By Terry Randolph
Sound design is the most under-appreciated part of a gaming experience. Yet it’s also one of the most critical components that makes or breaks how good a game can be. How many times have you had a game that gets bogged down by lagging dialogue? Or thrown off by the lag between your character movement and hearing their footstep? It’s such a tiny detail you normally wouldn’t pay attention to but has a huge impact on gameplay.
Take, for example, Dead Space, one of the finest examples of sound design I can think of to have been released in awhile. EA Redwood Shores (now Visceral) did a great job playing on the player’s expectations of sound cues in the game. Most of the game is shrouded in an eerie, dead silence punctuated by the protagonist Isaac Clarke’s heavy breathing. However, whenever the player was getting close to an enemy encounter, music would grow from a quiet start to a blaring death.
I remember how I would begin to anticipate seeing an enemy right around the corner and take my time peering over it. What further made the panic-laden adrenaline flow through my body was hearing the demonic yells the necromorphs would have while ripping through vents to get to you. Overall, the game was able to evoke that sense of dread and panic of being alone on a ship with everything wanting to kill you.
For another outstanding instance of sound design, look at the moments in Left 4 Dead whenever you would run into a witch. I loved how the music grew in eeriness and sound as you inched closer towards one of them. That added echo to her crying that transitioned into growling and finally into howling really builds up that anxiety and fear.
Another example would be the Metal Gear Solid series. Hearing the sounds of Snake’s feet echoing across metal walkways, or the crunch in the sand that alerted the guards really heightened this sense of tension and anxiety. How well you could pull off stealth when the elements felt like they were working against you was an achievement itself.
Or even Pokémon; when you heard the cue for a battle to begin a rush of excitement would hit you like a big rig. Great sound design evokes the emotion the designer and director want you to feel in that moment. Terrible sound design takes you out of it and never lets you back in.
Whether in the comments below, or on Facebook, tell us some of your favorite moments in gaming that show a great example of sound design. Do you think it’s an under appreciated part of game development?