Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Half Life 2, Episode 2: An example of Non-repetitive Audio

Half-Life 2, Episode 2 is a great example of non-repetitive audio in video games. The ambiance, voice acting, and particular highlighted sounds, have special treatments that help achieve variety in the game.

Each location has a well defined atmosphere. Sometimes the ambiance is made up of different layers that create textures matching the mood of the scenes. There are also smooth transitions from one place to another, allowing you to hear faraway noises from the place you were just before. Often, the ambiance melds gradually with music pads in a way that makes it impossible to spot loops.

The following is an example of a well defined ambiance, with mysterious pads and subtle birds outside. See min. 6:40 - 6:60. (In this link you can see it with more quality in min 6.25). An example of a smooth transition can also bee seen in the video, when the character moves from an exterior place into a cave. See min. 4:28:

Video 1.

Cave ambiances have mysterious music pads layering with other sounds, as seen in the following video. See min. 8:59

Video 2.

There are many cases in which it seems as if there were no sound ambiances at all. We can see this mostly in exterior places. Often, specific elements appear just to give a notion of the place, but they don't remain for a long period. One particular case is the birds. In many exterior scenes, there are birds singing for a few seconds. This serves as a transition from one interior place to an exterior location. However, the birds don't loop throughout the scene; they just mark the beginning or certain spots. Silence never lasts too much, as different noises or music pads begin to appear and mix with each other eventually. The next video clip is a good example:

Video 3

The music appears when danger is near. It starts in a subtle way, with a pad that mixes with the room tone, and gradually it all becomes a beat action music to emphasize  the danger. All the atmosphere (built up by ambiance and music) add tension to the action parts. Watch min 0:48 in the next video.

Video 4

Voice acting in this game is also a key element that enhances the whole gaming experience; it’s realistic and very emotive. The computer/robotic voices have different pitches, filters and special sound effects that add variety to the game making it hard to be bored. The characters' voices achieve a high level of expressiveness not only by the great voice acting itself, but by the use of non repetitive dialogs.

Video 5

Accurate detail in some particular sounds is the third audio aspect that stands out in this game, making it non-repetitive. The “reloading weapon sounds” are very specific. Footsteps are always different. The shooting sounds vary sometimes, depending on who or what is being shot. When shooting cars, you hear the the gun shot plus the metallic sound of the car hit by the bullet. Footsteps also vary depending on the material of the floor. There are footsteps over water, over wood, over metallic surfaces, etc. So, in general, there’s good coherence between the sound and the material. These small details help to make the game more realistic and non-repetitive.

Video 6

Overall, the game has great sound design largely because of non repetitive-audio. The specific highlighted sounds, subtly add detail and realism to the game, drawing the player’s attention to these sounds instead of the ambiances. Simultaneously, the atmosphere fusions organically with the music, emphasizing the events going on screen when there's danger and action. Ambiances are either made up of layers of sounds and music pads, or they are silent with key elements which are enough to define the ambiance (like the birds). Voices are always different in terms of expressiveness, pitch, and effects. All these aspects make it hard to find loops or repetition of sounds, making the game more interesting and providing an immersing feeling to the whole game experience.

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