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Music Media Entertainment Games

The State of Game Audio 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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The State of Game Audio

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  • Portal (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KasperMeerts ( 1305097 ) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @05:03PM (#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: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by Anpheus ( 908711 )

      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: (Score:3, Informative)

        by snowraver1 ( 1052510 )
        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.
      • 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...


        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

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

  • by Anpheus ( 908711 ) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @05:06PM (#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.

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

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by solraith ( 1203394 )
      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.
    • Well were they Giant Enemy Crabs? Because then that would make sense.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by Kell Bengal ( 711123 )
        It should play a special fanfare when you flip them onto their backs and attack their weakspots for MASSIVE DAMAGE.
        • by Kagura ( 843695 )
          Are you guys overlooking the fact that it's based on real-life battles that happened in Japan?
    • by Hatta ( 162192 )

      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

    • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 )

      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

      • by Anpheus ( 908711 )

        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 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @05:12PM (#24880019) Homepage Journal

    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.

  • ff6. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PC and Sony Fanboy ( 1248258 ) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @05:17PM (#24880081) Journal
    Hey, great sound makes a great game - like almost anything nobuo uematsu has added music to..
    • by IorDMUX ( 870522 )
      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 appropria
      • 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

  • 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
  • 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.

    • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @05:43PM (#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.

      • 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...
    • 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.

  • 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 (Score:3, Interesting)

    by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Thursday September 04, 2008 @05:31PM (#24880279) Journal

    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.

  • by Anonymous Coward

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


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

  • 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

  • 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? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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

    • 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 a

    • 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 (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward

    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 bei

  • ...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 limit

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


      "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 a

      • 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.

    • 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 populatio

    • ...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

  • 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.
  • 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,
  • by Anonymous Coward

    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 u

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Dutch Gun ( 899105 )

      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 har

  • UT3? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by DRAGONWEEZEL ( 125809 ) on Thursday September 04, 2008 @06:41PM (#24881159) Homepage

    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

  • by Lord Kano ( 13027 )

    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.


  • I want ambiance!

  • 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 certa
  • 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.

  • 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 ba

  • ...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 arou

    • 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.

  • by DragonTHC ( 208439 ) <Dragon.gamerslastwill@com> on Thursday September 04, 2008 @11:27PM (#24883571) Homepage Journal

    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.

    • by Spit ( 23158 )


    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by TeknoHog ( 164938 )

      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 yo

      • 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: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TeknoHog ( 164938 )

          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, whic

    • 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.
      • 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."


    • by jwdb ( 526327 )

      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

  • 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

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

  • 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/ca

  • 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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