Friday, July 21, 2006

Shadow of The Colossus - A Sonification Case Study

The significance of establishing pleasure in the sonification of emotionally driven sound effects.

It happens without your knowing, everyday waking up to the sounds of the world. Each step as familiar as it is different. Your day alive with the noise of life constantly updating your auditory experience. Within this environment we come to identify and identify with the various recurring dramatic sound elements during our travels.

Our morning cup and it's brewing, the familiar slam of a car door, the double click of a mouse, engaging the bubbler, stepping off the elevator...each with it's own distinct sound rooting us firmly in the present. With immediacy and a sense of appropriateness, sound helps to support and imbue our sonic landscape with a sense of familiarity/foreignness, pride/shame, and accomplishment/failure.

In Shadow of the Colossus it is this sense of pride and accomplishment that is reinforced through the use of sonification, audio branding, or ear-cons in an attempt to connect the pleasure of an act with a resulting identifiable, and understandable sonic cue. This allows the player to recognize immediately the weight of what has transpired, and emotionally connect though sound.

An example would be in the explosion of each colossi statue after their defeat. Each statue explodes with the same reverse-reverbed wind-up, followed by impact, and the inevitable sounds of scattering boulders and spraying debris. Each time the same sound and each time conveying the same dramatic weight, immediately recognizable as the falling of yet another in a long line of ancient creatures. The sound of success boiled down to a single sonification.

It was often a goal at the end of a level in Super Mario Brothers to elicit the most fireworks by jumping on the flagpole at the appropriate time. My reward wasn't the completion of a level, but an opportunity to hear the supernatural sound of the fireworks that came after a successful jump...and the more fireworks, the better it felt...for me because of this sound.

We are swiftly approaching an age where audio will be freed from the current file size/quality restrictions, much to the delight of game audio-philes everywhere. With this increase in space and quality, comes the expectation of diversity in the sounds used to represent the worlds we create. Diversity, often used to increase audio immersion and further the suspension of disbelief through the use of multiple samples, randomized pitch or volume, and dynamic 3D world positioning for real world elements can go along way towards improving the feel of a game through sound.

However, within this diversity we must continue to bring across the impact of emotional reward at times through the use of consistent identifiable sounds.

See also: sound

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