The one thing that’s a big part of any game that isn’t always discussed is sound; unless it’s done really well or there’s something really wrong, it doesn’t get mentioned. Here are some of The Cursed’s milestones for sound in gaming over the years.
The first time I ever remember exclusively paying attention to sound was when NBA Live 95 came out for the SNES and the EA Sports voice hit me in the face. “EA Sports… It’s in the game!” I was floored. Reset. “It’s in the game!” Reset. Repeat. It probably took me 20 minutes to get to the game for the first time. There was just something about the clarity of the voice that caught me off guard. Take that, scratchy Say-gah! I thought I was pretty bad ass for owning a console capable of this.
The sound that sticks with me has to be the ambient noise of Resident Evil 1. It may not have been a milestone in terms of the industry, but for me it still finds its way into my nightmares. The sound of mutant dogs in the background made my hair stand on end and at the same time made me feel sorry for the unfortunate creatures caught in the Umbrella experiments.
This is a great point to bring up as sound can really make or break a game. First, in terms of sound, I will always remember playing Myst for the first time and just being drawn into it. The music set the mood and the clicks and clanks of the environment made the entire island truly come alive. I actually own just about all of the Myst soundtracks for that very reason. The sounds and music take me back to that place whenever I feel like I want an adventure.
Secondly, I remember when I started playing Orphen: Scion of Sorcery for PS2 (I think it was my first PS2 game), and the characters started talking. I was floored by the idea that all the characters in a game could actually talk instead of just reading text bubbles the whole time. Now, I’m a little weirded out if any characters in a game don’t talk.
I clearly remember the digitized Se-ga! chorus at the opening screen of Sonic the Hedgehog; while I forgot about the EA Sports opener for FIFA and NHL ’94 (where I never played as Hartford, the Whale, because no matter what Brody-san says, they sucked) I may or may not have beaten that reset button like JDevL just to hear that, whatever “it” was, it was without a doubt, in the game.
In more recent games, I’ve been very impressed with how well some developers have taken advantage of surround sound. Gears of War 1 and 2 had a great effect of making a near-miss from a sniper rifle sound like it had just buzzed past your ear. BioShock and Dead Space took full advantage of ambient noise, but I’d laud any of those games because I loved almost everything about them, but let me touch on a game that I wasn’t crazy about but had great sound: Darksiders. With incredible voice-acting from Liam O’Brien as War (who sounded like James Earl Jones barely keeping from bursting into a berserker rage every time he spoke) and Mark Hamil as a slimy Watcher, someone knew what they were looking for when they cast the voice actors. When War jumped or dashed or split someone in half with the Chaos Bringer, it reinforced the point that you are War – a hulking, violent, fuming Horseman of the Apocalypse with the added insult of having been done wrong. That’s the borderline between “good” and “great” sound for me: the sound engineers and game director have to remember the identity of the game that they’re making and use the sound just like they do the visuals and UI. It helps tell the story and even if your character modeling or animation isn’t quite perfect, when you’ve got a great sound guy who’s obsessed with making sure that the only noise you hear from your ninja is the whisper of his slippers on different surfaces or that as the internal game clock moves, you hear crickets as the sun goes down, owls and frogs at night, songbirds in the morning and vultures during the day, you’ve got an invaluable tool for creating a more immersive experience.
When it comes to current games and sound I really can’t get passed the work that Visceral has done with Dead Space and even parts of Dante’s Inferno. They can create hell on earth like no other and instill panic in the player when nothing is actually happening. When I am that lost in a game world because of sound alone, that’s the hallmark of an amazing experience. Speaking of Mark Hamill, I defy anyone to try and top the voice cast of Batman: Arkham Asylum. Sure, I’m biased, but I felt like I was playing an updated version of Batman: The Animated Series. That also goes to show just how far sound and the industry has come when games are regularly able to get big name actors to contribute to their games.
On the annoying side of sound though, it begins and ends with Slippy Toad in Star Fox 64. What an unfortunate incident in voice in video games history. I think Nintendo has been scared to put voices to their characters ever since. Makes you kind of glad that Link is still a mute.
Except for that girly little grunt Link makes when he takes damage. Good call on the Arkham Asylum voice acting; beyond that, I can’t give enough credit to the ambient/combat noise in that game, either. Whether it was sliding along on the zip-line or listening to rocks tumbling along the foundations of Arkham if you stepped wrong, the non-verbal sound-work was really, really well done.
The first time I was really blown away by sound was in a (surprise) Final Fantasy game. The first time I made it to the Opera House in Final Fantasy VI was blown away with the artistry on how it was created. Despite being the best music in a game up to that point, the way SquareSoft (at the time) faked the voice was really cool. For such a great game overall, this scene stands out above all others and remains the high water mark for music in a game for me.
Coming in a close second and the game with the best music over all in the history of video games, is Castlevania: Symphony of the Night. It’s the only game I have bought a soundtrack for so that should tell you something. It even had a hidden music track on the original PSX disc it came on. You just had to put it in your cd player and select track 2. Does it get better than that?
Sidenote, I really want to play Final Fantasy VI right now after listening to this: Opera House Song (just the song. the actual scenes that I found were of bad quality.)
Oh, the untouchable Symphony of the Night soundtrack reminds me of the first CD based soundtrack I noticed. That would be the song Hell March from Command and Conquer: Red Alert – (00:45)
Nobody kicked as much ass as Tonya and I did while this song was playing. It just makes you feel like a one (wo)man army. I also had my mind blown when Nine Inch Nails handled the Quake 1 soundtrack, and then Sonic Mayhem put together my second favorite soundtrack for Quake 2. Weren’t CD’s amazing? (Wait, they are still around?)
Shit, Final Fantasy VI is a least tied with Castlevania: SOTN in my book. Just started listening to more music from there. It is so good!
SOTN had a solid soundtrack and I really liked the hidden track you could find if you put the game disc in a CD player. Speaking of soundtracks, to be honest, Call of Duty games tend to have pretty solid ones, especially Modern Warfare 2. Nine Inch Nails on the and Quake was a solid match. I forget how much I appreciate Trent Reznor.
I agree with Justin in terms of overall sound with Dead Space. Slime, gore and scary voices in the background made for the type of game that could still scare me with my eyes closed.
Now that I think about it, the first game to actually creep me out with it’s sound/atmosphere was actually the intro to Super Metroid. There’s just something haunting about that music and the baby metroid noises. That ghost ship level before the power comes on isn’t exactly comfortable either. The SNES was a powerhouse for its day for sure.
I don’t think it was exceptional by any means, but I got a surround sound system right around the time of Unreal Tournament 2003. The first time you boot up a competitive multiplayer shooter with surround sound and can actually here shots and footsteps behind you is when you can never go back. Just being able to locate enemies by the noises they are making in the next room and using that to your advantage was mind blowing.
I think this video is appropriate here. Classic games with new sound. This would have made a huge difference in game immersion!
Agreed, Justin – although I just bought surround headphones, I’ve had a 5.1 setup on my PC since 1999 and a 5.1 receiver for my TV/consoles since 2005. Playing on someone else’s setup, even if they have a brand new TV with pretty good built in speakers that attempt to approximate surround sound (ahem, Mom) really screws me up after this long of relying on having 360 degree sound cues.
I’ve been really impressed by the sound in Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Criterion is all about creating a sense of speed in their racing games, and coming in and out of burnouts is an aural pleasure. Added to that is the moment when you lose control of your car and wreck spectacularly, complete with the sounds of grinding metal and other vehicles being destroyed in your wake.
This is one of the more ironic statements I’ve uttered lately but I honestly don’t pay very much attention to the overall sound design of the game unless it’s extremely good or extremely bad. That’s pretty awful; I probably should pay more attention considering it’s, I’m sure, not too much of a stretch to say that I probably have a better idea of the kind of work and amount that goes into something like that than most. Some of the memories I DO have though have already been mentioned. Darksiders did have an excellent cast, which included not only the actors mentioned but a nearly unrecognizable Phil LaMarr. Speaking of voice work, has H. Jon Benjamin ever done any games? He should. In fact, there should be an Archer game. I have very distinct memory of Slippy Toad, too, but it’s from the first game. It would be impossible to type out what he says whenever a message from him appears but it sounds a bit like saying the phrase “couldn’t be better” with a severe speech impediment and a mouth full of mushy bread. I can hear it clear as day even though I haven’t played that game for years. I also have a memory from Super Metroid but it’s the sound that the baby Metroid makes during the endgame fight. It sounds like it’s saying “Cigar” over and over. My brain hears weird things. And of course, who can forget the classic voicework from Super Mario Kart? Everyone knows “It’s a-me, Mario!” (which was brilliantly alluded to in Assassin’s Creed II, by the way). Long story short: note to self – pay more attention to game sound design.
Sound is too easily overlooked when it is done well. Even at when it is at its best, most of the time you don’t notice it until after the fact. But sound sticks with you, it haunts you, it reminds you of your favorite moments when you least expect it. It has the power to take you back, annoy you, terrify you, and empower you outside of the game. Nowadays, sound engulfs you and pulls you into the game further than we have ever been before.
Giant Bomb (images)