The Art of Sound Design in Games and Why It Matters - alex720 Blog - www.GameInformer.com
Switch Lights

The lights are on

What's Happening

The Art of Sound Design in Games and Why It Matters

Recently, I have been playing the demo for the new Transformers game, Fall of Cybertron. While it's mechanics are decent enough, and the visuals are very crisp, the one thing about the game that really stands out is it's audio. Hearing an autobot or decipticon transform is immensly satisfying, as well as the sounds of the numerous guns firing off in intense combat. I was deeply surprised by the revelation that the sounds of the game are among my favorite parts (so far). After realizing this, I reminisced about some of my favorite games this generation that had an incredible audio direction to go along with thier deep gameplay and story. These games might have been a breakthrough for amazing graphics or a gripping story, but for me at least, the most memorable parts of these games were their stellar sound effects and sountracks. A game's soundtrack or sound effects might not be as pivotal as a riveting story or tight gameplay, but I believe it is the key factor in immensing you into the game itself, and in some games, it does just that in beautiful fashion. 

Hearing the little jingle after reaching a view point in the Assassin's Creed games is very satisfying, as well as seeing the awesome panoramic view of the city.

One of my favorite game series is the Assassin's Creed franchise. While these games are known for their complex story and beloved characters, I believe one of the most prominent features of this series is it's incredible sountrack. I love that I can close my eyes and still know that I am playing an Assassin's Creed game just because of the impressive scores that each game has. Wether you are scaling buildings or are watching a dramatic cutscene, you can expect the music to keep pace with whatever is going on in the game. The style of music in the Assassin's Creed games also blends in seamlessly with the time periods that the games take place in. I actually feel that if I went back into 15th century Italy, I would hear music similar to what is played throughout the game at an acient venue or in a magnificent church. Heck, I love the score in the Assassin's Creed games so much that I believe I am in 15th century Italy while playing them!

Another game that I recently picked up that also has a phenomenal sountrack is Darksiders 2. Surprisingly enough, Jesper Kyd, the same composer for 2 of the Assassin's Creed games lends his hand to the audio direction of Darksiders 2. You can hear the similarities immediately when you first boot up the game, as it is the same bombastic and dramatic sound that you would hear in the Assassin's Creed games, only with a slightly darker tone. While I cannot really pay attention to the score while facing off against a massive boss, it keeps me engaged while exploring the open world. That is a feat itself, as many other open-world games fail to have a compelling sountrack while not in a major cutscene or scripted story sequence, which can somewhat detract from the experience of exploring in my opinion. I would rather hear a repeated verse while uncovering new areas than listening to hardly anything if nothing at all. 

The Beat 102.7 is by far my favorite radio station in Grand Theft Auto 4. 

There are also games that don't have an original score but instead have a great licensed sountrack that can be as equally compelling. The most obvious example of this being the Grand Theft Auto games, in which all of them have an amazing sountrack that developer Rockstar hand picks themselves. Most of the songs are heard while driving around, with Rockstar creating various radio stations that include everythig from techno to rap. The selections Rockstar make show their knowledge of the many genres, and I find myself repeating lines from many of the songs played on the radio on various occasions. I also find that when entering a certain type of car, the music will change according to the type of car and what condition it is in. This also rings true for when getting into a car while on the run from the police or mobsters, as the music will usually match the mood of the situation I am in. That alone shows the developers dedication to the music they choose and at what times they want to implement it into the gameplay.

Playing Rock Band 3 with friends was always a blast, especially when we played the music I liked!

Another series that is basically built on licensed music is Rock Band. And while the death of the music genre is evident, I still find time to play around with those plastic instruments and feel like a true rock-star. Even though I can play the guitar in real life, there is something satisfying about hitting complicated notes on the fast road that makes it just as enjoyable. Like Rockstar, you can tell that Harmonix takes their time to pick music that not only sounds good, but translates just as well into gameplay. I also love the ability to handpick a set-list of songs that I enjoy playing, which can result in endless sessions of friends jamming to different tunes to see who can get the better score. It's too bad that the music genre is virtually dead now, as I still play Rock Band 3 on and off again. It's one of those games that is easy to pick up and play with friends, and one that can cure that urge to jam out like a glamourous rock-star. 

"Aaahhhh!", would be my response in a situation like this.

As good as it is listening to licensed music or fantastic scores in games, the one audio aspect that matters the most in a good majority of games are the sound effects. The prime example of this being the Dead Space franchise. No game has instilled such fear and paranoia into me like Dead Space 1&2 have. The team at Visceral did such an amazing job of making even the slightest thing, like a steam valve opening up or a piece of ceiling crashing on the ground, seem like a dreadful noise that has made me jump in fear more times than I can count. But they didn't just nail elements like those that didn't turn out to be opponents, as they made the necromorphs and other enemies of the game sound scarier than most other creatures in any other horror movie or game. Never before playing the Dead Space games had I been afraid of dark hallways or rooms with numerous mechanisms that could result in a necromorph popping out and charging at me violently. Even after taking a break from the game, I was frightened to walk around my house at night just because I thought a horrendous creature would jump at me like they do in the game! There were some good scares and memories to be had while playing the original Dead Space with friends, all because of the grand sound effects that make the game as heart-pounding as it is. 

However, there are plenty of other games that incorporate the same level of audio quality that don't rely on sound effects as much as the Dead Space games. DICE's latest effort with Battlefield 3 is a great example of a game that is mostly about the stunning graphics and responsive gameplay, but it also nails the sound of the guns and vehicles better than any other FPS on the market. With bullets whizzing by my soldiers head and explosions going off in the distance, DICE does a great job of immersing you into the fray of a real conflict. Another game, Forza Motorsport 4, while in a totally different genre, does a great job of making the cars you're driving come to life with Turn 10's devotion to crafting tangible sound effects. Each car has it's own unique sounds of the motor revving up that comes quite close to driving the actual car. Forza also does a great job of changing the type of sound you hear depending on your view of the car. If you're in the cockpit, you'll hear the muffled noise that you would expect while driving a car in real life. If you're in the third person view, however, you'll hear the roar of the engine, which you can determine with eyes closed how good the performance of the car really is. It was gratifying for me to level up and unlock these beasts of cars that make you feel like you are actually going around a track at 250 mph. 

Hearing the engine of my Ferrari roar in Forza 4 is the closest thing to me driving a real one.

Many could draw up a conclusion that as games evolve, music in games also evolve. That rings true in many cases, as we have gone from the 8-bit inspired tunes of older games like Mario and Mega-Man, to modern games with huge orchestra's that match the tone of what is happening in the game. The whole debate between games as a form of art is mostly being looked at from the visual perspective, but it should also be examined from a musical standpoint, as I can name dozens of games that have sound design that matches and sometimes exceeds the quality of most movies. The audio direction of games should also be taken into account while reviewing games that include it. I applaud Game Informer for reviewing all of their games with the "Sound" section included along with all the other aspects of the game. However, they are one of the only publications that does this, and I believe moving forward that other sites should incorporate music and sound design as a factor that affects the score of the game. It should be just as important as the visual, narrative, and gameplay of video games. 

Music can dictate the mood of how a level will play out, or it can intensify if their is a massive boss battle coming up or a pivotal aspect of the story is revealed. However, it can also be used as a way to make the game even more realistic, by adding sound effects that you would hear in real life. Or you could incorporate it by letting players jam along to their favorite songs, like the music genre did. I hope that as the next-generation of consoles approach, developers not only take into account adding deeper gameplay or better visuals, but also improving on the audio front as well, as it can immerse you into the game more than any other feature I believe. 

Leave your thoughts on the audio direction in some of your favorite games below, and how developers can improve on it in the future.

 

comments