virtual reality sound Asbjoern Andersen


Alex Riviere has worked with all the major VR platforms - PSVR, Gear VR, Oculus Rift, Google Daydream & HTC Vive - as Audio Director on VR titles EVE Gunjack, and Gunjack 2: End of Shift. And below, he shares his insights on creating audio for VR:
Written by Alex Riviere
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Lots of my fellow game audio professionals are often asking me the question about the difference working with Virtual Reality compared to flat-screen games except for Binaural positioning. Well, my short answer is that to create an alternate reality that provides a natural listening experience in (gaming) Virtual Environments, our game audio creative approach needs to be adapted, and binaural positioning plays a major role into revisiting it. The long answer is below…
 

Multi-Sensory Integration

With the lack of full-sensory usage in Virtual Reality games (only Vision, Hearing, and Touch through haptics are integrated), the human brain has the power to adapt the focus or the perception of the senses that are integrated. Don’t get me wrong, you won’t become a super-hero with sharpen sense(s) by playing VR games, but the brain can rewire itself through training and learning, to enhance the use of integrated senses, with the goal to use information at its disposal to analyze and interact with the surroundings.

Your smell and taste are not turned off while playing VR games, so those two senses are providing contradictory information between what you see and hear from the game versus what you smell and possibly taste from your physical surrounding environment. Touch (and proprioceptors – sensory receptor which receives stimuli from within the body, especially one that responds to position and movement) would send mixed information between the virtual world and the real world.

The senses that are used need to be reproduced respectfully to immerse the player mentally in the virtual world, combining well-designed and controlled simultaneous visual, auditory, and haptic cues to create a believable Virtual Reality experience. The brain allows to react when subtle sensory signals that might not seems important on their own gets trigger simultaneously, and that’s the power of multisensory integration (MSI).

“A basic tenet of multisensory integration is the ability of one sensory modality to enhance or to suppress information from another sensory modality.”

(Calvert et al., 2004)

A good example would be the “Virtual barber shop” demo released about 10 years ago on Youtube.

Most people experiencing this binaural audio demo for the first time, if mentally immersed (close your eyes while listening to not be distracted by your surroundings, and take a seat), would feel someone is literally behind them touching their scalp, talking to them, and cutting their hairs.
 

Human Evolution & Game Audio

The modern world we’re living in as well as the interactive medias audio language that have been developed for decades have been bringing modern sounds and audio cues to us, and we are constantly analyzing them without even necessarily being conscious of it. Our ears and brain can distinguish thousands of sounds at the same time, being highly informative, sounds are giving us the ability to analyze situations or events and react to it instinctively.

Sounds bring physical and spatial information about objects and environments that our brain can analyze, so we can learn about those sound sources and understand better a situation of objects and events.

In VR, hearing is the only sense able to provide full spatial information going beyond our field of view

Our auditory system provides a lot of information about the world surrounding us. In real life, vision, audition, and our sense of smell provide information that helps us to identify object, situations and navigate in our environment. But in VR, hearing is the only sense able to provide full spatial information going beyond our field of view, including elevation, 360 degrees and depth, allowing us to guide our decisions and behaviors as well as understanding our virtual surroundings.

In other terms, Audio in VR is the only medium able to make you turn your head, grabbing your attention and orientation to possible scripted events, or pre-defined directions and paths.
 


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Latest releases:  
  • Recorded by renowned innovators of film sound design Ann Kroeber and Alan Splet, the Stallion library features an incredible variety of charismatic horse sound effects including movements and vocalizations.

    Intensify your projects with rumbling racing gallops, thumping canters, steady trots, and heavy rhythmic breathing. Bring creatures to life with the emotive whinny and neigh sounds of mustang stallions plus strong snorts, charming grunts, light nickers, and guttural exhales.

    Many of these horse sounds were recorded for major feature films including The Black Stallion, The Horse Whisperer, and Hidalgo. Splet’s work on The Black Stallion won him a Special Achievement Academy Award® for Sound Editing. This recognition was largely due to the quality and depth of the source recordings he and Kroeber created.

    Using a unique custom microphone rig (one mic fastened under the belly, another placed in front of the nose), the galloping sound effects in this library achieve an extraordinary dramatic quality with the horse’s powerful footsteps captured in harmony with its breathing.

    Get an array of horse footsteps at your fingertips – moving at every gait and on various surfaces from gravelly dirt to shallow water, grass, sand, cobblestone and more. The Stallion library also includes miscellaneous sounds like chewing, saddle creaks, stretching leather, and scraping carriage wheels.

    Following the libraries Cinematic Winds and Industrial Sounds with Soul, Stallion is the third exclusive release by Pro Sound Effects curated from Sound Mountain: Kroeber and Splet’s venerable private recording collection created over decades of film sound work with celebrated directors like David Lynch, Carroll Ballard, and Peter Weir. Kroeber has since worked on or supplied sounds for film, TV, and games – including 6 movies that won an Academy Award® in sound, and 7 additional nominations.

    Key Features:

    • 89 sound effects (1.1GB)
    • 24-bit/48kHz broadcast .wav files
    • Descriptive embedded metadata
    • 100% Royalty-Free
    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1596232800
    Add to cart
  • Ambisonics Wind Farm Ambiences Play Track 8 sounds included, 48 mins total From: $30

    Mix of ambience recordings, both with and close-ups of wind turbines in a wind farm.

    With every purchase there are some free extra files, linked to some ambience ones,  recorded with shotgun microphones, to get an even closer close-up, ideal also for SFX and sound design.

  • Environments Wind Play Track 68 sounds included, 165 mins total $39 $29

    This comprehensive sound library is where you can find: sounds of wind in urban and nature environment, room tones, wind recorded in car, wind whistling under doors and windows, at the sea-boats mast and hardware, in trees, in buildings corridors, lobby, attic etc. Check the list of sounds for full info. All files are metadata tagged, with detailed description of equipment used object of recording etc.

    Recorded with high end recording equipment: Sennheisers MKHs, mics; Rycote blimps, Sound Devices 744T recorder, Sound Devices MixPre mixer, Mogami cables, etc.

    Maximum peak level on all recordings is -5 dBFS (for great dynamic range, great headroom), originally recorded with great headroom keeping in mind and to maintain great dynamic range of this natural phenomena.

    26 %
    OFF
    Ends 1595368799
    Add to cart
  • Binaural soundscapes from Grand Central Station – recorded to have plenty of background (and some mid & foreground) voices without anything too recognizable – so you can add your own dialogue in the foreground, OR loop sections you like most without it being obvious. The central concourse soundscapes are fairly static – but others move at walking speed – between different locations from street level entrances, through the concourse to the platform. There’s even a couple of revolving doors and an empty escalator/platform to add your action onto. Recorded on (my) dummy head with high-quality omni mics – listening back in headphones instantly immerses you in the middle of the sound field. Binaural stereo – the next best thing to being there! And all with just two channels. So put your headphones on and take a little trip – with the Audio Ninja.

    Logo: modified from an original image by Gordon Johnson at Pixabay.com

    Add to cart
  • City Life British Sirens Play Track 48 sounds included, 12 mins total $25

    This library consists of sounds of authentic British sirens recorded during a 3 month period in London including while in Covid-19 lockdown. The sirens source vehicles include ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks. Recoding techniques include recording with a spaced pair of 2 DPA 4060’s in DPA BLM6000 Boundary Layer Mount with wind protection as well as following the source with Sennheiser 8060 shotgun when opportunity allowed. As a result, the library offers 48 sounds recorded in 24bit/96kHz format delivered in 64 files with a total runtime of approximately 12 minutes. The sound was edited in RX7 to remove the occasional sounds of birds.

    Add to cart

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Binaural or Hard Panning Stereo?

To create a sense of presence in new medias (feeling of being physically present in the virtual scene), besides the usual narrative, tactical and strategic immersion, spatial immersion has been added to immersive design rules. Does it mean we need to position every single sound with HRTF processing then? Well, not necessarily.

In VR, you have the choice between using binaural positioning in place of stereo positioning (and we have the choice for any flat screen games as well now, which would likely open the door to new possibilities and discussion for first-person games).

Though less real, stereo positioning creates a stronger sense of directionality

Binaural positioning allows us to create a more realistic experience, as it accounts for real world physics in the calculations. But due to the long history of using only stereo positioning in games, players are accustomed to it, and using stereo positioning may offer certain advantages over binaural positioning. Though less real, stereo positioning creates a stronger sense of directionality, as the sound is hard panned, making it more obvious where the source is positioned, relative to the listener.

Depending on your game, you might want to use different positioning systems for different components.

If your purpose is to completely immerse the player in the world and create a sense of connection with it, you could use the binaural positioning to establish a sense of realness. For game-play feedbacks, you could possibly use hard-panning, as players are more familiar with it, to enable them to focus their attention on the gameplay, creating immersion with the gameplay rather than the environment. The stronger sense of directionality offered by the stereo positioning provides more obvious cues for the player, allowing them to receive stronger audio feedback.

The decision between using stereo positioning and/or binaural positioning should be a creative one, rather than a technical one, and depends on your game needs per component and situation. It’s all about experimentation and choices.

Preferably, your choices should be made prior starting the audio production of your game, as your positioning system(s) will affect your technical pipeline on the implementation front, as well as the creative approach when building assets and implementing them.
 

 

Creative Audio Language

Your creative audio approach when starting to work on a VR game is then affected by (at least) all of the above. You should ask yourself: When to use audio for multi-sensory integration purpose(s)? How human evolution (realistic approach) and game audio language (gameplay feedbacks and players expectation) impact your creative decision and technical choices and pipeline?

But then, what do you do with any extra-diegetic sources? Let’s take a concrete example with Music. From an end-user perspective, people need to be guided to understand what to think of a scene, what’s the context, what to feel, or what’s the setting. Those are some of the primarily Music purposes. It really depends of your game creative approach, so aim for what works best for your game. VR needs to be interactive, and Players actions need to feel meaningful in the game. Adaptive music needs to be think of carefully and creatively to build something that works both for the VR medium, and the game itself.

On the other hand, players have expectation of realism when playing VR game or experiences, and will notice anything done wrong on the soundscape, anything that could take them out of the experience. Contents production value, audio repetition, and the degree of direct or indirect interactivity to be built in Virtual Worlds can be extremely challenging.

You need to decide your intimate zone, the zone where you could interact with object, the zone where you need to add a lot of details in your sounds, both for positioning and dynamic layering matters.

Interactivity is a big topic of itself for audio in VR. You need to decide your intimate zone, the zone where you could interact with object, the zone where you need to add a lot of details in your sounds, both for positioning and dynamic layering matters. Audio can also be used as an input in VR, which once again reinforce the multi-sensory integration with haptic and visuals, and could possibly suggest taste or smell, if the MSI moment is totally mastered. Concrete example, let’s say you could grab a cigarette in the game, take the controller to your mouth, inhale and exhale would trigger respectively the subtle and visceral sound of a cigarette being burned (plus its visual feedback) and the visual cue of the smoke VFX along the sound of your character exhaling, or the direct sound of yourself (from the VR microphone) going through the acoustic rendering of the virtual environment.
 

To sum up

The main rule when doing audio for VR is that…there are no rules! Creative language is currently being developed by pioneers in the industry, both for the VR medium itself, and the type of games that works well for it.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and as for all great things, VR and VR audio need time to reach its full potential. We are at the beginning of the VR in terms of technology and development, and there is no perfect recipe when working on VR audio.

Audio is not limited to what’s on screen anymore and should play an even bigger role than in flat screen games, serving all gameplay feedbacks, emotional states, engagement, storytelling, spatial immersion, multi-sensory integration, player’s position relative to the game action (and to some extend body balance).
 

A big thanks to Alex Riviere for his insights on VR audio!

 

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About Alex Riviere:

Alex Riviere is a French born audio artist that have been working on many projects, from record albums (awarded one platinum and one gold record), commercials, documentaries to video-games, including the Gunjack series, Final Fantasy XIV, Call of Duty Online, Transformers: Rising, Civilization Revolution 2 Plus, etc.

A pioneer in VR Audio, Alex has built his experience developing for all major VR platforms (PSVR, Gear VR, Oculus Rift, Google Daydream, HTC Vive) as Audio Director on the VR titles EVE Gunjack, and Gunjack 2: End of Shift.


 
 
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Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Recorded by renowned innovators of film sound design Ann Kroeber and Alan Splet, the Stallion library features an incredible variety of charismatic horse sound effects including movements and vocalizations.

    Intensify your projects with rumbling racing gallops, thumping canters, steady trots, and heavy rhythmic breathing. Bring creatures to life with the emotive whinny and neigh sounds of mustang stallions plus strong snorts, charming grunts, light nickers, and guttural exhales.

    Many of these horse sounds were recorded for major feature films including The Black Stallion, The Horse Whisperer, and Hidalgo. Splet’s work on The Black Stallion won him a Special Achievement Academy Award® for Sound Editing. This recognition was largely due to the quality and depth of the source recordings he and Kroeber created.

    Using a unique custom microphone rig (one mic fastened under the belly, another placed in front of the nose), the galloping sound effects in this library achieve an extraordinary dramatic quality with the horse’s powerful footsteps captured in harmony with its breathing.

    Get an array of horse footsteps at your fingertips – moving at every gait and on various surfaces from gravelly dirt to shallow water, grass, sand, cobblestone and more. The Stallion library also includes miscellaneous sounds like chewing, saddle creaks, stretching leather, and scraping carriage wheels.

    Following the libraries Cinematic Winds and Industrial Sounds with Soul, Stallion is the third exclusive release by Pro Sound Effects curated from Sound Mountain: Kroeber and Splet’s venerable private recording collection created over decades of film sound work with celebrated directors like David Lynch, Carroll Ballard, and Peter Weir. Kroeber has since worked on or supplied sounds for film, TV, and games – including 6 movies that won an Academy Award® in sound, and 7 additional nominations.

    Key Features:

    • 89 sound effects (1.1GB)
    • 24-bit/48kHz broadcast .wav files
    • Descriptive embedded metadata
    • 100% Royalty-Free
    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1596232800
  • Ambisonics Wind Farm Ambiences Play Track 8 sounds included, 48 mins total From: $30

    Mix of ambience recordings, both with and close-ups of wind turbines in a wind farm.

    With every purchase there are some free extra files, linked to some ambience ones,  recorded with shotgun microphones, to get an even closer close-up, ideal also for SFX and sound design.

  • Environments Wind Play Track 68 sounds included, 165 mins total $39 $29

    This comprehensive sound library is where you can find: sounds of wind in urban and nature environment, room tones, wind recorded in car, wind whistling under doors and windows, at the sea-boats mast and hardware, in trees, in buildings corridors, lobby, attic etc. Check the list of sounds for full info. All files are metadata tagged, with detailed description of equipment used object of recording etc.

    Recorded with high end recording equipment: Sennheisers MKHs, mics; Rycote blimps, Sound Devices 744T recorder, Sound Devices MixPre mixer, Mogami cables, etc.

    Maximum peak level on all recordings is -5 dBFS (for great dynamic range, great headroom), originally recorded with great headroom keeping in mind and to maintain great dynamic range of this natural phenomena.

    26 %
    OFF
    Ends 1595368799
  • Binaural soundscapes from Grand Central Station – recorded to have plenty of background (and some mid & foreground) voices without anything too recognizable – so you can add your own dialogue in the foreground, OR loop sections you like most without it being obvious. The central concourse soundscapes are fairly static – but others move at walking speed – between different locations from street level entrances, through the concourse to the platform. There’s even a couple of revolving doors and an empty escalator/platform to add your action onto. Recorded on (my) dummy head with high-quality omni mics – listening back in headphones instantly immerses you in the middle of the sound field. Binaural stereo – the next best thing to being there! And all with just two channels. So put your headphones on and take a little trip – with the Audio Ninja.

    Logo: modified from an original image by Gordon Johnson at Pixabay.com

  • City Life British Sirens Play Track 48 sounds included, 12 mins total $25

    This library consists of sounds of authentic British sirens recorded during a 3 month period in London including while in Covid-19 lockdown. The sirens source vehicles include ambulances, police cars, and fire trucks. Recoding techniques include recording with a spaced pair of 2 DPA 4060’s in DPA BLM6000 Boundary Layer Mount with wind protection as well as following the source with Sennheiser 8060 shotgun when opportunity allowed. As a result, the library offers 48 sounds recorded in 24bit/96kHz format delivered in 64 files with a total runtime of approximately 12 minutes. The sound was edited in RX7 to remove the occasional sounds of birds.

 
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