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Vol. 2, Issue 8
January 10, 2000

From the Mouth of Madness:

DTS Games?

by Jason "loonyboi" Bergman




ey, welcome back. As you can see, loonygames is Y2K compliant. I gotta admit, I wasn't too sure there for awhile. :)

I hope all of you had a great holiday break...I certainly did. I spent my break playing a great deal (I mean a great deal) of games, including Donkey Kong 64, my current addiction of the moment. DK64 is great, but a little baffling at times. I can't quite seem to figure out what they were thinking when they made some of the design decisions.

While most of the game progresses in a really well laid out non-linear fashion, there are some areas that just seem to be confusing for no apparent reason. I know a number of people who simply didn't like the game because it took so long to actually get going...heck, even I didn't care for it at first. But once I managed to really get into it, boy is it great stuff.

The other thing I spent my break doing, was upgrading my home theater system. I've completed my surround sound system, and have been enjoying the wonder that is surround sound. Which brings me to the subject of today's column - surround sound in games.

PC games have been utilizing surround sound for some time now. The 3D audio enabled by A3D and Environmental Audio makes for great positional audio, and you can even buy THX certified surround sound speakers. But for consoles, real surround sound is still fairly new, and is about to jump forward with the release of the Playstation 2 (which is just two months away from its Japanese release!).

Donkey Kong 64 uses Dolby Surround, which is the same system many games these days use (including Wipeout 3, which is an excellent example of analog surround). The audio output on the current batch of console systems isn't exactly ideal for real surround sound. All of them, including, unfortunately, the Dreamcast, rely on the standard analog stereo cables we've grown used to. These are fine for many kinds of surround - Dolby Surround is great if you have a Pro Logic-enabled receiver, which can really do some great things.

But the Playstation 2 will be the first console system released that features a digital audio out capability, and this means we're in for a wild ride. The Playstation 2 is DVD based, and supports all the DVD audio specs: Dolby Surround, Dolby Digital (AC-3) and DTS. Dolby Surround is what you'll get if you use the regular stereo cables. AC-3, is a system that hopefully developers will take advantage of.

AC-3 is the audio system most commonly found on stereo DVDs (older, mono movies don't utilize it) and it uses a full 5.1 surround setup (front left, center, front right, rear left, rear right, and subwoofer). It requires the use of a digital connection to your receiver (IE: an optical or a digital coaxial) which the Playstation 2 supports. Because of the nature of the audio, Playstation 2 CDs (not DVDs, there are two different formats the system can use) won't benefit from them at all. But expect to see some incredible sound from games that use AC-3.

DTS is really the king though, and while I'm not holding my breath, I really, really, really, want to see a DTS-enabled game or three. DTS (Digital Theater Systems) is the sound system created for the theatrical release of Jurassic Park, and is used in movie theaters across the country, as well as many DVD, CD and Laserdisc titles. DTS enabled DVDs use the exact same audio as their theater counterparts (although usually at a slightly lower quality sampling rate), and it's a wild, wild system to hear. In the case of DTS-enabled DVDs, more often than not, the amount of space required by the extra audio information means that any extras have to be taken off. So in the case of the DTS-enabled DVD 12 Monkeys, you don't get the documentary, commentary, or anything else. You just get the movie. This would seem to imply that any DTS enabled game would be really impractical.

And this is certainly true. First of all, in order to hear DTS at all, you've got to have a DTS ready receiver and all 5.1 channels (the subwoofer is the .1). While you can include two soundtracks on the same disc, many do not, since again, the sheer amount of space required by the DTS information means anything unnecessary has to go. So anyone making a DTS enabled game would have to make two versions - one for DTS users, and one for the mass market. Then there's the issue of how much space would be left for the game once you've got all that sound information on the disc. Probably not much.

Basically this means a DTS enabled Final Fantasy game isn't ever going to happen. But something that traditionally uses a ton of space for music and audio and a smaller amount for the game itself, like a racing game, could actually work. We'll just have to wait and see.

In the meantime, I'm going to go enjoy my surround sound Donkey Kong 64. DTS or not, it still sounds great.

- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor in chief here at loonygames. He'll play surround sound stuff 'till his ears bleed.

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Dan Zalkus. From the Mouth of Madness is © 2000 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited, you cartoonish villian, you.