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Game Audio Professional Contemplates the Importance of Iconic Gaming Sounds

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

Nintendo is naturally mentioned

When it comes to iconic game sounds, the passage of time hasn't stopped some of Nintendo's earliest efforts — particularly those made famous in games such Super Mario Bros. — being immediately familiar to the general public. In fact we use the coin collecting sound in the two second intro to videos on our YouTube channel, as it's so quintessentially 'Nintendo'.

In a short but interesting article for Gamasutra, game sound professional Damian Kastbauer talks about the development of iconic sound designs in the modern age, but highlights that the era of limited resources and bit-based systems brought us many sounds that are indelibly linked to pop-culture. Maybe it's nostalgia talking to an extent, but Kastbauer highlights how even everyday events can be shaken up with familiar sound loops.

If you were there back then, these sounds speak to you even today. It was clear that the sound of Super Mario Bros. had reached icon status when I heard it at a basketball game; a free throw never meant as much to me until I heard it coupled with the coin-collect sound from my childhood Mario. Those sounds don't just serve as positive feedback; they have gone on to transcend the living rooms and bowling alleys we grew up in and continue to define our modern lives.

One challenge is to continue creating iconic sounds in an era where games strive for greater realism, though in the case of Nintendo that's perhaps less of an issue. Realism still isn't a focus with most Nintendo IPs, nor is extensive voice acting or 'heavy' sound production. A recent example is maybe found in Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon, where the hero's voice is used sparingly to hum the game's music, scream — in his own unique way — when scared or, perhaps most memorably, to hesitantly go through a door saying "hello" in a comically concerned manner. Another recent example that springs to mind, once again in a game not exactly striving for realism, is the "alert" noise in Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate when a monster spots you, a simple orchestral blast that's hard to forget.

Perhaps we don't always think about how good sound design enhances an experience and makes it more memorable; perhaps we should do that more.

We are swiftly approaching an age where audio will be freed from the current file size and quality restrictions, much to the delight of game audiophiles everywhere. With this increase in space and quality, players will expect more diversity in the sounds we use to represent the worlds we create. As sound designers, we'll have to balance the use of sound as a mirror for reality, and the use of sound as a tool to get the player to pay attention to something specific.

Looking at historical examples of iconic sounds in games, and otherwise, is a good template for what has captured the ear of our culture. In the never-ending quest to leave the player with a lasting impression of their experience, we could do worse than to create memorable, iconic sounds that convey character, while still being varied enough to immerse the player in the world.

"Communication is never simple, especially when it's you that's on the receiving end." - Little Boots

[via gamasutra.com]

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User Comments (16)

Araknie

#1

Araknie said:

I remeber better the sound of cars in F-Zero, that was a chiptune you could never forget.

AJWolfTill

#2

AJWolfTill said:

As much as I love my sweeping layered soundtracks I did love the way they used the original 8 bit theme for the Orne in Kid Icarus Uprising. You knew you were in trouble when that came on.

BlackSpy

#3

BlackSpy said:

The 1UP sound from Super Mario 64, I'll never forget it....so many memories :')

Dpishere

#6

Dpishere said:

For me, the most important part of any game is both the sounds and music. Without a good soundtrack the rest of the game falls flat to me and it is this reason why I will always prefer Nintendo games, since most other games don't have that audio appeal to me. One of my favorite sounds is the music that plays when you reach a goal flag in the original Super Mario Bros.

zipmonStaff

#8

zipmon said:

Very cool! Soundscapes make a huge difference in games for me; I love the audio in Luigi's Mansion DM, and there are plenty of games that I pop in from time to time just to hear the music - Katamari, Balloon Fight, Animal Crossing, Klonoa!

Yanchamaru

#9

Yanchamaru said:

I loved how the Golden Axe death cries were used in the Conan the Barbarian movie.

Lalivero

#10

Lalivero said:

Pokémon games have always had some of the best soundtracks, imo. I even have a bunch downloaded and listen to them often, in particular fond of Gen III's. ...and while the main series always sticks out but I'm also a lover of the Mystery Dungeon series' music. Very catchy.

As far as systems themselves, I love the Gamecube's startup jingle while the little cube is folding around to form the big 3D one.

idork99

#12

idork99 said:

Great read and interesting topic! I've thought about sound in video games for quite a while and I also came to the conclusion that if the music and sound are no good, then it becomes detrimental to the gaming experience as a whole. Since I never play Sony nor Microsoft gaming systems, I can't tell you how good/bad the sound quality in those games are. But since I am a Nintendo gamer, I can say with the upmost certainty that the sounds are top notch! If it weren't for the Mario Kart music, for example, I don't think I'd thoroughly enjoy the game and replay as often as I do. On the other hand, I have played a handful of original iOS titles prior to me owning a 3DS and the sound quality, to put it mildly, was stale in comparison. And many of the soundtracks would just keep looping the same track (as all games do) but with a noticeable skip. It's as if iTunes were playing in the background and someone kept pushing the rewind button to restart the track. Annoying! Again, great article!

MarvelMon22

#13

MarvelMon22 said:

the sound in pokemon RBY ehrn you run into an wild pokemon... mentally plays whenever i'm in trouble XD. and i would have to say the Dun Dun Dun DUUUUUNNNN!!! from zelda is classic. :D

Giygas_95

#14

Giygas_95 said:

This brings to mind many of the common sound effects of the NES Mega Man games which I've been playing on my 3DS such as the sound the normal blaster makes or the sound of Mega Man dying.

And I have to mention some of the sound effects from Super Mario World like Mario's jumping or Yoshi sticking his tongue out and swallowing an enemy. Those are classic sound effects from my childhood!

Lobster

#15

Lobster said:

Where would we be without Zelda's classic "You found a THING" tune or the jingle when you solve a puzzle?

I'll tell you: not in a world I'd want to live in, my friend. Not in a world I'd want to live in.

Wintendo

#16

Wintendo said:

The sound of hitting a shadow heartless in Kingdom Hearts.
The coin sound in Super Mario Bros.
The countdown in Mario Kart Wii.

I could think of so many...

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