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xycos

Why can I turn off a game's sound and still play it fine?

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Okay, here's another rant/negitive post coming up, which contains a few opinions, which may be frightening to some. Anyway, I've noticed recentley that I can turn off the sound in a game to listen to music or something and still play the game just fine. Now, that might not seem like a bad thing. The problem is that sound is not considered a way to interface with the player (the exception being voices which are usually subtitled anyway, and only really gameplay-relevant in RTSes, it seems). Sound is like lens flare: Something nice to hear that adds to the immersion... but nothing more! In fact, sound really hasn't progressed much in the past few years. Sure, there's now 3D positional audio and what not, but I really don't hear that much of a difference. The only game I've played recently where the sound was a big part of my experience was Myst IV, and even in there most of the sounds were given graphical counterparts. Now I can understand wanting to make games more accesable for those with hearing problems. However, I get the feeling, more strongly with every bad voice clip hear, that this is not what the developers were thinking about. It seems to me like sound is simply an afterthought, NEVER used to interface directly with the player. Any thoughts? Am I totally missing the mark here? EDIT: I've been doing a little thinking and these problems may arise from sound's inherient two-dimensionality (effect & time) whereas a picture has four dimesnions (two dimesnions for resolution, one for color). Perhaps graphics would be just as limited if only a single static picture could be displayed on-screen at once. [Edited by - xycos on January 4, 2006 12:02:12 AM]

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No thoughts...just adding that sound in Thief was very important, footsteps and the mechanical eyes etc. Indeed, with it being so dark, sound was one of the most important senses!

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Sound is the middle child of the senses - sight, followed by touch are the two bigs ones.

The problem is that if you want to fully utilize sound (in the way you seem to be nudging) you'd run into the problem of the end user setup: Not everyone has a properly setup 5.1 surround system. In fact depending on quality and the volume they use, some people don't really have a stereo system in the sense of being able to pick out individual sounds as coming from the left or right channel. There is also the fact that people have different volume settings, and different physical hearing ranges (simply can't hear very high or low pitched sounds).

The result is that sound is an extremely inexact medium. The best you can hope at the lowest common denominator for is that your spooky quite graveyard has a different audio effect than your raging gun battle.

So sound gets used in three ways:

As an enhancement of the games existing graphics (the hooting owls in the graveyard enhance the graphics that say scary, the gun shots in the battle enhance the graphics that say duck), but normally not required for most gameplay.

As a high speed secondary feedback system: the ear can decode sound and send it to the brain faster then the eye can interpret an image and do the same. So for example in Quake 3 you immediately know that you have scored a hit because of the blip sound - your brain figures out the fact that blood just shot out several ms later. This feeds into the next method, in that sound feedback alone is usually not enough for a full game, due to the mentioned short comings of sound quality (though it would actually be interesting to see a blind fighting game where you won by interpretting audio feedback of the grunts and slaps)

As a hint system that is not required for most game styles, but can be used by the seasoned player to give themselves an edge. A example would be Battlefield 2 - good players have their volume set so that they can hear footsteps near them (often allowing them to avoid being surprised, or even getting the drop on other players) and to help them identify the direction of snipers shots.

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Personally, I find sounds invaluable for run and gun FPS games. The audio cue of gunfire behind you is often enough to time avoidance and to judge distance of enemies not in the visual field.

Also personally, I like that any game that doesn't really use sound not force it upon me. Sometimes playing without sound [laptop on train, college lab, sleeping wife] is unavoidable. Sometimes I'd rather be free to use my own cds for the ambient game music.

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Sound is generally atmospheric. In games it gives you hints about things, playing without sound on an fps when you are used to hearing footsteps makes it much harder to play. I personally think its best used it games like System Shock 2, the sound adds a lot to make a really creepy atmosphere there. Especially when you turn off the lights.

I suppose the real question is how could sound be used to interface with the user more like you ask? When you do have games that talk to the player verbally how much more interfacing could you do?

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Hmmm.... Well I had a couple of ideas, most of which would not require a positional sound system or hyper-sensitive ears. Low on health or ammo? Cue more tense music. RTS battle going well? Cue victory msic and shouts of glee (of course, that raises the questioon of when an RTS battle is going well). With percise integration of music, voice and SEs, the HUD for all different types of games could be reduced.

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The best counter-strike players rely on the sound of footsteps to win. Helps you set up an excellent ambush, or judge the distance of the other player, etc... Not all games are like this - and as you said are primarily luxuries.

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Sound is under-used by some developers. What you hear actually changes what your brain thinks you see. Some games use it well with players learning to use the sound to work out what is happening. Others don't and it is their loss.

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Quote:
Original post by xycos
Anyway, I've noticed recentley that I can turn off the sound in a game to listen to music or something and still play the game just fine. Now, that might not seem like a bad thing.


It doesn't to me. In fact, I generally curse games that require me to listen to the in game sound. I like to watch TV or listen to music while playing games. I count it as a blessing that most games don't require it.

As for being an after-thought, I don't really think so. The voice acting isn't always great, but usually the voice at least fits the character, and the other sounds fit the environment. Is it an after-thought as far as game-play is concerned? Usually. Sound puzzles usually feel out of place. Is it an after-thought as far as the feel of the game is concerned? I don't think so. The designers seem to do pretty well with integrating sound into the feel of the game. Do I feel it still adds to game-play? Yeah. Like others have noted, footsteps, etc. are pretty useful, even if tacked on.

Or maybe I'm spoiled. I don't play many games (money and time constraints). This means that the selection of games I play is that good parts version. Which makes me wonder, why you play such horrible games... [wink] (I keed! I keed! Well... half kidding. In any case, that's a discussion for another thread)

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Someone else mentioned Counterstrike as an example. I was going to mention it as well. I play CS:Source quite a bit and rely heavily on the sounds, but I am thankful it doesn't force me to listen to background music built in to the game. I turn on my own tunes in the background (lower volume than footsteps and gunfire, but definitly there.) It's great to be able to pick your own music for those types of games.

Several other games (including NFS:MW which is a good example here) have sound effects and music seperate options in the sound menu. It gives you the option to keep sound effects and trigger your own playlist. Developers can only put so much music into a game and this can get tedious for users who want to play your game for hours at a time (when you may only have 40 minutes of music.)

Some games lend themselves to swappable soundtracks, fps, arcade style games, and racing games (especially during multiplayer) are great examples of cases where mood is important, but custom sound might be better than built in stuff. Black and White, Shadow the Colossus and the Myst series are all examples of games where setting is important and immersion in the world is key.

Basically it depends on the type of game you're playing. I don't see your point with the music and sound thing, it's already used heavily in games today.

Dropping back to NFS:MW you've got your car's rumble (different sounds for different cars and you can hear the other players in relation to your position), the subtle hiss of nos injecting, the sound of tires on pavement, pause in the music as the cops see you, racing music, chase music, voice actors, cop speech (which has to be heard to be believed, it's awesome)...

Look at CS:S footsteps on all forms of ground, the subtle sound of wind blowing across an open section of the level, water splashing, glass breaking, bullets rebounding aross the tiles next to your head (different sounds for different walls again), the sound of a bullet passing through your head when you get shot in the face is actually sickening with 5.1 surround sound headphones. Each gun has it's own sound too.

Black and White 2 has the sound of upper atmospheric winds as you zoom out, the sounds of birds chirping as you get closer to the landscape, the sound of grass rustling and trees being uprooted and villagers talking, the hiss of a fireball as you throw it and it explodes, the screams of villagers as you throw them, the sound of water and godly effects to top it off.

Basically, I'm saying that if you're at all in tune with present day games there is greater use of sound now than ever there was before. We've come from the blip and tapping noises of javelin to simple midi-like NES music to limited voices in games to playing actual songs then from there we go to detailed sound effects then we have positional sound effects with full on 5.1 sound in some games. The amount invested in this in the industry is not small and it has progressed.

So, that said, what is your point and where are you getting this bold statement from?

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