Listen Up

I’ve been watching/listening to back episodes of Keaven and Steven in the Morning, in one of last weeks episodes they touched on the topic of game music (with a guest appearance by Mr. Belford). The overall consensus seemed to be that, in MMOs particularly, music gets turned off rather quickly, and never heard again, which mirrors my own experience. In fact, most ALL volume is turned down to nothing. I think this is because of a combination of factors, and when laid out, I don’t think you’ll be surprised.

The lion’s share of the reasoning for multiplayer games having their master volume dropped to a goose egg is voice communication. MOST players I know run both the game, and their voice comms across the same audio line, from the same computer. Adjust two varying sets of audio from once uniform source can be incredibly difficult, and finding a satisfactory balance between the two is nigh-impossible. You can adjust speakers (shared), the computer output (shared), and the individual program output (separate). If you’re willing to deal with it, sometimes you can work it so that your headphones deliver a different channel of audio. Sadly, headphones are uncomfortable, and it’s often a major PITA to run just one program through a particular output device unless you have specialized software to do just that.

Secondly, and also significantly, is that it’s not needed as it once was. Stealth classes are completely stealth in a lot of games, including their noise. They are a bubble of non-existence, so keeping your ears pealed for foot steps when no one is around will do you no good. Ability audio is similarly useless, by the time you hear it, it’s usually to late to respond – you’ll have better luck learning animations for anything that doesn’t happen instantly.

Lastly, it’s often not great or compelling music that is played in MMOs. It’s odd to think about it, but much of the iconic music of my mind as it relates to video games harkens to the days of 8-bit gaming. EVERYONE knows the tune to 1-1 and 1-2 of Super Mario Bros, and nearly as many have the looped theme of Zelda permanently burned into their cerebral cortex. If you are a sci-fi nerd like me, you probably can rattle off the dark opus of the Metroid intro as well. Of modern games, there aren’t many that stand out as memorable. Of COURSE the Final Fantasy series, as the combat music is a hallmark, but beyond that, I can only think of one other console game that really grabbed me, and that was Mirror’s Edge. Still Alive was the title track of the game and it resonated deeply with me.

In the world of MMOs, EVE is the only one where I don’t turn the music (or any audio) off. To this day, I still enjoy the track listings it picks as I traverse space. This may be in part because the applied genre is so applicable (electronic ambient), or because it’s well done, or because there is an actual playlist that you can choose to jump around in if you so desire. The option of choice in what track I listen to plays a good role in that I’m sure. Given a simple, intuitive music interface does wonders for a game’s soundtrack.

How do you approach audio in your game of choice? Do you listen to music on something other than your gaming platform? How important is the audio of a game to you?

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About Shadow
Making serious business out of internet spaceships.

9 Responses to Listen Up

  1. Grimnir says:

    I’m astounded that you’re not a fan of the actual music… I have the WAR soundtrack on my regular playlist. The music is actually very iconic for me.

    As far as listening to it in-game I totally agree. There’s way too much other shit going on for me to enjoy it and it really does get in the way of standard operations. However, actual combat sounds, the clashing of swords, squealing of enemies, things like that I totally need to have on, even while on voice comms. Yeah, I might not hear everything over VOIP due to interference, but that in itself adds a layer to the game for me.

    As for EVE, you kinda need to have SFX turned up a bit in case you start dozing off while on patrol, that first missile volley tends to make enough noise to snap you right back into things. lol

    • Shadow says:

      It’s not so much that I dislike the score of WAR, it’s more that, I like to use voice comms, and listen to other music on a device not controled by my computer. Music in MOST games, including WAR, is too obtrusive.

  2. Mr. Meh says:

    Agreed on the sounds. When I heard that SWTOR was putting most of the effort into the largest sound files known to the existance of software, I facepalmed. You mean the key to the game’s glory, is the thing I am going to be turning off first thing?

    But but … if I have to hear your game, how am I going to rock out to Pandora or tell tasteless jokes in Vent?

    Yes, the music is cool. And in the times my WAR soundtrack turned back on and I heard that trumpet drum ramp up on the log on screen I got that special feeling again. But I still turned it off.

    • Shadow says:

      Exactly. Fully voiced is a very cool feature, and for a themepark, quest-driven MMO, it will see more mileage out of that feature. But more is a relative measurement.

  3. Rikker says:

    I’m with Grimnir on this one.

    I like the music, so I keep it on (albeit, low-ish to hear voice comms).

    I have ability sounds on, because there’s usually a TON going on on my screen and I’m almost never looking at my toon (healer, battlefield awareness and all…), so it’s VERY useful to hear the slayer coming up behind me, or hear the tell-tale “tink-tink-tink” of that WH opening a half-second before he appears on my screen.

    Battlefield sounds can give as much information as anything else if used properly, so I use them that way. Plus, it’s just more immersive.

  4. keaven says:

    It wasn’t until you mentioned it here, but yeah.. I also have always played EVE with the music on. Wow… I wonder what it is about that game that makes you leave the music on. I don’t really approach that game much differently than I do other MMOs, but I’m right there with ya: the music stays on. And its so unconscious, too, like i said, i never even realized it until you said it. heh..

    • Shadow says:

      It goes in hand with something you said on the podcast as well: EVE kills the music at times. If you just let it roll, eventually it will stop, until you warp into deadspace and all of a sudden it will pick up into fast(er) paced tunes.

  5. Erbse says:

    Lineage II had great music with an epic feeling to it, I loved the C1 intro track for instance (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2gZEH0Z9–g). In fact, a lot of the music in Lineage II is rather superb. The problem most MMO’s suffer from in that regard however is need of communication. I for one do not listen to music while gaming, not MP3’s, nor the ingame one, as it’s highly distracting dependent on how much I (dis)like the track(s).

    More importantly however, chatting, even if macroing just doesn’t cut it. Most MMO’s are heavily based on voice communication and if you got vent / TS3 running there just isn’t any space for the ingame music to shine through. It’s counterproductive so to speak. However, not an excuse to now have any music or complete garbage mind you. I’m very appreciative of a good soundtrack.

  6. Rer says:

    I currently have a library of about 300+ Video Game Tracks, and I do greatly enjoy listening to the WAR, WoW (Wrath and Cata), EVE, and Civilzation V soundtracks.

    The only times I turn off my in game audio are:
    1) I’m raiding and need to concentrate on a mechanic, like interrupts, that require pinpoint timing.
    2) I’m currently engaged in a PvP Op in 0.0 Space in EVE and other people are counting on me to be extremely aware of what’s going on.
    3) I’m watching something on Hulu.

    Besides that, I love me some Video Game Music, and practically cried upon watching SWTOR’s Music Trailer.

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