For the every day game players, sound design is not something that is really noticeable, unless something goes wrong. I don’t mean to say that our area is not important, not at all. What I’m saying is: people tend to notice much more the sound design when there’s a problem with it, than for it’s impressive quality. I say this with regret, trust me, but that’s many times the fact.
So, because of this, it’s really important that we don’t make big mistakes. And the worst kind of mistake we can make is to design a sound that compromises gameplay. How dos this happens? Well, here I am to give two recent examples, and probably you all can think of more.
First, of a game I have been playing a lot lately: Metal Gear Solid V. After a certain point on the game, you get to play with a female character as your companion, Quiet. She’s an amazing sniper, and so useful on many missions. But, because of a wrong (in my modest opinion) sound design decision, I can’t stand playing with her.
For you to understand: Quiet is quiet (duh!). She doesn’t talk. At all. And, because of that, the producers made a decision: when she’s your companion (always as a sniper) and she locks into a target, she keeps on humming this short melody on loop FOREVER, until you tell her to shoot the target. But, sometimes, it takes you a while before you want her to shoot the target: either you’re going to get closer, or you’re waiting for the target to get somewhere specific… doesn’t matter.
The main point here is: her humming is SO FREAKING ANNOYING! So much, that I just can’t play along with her anymore. And you simply can’t turn it off! Why!? I don’t know! Just search at google, and you’ll see I’m not the only person annoyed by this.
Well, for me, that’s a perfect example on how a poor sound design choice can lead to a gameplay problem. Metal Gear Solid V is a great game. More than great, even. And its sound is very, very impressive. (Let me be clear: I am not, in any way, saying bad things about the audio team’s work – that is amazingly good. Just about this specific detail).
But this sound design choice made a character impossible to play with. It’s a small decision, that impacts a lot your gameplay. And, although the people responsible for the sound on the game don’t find this a problem (otherwise they would have fixed it after the game was released), it still impacts many players in a negative way. For what?! Well, not much.
Another example happened last week. Valve dropped a big Counter-Strike update, and a small sound design decision made some players really mad: now there’s a low-ammo clicking noise for every gun. And the problem is: not only you hear it, but your opponents can hear it too.
And, what’s the problem with that? Well, before, knowing your opponent gun and its clip size was a skill (the more you played, the more you understood the weapons), that was used to counter attack when you knew that your opponent ammo-clip was out, and needed reloading. Now, the game kind of does that for you. And even so the sound is not loud enough to be heard from far away, it’s still there, it still can be heard, and still changes how you can play the game.
It’s a simple decision, and I am sure that Valve’s Audio Team had the best intentions when adding this to the game. But, it has changed an important part of the sound, that affects gameplay.
So, what can all of this teach us? We really need to understand the game we’re working on, and that the decisions we make can change it a lot. we can make it stand out for the good and for the bad. We even have the power to make a game easier or harder, depending on the sound design decisions we make. And that’s why sound design is so important when developing a game (although many times it’s left in background).
Mauricio Ruiz – www.mauricioruiz.me