Monday, 19 October 2015

Non-Repetitive Sound Design: Redistributed Sound Sets

Non-Repetitive Sound Design
Vachon (2009) states that ‘one of the biggest problems’ facing game audio has always been the ‘endless repetition of sound’. Vachon also states that Page (2008) identifies footstep sounds as one of the major problems for game audio.

Historically, the repetition of sounds has often occurred due to the ‘severe memory limitations’ and lack of Disk Space across a variety of consoles and their respective disks/cartridges, as they don’t allow for ‘any variation’ (Vachon, 2009).

Returning to the idea that repetitive sound design is a large problem facing audio professionals in the video game industry, Stevens & Raybould (2011) state that nothing breaks immersion ‘more than hearing exactly the same sounds/samples being used repeatedly’ and that this is because ‘few sounds in the natural world repeat this way’.

Vachon (2009) also explains that as audio managed to successfully present what could be considered ‘totally realistic audio’, this in turn raised player expectations meaning they wanted ‘organic and randomly patterned audio’.

The reason for this is that as Stevens & Raybould (2011) explain above, few natural sounds occur in the exact same way as they are repeatedly generated in the real world [by our actions]. So to ensure audio fidelity, video game sound needs to closely replicate real life sound, ensuring that while it is organic, there is a noticeable variation in the modulation of these sounds and patterns. When players have such high expectations, how can this be matched?

Vachon (2009) discusses a variety of methods for over coming repetition in sound design for video games. ‘Redistributed sound sets’ was one such method of maintaining the ‘illusion of variety’ in sound effects such as weapons, or dialog. This idea, while only valid in a chaotic environment, is according to Vachon a ‘great way to ensure that at least you use al your assets to their fullest extent’.

Essentially this method centres on the idea of doubling up specific sounds,  then taking out the second copies of sounds instead of the original differing sounds. So if you had four different guns (and sounds) for a level, with two of them doubled up, meaning that six soldiers had four varied guns (and sounds) and two copies of two other guns (and sounds), then even if one of the soldiers who is not using a copied gun with a copy sound is removed from play, then you would remove the copy sound, meaning that there were still the four varied sounds and the one copy sound in play.
    This assists in making the sound for the level non-repetitive, as it means you can monitor the amount of each sound that is in the level and keep them equal, meaning you will hear a variety of sounds (or gunshots in this case) by taking out copies and keeping the ratio: 2:1:1:1 rather than 3:1:1:0. This keeps the player from becoming fatigued aurally as soon as they would if every gun in the level had one sound.

O’Donnell (2002) discusses how this technique can apply to dialog for instance if you only had six marines and needed eight:

    “If you start an encounter with 8 marines, two of the characters would be
     doubled up, let’s say two of Pvt. Bisenti and two of Pvt. Mendoza. If at the
     end of the encounter only 4 marines remain, even if Bisenti or Mendoza
     never got killed, we would swap one of the duplicates for a missing
     Jenkins of Johnson, in order to keep characters balanced.”

Vachon (2009) does conclude however, that this technique only works with ‘cookie cutter characters’ where these swapping of sounds are unnoticeable, or you will do more harm than good.

O’Donnell, M (2002). Producing Audio for Halo [Online] Available from: <> Accessed 17/10/15.

Page, J (2008). AGDC: Sony’s Page: ‘Next Gen Audio – Is That It?’ [Online] Available from: Accessed 18/10/15.

Stevens, R., Raybould, D (2011). The game audio tutorial: a practical guide to sound and music for interactive games. Amsterdam; Boston: Focal Press.

Vachon, J (2009). Avoiding Tedium – Fighting repetition in Game Audio [Online] Audio Engineering Society. Available From|: Accessed 17/10/15.


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