Sound adds so much to our experiences

11 August, 2010

I just watched a trailer for Dumb and Dumber that was made to have a style similar to the Inception trailers.  Here is a trailer for Inception, in case you have been living in an underwater cave for the past 6 months. Inception is a taut psychological thriller, which still keeps the viewer guessing on what is actually happening after multiple viewings. Dumb and Dumber is a comedy from 1994. If you haven’t seen Dumb and Dumber all you really need to know about the movie is that it was heavily based on slapstick humor, and played on the main characters having no idea of what grand scheme they were caught up with. Now here is the mash-up trailer I just watched.  Part of the reason this mash-up is so enjoyable to watch is because the two movies are about as different from each other as possible. I want to focus on a comment which SilentEcho8 posted for the mash-up trailer:

“this is great. LOL if i hadn’t ever seen dumb and dumber i would think its all serious, this music makes everything epic.”

Now, if I remember correctly, I talked a little bit about music and sound effects in an earlier post about horror games. I discussed then about how sound really affects the player, and can bring the player deeply into the experience or environment. Well its not just horror games that use sound. Shadow of the Colossus has a flowing soundtrack, in which the developers were able to change almost seamlessly from peaceful (when the player is exploring) to hectic (when the player is fighting). Its such a subtle effect, yet so powerful in pulling the player into the world. Another example is in most puzzle games when the player is at risk of losing a game, the music becomes quick, causing the player to mash buttons even faster. Music thus not only serves as a bringing a player into the game world, but also alerting the player when some new event is occurring which needs to be acknowledged. In Morrowind (The Elder Scrolls III) the music would change when an NPC targeted the player, and began fighting. This way the player knows that an enemy is around, and allows the player to prepare for a fight.

Sound effects are just as important as music in games. Take for example most WWII first person shooters. When a player is in the middle of a battle there should be gunfire heard from different directions, maybe off in the distance, away from the player. In the Castlevania game series (namely Dawn of Sorrow for the Nintendo DS) the main character grunts when hit, or when swinging a heavy weapon. There are sound effects to know if your attacks are hitting, possibly even different sound effects if you are hitting a target but not dealing any damage. Sound effects are indicators of events that are happening in the game, providing information in a more precise way than music. Take for example when Mario jumps, he makes a noise. There doesn’t need to be a noise, you know that he jumped by seeing him jump. If you take away the visual aspect though, say someone walks in front of you, then you still know Mario is jumping because the sound effect tells you that he is jumping. It doesn’t provide in what direction or speed, but it still provides information. In a first person shooter, if a player runs out of bullets the gun may just make a clicking noise, indicating that the player must reload the gun or find more ammo. In Wolfenstein 3D a player can hear enemies opening doors, which allows the player to react by finding which enemies are coming to attack.

A while back I used to play games without the sound on, choosing instead to listen to my own music while playing. I didn’t realize until recently how much this subtracts from a gaming experience. After beating Diablo II for the first time, I decided I didn’t need to listen to the music anymore, and listened to whatever I wanted. Just a week ago, I started re-playing Diablo II. I turned the Diablo II music up and realized how much it added to the dark mood of the game.  At that moment I swore off listening to other music outside of a game while playing. Maybe it was a drastic move, but I think its worth it in the end.

Now I want to leave with a few questions:

Can a game be made in which each time a player plays through the game the music changes?

Can there be a way for players to select their own set of music for the game, thus changing the genre?

What games have you played in which the music and sound effects still live on in your memories?

(My answer is Castlevania Symphony of the Night)


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