Best Practices Using the Controller Speaker | #gameaudio

Controller speakers are nothing new. Wii already used them, and now the PS4 has a “quality” one (the same quality as the Vita speakers). More than that, the WiiU has TWO speakers (yes, two…. trying to make a “stereo sound”, although that needs an specific set 61db506ce32f7bbf7fb9a358e0f6ac856e86479bup……. well, that’s a talk for another article).

But, although its not a new think, not many sound designers and audio implementers know the best way to use it.

So, looking around for articles that could shine some light over the matter, I found a small but very interesting one on GamasutraBest practices using the PS4 Dualshock controller speaker

Written by Bradley Meyer, and audio director with over 16 years of experience, it brings us four interesting thoughts about using the speakers in ways that are more efficient and may make the audio experience better for the player.

And, although he has wrote this article with the PS4 controller in mind, I believe the things he wrote can be used when working for any platform.

The two ideas that I most liked, I copied here to the post (for the others, please click on the link above):

Avoid using it for critical sounds

As designers, there are a lot of unknown factors we need to consider when deciding what to pump through the controller speaker. Listening environments vary greatly and sometimes the noise of a child crying, a dishwasher running, or a friend yammering endlessly about how awesome they are can completely overshadow the sounds coming through the controller speaker. Furthermore, users can adjust the speaker volume in the system menu, and while there are now ways to query that volume and ideally use that information to determine whether to route a sound through the controller speaker or the main mix, it bears considering that sounds you want to emanate from the controller speaker may not be heard by the player. For this reason, I recommend not using it for any critical sounds that the player absolutely must hear. Whether or not you follow this advice, always design a contingency plan for any controller sounds you want to ensure the player hears. If they’re using headphones, if the controller is turned down, etc. In a perfect world, the PS4 would know via its HDMI connection what the audio setup of the user currently is (headphones, stereo, 5.1, etc.), and with a microphone attached to the system, we could be sampling the ambient noise of the room and adjusting the mix dynamically as Rob Bridgett suggested in his recent GDC talk on adaptive loudness. If these two concepts were achieved, the engine could determine when to send your controller sounds to the controller speaker and when they need to be diverted to the main mix instead. But until we get there, have a plan in place for controller sounds the user must absolutely hear.

Be creative!

The speaker controller is a fun tool and can really add an extra level of immersion beyond the normal mix. We received a lot of positive feedback for our use of it in inFAMOUS Second Son: from the ball shakes of the graffiti can to the way we used it for draining powers (the drain sound started at the source of the power in the world
and slowly moved into the controller speaker as Delsin absorbed the power), and there’s tons of other developers out there doing neat stuff with it. I loved how Transistor played the narrator’s voice through it (only if you select to use the speaker in the options menu), but still sent the reverb sends to the main mix. It created a fantastic sense of your sword intimately talking to you, but still being in the world (and by only having the dry mix go through either the mains or the controller they avoided the sync issues of sending the VO through both). The Last of Us Remaster did a similar feature with their audio logs. Shadow of Mordor had a great example of a first person notification in playing a bush rustle sound whenever the player would enter high grass. It helped communicate to the player that they were in cover using an in-world sound rather than a possibly-immersion-breaking UI sound. The bush rustle sound also brings up one last point: while it is a decent quality speaker, it’s still a small speaker in a plastic housing, best to keep it relegated primarily to mid and higher frequencies.

Hope this can help you 🙂

Mauricio Ruiz –


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