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Larington
4th Sep 2008, 17:46
Makes for an interesting read:
http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2008/09/04/the-state-of-game-audio/

Discuss.

Note: About being on topic, arguably DX1s greatest strength was its music & audio.

imported_van_HellSing
4th Sep 2008, 18:20
Note: About being on topic, arguably DX1s greatest strength was its music & audio.

Very arguable. I'd say ugh no. By now you all probably know how I feel about the DX1 music, the sound is pretty much a mixed bag too. You have some great voice acting, JC is spot on for example, but then some of it is just atrocious. Also some completely flat sounds such as most of the gun shots (hell, there's stuff like the assault rifle sound not even matching up to the amount of rounds you fire) etc.

K^2
4th Sep 2008, 18:24
Yeah, they can do a lot better on the audio these days. Each event can have a spacial location and its own track. It can then write to individual buffers for each speaker with a delay due to speed of sound. That way, each shot has its own sound loop, and if it happens sufficiently far, you'll see a slight delay between flash and sound. Moving objects will automatically have an audible Doppler shift as well, without any extra coding.

Absentia
4th Sep 2008, 19:43
This perhaps does not apply to Deus Ex as much, but there is a series of games which I feel no discussion on video game music deserves to be without a mention of.

Did anyone ever play Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, or any of the Lucasarts adventure games that proceeded it?

Sound, and more importantly, music has always been something that is one of the defining qualities of the point and click genre, and the Monkey Island games in particular utilized it to the extreme. Because of the bigger focus on environments, characters, and scripted events, music plays a huge role, and it makes listening as you play really a magical experience. For instance, a character will have his own leitmotif, a city will have its own main theme and then specific places inside the city will have variations and additions to the theme.

One of the most impressive things introduced on MI2 is the "iMUSE" system.
This system was primarily a way of manipulating MIDI compositions, and it allowed the composer to add things like fill-in melodies, or be able to control the volumes or patch of different instruments, even control the tempo of the entire piece in real-time (Without having to have a separate pre-composed track and playing them one after another). What iMUSE did is make these transitions completely in-time with the music, so the music would never skip to a track at any point. It makes the game feel like you have a conductor controlling the music to fit with every experience you come across.

An example is the swamp theme, where you ride in a coffin through a murky swamp, adorned with various creepy imagery like skulls on poles and lots of sharp things.
It starts off with a simple synth pad playing the backing track, and it will always play this until the player passes a certain point. At this point, a bassline and drums will join the theme, completely in time without cutting in suddenly (If it was in the middle of a beat, it will come in at the next beat)
Then as you get even futher, you enter the Voodoo Lady's lair. The music, while again keeping exactly the same main theme and time, changes from creepy to a lot more pleasant, as reggae-like organ chords come in and you get aquainted with the mysterious and humorous character that is the Voodoo Lady.

The idea of music being perfectly in sync with the players actions has such a great effect. This could be utilized in DX in that the "sneaking" theme is different from the "action" theme.
However, one problem that arises from using audio instead of MIDI, is that you cant really do things like change tempo and create fill-in melodies seamlessly, unless you had a lot of different versions of the same audio track that you mashed together in time.
It matters more in games like Monkey Island, but i still thought (as many others do) that music was a very noticeable and enjoyable element in Deus Ex.

As for the articles topic - people losing interest in the sound element of games, I guess it's just a sad thing that is happening now because of peoples dependence on great visuals. As you might've gathered, I'm a total sucker for music and I'm obsessed with it, so I tend to pay more attention while playing =P

imported_van_HellSing
4th Sep 2008, 20:01
Absentia, you should definitely watch the game Tiberium, EA has some very interesting ideas there about dynamic music and sound:

http://forums.ea.com/mboards/thread.jspa?threadID=339774&tstart=135

Absentia
4th Sep 2008, 20:31
Absentia, you should definitely watch the game Tiberium, EA has some very interesting ideas there about dynamic music and sound:

http://forums.ea.com/mboards/thread.jspa?threadID=339774&tstart=135

That looks awesome, cheers.

René
4th Sep 2008, 21:40
Did anyone ever play Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, or any of the Lucasarts adventure games that proceeded it?

Part one, The Secret of Monkey Island, is my favourite all-time game. I still remember playing it on my friend's 286!

Interesting article though!

Apollonius
13th Sep 2008, 06:36
Despite some sounds now seeming simple and obsolite, I still love some of the sounds in the original DX. Most notably the sounds of the Mechs as they walk around and also the sound that the med/repair bots make as they're activated. It's probably just me being melancholic but I think they're timeless and could possibly still be used in the 3rd installment if appropriate.

BTW, I too loved Monkey Island and the theme song was undoubtedly the best thing I heard come out of a simple PC speaker :P (along with the Cannon Fodder theme) :p

Another thing, is it just me or have really good music soundtracks started to fall to the wayside over the last 10 years now that game graphics have improved? Games like Mechwarrior 2 and Quake 2 have great soundtracks which more than make up for their apparent lack in graphics (though they were good for their times). The music was integral in setting the ambience for the games and added an extra dimension. In the case of Mechworrior 2, the music actually defines the game & i’ve even ripped the tracks for my ipod. I guess all soundtracks are designed to have that effect but these examples stand out to me.

The music for NG Resonance wasn’t half bad either. I liked it more than it annoyed me, but to portray her as the most popular artist in the world was overstepping the mark a little. DX1 had a pretty top soundtrack too but it is a bit simple in terms of quality, at times sounding like midi files. DX3 has a great opportunity to lift the bar for gaming soundtracks and I’m sure it would be considered quite carefully. After all only two of our senses are involved in gaming so sound makes up 50% of the experience (unless you have a rumble keyboard or smellovision).

Larington
13th Sep 2008, 09:51
This brings up a point that I find absolutely fascinating, if you look at films, books and so on, theres always classics that even non-fans find very easy to go back to and indulge in a bit of nostalgia (Dubbed the thinking mans cocaine or so I've heard) but games? No, the graphics are too out dated (Of course this does sort of apply to black & white films as well), or the audio, or there are issues with legacy support of games in more recent operating systems.

Whilst issues like legacy support can be overcome, its an unnecesary hassle and even then theres quite a bit of low level graphical elitism, silliness like "Fallout 3 doesn't have dynamic light? Stop the presses!" which has become so indoctrinated in the subconcious of gamers that its really hard to get say, someone whose used to games such as Call of Duty 4 will have a hard time sitting through the rather more basic graphics of games like Deus Ex 1, System Shock 2, Anachronox, and so on.

I definately think, therefor, that there is a market for old games being re-released with largely unchanged gameplay (Except obvious flaws and bugs) but vastly improved and updated graphics, audio and so on. Games like Dune & the first X-Com game are contenders for that sort of treatment in particular, but also games where the developer over-budgeted on graphics and released a game which even at that time had graphics that appeared to be somewhat lack-lustre (Thief 1 & 2 and System Shock 2 for example).

Even now, I'm somewhat intruiged by the example set with The Witcher - They're making an enhanced edition (Nice way of getting more boxed copies of the game on shelves) where many voices have been redone and they've vastly improved character animations to make conversation sequences seem more natural, for example.

urban_queen41
14th Sep 2008, 01:51
I'm agreeing with what Larrington said- take the following as an example. Most of the people I know have never heard of DX in their lives, and would be incredibly turned off by its dated graphics before really giving the game a chance. If DX3 does turn out to be crap, then people who weren't fans of the original would have a very different perception of the series to those like us who have been loyal fans since DX1. It'd be incredibly unfair to the brilliance of the original if people who were only familiar with DX2/3 were unwilling to change their view of the series and become familiar with DX1 just because of lame graphics etc. It'd be great if there was an update so that the current generation of gamers could become familiar with the original DX. This also goes for many other game franchises- for example, while I'm a huge fan of the Silent Hill series I missed out on the first game released on PS1. I'd love to be able to play an updated version...

And on the topic of soundtracks, I've mentioned before that I consider the Silent Hill soundtracks to be some of the best ever- I have them on my MP3 player =] If you've played the games, you'd know what I mean. SH2's theme 'Theme of Laura' is one of the best game instrumentals I've heard.

And to Apollonius, I'd love to see some of the original DX sounds in the next game- if only for nostalgia. =]

binlargin
14th Sep 2008, 06:19
And I'm disagreeing with both of you ;)

I never played Deus Ex when it first came out, I was still completely blown away the first time I played it which was long after the graphics were outdated. To judge a game purely on the look is pretty shallow, it's like judging a book on the paper it's written on, or a song on the attractiveness of the performer (many people do, but they wouldn't appreciate Deus Ex anyway)
I'm still playing nethack (http://nethack.alt.org/) so perhaps I'm a special case or something.

On the subject of game audio, I think they've lost a lot since the introduction of CD tracks. Composing computer game music used to be an art form, back on the Amiga and Commodore 64 it was all about making a great soundtrack using as little memory as possible. Nowadays some games not only use full 44khz stereo recordings but even cheap out by using real music, I find this saddening, like we've lost something magical.

Voice acting also annoys me. I used to think that by the year 2000 we'd have these amazing games where you'd type to interact with AI characters who would generate a procedural dialogue based on who they are and the things they know about. Instead they employ actors to speak into a microphone to take up gigs of space so they can rattle on like a stuck record. This is no more complex than 1980s interactive fiction, I don't find it impressive. Games should ditch the voice actors and move to speech synthesis (even if you also need subtitles), less of the fixed monologue, lets hear some dialogue!

Larington
14th Sep 2008, 07:23
Actually, I do agree that judging games purely on graphics is REALLY shallow, but I see it all the bloody time, as emphasised by someone refusing to buy Fallout 3 purely because of an absence of real time shadows.

Whether its right or not to do this, and whether or not the hardcore fans who are quite happy with the old graphics would even want an update to the graphical spangliness or not isn't what I refer to in my above post.

Rather, firstly there is a market for bringing particularly old games up to date in a serve the shallow graphics zealots kind of way, but also there are really old IPs where no-one can even find a copy of the game anymore or aren't even aware that such a game exists (Case in point, I suspect a lot of children would *adore* up-to-date Dizzy games). And I think in these cases in particular, theres a market for bringing these games up-to-date with improved audio and visuals and minor gameplay/interface improvements.

Larington
14th Sep 2008, 07:28
I'll make this a separate post, I understand what you mean about the voice acting btw, I've often wondered why we haven't got that sort of thing in games yet, but I do know that the underlying technologies where people/companies have been dedicating themselves to this stuff still have a long way to go in terms of creating stuff thats believable. Of course, that doesn't mean people should stop working on it, imagine for example, being able to release an MMO and add additional voiced dialogue to the game but without having to call the voice actors back in to record more audio.

Why there hasn't been a joint effort within the games industry to push towards something that can do this I don't quite know, but I suspect it has something to do with the limitations of publisher/developer production method.

Apollonius
14th Sep 2008, 09:21
Since we're on the topic of voice acting, it's such an important element but sometimes (somehow) they manage to stuff it up pretty bad and the voice of the actor doesn't match the character they're supposed to be portraying at all. Examples that stand out include the sergeant from Quake 4 – this beefy guy with huge scar on his face but he sounds like a high school kid. JC Denton in DXIW sounded like he had a vasectomy or something compared to his original voice counterpart in DX.

Needless to say, I’m still a big fan of the voice acting and casting quality in both DX games. Accents were pretty spot on, but sometimes (rarely) it came across as being read. I guess this is pretty hard to control in a game with such complex and extensive dialogue.

Have we really come this far technologically to start using software instead of voice actors though ?? :scratch: I can see that it could have been utilised to portray Morpheus, Icarus, Daedelus and Helios because their voices are pretty monotonous and unemotional but I still think that actors are the best for portraying emotions. Probably now more than ever since facial expressions in games are growing in intricacy and complexity and the voices will need to be on par with this.

binlargin
14th Sep 2008, 18:38
Have we really come this far technologically to start using software instead of voice actors though ?? :scratch: I can see that it could have been utilised to portray Morpheus, Icarus, Daedelus and Helios because their voices are pretty monotonous and unemotional but I still think that actors are the best for portraying emotions. Probably now more than ever since facial expressions in games are growing in intricacy and complexity and the voices will need to be on par with this.

That's the thing though, the facial expressions and emotions are important when creating an interactive movie, but for an RPG game it's more fluff than stuff and removes a lot more than it adds. I'm not talking about completely procedurally generated dialogue (though that would be the pinnacle), just say for example replacing words like "she", "he", "it", and "they" depending on context, or having a bunch of different nouns to describe something (village, settlement, home) or someone (patron, scavenger, thief, criminal, warrior, scum). The trend towards recorded voices has stopped all progress in this department, I was really upset that Oblivion used predictable and repetitive recordings rather than textual depth. Having said that, games like Deus Ex are probably best sticking with the voice acting as they're more of interactive movies than real RPGs

Dragonlord
14th Sep 2008, 19:37
There is though not much alternative to recorded voice. Speech synthesis is tricky and omitting voice at all destroys immersion as well. So it's a catch-catch situation where there is no real better solution yet than a lot of recorded speech.

FrankCSIS
14th Sep 2008, 19:52
I definately think, therefor, that there is a market for old games being re-released

Remakes. We can expect to see some pop up within the next decade if you ask me. Not a bad idea either, as long as they don't flood the market with them.

The only trouble I see with remakes is the lack of original soul in them. A lot of good games were spectacular by accident, and many were tainted by the personality of their devs, for good or worse. You'd need a passionate team to pull off a successful remake. Of course the easy way out could be to remake games that had potential but ended up bad for several reasons. I find the best film remakes to be precisely those types of movies.

Back to sound, in a not-so-distant past I found the first Half Life to have an incredible mix of soundtrack and three dimensional sounds. The characters were painful to interact with but the rest was truly amazing. Best synergy of music, out of this world voice acting and good sound bytes has got to go to Grim Fandango though. Most complete and enjoyable experience I had in a game. The old Tex Murphy series, especially Pandora Directive, gave a good run too.