Game Music

The future of sound: VR gaming audio

The Typical Gaming Audio Experience

Audio has always been a huge part of the user experience of gaming especially with 5.1 surround sound systems becoming affordable and a regular part of consumer home theater and office gaming. As gaming technologies advanced, so did the audio aspects of the experience starting with mono 8 bit audio, with very simple digital sfx, to modern day multi-channel real world sound with some systems outputting 8 or more channels of sound at high definition sampling rates. Playing a game today means immersing yourself into the very setting of the game visually as well as audibly.

Game designers have access to the tools and resources to bring a seemingly real-life experience to gamers, but a new bar is about to be set in the industry — enter Virtual Reality (VR). So far as gaming goes, we have always known a picture to be a 2-dimensional vertical surface displaying a 3-dimensional picture. There has been a small niche success with 3d visuals but it has always come from the same vertical surface. This has been coupled with an HD audio experience that has always resided on the horizontal plane, the same plane as our ears. But think for a minute about real life. We have about a 180-degree visual experience, and a 360-degree auditory experience. Imagine gaming had this same experience. Well, it is about to!

Time For An Upgrade

I’m sure you’ve seen the clips on social media about an unsuspecting parent being coaxed into wearing one of those new virtual reality headsets. The realism they feel while experiencing those videos is incredible enough to cause bodily functions to react to the image. This is where gaming and future film industries are going, and at a fast pace. The visual aspect of Virtual Reality has advanced much further compared to the audio part of the equation, though. Soon, not only will you be a part of the experience, but you will be able to control it with your body as you already do by using a controller.

Ambisonics – The Future Realized

Ambisonic audio was discovered in the early 1970’s but never really took off due to not having a practical use. Using a special array of microphones, a 360-degree auditory experience could be achieved using special encoders and decoders to position sounds anywhere in the 360-degree space. Sound was taken out of the horizontal domain and was able to add sound above and below the listener’s point of reference as well.

With Virtual Reality starting to pick up momentum and gaining interest in consumer markets, it has spurred the re-opening of research and development for ambisonic audio. Universities are starting to collect data on how to make a 360 degree sound to match with Virtual Reality visuals to create the ultimate real life experience. It will not be long before gaming and film start to use this technology on a huge scale.

The Ultimate Gaming Experience

I imagine a game where you can actually become the character in the game instead of just controlling them with a handheld controller, or becoming a character in a movie instead of just watching a movie. Standing in the center of your 5.1 surround system, you will be able to hear sounds coming from your left side on the ground. A true sound depiction of a jet coming from behind you on the left, to in front of you on the right. You turn your head to look at it, and the sound tracks exactly as it would seeing the real thing. A person shouting at you from behind, so you turn around and the sound of the person is now in front of you. The options are endless!

Ambisonic audio will allow you to pinpoint with accuracy, the localization of sounds whether they are in front, behind, above, or below you, or any combination of them, and allow the designer to manipulate in real time the changing characteristics of it based on the users perspective.

Sound FX libraries used in professional gaming have all been developed in the horizontal domain, with the very best recordings being made in stereo with 2 channels. With the need for Ambisonic audio as a result of Virtual Reality gaming, new sound libraries will need to be made to accommodate the development markets., a new all HD 96khz online sound library platform for game and film developers plans to be a part of this new emerging market, and will be offering ambisonic audio files in addition to its stunning selection of high quality sound fx to all of its subscribers as soon as it becomes available.

It is likely that Virtual Reality gaming will be an accessible technology for anybody to experience. Stay tuned as this technology progresses and comes to the forefront of the gaming industry. It is going to be fantastic!

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Chris Collins

I am a professional audio engineer and sound designer and own Sonic Alley Studios - a small professional recording studio in Ontario Canada. I launched in Oct '16 to help indie creators in the game, film, television, media, and virtual reality industries access professional HD sounds at affordable costs.

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