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Audio Veteran Brian Schmidt Calls For More 'Realistic' Use Of In-Game Sound
Audio Veteran Brian Schmidt Calls For More 'Realistic' Use Of In-Game Sound
August 12, 2011 | By Tom Curtis

August 12, 2011 | By Tom Curtis
More: Console/PC, Audio

Seasoned industry veteran Brian Schmidt recently spoke out on the unexplored realms of game audio, arguing that developers should introduce more "realistic" sound into their game design.

"Using sound to propagate game information in a more realistic way is something that needs to be explored more," Schmidt said in a group interview with the Audio track advisory board members for GDC 2012.

Schmidt explains that all too often in games, sound behaves in a simple and unrealistic manner, when in fact it could add an extra layer of depth to semi-realistic game scenarios.

"In the real world," Schmidt says, "a sniper bullet wouldn't be heard until a significant time after impact -- often for several seconds, so why does the AI instantly know that your rifle was fired from a thousand yards away and start firing right away, instead of the 2.5 seconds it would take for sound to travel to the AIs ears to get a bearing on you?"

Schmidt currently runs his own game audio company dubbed Brian Schmidt Studios. He is also credited in over 120 arcade and console games, and is responsible for designing the Xbox Audio Creation Tool and XMA Compression technology. In 2008, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Game Audio Network Guild.

For more from Schmidt and the other featured GDC 2012 advisory board members, check out the full interview, which is now live on Gamasutra.

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Justin Speer
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" why does the AI instantly know that your rifle was fired from a thousand yards away and start firing right away, instead of the 2.5 seconds it would take for sound to travel to the AIs ears to get a bearing on you?"

I think in most cases it's not because they've heard the sound, but because they are filthy cheaters.

Wasin Thonkaew
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Great to hear the one who thinking about this takes responsibility in paving the way for XNA's sound tool.

Ryan Connors
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BF BC2 had great sound and so will BF3. The sound is actually very important to the user because the sound determines the effects as well as the severity of those effects. So if a grenade blows up by you depending on how far you are from it the sound will control the about of camera shake and blur the player receives. Great way to design the sound!! Need more games like that

Stanley Rosenbaum
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Developers are never going to give audio love, because there is nothing tactile about it that people can point to and say, "Wow that is lot better then that."

Not to mention, great audio requires technology that frankly the best game/graphic engineers are afraid to tackle. Push 100,000,000 polygons, so what. Make a CPU to push 100,000,000 discrete audio reflections and then I will be impressed.

But probably most important, is that the end user does not know what 'realistic' audio is.

Gamers are going to compare all the audio they hear in a game to the hundreds of hours of film, television, and games they have already played. The fact is 'realistic' audio can sound rather dull and unimpressive.

Dull and unimpressive does not sell units.

Lisa Brown
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Another factor along the same lines is that often sound is used as a means of feedback, and realism might not make for a good play experience where immediate feedback could help it.

Brian Schmidt
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Totally agree that realism isn't what people want or what sells units... Hollywood as well as games have always exaggerated audio, whether it was making explosions unnatually large or punches and whooshes bizzarely loud and pronounced..

Great comments all around, but ironically

I actually wasn't referring to sound itself in the referenced interview... but rather, using the physics and psychoacoustics of sound as part of how AI characters learn about where you are and what you are doing-- a prototypical example being that in the 'real" world, you are hit by the sniper's bullet before you hear it. So if you shoot at an AI character from 1000 yards, how can the AI react the moment you pull the trigger... what would it be like to have the AI's reaction delayed by a couple seconds, the time it would take for the sound from your gun to reach them. Only after they "heard" your gunshot would they be able to pinpoint your location.

Some games touch on this, where if you creep quietly, you're more likely to sneak by an enemy than if you just walk.

Amir Sharar
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I've shared this line of thinking for years, and to me the real question was why wasn't it happening, which I believe the answer is because developers don't want to waste processing resources on achieving realistic sound.

I do think gamers do recognize realistic sound for what it is. Halo got some recognition for having filtered and quieter sounds for guns shot in the distance in large maps in BTB mode. Play rockets on Valhalla and you'll see what I mean. I don't speed of sound is factored in that implementation, and I do believe it is just playing other samples rather than processing the original firing sample.

I also don't think it really takes a lot of complicated calculations to achieve realistic sound. As we all know, 3D games are an illusion. Through basic lighting and shadowing techniques we are able to make objects look round, flat, textured, bumpy, as desired. Just as one uses sprites, polygons, textures, and shaders to achieve an approximation of ray-traced CG, the same "cheats" can be applied to audio. For example, when you are in a car and you pass a row of pylons sitting on your left, you can hear the car's engine and tire/road noise bounce back to you as you pass each pylon. Rather than calculating which direction and how far each sound generator would travel to be bounced off another surface (sounds like raytracing, doesn't it?), you simply put a simple cube bounding box around your car and if any object comes within it you repeat the same sound effects (at a lower volume and using the same sfx you use for the external view) originating from your car from that source. All of these sort of shortcuts can be implemented and there really doesn't have to be a lot of extra audio processing at all (say besides high and low pass filters, which should be cheap, volume, pitch, and a simplistic reverb). All it comes down to is the implementation of these cheap effects to get the desired results.

Stanley: You bring up a real good point about "Hollywood" sound being more attractive than realistic sound. I disagree with the idea that gamers won't recognize realistic sound, I think they would and some as you say would pan some of it off as "boring" but I do think some would also appreciate it. This is something I don't have any figures for so it's only my guess.

Of course, not every game needs realistic sound. If Street Fighter had realistic punching sound effects, it would be a much quieter game and it wouldn't stick out as much.

Daniel Martinez
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The thing which really grinds my gears when it comes to audio is games which feature stock audio for your run-of-the-mill grunts and monster sounds. Does it really take that much time and money to have someone grab a mic, shout into it, save a file, and attach it, as opposed to opening an archive and attaching a sound which has already been heard in movies and other media countless times? Beauty is in the details, and not just the ones you see.