Audio can now do more than any other aspect of a game

We all remember the first video games such as pong with its beeps and bops emulating the ball hitting the paddles. Game audio then was very simplistic; however, the first game to use a continuous background soundtrack was Space Invaders, released in 1978.


After forty years of audio progression to stereo and more recently immersive audio, we are now able to produce game sound on par with Hollywood movies.  Silent movies were transformed when sound was added and games are in this transition. As with film, television, and other visual mediums, sound and music in the beginning were often the forgotten elements in video game design, perhaps because graphics were considered key.


As processing power increased dramatically with the 6th generation of consoles, it became possible to apply effects in real-time. Game audio designers were able to create tension, add emotion and build immersion in the game world. Original mono and then stereo sound provided some supporting sound such as audio cues and has since developed to immersive sound that can be all around the player creating a huge atmosphere. The challenge for sound designers is now how to form an audio story that enhances or even leads the game. Audio can now do more than any other aspect of a game by immersing the player in the game world and offers new sound design challenges that are enhanced by the graphics.


With the removal of past technological limitations, game composers and sound designers can now use the ingenuity which they had used for so long to emulate other forms of music and sounds and turn their attention to solving bigger problems.


Foley is now used extensively to heighten reality and deliver believable characters that are vital to the story telling. Where games of the past had to settle for electronic noises or generic multipurpose sounds, sound designers can now record real-world audio for use in games. With games being more story led, greater attention is required to dialogue, the overarching narrative and what in the sound filed requires clarity and consistency of audio quality. This is certainly true of the recent game From Dusk Till Dawn which turns audio on its head with its comic book style graphics necessitating the game to be audio driven.      


In addition to the sound design there are many technical adjustments, one of which is 5.1, 7.1, 9.1 or 11.1 (for example). It is not unusual for gamers to play using a variety of set up including headphones, speakers and even home cinema Dolby Atmos systems so to understand the recording and reliability to the sound it is important for the sound designer to listen and evaluate in all formats; this creates new demands for studio listening conditions. Facilities are for really listening to the sound, frequency, level etc, and listen more subjectively. Although many sound designers mix on both speakers and headphones, it is easy to add sounds to a game that are 10db too loud and not be picked up until the audio is listened to in a room. 


The key to sound is the ability to listen and when creating sounds its important that the sound is heard in the correct context to the way it’s been developed. The listening environment must not unduly colour the sound or make it sound different to how it is to be perceived. For games this is most important because sounds can be coming from any direction and have different messages. From a game designers point of view it is important that they can isolate channels to interrogate a sound to make sure that it’s of the correct magnitude and quality for the element of the game.