In part 2 of this sound design in gaming feature, we investigate the technical limitations placed on sound designers and how they overcome them. Also, we ask industry composers how to best enjoy their works and which way the industry is headed. Before we can truly know where we are, we first must come to understand how we got to the point we’re at now.
Each console generation has been armed with unique features that allow its platforms to stand out from their predecessors, and it’s safe to say that the display features have certainly been one of the defining points as of late. Where does that leave audio? For the most part, not much has changed lately in terms of audio hardware. The Wii doesn’t even offer discrete 5.1 audio, and the Xbox 360 still uses the same compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 format from the previous generation. Only the Playstation 3 offers uncompressed, 7.1 surround sound in the form of DTS-HD Master or Dolby True HD. But, both of these require HDMI connections and not every title supports them.
The forefathers of gaming sound design were limited in their approach to the field, as the 80s and much of the early 90s hardware could only reproduce sound through the use of MIDI, or Musical Instrument Digital Interface. MIDI is an industry standard that enables the communication between electrical instruments such as synthesizers, keyboards, and computers. The major benefit to using this technology was twofold: small file sizes and adoption by various hardware and computing manufacturers.