Over at GameInformer.com, writer Kyle Hilliard conducted an interesting test. He recorded the sounds made by video game controllers to see which is the noisiest. In the course of the test, he pressed the buttons of various controllers from across the long history of video game devices, and then categorized the controllers according to their peak decibel levels. You can go over to his article to read about his testing methods and see the bar graph of his results.
His test got me thinking about the idea of aural feedback – the use of sounds to confirm or reinforce the literal actions of the player. For instance, when the player hits a button and causes an action in the game, the game emits a sound that represents that action. These can range from plain clicking noises meant to accurately emulate the sounds the controller makes naturally, to more whimsical dings, pings, tones and whooshes – the inherent nature of which would depend on the atmosphere of the game. These sounds can encompass both the immediate action of clicking the controller and the physical action or reaction that occurs as a result of player’s click.
When these aural feedback sounds are strongly evocative of a sound effect, such as a click or a whoosh, then they fall completely into the purview of the sound designer’s art. But when they are closer to dings, pings and tones, they begin to cross into the realm of musical expression. This is when the sound designer and the music composer for a game can work in a very collaborative fashion.
The video game Peggle 2 is a great example of this, and a perfect demonstration of sound design and musical score working together in perfect harmony (literally). Here’s a demonstration of aural feedback at its most musical: