The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 12
It started when I was a kid. I was playing Pokemon Red on my Game Boy Color. The game's music emitted from the translucent purple plastic.
"Can you turn that off?" my mother asked.
"Sure." I reached down and moved the tiny plastic slider to the bottom. The music shrank and vanished back into my Game Boy. I kept playing. Pokemon without sound didn't bother me. Why would it?
That was my childhood. I rarely played games with the sound on. Mom and Dad hated hearing the tinny 8-bit tunes played on loop. When we were allowed to play games, we weren't allowed to turn up the volume. I played Super Mario Bros, Pokemon, Advance Wars, N+, and countless other games on mute.
Sound never mattered to me. I never subscribed to the nostalgia some people have for the classic Nintendo themes. Never heard them as a kid, never had any fondness for them.
The no-sound rule had exceptions for home consoles. I have great memories of jamming to punk rock and shredding rails in Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. Dashing from rail to rail and doing the impossible to the beat of "Blitzkrieg Bop" by The Ramones was amazing.
I always play console games with sound, even today. Dead Space terrifies me that much more with a good pair of headphones. I can't imagine playing Grand Theft Auto without getting to listen to the absurd DJs and superb radio stations. Ditto for Mass Effect and its voice acting.
But then again I still forgo sound. When I'm playing Minecraft, Spelunky, or Chrono Trigger I'll cut the volume. Sometimes I play music. I'd rather listen to my own tunes than whatever chiptune techno thingy the kids like these days.
Deciding whether to listen to a game's music is a question of value. Does this soundtrack add any value to the experience, or is it noise to fill the gap? Too many games make sound a secondary part of the experience. How many games have you played where the sound added nothing?
Seriously, think about that. How many games have you played where the sound added little or no value to the game? That speaks poorly of a game if you can play and enjoy it without even bothering with the audio.
Audio should be critical. It should be an integral part of a game's experience to the point where you will enjoy it less without the sound on.
Dead Space stands as a shining example of how to make audio important. Pipes hiss, floors creak, and monsters shriek. The game draws you into its world by your ears and makes you believe that there is something monstrous behind you and you should be frightened.
Then there's Bastion. The 2011's indie darling used its unique soundtrack to capture gamers and make them believe in the world. The strange rhythms and sounds of the world after the Calamity immerse you into the game.
Games are more immersive, more enjoyable experiences when they give you something to look at and listen to. They become better experiences. Good audio helps create a great world, and great worlds separate ordinary games from great ones. Having a superb soundtrack can make the difference between being good and being great.
What do you think? What are your favorite soundtracks in games?