How audio became a vital part of gaming

By July 29, 2022 August 7th, 2022 Listen, News

Esports is fast becoming one of the most popular gaming and gambling industry sectors, with the top competitions, teams and players attracting worldwide attention. The journey has been spectacular, from the huge events shown on television and live streaming apps to the odds offered on esports at sports betting sites. But it’s not over yet, not nearly.

As the prize money available in the top esports tournaments continues to rise, a higher calibre of players can now make a living gaming professionally. Fortnight, League of Legends and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive are just some of the titles.

Attitudes to gaming have changed

The days of Atari, AMSTRAD, Sega Master System and Super Nintendo are long gone, confined to the history books to never see the light of day again. Other than the odd dusting off when a player is in the mood for some retro classics. Those platforms were popular in the early days of home gaming and arcades, and they served a purpose at the time, but the gaming of the 90s bears no resemblance to today’s gaming.

The console gaming favourites of yesteryear were often played by teenagers in darkened rooms, cut off from society or amongst friends sharing one or two controllers. Looking back, they were good times. Harmless fun and a chance to escape reality, diving into the world of Battle Axe, Streets of Rage or Sonic the Hedgehog. But things have been improved and updated, repackaged for Generation Z, who see gaming as possible employment.

One area that has improved more than most is the audio used in games. Sound effects and music’s importance and role in games are immeasurable in dragging the industry into the 21st century and making gaming more popular and easier to sell than ever. Below, we glimpse at the journey of audio in video games throughout the years.

Why audio is so important

The importance of good audio plays in gaming is often overlooked by the majority of players who are dazzled by the visual effects and gameplay. But your gaming experience would be far inferior if the audio, soundtrack and sound effects weren’t as good as they could be. As a gamer, audio creates tension, sets the mood, builds expectation or puts the player at ease. The clever audio planning can take the gamer on an emotional rollercoaster, fully immersing us in the play.

The journey of sound in games is interesting. It all started back in the 1950S when arcade games were played on home computers that would dwarf any gaming system around today. The monitors alone were often larger than a traditional microwave or television. Bigger isn’t always better. We know that now. Early games were played without sound or with basic bleeps and beeps, similar to what you’d find on a baby’s battery-powered toy today.

Fast forward 20 years and technology made gaming a big business, making everything smaller and home entertainment became realistic for more people. You no longer had to have a huge computer and bank account to play games in your room. Games like Pong remain simple, but they were well received, and it’s at that point we start to see audio used.

Increased memory meant the producers of games could begin to use more realistic sounds in the 1990s and early 2000s. That’s when we saw commentary introduced to sports titles, such as FIFA. There was also crowd noise and chants to create an atmosphere with popular songs added to the start screens. The beeps of the 80s were gone forever, and it’s unlikely we’ll see anything like that again.

Today, when a game is being made, there’s nothing to stop the producers from employing a full orchestra as there are little constraints on space, allowing more room for music and effects. Many do employ complete orchestras too. They use the same techniques we see in cinema to keep players on the edge of their seats.

When it comes to soundtracks, we pinpoint Grand Theft Auto Vice City as a trailblazer. That was the first mainstream game that allowed the user to select their own soundtrack, flicking through stations on the car radio. We’re all very excited to see what’s next.

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