Use of sound in games

Sound is an essential part of games design, allowing people to be able to remember their childhood with a few simple notes, instantly recognizing the opening bars of Super Mario Bros or the distinctive chime of Sonic the Hedgehog collecting a ring. But what makes sound such an important tool?

These are the best examples I could find online:

  • Setting the mood: Whether silly or serious, sound effects can help set the appropriate mood of a game through everything from simple button presses to ambience tracks. For example, games designed for the younger crowd, such as Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo, use fun, cartoony sounds to keep the mood light—while horror-themed games such as Resident Evil IV and Doom 3 make effective use of dark, eerie sounds.


  • Adding realism: The Medal of Honor series utilizes era-appropriate sounds that create authenticity and help players feel as if they are participating in 1940s conflicts. Sounds associated with weapons, aircraft, and vehicles are specifically designed to match those heard during that particular time in history. Background ambience is also used extensively in these types of games, suggesting that action is taking place all around the character.


  • Providing clues to surroundings: First-person shooters (FPSs) such as Halo, Call of Duty, and BioShock make good use of sounds to alert players to clues and other activity within the immediate environment. For example, players looking for a waterfall as a next waypoint would first hear it faintly in the distance; it would then increase in volume and from a more defined location within the sound field as they approached it.


  • Enhancing entertainment value: A video game’s primary purpose is to entertain, and sound effects are integral to the fun. Nothing beats hearing earth-shattering explosions, gunshots, or car crashes in direct relation to your actions. The shot sound in the casual game, Zuma, is so satisfying that players find themselves looking forward to the next click of the mouse.


  • Creating tactile and interface feedback: Creating reality in a virtual environment is often a difficult proposition. In real life, something as simple as flipping a light switch produces a subtle sound that provides important feedback. These sounds are even more important in a game setting by notifying players that their actions have accomplished something that can’t always be visualized. Consoles such as the Xbox 360, PS3, and Wii provide audio feedback for button presses and screen transitions.


  • Establishing brand identity: Nearly every game produced today strives for a fresh and innovative identity. In attempting to develop an original look, feel, and sound of a game, the developer is inadvertently creating a recognizable brand identity that defines the game and any others within a series. Consequently, anyone seeing artwork or hearing a sound can instantly identify that particular game. Popular game series such as Guitar Hero, Halo, and Need for Speed are easily recognized by their “sound.”


A great example of how important is in the game series, “Dead Space” (2008), personally my favourite game of the year because of it’s impressiveness as a horror for how the gameplay, it’s music and sound effects play such an important role in the way that they successfully intertwine with each other to make for such a terrifying experience. A developers about the sound in dead space can be seen here:


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