Drowned in sound

It oc­curs to me that sound is an of­tenig­nored part of games, both in terms of its de­sign and how it ef­fects our ex­pe­ri­ences. As a bud­ding sound de­signer, I’ve be­come at­tuned to the state of our com­mu­nity’s gen­eral at­ti­tude to game sound, and it’s pretty shock­ing. Few reviews com­ment on sound, and while sys­tem spec­i­fi­ca­tions for PC games fetishis­ti­cally list all the parts nec­es­sary for su­perb visual dis­play, they never rec­om­mend a sound­card or ad­vise you to use a 5.1 Sur­round Sound sys­tem.

This re­ally hit home when I started play­ing Alien: Iso­la­tion. The game sounds ab­so­lutely amaz­ing, from the off-key vi­o­lin shrieks be­hind you as you step through doors, dar­ing you to look be­hind, to the death throes of Sev­astopol Sta­tion (almost in­dis­tin­guish­able from hu­man screams) and Ri­p­ley’s voice spo­ken in­ti­mately close to the mic.

Alien: Iso­la­tion is de­signed to be played in sur­round sound. This is the way it’s been mixed and edited, with full mul­ti­di­men­sion­al­ity. The game’s sounds are pro­duced to a cin­e­matic cal­i­bre and they re­quire a home cin­e­matic sys­tem to be exp ex­pe­ri­enced prop­erly. So why is this fact om omit­ted from the sys­tem spec­i­fi­ca­tion on Ste Steam? Why doesn’t it ap­pear on the game’s out outer pack­ag­ing? How many peo­ple are mi miss­ing out? What does this say about the ind in­dus­try’s at­ti­tude to its sound de­sign­ers?

As gamers, we ap­pear to reg­u­larly for for­get that sound plays just as im­por­tant a ro role as vi­sion in cre­at­ing the en­vi­ron­ments we en­joy. Sys­tem Shock 2 works be­cause you can hear the moans of the mu­tants in the cor­ri­dors, but you don’t know where they are, and ditto for Minecraft’s zom­bies and Creep­ers. The sound of foot­steps creep­ing up be­hind you in PT is scary as all hell, and you can’t help but turn around when doors creak and slam shut. Even non-hor­ror games such as Sword & Sworcery, Rome II and Skyrim all use audio to both unify and en­rich the game­world and our ex­pe­ri­ence of it.

With games like Alien: Iso­la­tion and PT, we’re just start­ing to see the re­sults of a mod­ern ap­proach to game sound de­sign. Games are telling us that they can be the fore­run­ners of sound de­sign, pi­o­neers in the drive to­wards 3D and VR im­mer­sion. It’s about time we started lis­ten­ing. Ash­leigh Al­lan Play­ing games through a sur­round sound setup is ideal but, like the graph­ics cards you men­tion, it’s tech that not ev­ery­one can af­ford. A good al­ter­na­tive is a fine pair of head­phones, of course, which just hap­pens to be one of the op­tions avail­able from the SteelSeries kit you’ve landed your­self. In the fu­ture, we’ll try to be a bit more mind­ful of audio con­tent dur­ing the re­view process.

“Alien: Iso­la­tion is de­signed to be played in sur­round sound, so why isn’t it on the box?”

When are de­vel­op­ers go­ing to learn about on­line launches? I am, of course, re­fer­ring to DriveClub, which through a stag­ger­ing com­bi­na­tion of mis­man­age­ment and weak server in­fra­struc­ture man­aged to ar­rive through the post with ba­si­cally ev­ery fea­ture I’d bought the game for miss­ing in ac­tion. Patch­ing it ‘later’ is un­ac­cept­able when your whole mar­ket­ing re­volves around driv­ing with friends, and while the sin­gle­player mode gives an en­tic­ing hint at what might have been – and ap­par­ently what re­view­ers re­viewed – it sim­ply isn’t good enough.

It’s not the first time we’ve been burned by big prom­ises and ter­ri­ble launches. Sim City springs to mind, but so does Grand Theft Auto V and the Evolve al­pha, for which I wasted over 12GB of band­width only to fail to con­nect to a sin­gle game. Yes, it’s ‘only’ an al­pha, but it shows ex­actly how


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