Audio Quality in Video Games


#1

Hello everyone! I wanted to talk about my experience with Prey 2017. I recently got the game on Steam because it was on sale for 19.99 or thereabouts. I started to play the game and was immediately into the visuals of the game. There were some cool pieces of art to look at in Yu’s room and the game on a technical level looks so pretty! I got into the helicopter and then into the elevator. I got to the floor where Alex Yu was waiting for me. I walk up to him and he starts to speak. A few seconds later I hit the escape key. I was amazed at how bad the audio quality was on the voice over for Alex Yu! I literally could not continue playing the game.

I know I probably come off as a complete snob, but my problem with games that use a ton of data compression on their audio is that, especially with games that have come out in the last six years or so, is that the visuals will look technically great, but the audio quality will not match the visual quality and polish. It creates a dissonance for me of good looking visuals and bad audio quality. It really distracts me and takes me out of the moment completely for me. Does anyone else have this issue with audio in games? I apologize if I come off as an elitist person, but it really does bother me when games do this.


#2

More than the scaled back graphics, this is my main problem with all GBA, DS and 3DS games. No music has ever sounded good coming out of those systems, even with headphones. Because of that I can’t think of a single handheld Nintendo game that has music I like, aside from Pokemon R/B/G/S.


#3

This happens because audio is the weightiest asset of games, data-wise. It is the first thing to get compressed, and the more content the game has, the more they compress it. There’s not a lot of tricks to lower the size of audio, besides compression; it just gets laid out big when it’s created and stays big.

I also compress audio on the games I work on, but I use the OGG format which is great and I fiddle with Unity’s compression levels until I find the threshold where compression begins to affect quality. Likely what you’re seeing is these games putting a blanket compression setting on everything. Some voices are affected by it more.

I can’t say I’ve ever stopped playing a game because of the compression… but I certainly notice it and I agree that it’s a problem, with games getting more beautiful but sounding worse. The Bioshock remasters in particular must have been a rush-job or done by a team that didn’t care about audio, just graphics, because the audio is actually awful compared to the original game.


#4

I don’t think I’ve ever turned off a game because of audio issues. I rely on subtitles for narrative and I’m just as likely to listen to other music or book than listen to the in game audio.

Sorry to hear you bounced off Prey though, I had a lot of fun with that space.


#5

I got Nioh on PC yesterday and during the big intro cutscene after the Tower of London William’s voice went super high pitched like he was on helium for seemingly no reason and honestly it only enhanced my experience.


#6

Thanks for the reply. It makes sense that games are trying to get their file size to be as small as possible. I know that I appreciate it when companies care about file sizes because of the data caps on people’s internet. I should have mentioned in the post that the reason why I closed the game completely was because I had to heat up dinner for my father. The other weird thing about the audio quality in Prey is that the music seems to be better quality than the V.O., which is somewhat understandable. But the gulf in quality of those two things seems big to me.


#7

I am going to continue to play Prey, it was just something that took me out of the game in the moment.


#8

To expand on my explanation, it’s usually VO specifically that is compressed. Music is put in as high-quality as possible because there’s usually not that much of it and it would be extremely noticeable if it was compressed.

Most sound effects are brief “one-shots” that don’t take up much space and are not compressed because they have such a small data footprint anyway. The quality lost with compression would be worse than the data space saved.

VO, however, is massive. Each conversation had in the game can be as long as a piece of music, and in bigger games, there are usually lots of these to be had. Audio logs, too. Plus, in some games you may be downloading multiple language packs.

I worked on 2064: Read Only Memories; we had about 9,000 lines of dialogue, and uncompressed in WAV, it’s 50 GB. 9,000 lines is a middle-range amount of VO for the industry. A ton for a 6 to 10-hour indie game. Compressed, I got it down to about 7 GB and the build package you download gets it smaller than that. Imagine with multiple languages… suffice it to say, VO is at the least a fifth of what you’re downloading with larger AAA games, and that’s WITH the compression.


#9

Stuff is compressed but they still want it to be as good as possible at times. Like if you play a lot of JRPGs on the PS1 and PS2 as an example you’ll notice that the music/sound/effects/whatever are fine, but then to make it so battles can load up as quickly as possible the sound quality will take a noticeable dip whenever you’re in a fight. Most of Atlus’ PS2 games do this to keep things going.

There’s a very very very small number of games that have totally uncompressed audio, but when things get tight it’s going to stand out more because of that disparity with some elements being compressed more than others. Each game is going to have a different set of circumstances and people that have to make that call of how that’s going to be. Which reminds me of the epic Thief misunderstanding. The character models in Thief look so off (even when the game was new) because due to a miscommunication it was believed that the amount of memory they had to work with for the models was cut in half, so they literally cut every model’s polygon count in half to try to compensate for that. :open_mouth:


#10

That is a lot of space for voice over! It must be pretty tough to try and get those files down to a manageable size and keep a decent amount of quality. Thanks for explaining all this to me. I hope this question wasn’t annoying or grating for the people on this forum. I like learning about audio stuff.


#11

The Game Boy Advance had this awful hiss on like [1] every [2] game [3]. Super noticeable with headphones on.


#12

Nah, it’s cool. I like explaining stuff and I’m really happy that you notice the sound in your games, because it’s my job to make it good and it goes unnoticed so often. :sob: :heart: :raised_hands: