When we talk about computer (or video) games we are absolutely convinced that the sounds in the game are as essential as the animations itself. Try playing any game with the sound muted and you’ll see what I mean. Even the earliest games from 1970s (when the games emerged as a form of entertainment) had sounds in them. Back then the only way to embed sound into a game was by directly programming it into the computer chips. Therefore early video games musicians were required to program those sound chips and transcribe their music into the hardware. The music was monophonic and purely synthetic.
The technology has advanced very far since 1970s. Now it is possible to use a large number of samples, loops and even the whole complete musical tracks in any of the modern games. However, there’s one thing that has not changed in four decades – the reason why the sounds are used in computer games. The sole purpose of sounds in computer games is to enhance the gameplay experience, make the world of the game seem as real as possible so the player forgets his/her real life with its worries, disappointments and imperfections and instead, fights against various forms of evil eventually emerging a victor. Good dose of self-confidence guaranteed.
The article on the devmag.org.za website lists very accurately the main points of using sound in games:
“Sound gives feedback to the player in addition to visual feedback. In the game’s interface buttons make noises and during the gameplay audio feedback helps player feel his actions have an effect.
Sound gives the player information about the game and its world itself, for example, the sound of approaching enemies warns to player to get ready. It also helps draw the attention to important game events.
Sound forms part of the award system of the game.
Sounds help create realism. They help to immerse the player deeper into the game world and encourages the suspension of disbelief. It helps put the player in the scene, making her part of the action.
Sound creates mood and pace, most often as background music. The cinematic soundtracks used in strategy games have nothing to do with realism or feedback or information. Instead, glorifies the setting, it makes the events feel epic, and so enhances the player’s feeling that he is doing something important. Similarly, the action-packed feeling of an arcade game is as much a result of the blingy music as it is of the actual gameplay.” (devmag.org.za)
To analyse game sound in more detail we can use IEZA model. All sounds in the game can be divided into four categories: Interface, Effect, Zone and Affect, hence the name – IEZA. I’ve attached the link to the pdf file about IEZA at the bottom of my log.
But for now I’m going to try to explain the IEZA model in a simplest way that I am able to come up with. Firstly all the sounds can be divided into two categories:
a) sounds that are meant to be heard by the game character only (diegetic sounds)
b) sounds that are meant to be heard by the player only (non-diegetic).
Secondly all the sounds can also be divided into other two categories:
c) sounds that are influenced directly by player’s actions (activity)
d) sounds that are not directly influenced by player’s actions (setting)
So now those two dividing lines slice the whole bunch of sounds into four smaller categories:
Interface. Those are mostly sounds from the menu window, such as Load, Save, Delete. Not part of the gameplay, non-diegetic. They are there for the player only, the main character in the game can’t hear them.
Effect. Those can be shooting, walking, running jumping and fighting sounds. They are triggered by the keyboard (controller) presses or mouse clicks. They are main part of the gameplay, diegetic.
Zone. Ambience of the game world environment, the hum of factory machinery, crowd cheering, wind, rain and other nature sounds. Player has no direct control over them, but the character is meant to hear them, so they are diegetic.
Affect. This can be a musical track in the game. The music might change from one room to another. Alternatively, sounds from this category can work as a feedback to the player about the status of his character and/or gameplay. Game character is not meant to hear them. They are non-diegetic.