Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Sound in Games

Sound is an overlooked and essential part of games. It is such a natural thing to hear sounds we recognise in games such as trees rustling, footsteps crunching on gravel and the splash of water. But because the sounds are so real they become an invisible form in games and if they weren't something would feel wrong. I mean my own personal experience playing the recent Call of Duty on a friends PC was very different as his sound wasn't working and I put the game down as the atmosphere of explosions and bullets firing past my character wasn't there and I felt detatched from the action.

I really enjoy the soundtracks for games in general as they are very different and I find they are enjoyable to work to as a lot of the time the songs are purely background music without lyrics and usually classically composed and have a lot of story through them. Games are usually easily recognised by the songs that accompany them, If someone puts Halo on in another room i will know as usually the loud and dramatic orchestra will be blasting trying to break the sound system its coming through. Though even if i can't hear the title music the iconic sounds of the plasma grenades or the blast of the generic assault rifle is enough to be sure that someone is palying Halo without me.

Another game that sounds are easily recognisable is Metal Gear Solid, I mean the warning sound of the guards with the most ridiculous "!" symbol over their heads when they spot you is classic and anyone who has played it or seen a friend play will instantly know where the sound is from. Hideo Kojima has an entire orchestra that works on his games and they even hold concerts with the game playing in the background for fans of the game and the music alike!

Sounds in games have always been limited to actions that happen in game based on whether the character does something to effect the environment. I mean most gamers will remember the Mario coin blip and the Sonic spin as he went into a ball but what about the more realistic games. Sounds always seem the same and never appear to change as they do in real life due to the nature of being pre recorded.

Its a shame that the technology for sound in games hasn't been improved, I will say the quality and crispness does get better as time goes on. The sound systems for TV's and surround sound systems improve but as with many other aspects of games today it could be pushed easily to another level.

Game Engines

Game engines are essentally what run the game and tie all the elements of programming , art, animation and sound together. There are a whole variety of different game engines around that are used for different reasons as they all have their ups and downs. A company always has a few options in how they get their game to run. They can use a pre-made game engine such as Unreal or they make their own in house engine, this of course is down to the amount of money and time the company making the game has and can afford to spend.

There are other options like using middleware programmes which are basically smaller game engines that help create certain different effects within the main game engines react. For example the DMM engine allows objects in game to have assigned material properties and effects they way objects in game respond to different effects on it. In other words wood will splinter, snap and burn but glass with shatter crack and melt. This software was used in the Force Unleashed and allowed the characters and world to respond in a more realistic way with each other.

Game engines have also in recent years become more user friendly so that it doesn't take a team of programmers to build a level and import objects in. Now the artists can build the level and assests realitively easily and are able to render and light their scene and have more control of where they want everything to go.

There is also a major difference in the way game engines can build levels, they are either additive or subtractive. Its pretty straight forward in the differences, a subtractive game engine means that you start off with infinite solid space and you carve into it and create the world in which you move in. An additive (also named Relative) engine allows you to build and create your world and environment in an empty space usually called a void by creating the solid forms and working out form there. The Unreal Engine has the ability to allow users to do both which makes it a very versatile game engine to use, opening itself up for wider uses.

The introduction of game engines has allowed games to be made more efficiantly and cheaply, without them many games wouldn't be able to have all the great visual aspects that make them so great.

Gaming Culture

Games have always had the tag of being something for social recluses and the geeky kids who stay in their bedrooms and cower at the sight of sunshine when their curtains are opened. Gaming has totally changed since the home console was first introduced, arcades used to be a place of social interaction where friends would hang out and try and beat each others high scores on space invaders or asteroids. But since the introduction of the home consoles people stopped that side of social gaming until games started to become large money making industry. Yes a lot of games had multiplayer if you wanted to compete against your friends at home but you never knew where you would stand against the rest of the world.

Now we have online capabilities that have yet again enclosed people in their rooms, though gaming has evolved due to the interest from advertising and other companies sponsoring gamers to compete in competition. This is where the arcades had a rebirth (mainly in Japan) as games such as tekken and street fighter then challenged gamers to play agianst each other and become the best. This pushed gaming culture and pulled people to events to compete to be the best and win cash prizes, limited edition merchandise and of course notoriety amongst the gaming community. These competitions are held all over the world and allow the more bedroom orientated to get and experience the world for real rather just viewing pictures of it on google.

Huge LAN gaming tournaments and invitationals are also very popular especially amongst first person shooters where teams are made up of the best from countries or cities and can meet up and make friends or meet people they already know from online gaming sessions. Games are becoming increasingly more popular and have started to build huge communities on and offline and with the increases in technology and how people can communicate through digital media it seems that gaming culture and its social aspect can only get bigger.

The games Industry

The games industrty is said to be recession proof. This is however a very bold statement and is also very innaccurate, hundreds of job cuts and companies downsizing has occured. Though the games industry has been quite resiliant against the large brunt of the recession it still has the problems with now trying to save money and keep spendature to a minimum and yet keep the quality they produce to a maximum. This has led to many large and in some cases smaller independant companies outsource to other foreign companies to get quick and cheap results especially in terms of the smaller in game assests where companies don't want to spend a lot of time or resources in having to create smaller assets in game.

Nintendo has been a great player in the survival of the games industry as their company alone has made upto 3/4's of the industrys total sales. They have made the games industry more accessible in nature and managed to capture more non bedroom gamers and have brought the games industry back to the world of the money making corporations rather than just the guy eating fast food and programming the same world of warcraft games for a select few.

The games industry is facing turbulant times but seems to have past a lot of the recessions storm and is on its slow way to recovery and slowly gaining its confidence back. Which is good as if the games industry is able to recover and get stronger as they have to work harder to push the boundaries of games to make them better and worth the £40 price tag then gamers of all ages will be in for a treat wth more original release titles and stunning story and graphics.