Saturday, June 8, 2013

Surveying Literature: A Comprehensive Study of Sound in Computer Games (Kristine Jorgensen)

For several months, I've been dipping in and out of Kristine Jorgensen's book, A Comprehensive Study of Sound in Computer Games (How Audio Affects Player Action).  Finally finished it up when I was up north on vacation with no internet!  When I started reading it, I expected the player reactions toward the end of the book to be the most interesting part, perhaps in part because that's exactly what Jorgensen suggests in the beginning of the book.  Instead, in retrospect, the most compelling section was where Jorgensen explains terminology unique to game audio.  The terminology here is enough to satiate any musicologist looking for intellectual fodder.  For anyone considering conducting a formal study of game audio, this book is a must read.  A methodology for studying game audio and how it affects the player is presented in detail and explained thoroughly.

As I read, at times, I thought about how awkward it is to describe gameplay and game audio so extensively in words.  Eventually, most games become widely unplayable as technology changes and they're left behind.  Earthbound (until recently), Diablo, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the arcade), some of which are now coming out in the same or new versions, others of which are yet to be released on modern systems...  Sometimes, these are amazing games that just become unplayable; and as hard as it can be to imagine, even the beloved WarCraft 3 may one day become one of these games.  Of course, video and audio recording of the gameplay would be a better record than a printed one and access to the interviews and gameplay would also provide greater understanding of the player reactions in this study.

Here are some of the most interesting ideas/quotes/definitions from the book:

"Lars Konzack explains that games must be analyzed on the basis of seven layers: hardware, program code, computer application functionality, gameplay, meaning, referentiality, and socio-culture."  It's definitely good to keep in mind all of the things that can be understood about a game to provide full insight into it.

"Alex Stockburger creates the following categories of sound objects: score sound objects, zone sound objects, interface sound objects, speech sound objects, and a range of different effect sound objects."  For more explanation, one might imagine these as: music, sounds attached to locations, sounds in menus/results of player commands, speech sounds are pretty self-explanatory, and effects sounds examples include magic spells, death sounds, etc.

"When we hear the sound of a gong in Warcraft III, it is not important to know where this sound originates from, but it is important to know that the sound signals a change in status."

Here's a list of terms that I found particularly engaging:

Perceptual fidelity-- "What game developers are striving for when adding sound to a game for the purpose of creating a lifelike and naturalistic environment.  Magic spells, for example, which have no real "audio fidelity" have perceptual fidelity....  Describes how sounds can support a lifelike and credible environment without conforming to standards of realism."

Earcons-- artificial noises and music with arbitrary or symbolic relationship to its referent.  Non-familiar or abstract sounds such as artificial noises and short musical phrases that are not intuitively recognized and that the perceiver must learn.

Auditory icons-- characteristic sounds that can be recognized as sounds of corresponding real world events.  Do not have to be learned.  Are recognized intuitively.

Transdiegetic sounds-- a cross between diegetic sounds and extra diegetic sounds.  Work from both an internal and external function in the game world.  Provides both a system message function and is part of the virtual world to which the game belongs.  Can manifest as both earcons and as auditory icons.

Functions of game audio:
1- Usability functions-- sounds that have a direct relation to actions in the computer game, either proactive or reactive
2- Orienting functions-- concern information about the existence, prsence, and relative location and distance of objects, events, and situations in the game environment.  Extend the player's perception.
3- Atmospheric functions-- provide moods to the game in order to increase the sense of a lifelike universe, player engagement, and the sense of presence in the game world
4- Identifying functions-- sound as a system or recognition.