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Dear Obsidianites!

 

For people whose first reaction would be "TL;DR": please developers, make the game sound immersive with regards to effects, environmental and positional audio. Draw us in, let us truly *feel* the world you create for us. Use IWD or PS:T as examples, or, beyond our RPG-ers' noses, Prey or Battlefield 2.

 

 

For people with enough time to read:

 

Parts of what made the IE games, most notable the Black Isle ones, so immersive and rich in atmosphere was sound. And by sound I'm not only referring to the soundtrack, voice acting and spell effects, I'm mainly talking about the environment. If your characters walk on snow, you want to hear that. If a town is quiet and friendly, you want to hear that. Dripping water and steps echoing in caves, howling winds and cracking branches, rustling leaves and barely audible breathing in a forest at night, the single candle lighting a room. Listen to Icewind Dale with EAX enabled, or to Prey, to take a different genre, with OpenAL at full level - it just sounds beautiful and sets the player right into the world.

Environmental audio quality is currently on a steep decline, worst current example (not counting console ports) is Endless Space: As soon as the CPU is busy, sound stutters. There are only five or so concurrent layers of sound and as soon as there are more, there's audible popping and distortion or sound effects just not being rendered. Or compare Battlefield 3 with Battlefield 2 - worlds of difference in sound quality! The many layers and clear positioning is gone, replaced by some lackluster software solution from the shelf in the hopes that users of onboard sound will not notice that anyway and the graphics will distract from sound. Let me tell you: They don't distract sufficiently, the hearing sense is left wanting more.

 

So my plea to the developers: Please respect the capability of current hardware, use OpenAL for example if you need to decouple things from the CPU if the gamers' hardware allows for it, I don't care for the actual technology you use but: *please* make us feel right in the game, at home and comfortable, afraid, tense, relaxed, connected to the game's individual sound signature (think Planescape's spell learining sound effect) - immersed.

Edited by samm
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all the Infinity engine games had great atmospheric sounds. Waukeen's promanade? Temple district, docks, all sounded great and distinct in BG2 for ex. Don't need crazy tech to make it sound good.

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If they already have the software code and libraries handy, they could perhaps implement 3D sound originating from point sources on the isometric area view (with occlusion for blocking structures). That would be a nice advancement, I think.


"It has just been discovered that research causes cancer in rats."

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Unity has fmod integrated, yet not everything is open/available as it is more like a black box. Things like 3D sound is there by default as the listener is usually attached to the camera/player and each source of sound originate from where they are put by the level designer etc...

 

I have used the sound part of Unity intensively (multiple sources with multiple sound effects) and to my experience it never forced the 5-6 year old computer I was testing with but on the other hand those games had very simple and plain graphics.

 

 

Here are couple of links for the interested:

http://unity3d.com/unity/engine/audio

http://docs.unity3d.com/Documentation/Manual/Sound.html

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I love good sound design, something which even most triple A titles generally neglect. "It's night, lets throw some general cricket sounds in there" is about how far it goes.

 

I'd love to hear a great, all directional dynamic mix with proper echoes and sound falloff scalable between mono and 11.1 with everything recorded in lossless (or near enough) sound quality. But of course that's just me.

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Unity has fmod integrated, yet not everything is open/available as it is more like a black box. Things like 3D sound is there by default as the listener is usually attached to the camera/player and each source of sound originate from where they are put by the level designer etc...

 

Here are couple of links for the interested:

http://unity3d.com/unity/engine/audio

http://docs.unity3d....nual/Sound.html

 

Thank you!

 

I'd love to hear a great, all directional dynamic mix with proper echoes and sound falloff scalable between mono and 11.1 with everything recorded in lossless (or near enough) sound quality. But of course that's just me.

I wonder how well features like echoes would work given the 2D nature of the graphics? Shrug.


"It has just been discovered that research causes cancer in rats."

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I wonder how well features like echoes would work given the 2D nature of the graphics? Shrug.

 

Well, you can still put an echo/reverb filter in the caves, closed areas/maps. It also reduces the size of the game/amount of assets (with the cost of processing on the client side) yet space limit is not a that much of a problem anymore. On the other hand, for something non-interactive, I would rather use a commercial echo virtual effect like from Waves...

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This reminds me, I have recently discovered and took a liking in RAGE, one of the reasons are the sounds. Westeland desert sounds exactly like I would expect it to sound, it feels great. Shotgun sounds like something that can punch a hole in your face. Awesome! Yeah, I fell for that game and sound is one of the reasons for that...

 

But I'm unsure how would multichannel (or even surround) sound help. Maybe I lack the imagination for that, but as I see it, as long as you don't rotate the camera, you don't need more channels. Actually I found it pretty disturbing in a game I can't recall name of... All of the saved processing / memory could be used for more sound layers \o/

 

But maybe I'm missing the point and quite possibly most of what I said is nonsense.

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Ambient sound matter. I'm playing right now a game where the background noise essentially is the sound of an hairdryer. Strange as this may sound, that makes the game look more ugly. Maybe the reason is that breaks immersion?


I've come to burn your kingdom down

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Just to clarify, I don't want to stress the importance of *multichannel* sound! Every game has that by now, it's a feature for the checklist and I don't care that much except in shooters. In a 2D-game one can still make nice use of the three front speakers for speech, effects, environment and interface sounds, and surround channels for environmental sound. But as mentioned, that is not really my point or only a part of it: I meant to stress the *quality* of sound that has been degrading lately. Poor use of multichannel is part of the problem but not the key issue.

 

Unity has fmod integrated, yet not everything is open/available as it is more like a black box. Things like 3D sound is there by default as the listener is usually attached to the camera/player and each source of sound originate from where they are put by the level designer etc...

Again, it's not (just) positioning that I'm talking about. Thank you for mentioning Unity, because my current example of a good game with poorly implemented sound, Endless Space, is based on Unity. Just serves to intensify my plea to the devs not to neglect sound ;)

 

 

This reminds me, I have recently discovered and took a liking in RAGE, one of the reasons are the sounds. Westeland desert sounds exactly like I would expect it to sound, it feels great. Shotgun sounds like something that can punch a hole in your face. Awesome! Yeah, I fell for that game and sound is one of the reasons for that...

Oh, thanks for mentioning :) Maybe I'll give it a shot then ( :) ), because this really sounds ( :) ) good. Now that AMD graphics cards allow for SGSSAA on OpenGL again, I think the decision is made :) Edited by samm

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"Get that crate out of my way"

- BG2 Slums


"What if a mid-life crisis is just getting halfway through the game and realising you put all your points into the wrong skill tree?"

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"If your mother won't by you a pointy stick, they don't love you!"

- BG2 Trademeet

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  • You have disturbed Tiax the Grand again! Such insolence! Tiax will place a mark of shame upon your forehead! All will know your treachery! (casts)
  • Eh... it would appear that... the great and... mighty Tiax... has shrunk his undergarments... three sizes this day.
  • Excuse... the mighty Tiax... while he catches his... his breath... He will rule... later.

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I found infinity games very lacking in terms of ambient sound effects. I hope we get something close to Arx Fatalis (that game has no music and only ambient sounds) when it comes to ambient sounds. I'd rather have no music in a game than very poor ambient effects. Then again I'm wierd... I play most RPGs with no music or music at very low.

Edited by SeekDWay

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Derpdragons everywhere. I like spears.

 

No sleep for the Watcher... because he was busy playing Pillars of Eternity instead.

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Same as you, I usually play with music low and sounds high - for me the real life sounds, in town, horses clopping/in markets, criers shouting their wares, in the countryside, a high pass, eerily blowing down evil winds, that's what I like. Reason, ambient music is real, a soundtrack for me just gets grating after a while.

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Another sound feature I can appreciate is authentic footfall noises that depend on the type of terrain. Particularly for water, but also for noisy surfaces such as gravel and brush. Sucking bog noises, snapping twigs, clanging metal gratings, creaking stair boards, and so forth, all add to the atmosphere.

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I would like to chime in for, as an inveterate audiophile, the quality of audio in Project: Eternity is one of the first things I have thought of.

 

I agree with the OP that environmental audio is key to creating an immersive atmosphere in the game.

The design of good environmental audio is far from banal: Overdone environmental audio is as fastidious and bothersome as the absence thereof, so it needs to achieve a proper balance.

 

On top of good environmental—and of course positional—audio, there are two things that really matter to me:

  1. Avoid excessive compression.
    The Loudness War is bad enough in music without it spoiling games' soundtracks as well. There is absolutely no good reason for overcompression to be used, ever, under any circumstances. If you want things to sound good, you must leave their full dynamic range untouched. Let the music explode in our face in the most epic moments, and fighters' blows to sound different in intensity from one another (a person would never strike with the exact same intensity twice in a fight). Spell effects would benefit from great dynamics even more.
  2. Avoid mp3 as though it was pest (which it is).
    Mp3 sounds bad and it can't be helped: Its compression algorithm just isn't good.
    If Project: Eternity's audio needs be lossy for space-saving purposes (which aren't urgent as they used to be in the past, anyway), by all means go with OGG Vorbis. It is free (contrary to mp3) and sounds significantly better. Q10 OGG Vorbis would already be a treat compared to what most games currently offer.
    However, if you wanted to bring the game's audio to the next level and make it really shine, go FLAC all the way. It is free, and it is lossless. Pure aural bliss.

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"Time is not your enemy. Forever is."

— Fall-From-Grace, Planescape: Torment

"It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question, and he'll look for his own answers."

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  1. Avoid excessive compression.
    The Loudness War is bad enough in music without it spoiling games' soundtracks as well. There is absolutely no good reason for overcompression to be used, ever, under any circumstances. If you want things to sound good, you must leave their full dynamic range untouched. Let the music explode in our face in the most epic moments, and fighters' blows to sound different in intensity from one another (a person would never strike with the exact same intensity twice in a fight). Spell effects would benefit from great dynamics even more.
     
  2. Avoid mp3 as though it was pest (which it is).
    Mp3 sounds bad and it can't be helped: Its compression algorithm just isn't good.
    If Project: Eternity's audio needs be lossy for space-saving purposes (which aren't urgent as they used to be in the past, anyway), by all means go with OGG Vorbis. It is free (contrary to mp3) and sounds significantly better. Q10 OGG Vorbis would already be a treat compared to what most games currently offer.
    However, if you wanted to bring the game's audio to the next level and make it really shine, go FLAC all the way. It is free, and it is lossless. Pure aural bliss.

 

I second that also especially the over compression. MP3 made sense when the stuff needed to fit into CD/CDs.

 

 

Again, it's not (just) positioning that I'm talking about. Thank you for mentioning Unity, because my current example of a good game with poorly implemented sound, Endless Space, is based on Unity. Just serves to intensify my plea to the devs not to neglect sound ;)

 

 

Should not there be no sound in (an endless) space? :getlost: The thing is that for most people it is easy to consider sound as throw-in... and when they do that the product is just bad (for those who uses ears). You know that Unity is not the culprit there...

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On top of good environmental—and of course positional—audio, there are two things that really matter to me:
  1. Avoid excessive compression.
    The Loudness War is bad enough in music without it spoiling games' soundtracks as well. There is absolutely no good reason for overcompression to be used, ever, under any circumstances. If you want things to sound good, you must leave their full dynamic range untouched. Let the music explode in our face in the most epic moments, and fighters' blows to sound different in intensity from one another (a person would never strike with the exact same intensity twice in a fight). Spell effects would benefit from great dynamics even more.
     
  2. Avoid mp3 as though it was pest (which it is).
    Mp3 sounds bad and it can't be helped: Its compression algorithm just isn't good.
    If Project: Eternity's audio needs be lossy for space-saving purposes (which aren't urgent as they used to be in the past, anyway), by all means go with OGG Vorbis. It is free (contrary to mp3) and sounds significantly better. Q10 OGG Vorbis would already be a treat compared to what most games currently offer.
    However, if you wanted to bring the game's audio to the next level and make it really shine, go FLAC all the way. It is free, and it is lossless. Pure aural bliss.

Yes, yes, and yes! Seeing as the game will mainly be distributed as a download, there's no reason for them not to offer a lossless audio pack. Bring me a 300GB game, I don't care, I'll gladly drop £50 on a new HDD if I'd need extra space to experience the game at its highest quality! (Though, with 1TB in SSDs, I probably won't have to)
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"What if a mid-life crisis is just getting halfway through the game and realising you put all your points into the wrong skill tree?"

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all the Infinity engine games had great atmospheric sounds. Waukeen's promanade? Temple district, docks, all sounded great and distinct in BG2 for ex. Don't need crazy tech to make it sound good.

+1

 

The atmospheric soundscape in Baldur's Gate II: Shadows of Amn was particularly impressive to me. That's not taking anything away from the other IE games, SoA is just a very good example of an expansive RPG with great audio design.


Exile in Torment

 

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Great conversation, as always! Thanks for having it. I'd like to chime in on a couple of the points raised above:

 

Ambient sounds - Ambient sound effects are very important to us at Obsidian, and as I've said before, I hope I don't sound too arrogant when I say that I'm confident you won't be disappointing in this regard. We love nothing more than to hear games with great background sounds that draw you into the environmental From my personal perspective its one of those things that I love designing and I take a lot of care to get that right. I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to design and implement the vast majority of ambient sound effects for Fallout New Vegas, and I'm a firm believer in their importance in all games.

 

Balance between music and sound - One thing I'm not a huge fan of in games is omnipresent, looping, wall-to-wall music. Particularly in games that have a significant exploration component like IE games did and PE will. It just gets tiresome to listen too, particularly if there is no variety and the repetition is noticeable Finding the right balance between the ambient sound effects and music is something we're going to focus on a lot. They both need to serve a purpose and function, we want to avoid having them compete with one another, and we won't have them in just for their own sake.

 

I love nothing more than to play a game that has rich detailed environments and getting lost in the ambient soundscape, only for music to subtly come in underneath, providing emotional context.... It's no coincidence, at least for me, the best games I've ever played have done this exceedingly well!

 

System resources - Since we aren't targeting consoles, this is much less of a concern for us. We'll be able to use higher quality compression settings, though it still has to be able to run on peoples machines! A high quality audio pack isn't a bad idea, it's just a matter of figuring out if the sound archive can be swapped easily. That said, the impact of audio on system resources is relatively minimal and won't prohibit us from designing and implementing a deep soundscape.

 

Interesting side note... WoW has a sound quality slider in the options menu that lets the user define different compression rates. That could be a solution, BUT (big but) it all depends on how much systems programming time a feature like that would require. We won't be able to get something like that in if it ends up being too complex of a task. Making the game awesome is our highest priority and I can easily see a systematic approach to audio compression being a much lower priority in terms of programmer time...

 

Dynamic range - This is something we talk about all the time in the audio department here. A super compressed dynamic range will have a long term negative impact on the game experience as a whole, and it's something we are keen on avoiding. People will want to either turn the game's audio off, or even worse, the game itself off, and they won't even know why. This is because of a phenomenon called "listener fatigue", which occurs when your ears endure aural saturation for extended periods of time. Two things happen as a result of this: a. the listener's brain tunes out sounds due to sensory overload and b. you become physically exhausted from listening to the game. Both of these things are bad and we will do whatever we can to avoid it.

 

The other issue you mention has to do with contrast between loud and soft moments of the game. Contrast, as it turns out, is directly tied to emotional impact. Here's a crude example... If the volume level of a chirping bird in the distance is equivalent to the sound of a castle suddenly exploding out of nowhere ten feet away, you've essentially robbed the exploding castle of it's dramatic impact.

 

I went into this subject in some earlier threads that you might find interesting. They talks about contrast with music instead of sound, but the aesthetic concepts behind these two threads are more or less identical.

 

http://forums.obsidi...60#entry1196618

 

http://forums.obsidi...00#entry1202767

 

So yes, I agree with you 100%. Another interesting side note... This concept is not actually all that new... In the European Romantic era, artists and writers explored a concept which they refereed to as "the sublime". In an oversimplified way, the sublime was a means of surprising the viewer/listener/reader/audience through the use of stark and sudden aesthetic shifts (i.e. contrast). Anyhow, it's fascinating and the concepts still hold true today. Those "jump scares" you see in horror films? Those things can be traced back to the sublime. Check it out if you're interested: http://www.tate.org....art-and-sublime

 

Multi-channel sound - We will use mutli-channel sound if/where it makes sense. Obviously the camera dictates a lot of what that will mean in practice, but I can see (hear?) randomly panned ambient one shot sound effects working great in the rear channels. Which is not to say listening to the stereo version of the game will be any less engrossing, because that won't be the case. Things like special abilities may also work well for multi-channel sounds. That all said, we won't really know how well it works until we try and we're a while away from that.

 

Hope that answers any questions you guys have! If not, I'd be happy to talk more about this (I can talk about audio all day as you can probably imagine...)

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Glad to hear that Justin Bell has my bases covered. It sounds like he cares about just the sort of things that I do in regards audible ambience.

 

Stick with it, Justin. Conservative music, dynamic range, and especially quallity ambient sound - I don't have to tell you that it really really enhances the experience of a setting, and is too often, and foolishly so, neglected.

 

I'm already hearing PE in my head, and it sounds fantastic.

 

PS: Interesting to learn of listener's fatigue. It actually explains a lot of experiences.

Edited by Pipyui
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PS: Interesting to learn of listener's fatigue. It actually explains a lot of experiences.

 

Absolutely. Over-compressed dynamic range leads to diminishing returns in terms of quality over the long term. Fortunately most professional game audio folks understand this, though it does pop up now and again...

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PS: Interesting to learn of listener's fatigue. It actually explains a lot of experiences.

 

Absolutely. Over-compressed dynamic range leads to diminishing returns in terms of quality over the long term. Fortunately most professional game audio folks understand this, though it does pop up now and again...

 

Come to think of it, this also does much to explain why I so dislike this newage rap / hip-hop.

 

Edit: Oddly specific request here, but for some reason the sounds of wind in leaves really strikes the romantic in me. Can such audio samples be reasonably tied with tree animation? A trivially specific request to bring up I know, but audio-visual continuity of ambient sounds would do much to enhance my immersion, I think, rather than just having sounds from nowhere.

What do you guys think?

Edited by Pipyui
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Pipyui -

 

Just a quick link for you to peruse, which explains exactly what is wrong with music nowadays: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war

 

Justin Bell -

 

Thank you very much for chiming in on this discussion! I'm very glad to learn that our opinions are perfectly aligned, and I'm looking forward to P:E all the more!

If lossless audio cannot be implemented in the game as-is, a separate high-quality audio pack download would indeed be an awesome idea (provided, of course, that the game could be made to support FLAC and easily swap between it and whatever format you guys eventually go for).

Edited by AndreaColombo
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"Time is not your enemy. Forever is."

— Fall-From-Grace, Planescape: Torment

"It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. But give him a question, and he'll look for his own answers."

— Kvothe, The Wise Man's Fears

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