Why sound is an important factor in video games

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Imagine to play a video game that is entirely mute. No sound, no music no ambience, how would that make you feel? It would feel that something is missing. In this article I will explain why sound is very important in a video game.

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Music
Since there are different types of games there are different types of music styles, some developers choose classical music, as in a full orchestra, in their games like is used in Guild Wars 2 or Nintendo has used in Super Mario Galaxy and The Legend of Zelda – Skyward Sword.

Others choose the rockier approach, like Sega with Sonic the Hedgehog, CapCom with Dragons Dogma and the well known MMO AION. Which style is better? Both are just as great because it depends entirely if the game is suited for it. Certainly the orchestra will have a feeling of quality to it, but it is also far more expensive to produce.

Music is an important factor when done right, because it invites you to play the game. Sometimes music can do a great job to describe what theme you are in, if its horror, in the desert, if you are playing in an ice world or if you are playing in the evening. Here is an example: Night time in games normally has a calmer sound than day time, and can make the player feel relaxed. If you are middle in a battle the music turns more energetic or violent. Giving the player the feel of action.

I myself just replayed several areas or stages in many games just because the music was so well done, filled with harmony. In Guild Wars 2 in the ‘Brisban Wildlands’ is a good example of harmony, the music there really makes me feel I am in a magical forest. Or the scene when you defeat a boss in The Legend of Zelda – Twilight Princess, is another good example.

However if you create music with quick loops in it and not doing a very good job hiding the loop start and loop end, it will quickly become annoying. In an action game like Sonic 4, the music itself will quickly become annoying, that alone can turn players away from the game. This can make the music feel it’s off less quality and downright horrible.

Ambience
The job of the ambience is to make the game feel alive. Noises like birds singing, the leaves rustling in the wind, hearing the ocean waves while the player is at the shoreline or hearing the bubbling lava in a volcano, makes the game feel more alive. Ambience, especially in horror games, can frighten the living day lights out of the user. The game: ‘Eternal Darkness’ is a good example of this.

Music and ambience work very well together to create that perfect atmosphere in the games. The Halo series and Metroid Prime series did a good job with this. When I am in an evil area in the game, I want to feel that I have to watch my back, I want to feel that danger is lurking around every corner. The right combination of music and ambience can pull this off.

Other sounds
Sounds in general in a game are important: footsteps, solving puzzles. Obtaining a new item. It’s important to know in a game if you achieved something or if you are close to imminent failure. Certainly if it’s in a critical situation, it can stress you out, but that’s the point of it. The sound did its job as it was provided. Example of this is Bejewelled, when you are close to run out of time this warning sound appears stressing the user out.

Voice acting
Many games have voice acting, normally giving more life into the characters that you play. Some voice acting can be incredible well done, like in the Dragon Age series, while others are just plain annoying like in Final Fantasy 13, the character Vanilla had a very irritating voice. Metroid Other M was a fantastic game but when they gave Samus a voice, she became a cry baby. It felt like they took that mysterious vibe from Samus away, she didn’t feel like the tough heroine as we knew her.

Some games however choose to keep their characters mute. The legend of Zelda and the old Metroid games are a good example of mute character games. Even if they only give grunts and sighs, it gives the player the feeling that they are actually the hero. It also gives this mysterious vibe. I do welcome games without voice acting, but voice acting does add the extra feel and connection to the character or characters that your character speaks with.

Conclusion
Sounds are very important, they make a video game feel alive. Sound also invites a player to play the game. If the music is well done, a player will come back to the game just to listen to the music. Music can awaken emotions in players, creating that special tie to the game. Ambience and other sounds are essential. Mix them well and you will get the fantastic atmosphere in the game itself. It doesn’t matter what music genre you use in the game, as long as it’s fitting, and delivers what the game is trying to show you. Thanks to the ambience I believe players become more aware of their situation or surroundings in game.

What is your favourite sound track when it comes to video games?

Please do tell us!

Happy gaming

The Game Mistress

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