January 28, 2011 9 Comments
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?