Ambient Noise in Video Games

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Ambient Noise in Video Games

Postby Kongfucius » Mon Aug 10, 2015 2:02 am

If you are on this forum, reading this post, there is a good chance that, like myself, you believe the old Rare games like DK Country, DK 64, and Banjo Kazooie were absolute masterpieces. For me the one thing that set these games apart from their platformer peers is the incredible atmosphere each one of these games created. Now don't get me wrong, gameplay is important too, but I've always felt that the true magic of these games was their ability to transport you beyond the mundane world you normally inhabit and allow you to experience an entirely new one. So what makes a game atmospheric, you might ask?

To be sure, the visuals are a major part of a game's atmosphere, but not the aspect I wish to discuss here. What I see as the other important factor in establishing atmosphere is the sound design. Specifically, I think an important, yet oft-overlooked aspect of a game's design is the ambient noise. It is a small detail, but I feel it can really go that extra mile (or that extra 1.6 kilometers for you non-American types who use a sane system of measurement) in transforming a soulless and empty video game level and making it feel full of life. And who understood this fact better than Mr. Kirkhope? Take a listen to any one of the tracks from Banjo Kazooie or Donkey Kong 64. Or, better yet, play through the games again and pay close attention to the ambient sounds incorporated into the soundtrack. Visit Jungle Japes and hear the birds chirping, monkeys screeching, and elephants trumpeting. Brave a trip to Creepy Castle to listen to the moans emanating from the dungeon, and feel a chill travel up your spine as shrill laughter echoes through the empty ballroom. Voyage to Rusty Bucket Bay and listen to the horns and whistles of the boats sounding off while seagulls caw in the distance. Finally, make your way over to Click Clock Woods and soak in the sun while a veritable choir of birds, bees, and frogs sing along to the melody.

Actually, Mr. Kirkhope wasn't even the first Rare composer to incorporate ambient noise into his soundtracks. The equally brilliant David Wise was also a master at weaving environmental noises into his tunes. Though the DKC games don't incorporate quite as much DK 64 or Banjo might have, I can think of plenty of examples, such as Jungle Hijinx, Hot Head Bop, Bayou Boogie, and Jib Jig.

Am I crazy for having typed out this long rant about ambient noise? Probably. But I will let you guys be the judge of that. Does anybody agree with me here when I say that ambient noise really adds a lot to the experience? Does anybody strongly disagree? Furthermore, what role do you believe, or hope, ambient noise will play in Yooka Laylee? Thus far none of the music tracks we have heard have incorporated any ambient sounds, but they were labelled as works in progress, so perhaps some will be added in later. What are some of your favorite (or least favorite) uses of ambient noise in video games? I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Re: Ambient Noise in Video Games

Postby Gorjo » Sat Mar 25, 2017 8:01 pm

As already said, lack of noise can make a level feel soulless, but Treasure Trove Cove from Banjo Kazooie actually manages to use silence in its favor. When you reach the top of the mountain, the (very catchy) music suddendly stops and all you can hear is the wind. It's surprising and it really makes you think you are at high altitude.


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Re: Ambient Noise in Video Games

Postby Yavga » Sat Mar 25, 2017 8:51 pm

Oh hey, never thought about the ambient within the soundtracks but yes. When thinking about it I always loved the playful sounds within the tracks. Like the "BWAAARRK" the bird does in Click Clock woods. The music from Rareware games is absolutely unique, I fell in love with Kirkhope's music.

I actually sometimes listen to the soundtrack of BK games when I'm in a foul mood and these tracks somehow make me happy again and get me all kidlike.

For me the level design did wonders as well. They were not too big but just big enough. They felt great and cosy as well.

Van't wait for their next piece, Yooka-Laylee!
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Re: Ambient Noise in Video Games

Postby Thrix » Thu Apr 13, 2017 12:07 am

This is a gospel I've been preaching for ages. Absolutely agree to 100% on this one! Remember the laughter in the ballroom or the weird moaning in the catacombs in DK64? Music and sounds are the key factors to creating an excellent atmosphere.

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Re: Ambient Noise in Video Games

Postby FailureFactory » Thu Apr 27, 2017 5:10 pm

DKC 2 also had the sound of waves for ship levels, wind in the rigs, insects in the swamp, clanking metal in the mines, fireworks on the roller coaster. David Wise absolutely got this too imo.

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Re: Ambient Noise in Video Games

Postby rocho » Fri Apr 28, 2017 8:34 pm

I definitely love the ambient noises in those games and actually asked Grant Kirkhope if he would be using them for Yooka-Laylee. His answer at the time was a resounding no but I haven't been able to play the game to finally confirm if it was or wasnt included in the spiritual successor.

I hope we get more tracks like that in upcoming games!

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Re: Ambient Noise in Video Games

Postby EekumBokum202 » Fri Aug 11, 2017 6:48 pm

I feel like when it comes to music and sound effects, they're usually an afterthought to some people, but the wrong music or sound can feel really out of place and take you out of the game more than you'd think. As a game developer, you really need to think about what kind of effect you're aiming for with your game had have the music and sound effects match up with it.

I'm not sure what to say regarding ambience, since I think the idea is not to notice that kind of thing. They're supposed to blend into the background, after all.
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