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[What opportunities are there for games that innovate using audio? LucasArts' Jesse Harlin takes a look at what new audio control possibilities technology has brought us, in this article originally published in Game Developer magazine recently.]
The palette for user input within games grows every year. From drum sets to styluses, nunchuks, bongo controllers and beyond, the past few years have seen an explosion of bundled hardware geared toward changing how players interact with virtual worlds.
Many of these technologies are one-off gimmicks. Others, however, have become so ubiquitous as to become either standardized accessories to particular genres or console manufacturer-mandated pieces of hardware.
While gameplay designers continue to utilize these new avenues for player interaction, audio designers are largely stuck in the decades-old mindset that players make noise in-game by pressing buttons on their controllers.
Quite to the contrary, never before in our industry's history have audio designers had more opportunity for creative interaction with players through hardware and software that is readily available and simply waiting for them to utilize.
Sit down with The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass and it won't be long before gameplay mandates that you yell at your DS. Surprisingly, this kind of user-created audio input is something that the DS does extremely well, which anyone who has taught their Nintendog to "roll over" or "sit" can attest to.
At the heart of the gameplay mechanic is the DS's internal microphone. Yet, despite being available for use in every DS game by the very nature of its hardware, very few titles incorporate the microphone as a means of interactivity.
Similarly, first person shooters and networked gameplay over PCs and Xbox Live have made headset microphones a must-have for online multiplayer. However, utilizing these nearly-omnipresent audio input devices as part of the single player experience is extremely rare.
A handful of previous games have flirted with voice recognition and speech interaction, such as Konami's Lifeline and various tactical shooters like SWAT: Global Strike Team, but few AAA games have managed to make player voice interaction a compelling part of their game's soundtrack.
The gameplay potential for this kind of audio interaction is huge, however. Voice print identification and encryption can find its way into espionage games. Imagine calling plays by physically calling plays within sports games.
Consider the gameplay potential in using the range of human speech from whispering to yelling in order to frighten or coerce enemies within platform games like Jak & Daxter or Loco Roco. As audio designers, we can be doing more to encourage user-generated audio input as part of our design.