Splash Damage音效总监Chris Sweetman正在制作即将面世的团队射击游戏《Brink》，他很相信音效能够提升游戏的可玩性。他解释道：“有些游戏为不同类型的角色配上不同的子弹音效。比如。如果你在玩的是款多人游戏，其中有个狙击手，那么狙击手子弹在你身边飞过的音效就不同于其他向你开火的人。这便是音效能够有效驱动可玩性的方面，因为许多情况下，视觉效果不一定能够显示出差异，但是听到特殊的声响你就知道附近有狙击手。”
Sweetman还指出战地上非明显音效信号的重要性，比如通过倾听脚步声、武器声甚至衣服摩擦声来辨别正在靠近你的是何种敌人的能力。在狂乱的生死竞赛中，必须在几毫秒的时间内做出决定，因而这种分辨的能力变得很关键。当然，音效设计师在游戏中还需要频繁引发不同的反应。有时他们并非想用音效来促使你逃离危险境地，开发者有时希望你能够欣赏环境细节。在《死亡空间》和《死亡空间2》中，Visceral Games的音效总监Andrew Boyd实现了这个目标，使游戏氛围得以提升。
《死亡空间》系列作曲者Jason Graves说道：“我确实很喜欢《神秘海域2》中能够帮助并指引你的音频。当如进入房间或洞穴时，我可以很清楚地意识到，而且当我到达新地点时新音效的介入或者音乐的淡入确实是个很棒的设计，这让我知道自己正朝着正确的方向行进！我确信他们如此设计的目标并非针对像我这样在游戏中笨手笨脚的人，但是在许多关卡中确实产生了作用，这便是为何我觉得该设计如此有效的原因。”如果玩家将音效同某种特别的含义联系起来，那么识别就变得很容易，但是其中有种微妙的平衡。Platinum Games在《Bayonetta》中让这种通过音效识别显得简单，游戏设计精巧，敌人攻击之前的音频信号是一致的，因而在混乱的画面中可以很清晰地识别出需要躲避攻击的时刻。这种一致性确保无论游戏画面多么繁忙，你总是会觉得自己可以控制整个节奏，它有效地鼓励你继续前行。尽管在最后时刻躲开敌人攻击或通过武器音效来分辨敌人都显得非常棒，但是如果处理不当的话，那么音效变化的缺乏便会很快显现出来，游戏就像是在不断播放摇滚质感的音频。DICE音效总监Stefan Strandberg对这个问题很重视。
Jerry Ibbotson是专注于为视频游戏和动画创作音效的音频制作公司Media Mill的创始人，他详述道：“在《机车风暴：极地先锋》中，你驾驶着各种交通工具驰骋在北极的荒原上，经常会感到疲惫。正因为此，一旦你调到第5档，数秒之后引擎的音效便会上升到第6档，随后是第7档，从理论上来说会不断地随机往上调档。玩家不用坐在那边数着目前的档数。屏幕上甚至没有档位指示器，只有音效能够给你带来车辆正在不断加速的感觉。有些或许会告诉你正在发生的事情的东西并不一定能够产生作用，而音效设计师和游戏设计师想让你做的是自己意识到正在发生的事情，最终使得游戏更具趣味性。”
How Sound Influences The Way We Play
Once heard, it’s difficult to forget. Still reeling from a night-time car accident and disorientated by an encounter with knife-wielding children in an unfamiliar – and intensely foggy – town, the radio begins to crackle. That static, you subsequently learn, heralds the approach of Silent Hill’s nightmarish enemies. But while it’s just one part of the game’s rich audio tapestry, it’s no less iconic than a puppet nurse or Pyramid Head. More than that, it’s an indispensable tool throughout Konami’s series, its functionality lifting it above the industrial cacophony. That foreboding crackle is nothing less than a key part of the play experience.
Sound design has a come a long way since PlayStation’s reign. The advent of digital surround sound, increased memory and soaring budgets have seen developers producing games that provide rich and reactive high-fidelity soundscapes. While “sound attachers” – audio technicians who simply attach sounds to other people’s objects – certainly exist, it’s clear that the widening palette available to sound designers is yielding new opportunities for dedicated pioneers to explore audio’s relationship to gameplay. Just as visual artists have found new ways to represent information on screen (think of Dead Space’s seamlessly integrated HUD or the fashionable replacement of health bars with a wounded or limping character model), audio designers are playing an increasingly vital role in communicating useful information to the player.
Splash Damage audio director, Chris Sweetman, who’s currently working on upcoming team shooter Brink (you might also like to read our recent interview with Splash Damage lead designer Neil Alphonso and creative director Richard Ham), is a passionate believer in audio’s ability to enhance gameplay. “Some games look at doing different bullet-bys for different types of character,” he explains. “For instance, if you’re playing a multiplayer game and there’s a sniper, when a sniper bullet comes past you it sounds different to another guy shooting at you. That’s effectively the audio driving the gameplay, because a lot of the time the visual effect won’t necessarily be any different – but you’ll know a sniper fired that bullet.”
Sweetman also points out the importance of less obvious sound cues on the battlefield, such as the ability to discern what type of enemy is about to round a corner simply by listening to the sound of their footsteps, the clink of their weaponry and even the distinctive rustle of their clothing. In a frenetic deathmatch, where decisions must be made in milliseconds, any such tell becomes significant. Of course, sound designers frequently need to elicit very different reactions. Instead of flushing you out of a dangerous situation, there may be an environmental detail the developer wants you to appreciate. With Dead Space and Dead Space 2, Visceral Games’ audio director Andrew Boyd accomplished this in a manner that enhances their atmospheres.
“At one point [in Dead Space 2], you’re in an apartment building that’s recently been run through by the necromorphs,” explains Boyd. “As you walk down the hall, you hear a bunch of sounds coming out of the apartments; some of the doors are locked, some aren’t, but there’s this ghostly little voice just at the edge of hearing if you’re walking in the hallway. If you follow it through the door and around the corner, you find this burned-out corpse sitting collapsed on a couch watching a broken loop of his wedding video, on which a Unitologist priest intones the prayer of the ceremony. That kind of creepy thing sets you up – that’s the Dead Space way of doing things.”
Although the tension created by such an encounter enhances a player’s emotional experience, these events aren’t just for show. There’s no real need to explore that part of the Sprawl, but travelling off the beaten path at the behest of the eerie siren call results in a reward – perhaps a power node that might otherwise have been missed. However, Boyd’s invisible breadcrumb trails are not only relevant to claustrophobic horror games.
“I really like the way that audio was implemented in Uncharted 2 to help and guide you,” says Jason Graves, who composed the soundtracks for both Dead Space games. “I can easily get turned around if I’m in a room or a cave, and it’s always nice when a little new sound-design thing comes in or the music fades in when I reach a new point – I know I’m heading in the right direction! I’m sure they didn’t do that for people like me, fumbling around the game, but it works on many levels, which is why I think it’s so effective.” If a player is to associate a sound with a particular meaning, it must be easily recognisable – but there’s a delicate balance to strike. Platinum Games made it seem easy in Bayonetta: the game’s subtle, chiming audio cue prior to an enemy’s strike cuts through the chaos onscreen and clearly identifies the moment to dodge attacks. Its consistency ensures that no matter how busy the screen gets, you always feel in control – it actively encourages you to wade in. While avoiding enemies at the last minute or distinguishing an enemy by the sound of their weapon is all very well, if handled badly any lack of variation quickly becomes apparent – just like a section of repeating rock texture you can’t help but notice. DICE audio director Stefan Strandberg is keenly aware of the problem.
“These two things are tearing us apart: we’re working in one direction to counteract repetition, and then in another to create iconic sounds,” he explains. “For example, with Bad Company, you can tell a sniper is aiming at you because we kept one iconic sound there to be the cue – although it’s subtle, and still very much part of the soundscape, it has to be part of the same world. We always ask if a sound is part of the same world, the same palette. It’s like being the Beatles: you get four chords, but you can make amazing songs with them! It’s important to keep some parts iconic, while also keeping a palette that’s true to the overall picture – then try to lead the player there within that soundscape. Creative boundaries are very good for sound designers to have, because we can do anything.”
“In MotorStorm: Arctic Edge, you’re racing over this Arctic tundra in all manner of vehicles, and you’ll very often be flat out,” recounts Jerry Ibbotson, founder of Media Mill – an audio production company that specialises in producing sound for video games and animation. “Because of this, once you get to fifth gear, after a few seconds [the engine sound] will change up to sixth, then seventh, and in theory it could keep changing up a gear at random times indefinitely. Players aren’t sitting there counting up and thinking, ‘Hang on, now he’s in tenth!’ There isn’t even a gear indicator onscreen – [the sound is] literally to give you the sense that the vehicle’s constantly accelerating. Something that might appear to be telling you what’s going on isn’t necessarily doing so; it might be telling you what the sound designers and game designers want you to think is going on, ultimately to make it a lot more fun.”
Of course, repetition can also be avoided by contrasting loud moments with quiet ones – a technique that the Dead Space games use to fantastic, startling effect when the action takes place in the vacuum of space. Having built up an awareness of the necromorphs’ skittering cues, moving into an area in which they can silently approach you is a terrifying change of pace, and forces players to adapt to a more cautious style of play.
However, it’s not only sound effects – or their absence – that can be used to influence player behaviour: “[Rockstar’s] use of music was absolutely fascinating,” says Sweetman, recalling the moment you first cross the Mexican border in Red Dead Redemption. “When that José González song kicks in, it’s just amazing. There are probably only one or two developers in the world who are brave enough to do that. In the case of Red Dead, they effectively turned off the gameplay for that five or ten minutes. You didn’t come into contact with any bad guys, it was just like, ‘This is where you have to get to: off you go.’”
“I think the biggest way music really affects and influences the player is when it comes down to the interactive element,” adds Graves. “With Dead Space, we have what are called ‘fear markers,’ which are like dropping a pin in Google Maps – we can drop a fear marker on anything in the game that we want to, whether it’s a creature that’s moving, a door that’s not moving, a spaceship that’s coming closer to you. Your proximity to these fear markers is what determines how the music is playing. A great example is just walking up to a doorway – half of the time, you open the door and there’s something there that attacks you, and the other half of the time there’s nothing there. But a lot of players will start walking towards it, the music builds up and they’ll go the other way, because they don’t want to have whatever the music’s telling them is coming up – it’s too scary! It’s just another little interactive psychological thing that we use to poke ’em.”
Visceral’s fear-marker system demonstrates how closely entwined the audio department is with every other aspect of the game, its use necessitating constant communication with other teams. It also points to a wider trend in which savvy studios are empowering composers and sound designers in areas of development that might be considered outside of their traditional remit. DICE is one such developer, having entrusted Strandberg and his team with control over camera shake and pad rumble.
“Before we had control of the camera, we had guys at DICE saying that the cannon on the tank wasn’t loud enough,” explains Strandberg. “Then we added camera shake on the recoil, and people went, ‘It’s too loud!’ At that point, we could actually lower the sound back to its initial level, because when those things are in sync, when you get a rumble in the pad, a camera shake and you get the bang, you go, ‘Fuck, that’s loud!’ But actually, it wasn’t that loud – it’s just working with more of your senses. It’s like when you’re inside of a building that’s going to collapse, the whole building is moaning and creaking before it happens, so you get this subtle cue that you’d better leave. But when we just had the sound there, the cue wasn’t clear enough. With sound, rumble and shake playing together, though, it’s awesome. We actually work very closely with the effects artists and tweak cameras together with them.”
Not every production is as acutely aware of the importance of audio to the final product, and everyone we speak to agrees that even the majority of those that do often fail to involve audio experts in the project early enough.
“In the case of Splash Damage,” says Sweetman, “I’m in from the very beginning on everything from concept work, game design and all of that kind of stuff. It helps to have someone from audio involved at that early stage because you can plan ahead and get all these cool ideas about stuff. That’s what more developers need to be doing – it’s not the sound people you need to persuade, it’s effectively your development directors, producers, and so on.”
While audio teams used to toil away in the shadow of artists and programmers, it’s clear that more and more developers are realising that great sound can not only enhance their games, but also drive distinct play experiences. With today’s technological advances, sound designers no longer face the crippling restrictions they once did, instead wrestling with the – arguably preferable – problem of finding the time and manpower to create the assets needed for a big-budget title.
“It’s very, very frustrating as an audio director, day to day,” muses Boyd, “as I always wish I had more guys working on something. But if I take a step back and look back at the past 18 years that I’ve been doing this stuff, it’s never been like this before. We’re in a golden age.” (Source: Edge)