Posted by: seanmalstrom | November 25, 2016

Why games sound like shit these days….

The gaming revolution has been seen entirely in terms of graphical upgrades until the Wii which got everyone thinking about input upgrades.

Input upgrades and graphical upgrades.

Graphical upgrades and input upgrades.

Above: Mega Man X with the MSU1 upgrade. This is how the game should sound.


This is how we think today. But everyone forgot that graphical upgrades are not the only output for video games. There is the aural output as well. The aural output was one of the hallmark benchmarks of each generation until the end of Generation 4. At that time, the aural consideration disappeared. And when that happened, games began to sound like shit.

Nolan Bushnell, the founder of Atari, revealed that one of the secrets to selling games was to make them sound FANTASTIC. He prioritized the aural output as opposed to, say, the graphical output. Nolan Bushnell did not make PONG. But he did add SOUND and aural effects to it which was needed. Each of the great Atari classics feature rich and memorable sound.

When Generation Three came along with the NES (quiet about the master system, no one really developed for it), the games sounded better than anything from Atari. The huge shock of Super Mario Brothers was that it had successfully tied in background music. Before Super Mario Brothers, background music was seen as a gimmick. There are amazing NES games with incredible music tracks despite the primitive technology.

With the 16 bit generation, the aural possibilities became much larger and grander. In fact, the CD-Rom attachment was more about the aural upgrade than anything else. CD quality sound meant that there could be no more upgrades to the aural path of gaming. Since then, the game developers decided to get derpy, go all in for 3d or Virtual Reality, and just largely focus on graphical upgades.  What was once uncompressed redbook audio sound has been replaced with digital music.


Take a look at this game that no one knows (so no nostalgia is being a factor). I am not going to debate the voice acting or choice of sound effects. But what cannot be denied is how much better impact the sound is. The reason why the impact is so good is because the audio is uncompressed. Today, we only get compressed audio.


Above: Warcraft 2’s music was Redbook audio and uncompressed. Warcraft 3, however, was compressed.

I have been wondering why the Game Industry abandoned uncompressed aural output. Here is what I have found out:

One, ‘to save storage size’. This, however, doesn’t make much sense since we have infinite space today including the Internet. An option for uncompressed aural output could be made.

Two, many PC gamers do not have the right audio. This is a cop-out. PC gamers always have the hardware they want. This is a developer issue, not a hardware issue.

Three, people do not care. There could be truth to this. After all, there is such a thing as ‘good enough’. But we have long passed ‘good enough’ when it comes to Game Industry making sure every blade of grass is represented and every sweat pore works on their characters. Why does my Turbografx 16 make better aural output than present day systems including PC?

Folks, they KNOW uncompressed is better. In Civilization V, the menu theme is uncompressed while the other songs are compressed. How strange! But the thing is, they know.


Above: Civilization 5’s menu song was uncompressed while other songs were not.

While large storage size is a con for uncompressed audio, there is a pro for it aside from it sounding better: less cpu usage. Uncompressed audio doesn’t have to be ‘unpacked’. Titanfall actually used uncompressed audio in order to save the cpu performance.

Fourth, with using compressed audio, they developers give you a reason to buy their game’s soundtrack.

Why not give gamers the option to use uncompressed audio? Even Nintendo gamers should have the option as the music can download to a beefy memory card. It is hypocritical for the Game Industry to say, “We must all sacrifice in order to get the better graphic output,” when they keep sabotaging the aural output.

“It doesn’t matter.”

I think it does. There is a reason why PC gamers used to buy Soundblasters and other sound cards back in the day. There is a reason why Genesis collectors prefer their model one version with the Yamaha board on it. If the aural output didn’t matter, then why are these same companies trying to sell us soundtracks?

Let’s return to a high aural output in gaming.



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