Lunchtime Discussion: Sound

Yesterday I got a reminder to vote in the Golden Joystick awards, one of the categories being best soundtrack or something along those lines. This isn’t something I actually think about a huge amount, but it’s certainly a perfectly valid category. In fact it’s one of the thing that sets the Halo series a cut above a lot of other games in my opinion, the soundtrack is simply brilliant and matches the epic scale of the series’ galaxy stretching story.

It seems easy to overlook a game’s sound design in an industry that seems to increasingly on the graphical fidelity of games, but good sound design and a good soundtrack add to the atmosphere at least as much as good graphics, perhaps more. Graphics are far more limited by technology than scoring a soundtrack that draws you into the world, that reflects what’s going on in the story and adds to it.

I’d actually say that a game’s soundtrack brings back a lot more memories than seeing actual artwork. If you hear the retro stylings of Sonic or Mario you’re instantly thrown back to a more innocent age and much more recently the amazing soundtrack from Comic Jumper has stuck in my head much more than the art. Maybe that’s just me, different people may remember different senses more vividly.

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Of course there are those titles, largely sports games, that just pick fairly random tracks from popular bands and artists as the soundtrack. I suppose that it’s a quick and easy way to get some music into the game without really having to think about it. I mean I don’t really need to be deeply drawn into the world of FIFA or Need For Speed, it’s not like there’s some deeply involving story that needs an extra dimension added to it. Even so I would actually prefer a custom soundtrack scored specifically for the game, it just seems better.

There’s also the issue of custom soundtracks, but I don’t think I’ve ever used one. I much prefer to use whatever the developers have put into the game, even when it’s not something that’s been scored specifically for the game.

So does the soundtrack really matter to you? Is it as big of a focus as graphics are, or does it take a more secondary role? Do you find it easier to remember a game’s soundtrack than the artwork?

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37 Comments

  1. Id say im 70% graphics , 30% sound

    It matters, but its not worth anything if it looks gash.

    however it can make or break a game afterall 70% is a crap review score wink wink

  2. Soundtrack is massively important to me. If done correctly it can work with the graphics to set the right mood for you, and really add more enjoyment to a game in my opinion. Whether you remember the sound or graphics more though depends on the quality of both I guess :)

    • I agree with this, I would say sound is THE most important factor in a game or film as it subtly talks to your subconscious as you watch and a good piece of music will bring out far more emotion in you than anything else.

  3. In modern games it is as essential to atmosphere as in films. You only have to play a survival horror game with the sound off and some cheesy pop on the radio to see how completely different the experience becomes.
    Even non-atmopheric games like racers need good music and licensing a selection of rock and dance music works wonders for the experience

  4. Can i also say, one of the best soundtracks ive heard was for Dragon Age origins…and Final Fatasy 7…. sheer class

    • agreed, Dragon Age soundtrack, best ive heard in a long time, and got the FFVII album

      Good times :)

    • ah Final Fantasy soundtracks are epic, a couple of Capcom ones impress

  5. You need to have a great sound in agame to get the best of the atmospere. That’s where I stand.

  6. 80% of our sensory input is visual so it makes sense that we treat visuals with such importance but a good soundtrack or sound effects that absolutely nail what we hear, can really make a title stand out.

    Equally, and I’m sure cc will agree with me on this one, you really get to appreciate games which have been made to use DTS and DD properly. Having spot effects whizzing around all the speakers really does immerse you in a game. Equally, it helps you work out where something’s coming from when all hell has broken loose.

    Finally, iconic soundtracks last decades! GTA radio stations being a great example.

    For me, seeing soundtracks for video gaming standing shoulder to shoulder with the film industry really makes me happy. The likes of Shadows of the Colossus, MGS, FF, etc. All wonderful to listen to in-game and as a standalone product.

    Oooo, interactive soundtracks. Flower!!! Pure bliss.

    • Yes, MGS and FF. I also thought the soundtrack to Scott Pilgrim VS The World: The Game was utterly scintillating. Fitted the game perfectly.

      As for sound effects, BC2’s War Tapes. That is all.

    • 90% of statistics are made up on the spot.

      • What use is that comment? This is a biological fact. Not some questionnaire taken from a thousand people living in Dorset. :-\

  7. sound plays a big part in setting atmosphere along with ambient noise adding to the whole experience – dead space with bad sound would have been a right off no matter how good the graphics where. But given I’m deaf in one ear stereo sound etc is pretty much wasted on me.

  8. Two words: Dead & Space

    Great sound design adds massively to the experience and its just as important as graphical fidelity to me.

    Bad sound also stands out, like the PS1/2 era tyre screeches on a certain popular racer due out sometime this millennia.

    As far as soundtracks are concerned, I prefer original tracks to a random selection of popular licensed music that appears in most annual franchise games.

    The best original soundtrack I can remember is Dante’s Inferno by Garry Schyman. This is a preview of the piece were Dante is crossing the river, when track builds up near the end, the whole piece of music is scripted to the on screen action perfectly, as the enormous fallen demi-god, Phlegyas rises out the river and trashes the city of Dis. The build up to that moment which you don’t see in that vid makes it all the better. Without the gravity of Schyman’s track the graphics & action wouldn’t be the same.

    • Blimey, you really sieze every opportunity to rag on GT don’t you

      • Blimey, you don’t miss an opportunity to reply to every single one of my comments do you – are you stalking me :p

        No, its an article about sound, and that is a piece of sound which deserves a mention, as does the whole rest of my comment which you choose to ignore to try and make your point.

      • As it happens, ignoring personal piss-taking, it highlights something. If you are going for a simulator such as Gran Turismo, the game is as strong as its weakest element.

        From a tire screech to poor AI, it’s why cc often goes on about realism sucking the fun out of things. The tire screech just highlights that Polyphony might have better spent their time elsewhere depending on what we get as a game.

        Thinking about spot fx, etc. I utterly loathe how films and programmes feel the need to include tire screeches (especially when a car is coming to a stop) when it clearly doesn’t require it. There was no locking up of brakes. No leaning forward heavily into the seatbelt, etc. Stop adding it for effect when it makes the production look sloppy.

        *breathes* :-)

      • Wow. Ok, I wasn’t having a go, it was just a joke. Sorry

  9. Best sounds….MGS2 was brilliant

    Not to mention Dead **shudders** Space… epic

    • Complete agreement. Sound is used well in both those games and enhances the overall experience.

  10. Vib Ribbon 99% sound 1% graphics but a fabulous time waster. If a game has cinematic graphics though it should have cinematic sound just the same as a film. The imuse system for certain scumm games was a real treat for the ears when it first came out and really added to the atmosphere of Monkey Island 2 especially.

    • Wow I had forgotten about that game (Vib Ribbon). I still have it packed away somewhere. Thanks for that; going to go find it when I get home now.

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