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Creating Audio That Matters
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Creating Audio That Matters

July 17, 2012 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Dead Space 2 featured a more traditional mix of music and effects. Throughout, the apparition of Isaac Clarke's ex-girlfriend, Nicole, haunts him. In the later chapters, that relationship changes and after they have a reconciliation, the audio relating to her presence transitions from being abrupt and uncomfortable as the player is unaware of what's coming, to one which indicates to the player that her presence is actually a helping one.

According to White, one of the ways this was portrayed was by incorporating sound effects that became characteristic of her apparitions, and using them differently in 'ambient one-shots' -- effects that elicit thoughts of a character or event - that would begin to play the closer you came to an encounter with her.

The mixture of music and effects ends up being an orchestrated experience. White gives the example of a room where the player has fought of a phalanx of Necromorphs, who were chasing off government forces, which was followed by another apparition of Nicole.

"We have these competing things we want to pay off on," he said. "We've got these ambient sounds devoted to giving you the sense that you're following this massive battle, but at the same time, you've got this helping presence that's Nicole coming in. It's really a matter of choreography to get all those kinds of elements to play together, where you've got this sense of the battle, the desertion, the quietness and the girlfriend."

Sound design can also manipulate the player's mind to give them a sense of place, for which game audio helps set the foundation of the game experience. Taking care with such base-level environmental effects is part of what can help make a game great.

"We had loud footsteps to tell the audience that the environment is really silent," said Andersen. "Of course you couldn't have loud footsteps through the whole game. Their level is very important, so we added different parameters like how long [they boy] has been running, and if he's been going for a certain amount of time it starts to change. It needs constant variation, otherwise you'd go crazy hearing those footsteps all the time."

Likewise, such meticulous care with environmental sound design can help give unique gameplay experiences. According to White, Dead Space 2 used its ambient sound to "foreshadow what's coming next. If the player backtracks to the same place after they've cleared the room or beat the boss, it sounds different. In the most flowery terms, the ambient sound in Dead Space 2 is almost a character in itself. It's such an intrinsic part of the player's experience, and the psychological experience of playing a game."


"A good game mechanic will naturally immerse players. Pong has a great game mechanic with boops and beeps, and people are drawn into that because it's fun," said White. "These days, as audio designers, we still score that core mechanic in a satisfying way, but we have a lot more subtlety available to us."

White recognizes that audio is an important, additive element to the overall experience, and part of the role of sound designers is to help enhance those game mechanics and environments in order to immerse the player.

Andersen, who has worked on films in addition to games, gives some perspective to game audio's immersive nature.

"When I'm playing games it's so different from films, because there you only hear sounds when it's important to the viewer. Often in games, you can go up and down or around a sound, you approach it and you pass it, but when you pass it you still hear it as you progress."

Ultimately, for some sound designers, walking the tightrope of making or breaking immersion is a tough one, says Andersen. "If you create something that's engaging but at the same time keeps the illusion alive then you've got something that's very strong. But it's so difficult to do."

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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