I’ve shown this post to quite a few people before posting and it certainly delivered some polarising views. Some agree, some don’t. Neither are right, these are just my opinions.
I want to start off by saying movie sound is incredible. It is where modern sound design was birthed and the industry has some of the most talented sound personnel in the world.
But.. so have games, over the last 20 years games have evolved themselves into one of the most powerful mediums on the planet, in terms of immersion, storytelling, technical achievement, artistic achievement and profit. So why do we increasingly find ourselves apologising, even justifying our medium to non game folk?
Why, when watching a featurettes on game audio, do you hear people refer to game audio as having that “cinematic” sound. Firstly, what even is cinematic sound? Is it dramatic? Is it loud? It’s essentially a buzz word used to help sell copies of games. But why can’t we refer to our games as having that quality game audio sound? (Again, what that even means is questionable), or stating that our audio is at the forefront of technology (in terms of real time processing and sound design it is). Now you could argue that the delivery methods are the same (screens, television etc) and so consumers expect the same quality from everything being output from it. As Damian Kastbauer puts it
Games are not film, some games treat them similarly, and some people would choose to measure them by the same ruler. They both are shown on a screen, sound comes out of the same hole, and there are definitely parallels to the development of the medium. I watched some old cartoons the other day (VanBuren Studios on Netflix Instant) and was struck by how similar to (old?) game sound it was. If you take into account how the animation was “scored” to the music, you can forgive the fact that it’s so out of sync…same with the sound effects, no digital editing here (naturally) to cover up some rough edits. Not so unlike the production of game sound at times. Moving forward I feel game audio has closed a gap rather quickly between old-skool game sound and “hollywood” game sound…there can be no question that games sound MORE like film than they did in the 8bits days. (8bit games don’t even sound like early movies…which is why their iconic sound has so much strength, it was purely their own.) Somewhere along the way through, games and game audio has struggled to find the balance (or strength) between interactivity (inherently games) and linearality (inherently film) and in that struggle you have games that rely heavily on cutscenes to tell a story (Final Fanstasy) and game that tell a story through gameplay (Half Life). So I think really what we are experiencing is an industry trying to find a balance, as well as the confidence to rely on the strength of the medium to tell a story. (there’s something to be said about how cutscenes or linear storytelling is helping to bridge the gap for new players who woundn’t know what to do with a real “game”)
I’m rambling on a bit, trying to get my thoughts down. But it just baffles me that some people(/marketing depts) working within games see their products as inferior to other mediums so we attempt to compare our projects to those of other mediums in an attempt to justify games existence to those who aren’t fans of them. The generation that views games as just kids toys are fading, whilst the generation who grew up on games are slowly beginning to outweigh those who didn’t.
Now by no means am I slating film sound, the work put out by the industry has been stunning and it’s easy to see why it gets emulated in our industry. Can games deliver a cinematic experience? Unless you want your game to be a piece of cinema, then no. Cinema is a storytelling device, as are books and music, but they are not games, just as games are not those mediums. Can those mediums not only allow you to experience a story, but actually drive it? Actually be the character carrying out the actions of the story and in a lot of games these days, change the story based on choices. This is something only games can do, and something that makes them such an incredible storytelling, immersive and rich platform.
I think what I’m trying to get across in this short ramble is that each medium is extremely different and games are incredible. We need to stop comparing them to other forms of storytelling, stop justifying their existence and apologising for them. And start praising them.