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Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Task 19: Elements of Game Technology, Part Two: Sound for games

Sound is so important in games, that without it, they wouldn’t be half what they are today. Since TV, film and music in general hold such a big influence in society, it would be strange to have video games without any kinds of sounds, particularly when these other big powers depend so much on it as well. Sound can be used to provoke emotions, change mood and atmosphere, it can make you react, it can make you relax, its influences are endless.

In terms of games, sounds are extremely important to the gaming experience. From the very first games that had only basic beep sound effects, to next-gen games today with surround sound booming around your head. Sounds can make a game seem more realistic. For instance, in FPS games, the sound of a gun being loaded will make the situation feel more real. It can get quite technical as well, with different gun loading sounds being played, since a lot of people complain when an in-game gun sounds nothing like the real life one, or that it sounds like a different type of gun entirely. Also, player footsteps can also make it seem more like you are in the game, a more real time effect, when you can hear things that result from you running forwards.
Most of the sound effects added to games are all there for the purpose of believability. Lets say you are in a flooded basement, and you are running down a corridor part because there’s several monsters chasing you. Automatically there are a number of key sounds that are needed here to make it seem more like a real event that is happening to YOU the player. You would need water dripping sounds, to emphasize that the basement is wet and flooded, there will need to be splashes from your footsteps, also from the monsters approaching, there will need to be echoing sounds, since noise would travel up and down such a corridor, and would be especially distorted with water. Add in some breathing sounds from your character, screams from the monsters, and we are getting a more realistic setting.

In games such as Resident Evil and Amnesia: Dark Descent, there are a lot of sounds that are added in to make you look around. Such as crashes and creaking noises. These sounds are added to make you feel unnerved and wary. It can give you a sense that you are not alone, that you are being followed or that other events are taking place elsewhere but you cannot see them. Sounds can make many suggestions, and these suggestions can have the desired fear effect on the player, without there having to be a physical thing to scare them. The noise of someone walking in a room in the dark can tell you just that, and there doesn’t even need to be anyone there. So you can cause a player to jump to conclusions. Often not knowing what is making the sound is a much scarier situation than seeing the cause first hand.

In games such as Dead Space, they use stingers, which are sudden blasts of sound to make you jump when something happens. Like a monster suddenly appearing, a sharp high pitched noise is played to emphasize the shock you get from seeing something suddenly move. Games like these, if they were played on mute, you wouldn’t jump at half the times when things pop out or appear behind you.

Music is also a highly influential part of games. Music can also provoke feelings and emotions. They can tell you when a situation is exciting or sad, or they can say you have entered a new area. Classic moments would be when you enter a boss zone, the music changes and you know what’s coming. Especially if it’s the same boss music each time, you will recognise it and be prepared for whatever is about to happen.
Music can also be tied to a character. They can have their own theme music, so you know when they enter the scene or who is responsible for something. For instance, the character Sephiroth from the Final Fantasy games has his own very recognisable theme music.

One of the key moments to do with sound in my own experiences with games would be the intro movie for my favorite game Soul Reaver. The intro was my first impression of the game, and the music was quite amazing. It drew me in to the story and the events happening in the cinematic. Also, the music from that game was very influential as well. There were different ambient tracks for all the different areas of the game, and then different versions of the area’s music defined by combat, suspense etc. Also there was always a set music for the puzzle rooms, and each time you entered one of these places, and that music faded in, you knew immediately that it was thinking time! The composer of the Soul Reaver sound track was Kurt Harland. He is best known for being the lead singer in Information Society. He composed other game soundtracks such as The Godfather on PS2 and Gex: Enter the Gecko on PS1.

Another game that I would like to comment on in terms of its sounds is Shadow of the Colossus. I remember the first time I played the game, I just spent about an hour and a half traveling around the different areas, (not realising yet how to find the Colossi to kill them), but as I explored, I was in a trance like state because of the beauty of the environments, and they were made all the more great from the quiet music and sounds of the wind. One of the best moments was after I was traveling across a wide plane, that was quite barren and not much sound other than the horses’ hooves and the wind, then I entered a large dark forest, and it all changed. The horses’ galloping sounds were muted slightly, and there was a noise that crept up and it was the sound of the wind rushing through the trees. It was a very memorable moment, the effects were great for really throwing you into the environment changes; it felt like you were there.
Also there were different music pieces for the colossi and certain points in the fights with them. One of the tracks called “Silence” was particularly good in my opinion, since the first time I heard it was when I was fighting the bird colossi. I had managed to climb on to it, and the music had changed in to a dramatic tempo, and the bird was diving and turning in the air, and I was struggling to hold on, then I lost my grip and fell, and landed in the water far below and everything went quiet as you saw the bird silently fly away over the lake, and then this “Silence” track was played and it really fit the moment. The Shadow of the Colossus music was composed by Kow Otani. There was a soundtrack album released called “Roar of the Earth” and won an award for soundtrack of the year by the US game magazine Electronic Gaming Monthly.

As for Nile Rodgers composition “Good Times” being the most influential recording of the 20th century, yes I think I do believe that is true. Since you hear it everywhere and it has been used in so many films and adverts!

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