Next Gen...Sound?

I am an audiophile in many respects. I am pretty willing to throw down a fun chunk of change on speakers or headphones. I rip my mp3s at 192 kbps because I can't stand the sound of lower mp3 or AAC. I even have a degree in music, among other things. Naturally, then, when evaluating games, I give sound a good amount of attention.
Now, this is not the beginning of some rant about how game reviewers pay too much relative attention to graphics, but it is a plea for audio appreciation on some level. We are programmed by nature to rely more heavily on our vision than on our hearing, so obviously this sense is more fine-tuned, and we appreciate smooth graphics more than a good reverb effect. Sound, however, plays a much larger role in the emotional effect of a game than anything else, I believe. Whether this is a soundtrack that changes dynamically as the action gets more intense (try Shadow of the Colossus for a great example) or a great sound effect of a fist hitting a face (Fight Night), sounds add a whole lot to the experience.

I would like to see game design give a little more attention to audio in some areas. For example, the majority of FPS games released today still give you some visual indicator to tell you what side of your face was just blasted by a shotgun. I think consumers are ready to give that up for an audio cue, at least in non-portable games. Isn't it safe to assume that everyone is playing with Stereo? I can't imagine that there are a lot of TVs out there sporting Mono sound only. I have been happy to see sounds take a bigger role in stealth games, where no longer can you run around behind a guard's back, so long as he can't see you. I think it makes the experience more immersive.

Again, no huge complaints here. I just want to give game sound design the attention it deserves. Now that we're finally out of the days of MIDI, for the most part, the opportunities are endless.


Anonymous said...

umm...we're not really out of the days of MIDI...it's extremely useful in many audio applications today. MIDI isn't a sound format, it's data. It gets a bad rep because most MIDI synthesizers (that's where the sound is actually made) are really bad quality. Radiohead, Imogen Heap, The Prodigy, all use MIDI to trigger sounds.
I agree with you whole-heartedly about the whole bit-rate thing, but if you are trying to hone your ear even further, listen for the difference between an mp3 ripped at 192, 320, and then the raw 44.1k track. If you have good monitors you'll start being able to pick out some mean nuances.

Stealth Bear said...

Sorry for the accidental shot at MIDI. I love it and use it all the time in my compositions. In fact, one of my best unversity experiences was my MIDI class at Columbia's computer music center (home of the first U.S. synthesizer). What I meant here by "days of MIDI" is the time when that was the only option for sound effects/music. I recognize that MIDI is still vital today, but we definitely benefit (and get more credibility with non-gamers) from being able to put live audio in games and being able to apply audio plugins to sounds that originated from MIDI. Personally, I still love old-school "bad quality" synths. I love some of the music that's been made recently using them.

I can hear the difference beyond 192 on my speakers, but that is the point after which the benefit of raising the bitrate isn't worth the storage space. I of course keep my own music in raw files.