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Vol. 2, Issue 4 
November 29, 1999 


It's worth pointing out that we still haven't reached the nirvana of speaker support yet, since all of these speaker solutions only offer 2 dimensional sound systems - IE they are all on one level. With 4 speakers, you can hear a sound anywhere around you in the horizontal, but not the vertical. You need a speaker over the top of you, and one beneath you for that to work correctly. Both Creative and Aureal mention that they offer some algorithms for simulating vertical sounds on a horizontal setup, but quite frankly, if you can hear it, then you've got better ears than every one I know. There's no substitute for physical positioning of a sound source I'm afraid. Not that it is really that much of a problem for today's crop of FPS games, since most of them are played on a horizontal basis. Quake is a good example. While it gives you 6 degrees of freedom, it really only uses 4 degrees in practical game play. Hearing a sound directly above you is not critical to successful game play. On the other hand, if you’re playing Descent, or Freespace, or any space sim, then it’s a different story.

So the current state of 3D sounds in games requires one of the two prevalent sound systems: Creative Labs' EAX sound system, or the Aureal A3D sound system. There's also the Miles Sound System, which deserves a mention as well. There are others on the horizon, but since they aren't here now, we won't dwell on them.

Creative Labs gives us EAX, and what a solution it is. I attended this years Creativity Conference, and they certainly have their..."stuff" together. They have a road map for EAX 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, etc, etc, etc. EAX revolves around 'Environment sets' (EAX stands for Environmental Audio. What the X is for is anyone's guess. Probably means the same as the GTX letters you get on cars). The idea behind environmental audio is that the audio preferences of your surroundings reflect the type of surroundings you have. IE if you are in an echo-y cave in the game, then you get lots of reflective sound effects. When you move from one area to another, you can re-set these environment property sets, thus changing the surrounding area's aural characteristics. There is more to EAX of course, but this is the core of what it's attempting to do. Also, it's important to distinguish between EAX and the SB Live! physical card too. Think of EAX as a 'Glide' type API, and the SB Live! as a voodoo card, and you get the idea. EAX is suited to the SB Live!'s feature set, but unlike 'Glide' can be adapted for use on other cards - and we'll talk about that a bit further in.

Getting back to the property sets - the big problem is knowing which one to set them to. It involves knowing the environment you are in. There are numerous ways to do this, from dropping markers in the world maps that contain a distance and a property set - if you are within the range of the marker, this is your property set - to detecting the architecture around you, how close it all is, and deciding which property set to use based on that. But Creative has come the rescue on this front with a tool they call Eagle.


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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.