The evolution of audio sounds in the online gaming industry

When we look back into the earliest beginnings of video games, the typical 8 bit sounds of arcade machines and the early consoles immediately spring to mind. There was a time in the recent past when these sounds were viewed as pretty simple. Nowadays, most people recognise the genius side of these early sound designs and composers: how could they create a world so engaging with such a limited set of tools?

Fast forward few decades, and now the pallet of sounds that composers and sound designers have to choose from has no limit, and some of them feel and sound almost too realistic.

Along with the developments in the sounds themselves, there has been a parallel evolution in the audio playback medium. In the days of the arcade, the sound was simple and straightforward – any high-fidelity sounds emitting from a Space Invaders or Pac Man machine didn’t have a chance of being appreciated in that environment.

The same goes for early consoles. Even though you could hear the sounds more clearly, minding the machine noise itself, the TV speakers of the ‘80s and ‘90s were hardly putting out anything that could be considered as high quality.

When there was enough power under the hood to cater for sampling, the gaming audio industry embraced it wholeheartedly. Previously, the sounds were enchanted with thin processing resources and the mighty imaginations on the part of the sound designers and composers. Suddenly, a whole new sonic landscape was opened up, including vocal performances, musical instruments, complex sound effects, foley and more. This opened a different gaming experience with heightened realism.

Throughout the late 90s and 00s, the layers of sound increased, and gamers could be more absorbed in elaborate fantasy worlds. The dominant platform games (Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog) and fighting games (Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat) started the era for first-person shooters and role-playing games. These were titles that tended to focus more on individual experiences within larger, less restricted environments. In return, they required close attention to sound design. Unique sound effects were created from layered samples, and voice-over performances were set to make the line between reality and the game world indistinguishable. 

Interestingly, the nostalgia for video games of our collective childhood has yielded new creations. Consoles and pc games are now bringing titles from the golden age back to life, with authentic graphics and sounds. The only difference is that the resolution of the playback has been exponentially improved for the modern audience. Instead of being played through a grainy, undersized TV, they now rely on an HDMI connection for the widescreen, with 48kHz/16bit audio sampling rate. In other words – you’re back in time, but with razor-sharp resolution and sound for your picky taste.

Some of the most popular video games like Grand Theft Auto featured a great in-game selection of radio stations that the player could browse through as they drove around the city streets. The simplest mobile games have benefits of this feature as a result of the soothing smartphone soundtracks selection. Whilst, for example, the online casino games show how easily the ‘ambient’ soundtracks can be adapted to the different slot game themes, giving an extra sense of atmosphere that subtly push the gaming action along. Go through the best UK casino offers at SlotsWise and check out some of the most popular and frequently played online slots.

The ultimate goal of game music and audio is to provide the player with a rewarding game experience by increasing interactivity, improving realism and enhancing user emotions. The game sound director achieves this by analysing user response and tailoring game audio accordingly. The only limitations in the continuing advances of game audio are present audio tools and the imagination of sound designers. The challenge is to take game audio to the next level of evolution by conducting further research and development in interactive audio.

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