Technical Audio Designer | Functional Audio and Audio UX in video games
The plane with two axes: Ludic as X and Narrative as Y
The plane with two axes: Ludic as X and Narrative as Y

I believe that game sound design is not about designing sound, but about designing the game via sound. Every sound has a function. Every sound needs a purpose. As Joel Beckerman and Tyler Gray write in The Sonic Boom, “Sound for sound’s sake is often a missed opportunity.” But game audio is rarely discussed in these terms in the professional community. Like many others in this field, I used to focus on audio much more than on design during my years of learning. …


A photo of a cotton field
A photo of a cotton field
Photo by Amber Martin on Unsplash

In my two previous posts, I looked for a reliable technique to control the perceived unpleasantness of video game sound effects. Even though I couldn’t discover a 100% working method, there is evidence that it is not an impossible goal. Here I’m investigating if it works the other way around, and exploring several ways to make sounds pleasant to hear.

I’m not trying to build a theory that explains why things sound pleasant to us. Instead, I focus on psychology- and psychoacoustics-driven approaches to help sound designers solve design problems. …


Part 2: Practice

Witch from Left 4 Dead
Witch from Left 4 Dead
The Witch from Left 4 Dead

In the previous post, I described several acoustic properties that, according to scientific literature, make sound unpleasant to hear. In the second part, I’m trying to apply that knowledge to analyze the actual sounds from videogames.

Let’s assume we can reduce the non-contextual unpleasantness of a sound to a set of acoustic properties. Then game audio designers must have already applied them in their work based on intuitive judgment. That’s why instead of designing horrible noises and torturing the test subjects with them, I decided to analyze real sound effects from well-known games. …


Part 1: Theory

An old claxon
An old claxon

After I wrote a post about disruptive audio in games, a few people asked why didn’t I mention any known acoustic features of annoying or unpleasant sound effects. Back then, I did it on purpose. I think it is a vast topic that deserves a separate, in-depth exploration.

There are some universally hated sounds like the scratching of fingernails over a chalkboard. Nobody in the entire world perceives them as pleasant, disregarding the context. And I think it is fascinating! It implies the existence of certain acoustic features that trigger negative emotional reactions in every human being. And if such…


A photo of the man showing his open hand to the camera. The word “Listen” is written on the hand.
A photo of the man showing his open hand to the camera. The word “Listen” is written on the hand.
Photo by B Rosen

Have you ever tried to follow two conversations at once? You probably know how difficult it is. In 1953 E. Colin Cherry conducted a series of experiments on speech recognition, addressing the phenomenon called “Cocktail Party Effect.” The results showed that people who listen to recorded speech fail to comprehend a different spoken sentence if it plays at the same time. And even more, the subjects couldn’t notice that the other speaker had switched to a different language or that the recording played backward.

These experiments demonstrate that our auditory attention is very scarce. Evidence suggests that it is limited…


Abstract picture with red background and megaphone
Abstract picture with red background and megaphone
Photo by Amanda Lins on Unsplash

How do we know that the sounds we create support the game design and improve the player experience? For many sound designers, the answer is “Intuitively.” Even though I don’t want to undervalue the power or professional intuition, I think it has its limits. In this post, I want to explore cases where intuitive judgment is not enough. I’ll be looking at the disruptive potential of game audio from the audio UX perspective, focusing on sounds that distract, mislead, or irritate the player.

Our hearing is very good at driving bottom-up attention for evolutionary reasons. By hearing, we detect distant…

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