I am ALL about the clickbaity titles!
Anyway, if you haven’t figured it out by now, I’m absolutely fascinated with sound design and music in games. It’s so crucial and underrated, and MMORPGs are chock-full of all of these audio touches that go largely unnoticed and unappreciated.
The other day I was thinking about what it was about (of all things) Disney rides that made them so special. There are a lot of answers to this, of course, but my mind drifted over to the topic of their sound design. With music and sound effects, an audio team can transform something fairly ordinary (a dark ride, a coaster) into something that’s on a whole new level. Almost every one of my favorite Disney rides — Haunted Mansion, Splash Mountain, Spaceship Earth, Tower of Terror — have an incredible sound design that cranks up the intensity of the experience and draws the rider into a more immersive world.
That musing brought me over to an experience that I go through nearly daily, that of MMOs. I’d almost never thought about how I set up my audio for games, because I’ve pretty much done it the same way since 2001. I max everything out and then settle for adjusting the master volume up and down as needed.
But what if there’s a better way?
What if there’s a more immersive way that uses sound design to draw out the world and make you feel as if you’re really a part of it?
And the solution for this was really simple, but when I tried it, it instantly transformed the games I was playing into something else entirely.
The key here is ambient sounds. I think these get shoved into the backseat because we think of “ambient” and “background” as synonyms. But when you think about it, the ambient noises of the world should be highlighted. They’re the natural noises of the world, and in our lives, they’re the ones that are all around us constantly, grounding us in a sense of reality.
What I did, then, was to put ambient sounds in my games at max volume — and then all other sound channels (except master) at around 20%. Enough to hear and enjoy, but not enough to compete with or overwhelm the ambiance.
To me, this really created a more immersive experience. I was listening more to the wind and waves and creakings and other sound effects that the designers had put into the game than the rote combat noises. And even the soundtrack, when reduced, became less a blaring movie-like score and more like soft music drifting over the hills or out of villages.
Anyway, maybe it’s silly, maybe it’s simple, but by giving ambient noises their due, I’ve found a way to enjoy these old games in a whole new and exciting way for me.
I’d love for some of you to try this and let me know what you think. Does it make much of a difference? What do you notice with the ambient noises cranked up?