Sound can go a long way in creating a great gaming experience. Similarly to film, audio plays a huge role in adding to the mood, immersion, and enjoyment level of a video game. Audio does a ton of heavy lifting for games and is often an overlooked element. Today, we’ll be going over some of the biggest ways in which great sound design can improve a game, as well as some examples of award-winning games that have utilized audio successfully.
Enhancing Gameplay Mechanics
One very common use of sound design is for enhancing gameplay mechanics – whether it’s adding a satisfying slash sound effect when swinging a sword, the blast sound when firing a gun or anything in between, the sound should help to enhance the player’s actions and make them feel more realistic and satisfying to perform.
Action games are the easiest example of this, and one of the first games that spring to mind is God of War. The original trilogy for the PS2 and PS3 is a shining example of this. Kratos, the main character, wields various weapons ranging from the Gauntlet of Zeus to the iconic Blades of Chaos.
While pulling off various combos, the game’s audio offers excellent feedback to the player, with many different sound effects that make the combat feel all the more satisfying. This is further emphasized whenever Kratos goes in for the kill, with QTEs (quick time events) that are aided by the great sound. Overall, the combat and gameplay feel much better to perform thanks to the great audio feedback.
Offering Satisfying Player Feedback
On a similar note, audio in video games is often utilized to offer positive or satisfying feedback to players when accomplishing particular tasks. Some examples of this can include opening a chest in The Legend of Zelda, reaching a flag pole at the end of a stage in Super Mario, collecting a gem in Spyro the Dragon, finding a Jiggy in Banjo-Kazooie, catching a Pokemon in a Pokeball, leveling up your character in a role-playing game, and so much more.
Audio feedback is utilized for rewarding the player in major instances, like collecting an important item or finishing a level, but also minor things like moving and jumping and even navigating a menu system. Studies show that these reward systems built into games are linked to boosting serotonin levels, which can help with mood regulation and reducing stress levels.
While most video games feature satisfying audio feedback in some form or another, one of the most obvious examples of this is in rhythm games. The virtual reality game Beat Saber is a shining example of this.
For those who are unfamiliar, Beat Saber is a music game not unlike Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero but with the player physically moving their arms in order to slash the notes while wielding lightsaber-like swords. When a player slashes a note block, the game offers both visual and auditory feedback in the form of the note block getting sliced in half. It feels incredibly satisfying to pull off, particularly in more challenging stages when notes are moving at faster speeds.
Immersing the Player in the World
Audio is one of the most important elements in creating an immersive gaming experience for players, regardless of the genre. “Immersion” tends to be an overused phrase in games, and is typically used when discussing first or third-person action and adventure games. The phrase “[insert game] really makes you feel like [blank]” has been overused so much that it’s become a meme at this point.
But what makes a game feel immersive? Tight gameplay? Pretty looking graphics? While both contribute to immersion, great sound design has an even larger impact.
One franchise of games that greatly benefits from its audio and sound design is licensed game titles – or games that are directly based on a film or TV show franchise. The Star Wars Jedi game series is a great example of this working well. Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order did a fantastic job of capturing the world of Star Wars, with sound effects playing just as big of a role as the visuals – everything from the blasters to the lightsaber sound effects sounding just as they do in the films, which greatly help with immersing players.
And of course, the score also plays a huge role as well – with the music themes of the film being so incredibly recognizable and iconic, the game’s similar music accurately captures the feeling of Star Wars. Playing it, it’s clear that it is highly influenced by John Williams’ original film score which really helps with player immersion. These two key elements helped to elevate the quality of a video game that was already great to something truly special for fans of the movie franchise. The same can be said about the game’s recent follow-up, Star Wars Jedi: Survivor.
Horror video games benefit from great sound design perhaps more than any other type of game. When examining what makes a horror game or film scary, the element that always stands out the greatest is the audio. Similar to our previous point on how audio can create a feeling of satisfaction in many games, audio can also do the opposite – creating feelings of dread, uneasiness, and tension.
To illustrate this point, let’s take a look at one of the most highly regarded horror games of all time – Silent Hill 2.
Silent Hill 2 is an old game. As an early release for the PlayStation 2, Silent Hill 2 featured aged visuals and gameplay that felt clunky. It doesn’t feel great to control the game’s protagonist, James Sunderland.
When exploring the town of Silent Hill, the player is treated to the soundtrack of Akira Yamaoka. Everything from the footsteps to the unnatural-sounding cries of monsters helps to raise the tension and fear. While the game may not look great, it delivers an auditory experience unlike any other. Over twenty years later, Silent Hill 2 is just as scary as it has ever been, showing that great audio design can really go a long way in creating a horrifying experience.
Submit Your Game
Overall, audio can be a great asset for improving video games in various different ways. If you’ve developed a video game that features compelling audio and sound design that’s award-worthy, then consider submitting it to NAVGTR. Check the submission period and nominate your game today.