So how many times have you actually played a game, stopped for a moment and looked closely at some of the details presented in the game, like for example the noises produced as you move along, the whistle of the wind in your ears, the sound of the wooden floor you step on, the noise of unoiled door you’re opening, or even the cracking sound of shattered bones of your enemy. These are the minor details often overlooked by developers because they don’t have direct impact on your gaming experience, but they do…
As they say “the devil lies in the details” and I would fully support that theory. Your basic gaming experience usually depends on number of common factors. There is the graphical aspect obviously, we make our first impressions based on the look, and so no wonder developers these days focus so much on pushing as many polygons onto the screen as possible. Next there are the gameplay elements. Since the release of first Mario some decades ago, we’ve moved on so much more (although you could argue with that as well), how the gameplay feels impacts heavily on the overall experience. Even the prettiest graphics won’t do the trick if you’re sitting there bored to death (Crysis 1 anyone?). And let’s not forget about the storyline and music, equally important key elements. But going back to my main thought, sound design (not to be mistaken with music tracks), in just how many games have you played where you noticed it’s presence and realised just how well they were executed?
Beef Jack recently revealed interview with Akira Yamaoka, mostly known for his work on Silent Hill franchise, where he discusses problems the industry is having. As he says “Game industry doesn’t take audio seriously enough”. I can see where he’s coming from, poor audio design really CAN affect our gameplay, make it so much less enjoyable or realistic, convincing.
Good examples of that are games that did it so well… I still remember playing through Diablo 1, and hearing all the audio elements in the background. The noise of opening sarcophagus, the silent footsteps on the dungeon floor, the far screams and shouts you could hear in background that would send chills to your spine, and even things like noise of weapons you picked up or dropped along the way. These subtleties really made huge difference and contributed enormously to overall atmosphere of the game. How would you imagine the game without that?
The list goes on, most recent Battlefield 3 did really great job with audio design. Sounds of bullets, explosions, firing guns etc. helped greatly to emphasis and highlight the feeling of being on modern battlefield.
But it’s not about making the audio sounds go into the foreground. They really should be nothing but a subtlety that helps to create mood and atmosphere, emphasis what’s already in the game. Like in “The Ninth Gate” movie, where thanks to the sounds you could almost feel and touch the environments, books, floor and other objects. That’s the strength these details have and how much they can impact on us. That’s why it is a shame not to see so many games these days put enough effort to achieve similar results.
I do sincerely hope to be amazed by future video games which take that extra step forward to bring the virtual world into our reality.