected in an audible way to which heightens our senses, makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, creates tension and abruptly affects our reactions.

Video Games have endured a long journey from its early developments in the 8-bit Era (Third-generation consoles) 1972–1988 where simple, retro, chiptune electronic sounds from consoles such as Famicom/Nintendo (NES), Sega & Atari would be created for popular games like Pong! & Space Invaders in their super early developments with                        “one pulse sounds” and no background sounds. Its not until 1985 with games such as Super Mario Bros. when rhythmic strings of sounds and musical compositions would be created to provide aural clues in relation to the gameplay, where most commonly the music would gradually rise in tempo to induce a reaction in the user that time is essentially running out!

Throughout the 16, 32 & Early 64-bit Eras, musical compositions which were relative to the current setting of the gameplay would be created originally for those video games only. Where electronic music producers would create an album of soundtracks for entire games as they allowed for a larger amount of storage on Compact Disc (CDs).

It’s not until the 6th Generation gaming and onwards where sound design and audio within Video Games have become a collection and creative recipe of all variants of it’s predecessors. If you can, picture (aurally), soundscapes and sound design which create an urge in the user to feel emotion or react to sound in a way that effects their gameplay. The Metal Gear Solid Series is an excellent example of this,  where the gameplay soundtrack seamlessly mix into high-tense environments and then to more calming scenes where the user is safe in their current environment. Along with all Foley, Background, found sound design, the entire experience covers a range of depth, with viciously noticeable sounds in the foreground and the more subtle elements which create the atmosphere but aren’t necessarily always noticeable.

Without these complimentary aural senses the user is almost playing the entire video game blind. As their reactions to the challenges within the game assist to solve the obstacles the video game possesses. Essentially, sound design is the true reality behind what you see with your eyes, must also be seen with your ears.

The aim and “end game” for my research is to highlight how video games use audio in a creative and most interesting way to induce a reaction from the gamer – (And I’m not talking about Dance Dance Revolution, or Guitar Hero variants) The search for “clever use” of audio in video games is very limited, which I believe will be a challenge in itself. However, exploring tangents of this idea of “Audio Effect/Driven Video Games” will be something I have to explore further and then hopefully narrow down from there.

The Search continues – any ideas will be kindly appreciated

– Dan

4 thoughts on “Audio: The True Hero In All Video Games?

  1. Music in games or even movies makes such a difference to the whole experience. I pay close attention to the soundtrack because it gives me clues to what is happening and since music is such a big part of these mediums, silence itself can mean a lot – most commonly that something is about to jump out at you. I think it would be interesting to experiment with different audio for games to see how they change the experience – for example, listening to the Benny Hill theme song while you’re playing Five Night’s at Freddy’s and seeing whether you still feel that fear and anxiety during the more scary bits. This is really an interesting topic, I’m keen to see what you do with it.

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  2. Hi Dan,
    Video game music is actually quite interesting when you get into it. This article discusses how video game soundtracks are good for focusing and studying: http://www.makeuseof.com/tag/11-best-video-game-soundtracks-studying/
    It explains that, “(video game music) needs to highlight whatever emotion the player should be experiencing at a point in time, as well as being submissive so as not to be distracting to the player.”
    I find this extremely interesting as it adds another dimension to the thought process behind producing music.
    Should be an interesting topic!

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  3. This is a great topic and one that you will probably find rich with interesting ideas once you start digging around. To get you thinking about places to go with this I thought I might share some interesting examples I have experienced.

    The Suda51 game ‘No More Heroes’ on the Wii used the 8-bit speaker inside the Wii remote in an interesting way. As part of the game narrative, the main character had a mobile phone which would receive calls from time to time to advance the plot. During these sections the player would be prompted to hold the Wii controller (which is shaped somewhat like a TV remote) up to their ear and the dialogue would be delivered through that speaker rather than the TV – creating a fourth wall breaking illusion that you’re on the phone with a game character.

    Dark Souls uses sound and music quite interestingly throughout the game – in that music itself is VERY sparingly used. But the few select instrumental tracks of the original score are used once each in very specific, key moments of the game. So some of the hardest and most dramatic boss battles are made more memorable, and the slow, pretty score that plays in Firelink Shrine reminds players that they are back in the only safe area of the game.

    Another vivid sound memory I have from a game is when I first played the Resident Evil remake on the Nintendo GameCube. What I remember most about that game was the incredible visuals at the time, and the way that subtle environmental sounds where used to tell you things about the ‘feel’ of the game world. The clearest example I can remember is the way the audio responded to the kind of surfaces your character was walking across. So it went from the creaking of floorboards, to the squelching of thick mud, to the crunch of gravel under thick boots.

    Also just quickly you may want to look at the ‘de Blob’ games. They were made by Aussie developers BlueTongue (before they shut down) and they had an interesting, dynamic sountrack that used a live band.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_Blob

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  4. This is a cool topic! Your post reminded me of when i was younger and i used to play Halo or Star Wars with the sound turned off because it used to scare me or stress me out too much! It would definitely be interesting to explore how audio adds to a complete gaming experience and the different types of audio techniques designers would use. Chapter 4 in this book talks about how audio enhances ‘immersion’ for the player and looks like a good resource for investigating which aural techniques are good for maximising a players gaming experience. http://download.captivatingsound.com/Sander_Huiberts_CaptivatingSound.pdf

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