virtual reality game audio Asbjoern Andersen


Noted audio director Garry Taylor, from Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe, recently gave a talk about the possibilities and challenges for audio in virtual reality – from a non-technical perspective. I’m really happy to be able to share it here on the A Sound Effect blog, and without further ado, here’s Garry Taylor:
 
This is a talk given at the VRX Europe Conference in London in May 2016 to a non-technical audience. It was not aimed at audio designers or engineers, and so I didn’t go in-depth into any of the technical issues. My goal was to get across to a lay-audience some of the many issues VR development teams may face, in terms of audio, when developing content.

– Garry Taylor. Audio Director, WWS Creative Services Group, Sony Interactive Entertainment Europe.


 

Someone asked me recently what the difference was between audio for TV based games and audio for VR.  After giving it a bit of thought, I came to the conclusion that getting it wrong on a TV is mildly annoying, but getting it wrong on VR and the player will want to kill you.  By that I mean badly implemented audio in VR can be so off-putting, it can seriously hinder people’s acceptance of their virtual reality, to the point that it may put some people off completely, and this is a big problem.  

Michael Abrash at Oculus said that 3D sound in VR is ‘not an addition, it’s a multiplier’. Everybody talks about VR in terms of ‘presence’ and ‘immersion’. The truth is that without a certain level of competence in audio design, there is no presence.  What’s more, because it is a multiplier, there is an extremely fine line between what we would call presence, the illusion that you’re actually there, and annoyance.

The truth is that without a certain level of competence in audio design, there is no presence

Our teams have been experimenting to find out what works, and what doesn’t, in terms of audio.  A lot of the work we’ve done revolves around the player’s acceptance of their virtual environment and the sounds that emanate from it.  We’ve made lots of mistakes, but by making them, we’ve learned where the boundaries are, and how far we can push things before they break.

 

Engineering Immersion

One of the most fundamental problems any developer with no experience of audio on VR will have is externalising sounds.  Let me explain what I mean.

If you listen to any film or TV show that has a narrator, you’ll notice that the sound of the voice of the narrator, due to the way in which it was recorded, sounds very different from the sound of the people you’re actually seeing on screen.  The narrator is in effect, the voice inside your head, and it’s this that we need to avoid if we want things to sound like they’re in the virtual environment.

Next time you watch a film or TV show listen for it, and notice the difference between perspectives.  The narrator’s voice sounds a lot fuller and richer.  Generally, it’s recorded closer than ‘on set’ dialogue.  With a condenser microphone, the closer you are to the microphone, the bassier the recording will be, due to something called ‘the proximity effect’.

Although this is a tad simplistic, if there’s a lot of bass in a voice, your brain will tell you it’s close.  If we want dialogue or indeed any sound to sit in a 3D space, and to sound like it’s part of that space, we need to ensure that the perspectives are convincing.

How we give players information about distance is absolutely critical for them to be able to localise something accurately in VR

If something is close, it needs to sound close, and if something is far away it needs to sound far away.  How we give players information about distance is absolutely critical for them to be able to localise something accurately in VR.

If you were to shut your eyes, you’d usually be able to tell what sort of room you were in just by listening to how sounds tail off within it.  When working in VR, we have to recreate that acoustic behaviour in our virtual reality in order for it to be convincing. There’s a delicate balance between the volume of the sound waves that travel directly to your ears, and the ones that bounce around the room, and we use the perceived loudness of the sound, the length of the reverberation, as well as the ratio between the direct and the indirect sound to judge the size and type of space we’re in and the distance between us and whatever it was that made the sound.

Not only that, but we also have to accurately model how our own heads affect the sounds we hear. We use something called Head Related Transfer Functions or HRTF which gives us the ability to make sounds appear as though they’re behind us, or in fact any direction, including above or below us.  These HRTFs when coupled with head-tracking are very very convincing.

This is different to how we’ve done audio for games in the past.  Now, these might seem like very minor things, but when we get it wrong, it’s little things like this that jar with people.  They might not know why something isn’t quite right, but it will flag something up in the back of their mind that says ‘this isn’t convincing’.  Audio for VR can be difficult like that.  To do it right requires a decent toolset and knowledgeable and experienced sound engineers who know about psychoacoustics; how the brain interprets sound.

 

Information

Audio’s function within any game, film or any other medium is either to give the player or viewer information or to influence their emotional state.

3D Audio is a very powerful way of communicating information, be it information conveyed through dialogue, or information about their environment through directional sounds, but there are limits to the amount of auditory information that can be processed by the brain.

Now imagine that a 3rd person was giving another talk on something else in that corner at the same volume.  That’s where you hit a wall.

You can hear me speaking from this stage.  There’s nothing else really going on, vying for your attention.  Imagine someone else was doing a talk in that corner of the room on something else with their microphone at the same volume.  You would probably be able to pick up limited information on both talks, just about.  Now imagine that a 3rd person was giving another talk on something else in that corner at the same volume.  That’s where you hit a wall.  You wouldn’t be able to distinguish between the 3 separate voices, they would come together to form a single incoherent mess.  It would annoy you.

Walter Murch, film editor, called this the ‘Law of Two and a Half’.  One or two sets of footsteps, for example, can easily be isolated by the brain, but 3….instead of being individual elements, 3 becomes a group of things happening, and out goes your ability to distinguish individual elements.

We’ve found that these limits of the brain to process multiple audio cues together must affect how we design our titles, and the events or situations that happen within those titles.  Too much going on will disorientate the player, or stop them making sense of the information presented to them.  This could be dialogue, or it could be the positions of enemies trying to shoot you, or important audio cues the player needs in order to progress through a game.  Any more than 2 positional cues at a time, and the player may lose the ability to accurately place them in a space.

Because of this, we need to make sure that audio considerations are taken into account at the early design stage of any project, and care must be taken to respect the limits of the brain’s ability to process auditory information.  

Having said that, if you want to briefly disorientate the player on purpose, it can be used to great effect, but like anything, you need light and shade.  

 

Bending Reality

One of the more interesting things we’ve found is that whilst audio can help to make or break presence or immersion, it also allow us to bend reality without breaking it, and in some instances mask problems in other areas.

What happens if the player decides to stand up?

In one of our titles called London Heist, the player is a passenger in a van, driving down a road.  Now, there’s nothing stopping the player opening the door and leaning out or putting their head out of the window, and when they do, they hear the wind rushing past them, as you would expect.  However, what happens if the player decides to stand up?

Well, we could create a barrier that would stop the player’s camera from going through the roof of the van, but messing with people’s perception of movement is a dangerous thing, and can cause motion sickness which could put a lot of people off.  However, if we allow the player to put their head through the roof, to break reality, we must also make their experience of doing so consistent with what they would expect if they could actually do it.  So when they do, they also hear the wind rushing past them.  This is surprisingly acceptable.  In some cases, good audio design allows us to ‘paper over the cracks’, and in certain circumstances, as long as the audio is consistent, liberties can be taken in the virtual world.
 


Popular on A Sound Effect right now - article continues below:

 

Latest releases:  
  • Destruction & Impact Hardwork Play Track 237 sounds included, 26 mins total $28.99 $23.99

    Who doesn’t recognize the sounds of construction work and the toughest duties ever known to humankind. Drilling, hammering, building and constructing. (Swearing not included). Packed with 237 different sounds to immerse you audience in the true hardwork day to day

    Recorded with

    Sound Devices 633
    Rode NTG3
    Rode NT4
    Seymour Duncan SCR-1

    17 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576796399
    Add to cart
  • Weapons Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds Play Track 800+ sounds included $80

    Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds is a sfx library recorded for police / military related film or video games. Recorded at 24/96,(real guns and soft/air guns) with 3 microphones (omni, cardioid and shotgun), you can use one sound or mix the 3 layers together for more impact!

    Key Features:

    Library ships in 96kHz, 24bit
    408 files, more than 800 sounds
    Effective workflow: well-grounded Soundminer Metadata
    Add to cart
  • Foley Lethal Blow Play Track 983 sounds included $49.99 $34.99

    Lethal Blow is a collection of high quality fight sound effect. It features 925 sound effects; 600 source recording and 325 designed sound effects. It comes loaded with all sorts of sounds – from simple punches to multi-layerd crunchy blows and and meaty hits.
    All source sounds ware recorded with top tier microphones; Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH8060 at 192kHz/24Bit with a Sound Devices recorder.

    Collection consists of two main categories:

    DESIGNED 96/24 (325 SFX)

    Bone Breaks – Crunchy breaks, snaps and tears.
    Grabs, throws and blacks.
    Bright Punches – Punches with meaty bottom and pronounces “beef slap” transients.
    Crunch Punches – Punches layered with bone breaks and cracks .
    Dark punches – Punches with more of a deep, organic, thump-y sound.
    Rips and tears – Fatality-like, gory tears.
    Simple Punches – Organic sounding, deep punches that consist of only few layers (compared to other punches).
    Punches “Xtra” – Punches without Arm movement/scuffle/whoosh – just a hit that you can layer with your own woos/scuffle
    Skull crashes – Gory, slimy skull crashes and splits
    Swooshes, whooshes snd scuffles.

    SOURCE CONSTRUCTION-KIT 192/24 (600 SFX)

    Scuffles, arm movements and whooshes – Cotton, denim and nylon.
    Snaps – Leak snaps
    Flesh drops – Dropped oranges
    Cotton transients – Cotton hoodie hit with a soft drum mallet
    Real chest punches – Closed fist
    Meaty punches – Beefy, organic punches (punching beef steaks).
    Lettuce punches and smacks – Deep, wet lettuce punches plus exaggerated transient sounds.
    Real chest smacks – Open fist
    Meat movement – gory, slimy, beef movements.
    Meat Slaps – Beef steaks dropped on a tile floor with pronounced transients
    Small crack – cracking eggshells
    Bell pepper rips – Tearing, ripping apart Bell peppers for crunchy snaps and cracks
    Whooshes and swooshes – Airy whooshes
    Fabric Movement – random, cotton cloth whooshes and multiple swishes.

    325 designed sound effects will get you started right away and save a lot of time when cutting fight scenes.
    600 high quality source recordings will allow you to design all kinds of punches, bone brakes and gore sound effects from scratch, exactly to your taste.

    All sound effects are highly tweakable. You can fine-tune them to your liking; pitch them up/down to remove/add weight whilst retaining details and clarity.

    Download includes:
    96-192KHZ 24BIT version (925 SFX/562MB)
    44.1KHZ 16BIT version for Unreal Engine (925 SFX/264MB)
    192KHZ 24BIT BONUS source recordings (58 SFX/30MB)
    RECORDED WITH: Sound Devices MixPre 6 + Sennheiser MKH8040 + Sennheiser MKH8060
    EDITED AND MASTERED WITH: RX, Pro Tools, Brufri, DMGAudio, Sonnox, Fabfilter

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576709999
    Add to cart
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Electro-Mechanics Toolkit 2 Play Track 860+ sounds included $67 $53.60

    The “Electro-Mechanics ToolKit 2” Sound Effects Library features a wide range of versatile electro-mechanic motors, engines, tools and toys.
    All waiting to be cut up, layered, edited and mangled with FX to become spaceship engines, robot movements, sci fi doors, weapon mechanics.
    This library is not meant to be a comprehensive tools library but rather a composite toolkit to bring futuristic electro-mechanic machines, devices, weapons, vehicles, … sonically to life.
    All cleaned and edited for direct use in your upcoming projects.

    All sounds have embedded BWF Metadata.

    Categories:

    Air Compressor • Angle Grinder • Band Saw • Belt Sander • Bowling Alley Machinery • Buffing Machine • Turning Lathe • Buzz Saw • Chop Saw • Doors & Shutters • Electric Drill • Electric Screwdriver • Electric Wood Plane • Evacuator • Film Projector • Fine Blanking Tool • Fretsaw • Grinding Lathe • Hand Blender & Mixer • Hoist Industrial • Industrial Vacuum Cleaner • Jigsaw • Mechanic Toys • Metal Saw • Milling Machine • Stationary Drill • Strimmer • Toy Helicopter

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
    Add to cart
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles RC Cars | Reely Core Buggy Play Track 170+ sounds included $35 $28

    Looking for sounds of a remote controlled car? Here you go: This sound effects library features 170 sound effects of the Reely Core RC Car. You get several on-board and external driving sounds, pass-bys, close-up steering mechanics and idling mixtures, and of course some crashes. All sounds are edited and cleaned for direct use in your upcoming sound design projects. All sounds contain detailed BWF Metadata.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
    Add to cart


Need specific sound effects? Try a search below:
 

Listen to the player

Most developers have been thinking about how their sound and music functions within VR.  We’ve also been thinking about what sounds we can take from the player, and what we could do with them.

PlayStation VR has a microphone on the bottom of the visor.  This allows us to capture sounds or speech from the player, and either incorporate it into the world, for example voice chat, but also it allows us take the sound, manipulate that data and then use that data to control certain parameters within the game.

For example, in the London Heist, there’s a drink on the dashboard.  What if the player decides they want to pick it up and drink it?  Obviously, they can’t really drink it.  That would be silly.  But they will try.  And if they do try, having the world react in a believable way will increase the sense of immersion.  One of our technical designers, SImon Gumbleton came up with a technique of measuring the power of the microphone input, and then using it to trigger a drinking sound.

Again, audio can paper over the cracks.  Audio, this time from the player, will allow another level of interaction between the player and the virtual world.

How can the player affect the world through the sounds that they make?

So the question our teams should ask is; instead of the player just listening to the world the developers have created, how can the player affect the world through the sounds that they make?
 

Linear VR Video

Before I go, I want to speak briefly about audio for linear VR video, as opposed to interactive content.  At the moment, most teams I know that are creating VR video are doing it in Unity, or some other game engine.  This, at the moment, is by necessity.  There is no support for VR in any of the off-the-shelf audio packages at the moment.  There are though quite a few plugin manufacturers working on tools to allow teams to design audio for VR, and as time progresses those tools will improve.

Ambisonics is a 40 year old sound format for encoding 3D audio that up until recently was considered a bit of a relic, but it translates perfectly to VR, so expect it to make a resurgence in the coming years.  This will be helped by Google’s adoption of it for VR and 360 video on YouTube, which was rolled out a couple a weeks ago.  The new MPEG-H format also supports 3D audio, but it’s very new and no applications support it at the moment.  The same goes for AC4.

 

So, to sum up, the switch from developing for screen-based entertainment to VR is not straightforward.  It’s literally a whole new world, and we’re still finding out the rules.

However, because of the fragility of the player’s acceptance of the virtual world within VR, audio should be an integral part of the design process, to be considered from the very start of a project, from both a creative and technical point of view.

If immersion and presence is your goal, your sound team will be the ones that will have to deliver it.

 

Please share this:


 

A big thanks to Garry Taylor for his insights on audio in VR!

 
 
THE WORLD’S EASIEST WAY TO GET INDEPENDENT SOUND EFFECTS:
 
A Sound Effect gives you easy access to an absolutely huge sound effects catalog from a myriad of independent sound creators, all covered by one license agreement - a few highlights:
 
 
  • Foley Haunted Doors – Designed and Source Play Track 209 sounds included $24.99 $20.99

    Haunted Doors [D&S] is a collection of 209 old doors sound effects.

    HD consist of of 45 designed sounds (Opens, Closes, Cinematic Door Impacts @ 96kHz 24Bit) & 164 source recordings (Door creaks, knob twists & turns, rattling, squeaking, opens, closes, locks, bolts and more! @ 192kHz 24Bit).

    All audio files have been recorded at superb 192KHZ 24BIT. Multiple mic positions to capture all
    the little details such as loose lock mechanisms, inner rattling, stuttering creaks and rich natural reverbs of empty corridors.

    Comprehensive Soundminer's metadata. Over 25 different door knobs and handles,
    over 10 pairs of hinges, 10 different doors and more! Perfect for horror movies, games and more.

    LOCATION: Spain, Costa Blanca. Traditional Spanish hacienda before renovation.
    RECORDED WITH: Sound Devices MixPre 6 + Sennheiser MKH 8060
    EDITED AND MASTERED WITH: Pro Tools, iZotope RX (mildly),Fabfilter, Zynaptiq, Waves.

    16 %
    OFF
    Add to cart
  • Foley Footstep and Foley Sounds Play Track 812 sounds included $10

    Footstep & Foley Sounds contains 511 high quality professionally recorded footstep sounds. Surfaces included: concrete, dirt, grass, gravel, metal, mud, water, wood, ice and snow. Plus 141 Foley sounds covering a variety of character movement sounds. A perfect addition to add realism to your footstep sounds.

    This pack also includes a variety of 160 bonus sounds effects from our full library Pro Sound Collection. ALL sounds from Footstep & Foley Sounds are included in Pro Sound Collection so if you need more sounds be sure to check it out before purchase.

    Add to cart
  • Human Swordfighter Play Track 479 sounds included $25 $18

    Swordfighter is a robust package with sharp sounding swords, heaps of variations and all the extras you need to make a fight come alive. Build unique sword swings with various hits, swooshes, schings, different fighter vocals and impacts on various surfaces. All up there are 137 sword sounds, 93 surface impact sounds, 15 knife throwing sounds, 48 swooshes and 180 fighter vocals.

    This version includes two sub-folders: one optimised for a film & TV workflow and the other optimised for video games workflow. Plus a few bonus sounds of a charging army.

    28 %
    OFF
    Ends 1577833199
    Add to cart
 
Explore the full, unique collection here

Latest sound effects libraries:
 
  • Destruction & Impact Hardwork Play Track 237 sounds included, 26 mins total $28.99 $23.99

    Who doesn’t recognize the sounds of construction work and the toughest duties ever known to humankind. Drilling, hammering, building and constructing. (Swearing not included). Packed with 237 different sounds to immerse you audience in the true hardwork day to day

    Recorded with

    Sound Devices 633
    Rode NTG3
    Rode NT4
    Seymour Duncan SCR-1

    17 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576796399
  • Weapons Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds Play Track 800+ sounds included $80

    Weapon Mech & Reload Sounds is a sfx library recorded for police / military related film or video games. Recorded at 24/96,(real guns and soft/air guns) with 3 microphones (omni, cardioid and shotgun), you can use one sound or mix the 3 layers together for more impact!

    Key Features:

    Library ships in 96kHz, 24bit
    408 files, more than 800 sounds
    Effective workflow: well-grounded Soundminer Metadata
  • Foley Lethal Blow Play Track 983 sounds included $49.99 $34.99

    Lethal Blow is a collection of high quality fight sound effect. It features 925 sound effects; 600 source recording and 325 designed sound effects. It comes loaded with all sorts of sounds – from simple punches to multi-layerd crunchy blows and and meaty hits.
    All source sounds ware recorded with top tier microphones; Sennheiser MKH8040 and MKH8060 at 192kHz/24Bit with a Sound Devices recorder.

    Collection consists of two main categories:

    DESIGNED 96/24 (325 SFX)

    Bone Breaks – Crunchy breaks, snaps and tears.
    Grabs, throws and blacks.
    Bright Punches – Punches with meaty bottom and pronounces “beef slap” transients.
    Crunch Punches – Punches layered with bone breaks and cracks .
    Dark punches – Punches with more of a deep, organic, thump-y sound.
    Rips and tears – Fatality-like, gory tears.
    Simple Punches – Organic sounding, deep punches that consist of only few layers (compared to other punches).
    Punches “Xtra” – Punches without Arm movement/scuffle/whoosh – just a hit that you can layer with your own woos/scuffle
    Skull crashes – Gory, slimy skull crashes and splits
    Swooshes, whooshes snd scuffles.

    SOURCE CONSTRUCTION-KIT 192/24 (600 SFX)

    Scuffles, arm movements and whooshes – Cotton, denim and nylon.
    Snaps – Leak snaps
    Flesh drops – Dropped oranges
    Cotton transients – Cotton hoodie hit with a soft drum mallet
    Real chest punches – Closed fist
    Meaty punches – Beefy, organic punches (punching beef steaks).
    Lettuce punches and smacks – Deep, wet lettuce punches plus exaggerated transient sounds.
    Real chest smacks – Open fist
    Meat movement – gory, slimy, beef movements.
    Meat Slaps – Beef steaks dropped on a tile floor with pronounced transients
    Small crack – cracking eggshells
    Bell pepper rips – Tearing, ripping apart Bell peppers for crunchy snaps and cracks
    Whooshes and swooshes – Airy whooshes
    Fabric Movement – random, cotton cloth whooshes and multiple swishes.

    325 designed sound effects will get you started right away and save a lot of time when cutting fight scenes.
    600 high quality source recordings will allow you to design all kinds of punches, bone brakes and gore sound effects from scratch, exactly to your taste.

    All sound effects are highly tweakable. You can fine-tune them to your liking; pitch them up/down to remove/add weight whilst retaining details and clarity.

    Download includes:
    96-192KHZ 24BIT version (925 SFX/562MB)
    44.1KHZ 16BIT version for Unreal Engine (925 SFX/264MB)
    192KHZ 24BIT BONUS source recordings (58 SFX/30MB)
    RECORDED WITH: Sound Devices MixPre 6 + Sennheiser MKH8040 + Sennheiser MKH8060
    EDITED AND MASTERED WITH: RX, Pro Tools, Brufri, DMGAudio, Sonnox, Fabfilter

    30 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576709999
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles Electro-Mechanics Toolkit 2 Play Track 860+ sounds included $67 $53.60

    The “Electro-Mechanics ToolKit 2” Sound Effects Library features a wide range of versatile electro-mechanic motors, engines, tools and toys.
    All waiting to be cut up, layered, edited and mangled with FX to become spaceship engines, robot movements, sci fi doors, weapon mechanics.
    This library is not meant to be a comprehensive tools library but rather a composite toolkit to bring futuristic electro-mechanic machines, devices, weapons, vehicles, … sonically to life.
    All cleaned and edited for direct use in your upcoming projects.

    All sounds have embedded BWF Metadata.

    Categories:

    Air Compressor • Angle Grinder • Band Saw • Belt Sander • Bowling Alley Machinery • Buffing Machine • Turning Lathe • Buzz Saw • Chop Saw • Doors & Shutters • Electric Drill • Electric Screwdriver • Electric Wood Plane • Evacuator • Film Projector • Fine Blanking Tool • Fretsaw • Grinding Lathe • Hand Blender & Mixer • Hoist Industrial • Industrial Vacuum Cleaner • Jigsaw • Mechanic Toys • Metal Saw • Milling Machine • Stationary Drill • Strimmer • Toy Helicopter

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
  • Game Audio Packs & Bundles RC Cars | Reely Core Buggy Play Track 170+ sounds included $35 $28

    Looking for sounds of a remote controlled car? Here you go: This sound effects library features 170 sound effects of the Reely Core RC Car. You get several on-board and external driving sounds, pass-bys, close-up steering mechanics and idling mixtures, and of course some crashes. All sounds are edited and cleaned for direct use in your upcoming sound design projects. All sounds contain detailed BWF Metadata.

    20 %
    OFF
    Ends 1576623599
 
FOLLOW OR SUBSCRIBE FOR THE LATEST IN FANTASTIC SOUND:
 
                              
 
GET THE MUCH-LOVED A SOUND EFFECT NEWSLETTER:
 
The A Sound Effect newsletter gets you a wealth of exclusive stories and insights
+ free sounds with every issue:
 
Subscribe here for free SFX with every issue

One thought on “How to unlock the creative power of audio in VR:

  1. Thanks for this post!

    Michael Abrash’s quote about 3D sound (‘not an addition, it’s a multiplier’) reminds me of a quote from Akira Kurosawa, the famed film director, sharing his thought about the relationship between sound and image: “sound is that which does not simply add to but multiples the effect the image.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.