The Audio Log Dilemma


#1

I recently finished Horizon Zero Dawn and really enjoyed it. I wasn’t at all expecting the narrative to be as engaging as it was, and it was a pleasant surprise to have a great story to go along with my wanton robot dinosaur murder. One issue I had with the game though, was its use of audio logs to provide key exposition at multiple points along the journey. While the content of these was often very important and interesting, it was not uncommon to walk into a room with four or five of these logs laying around, which would require you to play them one at a time and listen without walking around too much lest you trigger a story cutscene down the path. You would listen in place before picking up the next and doing the same, over and over again. This got old very fast, and it made me realize that this is not the first game with this problem (Bioshock,Metal Gear, etc.) So I ask, is there a better way to provide exposition in an engaging but guided manner? Do you mind briefly interrupting the flow of gameplay with audio logs and collectible journal entries like this? Are you totally cool with them, and if so, what game comes to mind that handles them the best?


#2

I don’t mind it if they’re done in any kind of clever way and used in a supportive role instead of being the primary storytelling method. It doesn’t matter if it’s dumb humor or meta humor or tension building or reveals plot twists but you have to give me something other than flat exposition. If I can take the audio log from one game and slot it into another game without being able to tell the difference, ya dun f***ed up. Also, I’m not standing around to listen to an audio log unless it’s on a cassette, and even then, can I get a cassette player? At least let me explore the room I’m IN while I listen to the audio log, even museum tours allow that much.

The audio logs in Metal Gear would have been fine if they weren’t constantly interrupted or talked over by Miller. YES I AM taking that dude back to the base too, he’s got As and Bs in all categories, and I’m gonna grab that sheep over there too. The constant radio babble was infuriating and ruined the audio logs completely for me.

I didn’t hate them in Borderlands because they were humorous, but I think that’s a YMMV issue as I happen to like the humor in the entire series so far. South Park did a great job with it too of course.


#3

They should switch to having fewer, longer audiologs which are basically just podcasts since those will the bulk of non-music audio recordings in the near future.


#4

I don’t mind audio logs as a method as a method of exposition, but I haven’t played HZD, and what you described sounds like a really bad way to implement them. If a game is giving any kind of exposition that’s dialog-only (ie: someone radioing you, an audio log/pre-recorded message, etc), you should be able to move around and do more than just sit there. Like Scy said, there should be more than just flat exposition. What I like about the Borderlands and it’s audio “logs” is that you could always be doing something during them, so even if an echo device you pick up is kinda boring, you can listen to it while you’re actively exploring an area/fighting the dudes that it’s relevant to, rather than just sitting there.

I also wanna mention the Fallout games (I’ve only played New Vegas, but I 3 and 4 do this too, IIRC) and the radio thing you get. The radio is more for worldbuilding than exposition, but it’s a really effective way to do so. The diegetic soundtrack is really cool, and it gives a lot of character to the world. You get to have some idea of the current state of the world, it gives you some hints as to what might be interesting areas to check out, and it reacts to your actions, but it all feels beliavble within the universe, like the radio exists as a part of the world, and other people listen to it, rather than just existing to exposit at the player.

I’m not sure if Bastion counts as giving you audio logs, because it’s more like an active narration, but it’s always gonna be my gold standard for game narration. There’s a part at the end where the narrator has to guess your actions because he doesn’t actually know, and, if you save Zulf, his guess is wrong. It’s such a great moment in a really cool level, and it helps create a really effective tone, which is something the entire game is really good at.


#5

I feel like the problem with most audio logs is that they’re just not engaging to listen to. When you have to sit still and listen to someone monologue for a few minutes about something that could maybe have some relevance to the story, they lose any sort of effectiveness. At some point it’d probably be better to just make them into text documents you can read at your leisure. Would certainly make it faster to get through them, at any rate.

Which is partially why I think Prey handled them well. Making the majority of them be brief conversations between people that you can listen to whenever you please essentially solves most of the problems audio logs have. It’s much more engaging to listen to a quick conversation than to have someone espouse exposition for a few minutes.


#6

The ideal audio log for me is about 1 min long max, can be listened to on the go, and adds just enough to the story to be interesting but non-essential.

Fallouts 3 and 4, even with their many flaws, are really good about the mobility of audio logs. The fact that you can just pick tapes up and listen to them while you move is a great feature and mitigates the fact that they can be long on occasion.

Bioshock is a game that does the brevity part well. I can’t think of any logs that were abnormally long, and while some of them may have been plot essential for clues and so on, the fact that they usually appear in lulls makes it okay for me. A lot of them are just little snippets that serve to expand upon what happened in Rapture to turn it into such a shithole.

As much as I love Dishonored and Dishonored II, I have to admit that the addition of audiologs in that game, while very good for lore drop reasons, kind of aggravates me a little? I love listening to them and learning about the world. I love that you can replay them later from the menu. Still I can’t help but feel it’d be much better if you could just pick up the punch card and listen to it later in your safe room. I’m always tempted to stay and listen to the whole thing as soon as I find one, but staying in one place where you’re usually highly visible is not really ideal in a game about stealth.


#7

Bioshock is funny because it has the opposite problem to HZD. I would often be listening to a log and walking around and suddenly have a splicer pop out and try to kill me while I’m trying to get some sweet story details from the tape. Often led to me finding a nice corner to cower in while I listened.


#8

Audio logs are really just one step above text logs and codex entries. They can be more engaging and interesting for a couple of reasons, but their biggest downpoint is that listening is a passive experience. Reading text and lore entries requires active engagement with your imagination. You have to want to read it to begin with. There’s no wiggle room to walk around picking up collectibles or exploring a room if you’re looking to read into some backstory or character history.

Audio logs are a nice narrative addition but if you’re like me when I listen to podcasts, you want to do something while you’re listening. Half the time when I’m in any game with an audio log, I tend to jump, roll, punch, or shoot around not really doing anything but just keeping my fingers moving, but never too much so that I accidentally start a cutscene or a different narrative dump. If developers are really smart, sometimes the audio log will be next to something really cool looking or pertinent to what’s being discussed. To use HZD as the given example, the Vantage Points, where if you look at them just right you can see what the old world used to be while at the same time you’re given an audio diary entry. That’s a good example of a good audio log situation which is made only more weird when it’s in a game that still suffers from the usual problem.

It’s a problem with no one solution.


#9

I’m used to walking around in Fallout and having someone’s tragic recorded backstory be the background noise to my rampant murder of punk-ass motherfuckers trying to screw over my settlements, and I think can attribute part of that to how accustomed Bioshock got me to listening to things while trying not to let someone hook me a new and very unwanted face hole.


#10

Narration similar to the type in Bastion is something I think I wouldn’t mind hearing more of in games. There’s definitely titles it would feel out of place in, but if games want to lean heavily into their story a narrator who can clear things up in a concise and unobtrusive manner would go a long way. It also wouldn’t hurt if they had a voice as incredible as Bastion’s narrator but that’s a tall order


#11

To concur and summarize a lot of previous, salient points: reductive audio logs can be ineffective and can compound the loss of patience for narrative in cases where it slows gameplay or straight up limits functions.

While I moreso appreciate games that let you go about what you’re doing with abilities to seamlessly listen to audio logs with a button upon retrieval, I still think that kinda presentation of narrative should be utilized more judiciously overall.


#12

I love audio logs depending on the games. the Bioshock games do them pretty well, even if some are a little too convenient story wise. if they are given a good/decent in game explanation, i am cool with them.


#13

I’m a little hazy on the delivery method, but I remember the radio drama storyline scattered through Halo ODST being very enjoyable. I wish I could remember for sure if you had to be in the menu to listen to them or could still walk around, but either way, dude they made a radio drama. For a Halo game. That’s pretty great.


#14

I get irrationally (pun not intended) annoyed at audio logs. Because to me the sensible way to square the circle that audio is more convenient but no-one actually records their diary in audio form is to do the ‘voiceover from a letter’ film conceit, like Gone Home does. But for some reason games are so afraid of abstraction, and so dedicated to simulation, they think it’s better to pretend that we live in a world where everyone speaks their innermost thoughts into a dictaphone.


#15

Yeah it bums me out because it’s rarely the content of audio logs that irks me, almost always the sloppy implementation. HZD and Wolfenstein: The New Order have some of my absolute favorites, and I understand that including them is still probably a better course of action than completely ripping control from the player to play a cutscene.


#16

ODST Had a damn jazz soundtrack, a radio drama, and the coolest armor design in those games and still got lost to history, what a shame. But yeah something like that is such a cool take on offering world building via spoken dialogue.


#17

I really enjoyed the implementation of the audio-logs in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and my only complaint is that there weren’t more of them to listen to more often. You could run into difficulties (like if you got dinged on your real radio while listening to a call and/or needing to start particularly lengthy tapes over-and-over), but, generally, I felt it provided a welcome relief to either quiet tension or Kids in America.

I also felt that it was a smart update of the codec/radio system from other Metal Gears. No sitting down for five-ten minutes listening to the talking heads bicker.


#18

The Hamburgers of Kazuhira Miller tapes are nothing short of brilliant and almost make me forgive the radio chatter interrupting my listening sessions on the regular