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Vol. 2, Issue 4
November 29, 1999

Sounds From All Over

An article by Jake Simpson




ound in games always seems to get lost in the rush to talk about the visuals in games, especially in reviews. Have you noticed that? There might be some comment on the music, as to its suitability, or some reference to the atmospheric-ness (is that a word?) of the ambient sounds, but that’s usually about all. Then it's off onto the great visuals, or the terrific power of the weapons, or the general abundance of blood.

It’s really not fair to the poor sound designer, who's spent hours sweating over getting the music and sounds just right, or to the poor programmer that’s had the sound guy hammering on him to 'lower the attenuation on this set of sounds, but up it on that'. Anyone who's ever done sound stuff in games knows what I mean. Sounds require more tweaking than any graphics event going. Its far more subjective than graphics, but far less likely to be something that needs to be toned down, like graphics inevitably do, since they take so much of the processing/rendering time of the game.

However, sounds are important - more so than most people realize. Try playing your favorite game with all the sounds turned off. Doesn't play right does it? In a study done by LucasFilm when they were testing out the THX standards, it became apparent that decent sound can actually fool the brain into thinking the picture is better. In the study, one group of people that where shown a movie with average sound, then the same movie with better sound actually commented that the picture seemed sharper too! Sound = important. QED.

However, now we have a new tool to play with. 3D Spatialized sound. Not that spatialized sound hasn't been used before - lots of games split the mono sounds over two channels and use 3D distance from camera to determine each channel’s volume. But this has always been more a gimmick than a real helpful tool for the player. That’s not to say it isn't helpful at all, just that for you, as a games player, to really be able to use it, you have to have just the right set of circumstances. Things are coming along with the new 5.1 speaker setups that we are starting to see developed for the home PC. A quick stroll down Best Buys' PC sound isle gives you many manufactures offering 5 speaker setups, and cards from Creative Labs, Diamond and Aureal that will use them.

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Credits: Illustration © 1999 Dhabih Eng. This article is © 1999 Jake Simpson. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. So don't do it, or we'll make your ears bleed.