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I agree that especially Mass Effect 3 got the balance right between all elements of the sound. Having both a headphone and surround setup available has allowed me to compare the mixes in games and often I find that the stereo mix is neglected and can almost sound broken in comparison to how the surround mix was balanced. When the balance of ambiance, music, voices and incidental sound effects like guns is right it's like the game casts a spell on you and the illusion of it being a living, breathing virtual world truly works. Getting the sound right certainly helped Far Cry 2 as it had plenty of issues otherwise that became more bareable when the sound was good.
Having a good stereo mix should be of higher priority for game developers. The fastest growing segment of the audio market by far is headphones, and especially on PC I suspect a large amount of players use them exclusively.
6 months ago on Feedback Loop - Backward audio progress in Max Payne 3
Unfortunately the full game hasn't been translated yet, the screenshot was from the demo which has been translated. Here's a torrent for the English translated demo http://www.nyaa.eu/?page=torrentinfo&tid=282059 The full version is being fan translated here http://commiesubs.com/mahoyo/ but it's far from done. That team only started translating the game a couple of weeks ago, so it will most likely be months before they're done.
6 months ago on Soundscapes - Back to Basics with Visual Novels
When I started playing the game I felt a bit tricked by all the media and forum whiners. The game wasn't easy at all! Fights required precision and concentration, and several platforming bits took me 5 attempts to get right. The only difference between it and a "traditional" game was that they didn't flash the "you're dead" when you fell or lost against a monster. Instead they kept you in the story and the game without ugly seams like that.
9 months, 1 week ago on Let games be as challenging as they need to be
Prince of Persia received a lot of flak for being "too easy", something I don't agree with. The game was just fine and I had a great time with it. I'm also a fan of hardcore titles like Demon's Souls and Dark Souls. Ideally I'd like a difficulty selection like the Resident Evil Gamecube remake where you were asked in a more philosphical way what kind of challenge you would like from the game, rather than a simple "easy" and "hard" selection, and the game lived up to your selection.
In general "easy", "medium" and "hard" are meaningless values for difficulty. When I start a game I have no idea what the developer thought when the game was balanced. I'd like the game to tell me the thought behind the settings, rather than just dump the words at me with no frame of reference.
There's quite a lot of visual novels out there now so it's very easy to never hear about many of them, even if you try to keep up with everything that's out there like I do.
9 months, 1 week ago on Soundscapes - Back to Basics with Visual Novels
Thanks! Depending on which title you look at it can be a hard medium to pin down, as one title might be closer to a book, while something like School Days is basically like a low budget TV show instead. The medium exists somewhere in the middle between every other medium and gravitates toward one or the other depending on what the authors felt like doing with their title.
I have! Both it and Digital: A Love Story get around having to deal with ambient sound in a good way. In both everything you see is a virtual computer interface, in the case of Digital an old one and in Analogue it's one from the future. This also made the writing different as you're mostly reading logs and diaries instead of conversations and thoughts. It worked great and I'm looking forward to what she comes up with next.
I had no sympathy for the people I was mowing down in Max Payne 3 as I know of the damage they cause every day to society. In the back of my head I knew I wasn't exactly solving the root causes that created these gangs in the first place, but at least Max probably made Sao Paulo a bit more peaceful for a few years until other gangs grew up to take their place. I'm sure all victims of crime wouldn't mind vigilante justice being carried out. When there is emotional baggage involved the quick solution is always very appealing, even if it might have unpleasant long term consequences. It's not easy to solve these problems, but at least in games we can enjoy the quick and easy solution we wish would be carried out.
10 months, 2 weeks ago on The Ugly Paulistano
During the first couple hours of playing Max Payne 3 I did think the audio was great, it was when I got further in that I began to notice issues. Many areas of the game have ambient sounds of life or weather to fill in the void after the guns have been shot. As you get to the later parts however much of the time is spent indoors and often in evacuated areas.
My two major issues were the reverb and how the ”center” of the sound was placed not at the camera, but at the Max Payne character model. When I’m exploring I expect some kind of acoustic effect on the footsteps or things I knock over appropriate for the area I’m in. It should of course be subtle, but when there’s nothing else going on the absence of effects become obvious. The areas that felt "rushed" to me because of this were the boat, the hotel and police station chapters
How the sound was centered on the character model instead of at the camera might be the root cause for all my issues, including the reverb. In most third person shooters like Max Payne 2, Uncharted 2/3 etc the camera is the “center” of the soundstage. All the sound of the character walking, shooting etc comes from the front speakers as it’s in front of the camera. If the sound source is centered at the character model the reverb of the room would become harder to hear from the footsteps since you’re right up close to the source of the sound. The reverb should still be noticeable as I have no problems hearing it in first person games.
My assumption that the audio was centered at the character model is based on that if you strafe from left to right while firing the sound of the guns shifts slightly to either side. This wouldn’t happen if the sound was simply being hard coded to play in quad. Instead it sounds as if the sounds are anchored to something in the world.
10 months, 2 weeks ago on Feedback Loop - Backward audio progress in Max Payne 3
The number of channels matter and the technical details of how they’re used matter. That being said, I agree that in the end what’s most important is the end result and how it supports the artistic vision of the creators. I know all front channels are used for dialogue and that all 6 are used for sound effects, but in an attempt to try to clarify the difference between “game” and “movie” sound I made it sound like I didn’t.
How the channels are used technically is important for how the artistic vision is supported. In the game medium the player explores virtual worlds that can feel like real places. When the intent is to create a believable world where the characters and environments feel like real people in real places an audio mix like the one in Max Payne 3 undermines it. It sounds like an arcade shooter where the guns and explosions take precedent over all the smaller details that make the world come alive between the gun shots.
The choices made in the mix are wrong for the type of game Rockstar were trying to make. Not because I want a game with high fidelity to show off my speakers, but because the mix actively took me out of the experience since I couldn’t connect with the world they were creating. I don’t believe the lack of acoustic effects was there as an aesthetic choice, I believe it was done to save time on an area where it was assumed nobody would notice the difference.
Technology and expectations change over time, so I’m sure someone completely unfamiliar with movies mixed in mono might consider ”Love Me Tonight” to not be “cinematic”. I’ve seen people on Home Theater forums who refuse to buy blu rays with mono sound because they’ve invested tons into their 7.1 setup and are actively seeking out spectacle suitable for it. Personally I think that’s a bit mad since I love what older films do with the movie medium as it’s often things that cannot be replicated today, but those people do exist. How the movie itself was mixed and what the viewer or player has to play it back are different. Yes, Apocalypse Now would be less cinematic on a mono television compared to it being viewed in a theater. The basic gist of the sound mix would still be transferred over the mono TV, but not in a way that fully conveys the intent of the sound.
When “cinematic” is used to describe the audio of a game I’d argue it should stand for something different than when describing a movie. The way I see it “cinematic” refers to the common practices today while mixing movies, such as wide dynamic range and how the channels in a surround system are used. If a game has “cinematic” sound it means it sounds like a movie, and those are the things that define what a movie sounds like today. A game like Serious Sam 3 is not cinematic as it has minimal dynamic range and uses cheap tricks such as playing music and effects in quad to make them louder. Max Payne 3 does similar “gamey” things with its sound mix, although not quite to the same extreme as Serious Sam 3. The difference between the two is that Max Payne 3 is clearly aspiring to be movie like in its style, while Serious Sam 3 has no such aspirations.
I did listen closely for acoustic effects in Max Payne 3 and only heard them in a couple of places in the game. Most of the time the sound was flat and dead, with a couple of exceptions such as the times you’re exploring without a gun. Maybe they are easier to hear in stereo when the weapon sounds aren’t being played in quad in the surrounds and deafening the player, but I played it all in 5.1 with the speaker system pictured in the article. Most titles from around 2003 did have over the top acoustic effects and some still do today, but in games like Metro 2033 I feel the bar has been set for how it should be done. Uncharted 2 and 3 would be a closer comparison to Max Payne 3, and they do have clearly audible echoes if you listen out for them. I could never make out any in most of Max Payne 3. I cited Metal Gear Solid 4 in the article because it uses the channels exactly as a movie would and even has a soundtrack mixed in 5.1, and Mass Effect 3 for it’s masterful use of dynamic range. Two traits that are exactly what I’d expect from something with cinematic sound. Max Payne 3 just sounded like a game to me, in a bad way.
No of course not, in a situation where the player controls the camera dialogue should be localized to whoever is speaking. If you're standing in the corner on the other side of the room facing the wall the dialogue should come from the rear channels. It's only in cinematic style cutscenes where the player has no control over the camera where that would make sense.
10 months, 3 weeks ago on Feedback Loop - Backward audio progress in Max Payne 3
I'd prefer it if games used the center speaker more, but yes unfortunately many tend to play VO from the front speakers instead of the center. Dead Space 1 and 2 did use the center all the time since they never left the game engine, even during cutscenes. So all the noises your character made and dialogue with NPCs came out of the center, if you were looking at them. This is an approach I'd like more games to use, because with no pre-rendered cutscenes the game could use the 3d sound engine all the time.
Reverb today is done in a less over the top and more realistic manner, that's for sure. In Max Payne 3 there just wasn't any at all in many places. This bugged me especially in the hotel level which had hard concrete surfaces everywhere and some quite large arenas, but no reverb. Even if the effect is more subtle in games today it's still noticeable if you listen out for it. Even Crysis used different types of reverb depending on if you were standing among trees or if you were on the beach. Subtle effects, but they helped make those places sound real.
@Christer van der Meeren
Yeah it would be a shame if the default sound engine that developers got with UE4 was identical to the one in UE3. Then we would only see advances in the games that went out of their way to replace it with their own superior sound engine.
11 months ago on Soundscapes – The Future of Sound